Tata Steel Chess: Caruana ends with a win, Anton clinches Challengers

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/27/2020 – Fabiano Caruana continued his astounding run at the second half of the Tata Steel Masters by grabbing the only win of the final round to end the event — a remarkable first out of 14 with a 10/13 score. Magnus Carlsen ended up in sole second place two points behind the American, while Wesley So, who drew the world champion in round thirteen, finished third. In the meantime, David Anton qualified to next year's Masters event by grabbing clear first in the Challengers. Expert analysis by GMs SAM SHANKLAND and DANNY KING. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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A stellar result

The 82nd edition of the chess festival in Wijk aan Zee takes place from January 11th to 26th. The Masters and the Challengers are both 14-player single round robins. Rounds start at 12:30 UTC, except January 16th in Eindhoven, when it starts 30 minutes later.

This is not the first time Fabiano Caruana astounds the chess world with a stellar performance. To get his 10 out of 13 score in Wijk aan Zee he won six out of his last seven games, getting four full points in a row to end the tournament. The astounding run means the next FIDE ratings list will have him in second place with 2842 points, only two points shy from his all-time peak rating from October 2014.

Back then, when he also reached the third highest live rating ever (2851.3), he kicked off the second edition of the Sinquefield Cup with seven straight victories, including a win with Black over Magnus Carlsen in round three. Caruana finished the six-player double round robin with three draws, thus getting a rating performance of 3103, the highest ever in a single event.

The American's next event will be the all-important Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg. Pundits tend to shy away from naming favourites before this meeting, but it is hard not to feel Caruana has a good chance of winning it — after all, he won the 2018 edition and barely fell short of getting first place in 2016. Of course, he will be facing extremely tough opposition, with Ding Liren, among others, coming from posting remarkable results in 2019.

Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja, Daniil Dubov

Fabiano Caruana, already the tournament winner, looks on the game between Alireza Firouzja and Daniil Dubov | Photo: Alina l'Ami

With tournament victory already secured, Caruana "was surely feeling confident and happy to keep fighting", as Sam Shankland noted in his annotations (see more below). His opponent was Vladislav Artemiev, who opted for the Catalan. A sub-optimal approach by the Russian, however, gave Black the initiative. When Caruana started pushing his h-pawn, Artemiev decided to permanently compromise his structure:


White could have stopped the advance with 24.h4 here, albeit allowing Black to slowly improve his position with ...♚h7 and ...♝f6. Instead, the Russian went for the committal 24.f3, which was naturally followed by 24...xf3 25.exf3 f6.

An in-form Caruana was now in position to slowly try to convert a slightly superior position, which left his opponent in a really unenviable situation. The world number two kept upping the pressure until Artemiev's position finally collapsed shortly after the time control: 


White's previous 44.d1 was not the best defence, as the black queen now managed to infiltrate opposite camp with 44...c4 45.c3 a2+ 46.d2 c2. Artemiev tried to find a perpetual after giving up his knight, but to no avail. Caruana calmly found shelter for his king, wrapping up a memorable first triumph in the 'A group' of Wijk aan Zee with a closing win.

Former US Champion Sam Shankland looked into the game in detail:


Vladislav Artemiev, Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana

Always curious — Anish Giri reading Fabiano Caruana's score sheet during the champ's game against Vladislav Artemiev | Photo: Alina l'Ami 

The champion gave a press conference after his game was the last one to finish in either section. He admitted that things could have gone differently had he not got an unlikely win over Vishy Anand in round eight:

The game against Vishy really stands out. If I had lost that, I would have been in the middle of the pack and who knows how it would have ended, but winning that put me in the lead — it really turned my tournament around. 

The interviewer then asked Caruana if getting tournament victory ahead of Carlsen had a special meaning. The American reflected:

I've had quite a lot of experience playing him, and it's taught me a lot, especially in the match. [...] I think it made me a better player. I think it's more of a blessing than a curse to play against him.

Before winning the 2018 Candidates Tournament, Caruana had a subpar performance in Wijk, scoring 5 points, with four losses and a single win. So, having posted such a good result this year is a bad omen before the Candidates? Caruana responded:

If it is a bad omen, then I'm in trouble (laughs). Two years ago, I played horribly here throughout the event, and my result reflected that. But I didn't really take away any bad emotions, in the sense that I was motivated to do well in the Candidates, to prepare very hard and to try to forget the way I played. And here it's sort of the same — I played well, but now I have to forget this result and go on to the next one.  

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2020

Jeroen van den Berg was also present during the final press conference | Photo: Twitter

The rest of the games finished drawn, with the players probably too tired to go for a sharp fight at the end of a particularly long event. As you might have already seen in his notes of the Caruana game, Sam Shankland — who played last year's edition — mentioned that the participants tend to feel lethargic and unmotivated when not fighting for first place after two weeks of tough struggles.

This factor was apparent in Wesley So versus Magnus Carlsen, a 52-move draw that never quite left the realms of equality. So won twice in the first four rounds and signed nine straight draws to get third place, while Carlsen started slowly but racked up three straight wins to get in the fight for tournament victory. He lamented:

Before the last rest day I felt like I had legitimate hopes of contending for first, and then the last two days it all sort of fell apart.

Wesley So, Magnus Carlsen

Wesley So v Magnus Carlsen attracts the attention of a host of strong grandmasters | Photo: Alina l'Ami

A half point behind So finished Daniil Dubov and Jorden van Foreest. The young Dutchman's performance was particularly noteworthy, as he arrived in Wijk as the bottom seed, but nonetheless managed to pose problems to some of the strongest players in the world. Furthermore, he drew Anish Giri from a worse position in round thirteen, thus finishing as the best Dutchman in the field, a half point ahead of his last-round opponent. The eldest of the Van Foreests declared:

This tournament was amazing simply, beyond all expectations, so I'm extremely happy about how I played.

Giri, on the other hand, will also play in the Candidates in March. Famously, he drew all his games in the 2016 edition of the eight-player double round robin. He also finished on fifty percent in Wijk this year, but things could have easily gone differently. He explained:

Given my positions, I could have scored from 'minus four' to 'plus five' probably, which is why in some tournaments in Wijk aan Zee I score 'minus four' and some 'plus five', but this time it was just fifty percent. 

Post-game interview with Jorden van Foreest

Van Foreest was not the only surprise of the event, as the even younger Alireza Firouzja left a strong impression with his debut in Wijk aan Zee. The 16-year-old was in fact sharing the lead with Caruana before losing three games in a row — against a powerful trio: Carlsen, Caruana and Anand! Firouzja stated:

Of course I was satisfied before the three games that I lost — I played very good chess. [Then] I played three very interesting games, actually, so I should learn from them.

The wunderkind considered his victory over Giri to be the most attractive game he played in the tournament — it was a fine positional 51-move win played in round five.


All games of the Masters available at Live.Chessbase.com

Anton gets ticket to next year's Masters

It was not as clean a victory as it could have been but Spaniard David Anton nonetheless managed to qualify to next year's Masters event. Although three players stood a half point behind him before the last round, he knew that he had good tiebreak scores to all but secure tournament victory with a draw. Playing Black against Lucas van Foreest, he kept it simple and signed a 29-move draw. Afterwards, he talked about his chances for next year:

I will be one of the weakest players, so it wouldn't be so strange if they beat me [many] times, but I'll try my best. I think I've [had] good games against good players.

The three players that formed the chasing pack before round thirteen drew their games and finished in shared second place. Pavel Eljanov and Erwin l'Ami drew their direct encounter, while 15-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov could not get the better of Dinara Saduakassova. The Uzbek prodigy's performance caught the public's eye, as he showed he has the maturity to face tough opposition in a closed-event environment. We will surely see more of him in the near future.

You can replay all the final round games of the Challengers, including one annotated by grandmaster Sam Shankland. The Californian analysed Eljanov v L'Ami:


All games of the Challengers available at Live.Chessbase.com

David Anton

Time to face the big guns — David Anton | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

GM Danny King reviewed the action of the day

Final standings - Masters


Final standings - Challengers



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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