Tata Steel Chess: Five leaders

by Alex Yermolinsky
1/13/2020 – Four decisive results, all favouring White, left five players sharing first place on 1½/2 at the 2020 Tata Steel Masters. Wesley So obtained a quick win over Vishy Anand, Vladislav Artemiev defeated his compatriot Nikita Vitiugov, Daniil Dubov inflicted Vladislav Kovalev's second loss and Jeffery Xiong got the better of Jorden van Foreest. In the Challengers, Jan Smeets and Rauf Mamedov joined the leading pack. GM ALEX YERMOLINSKY reports; round-up show by GM DANNY KING. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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White wins

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.

What can I say? The 2020 Tata Steel Festival is off to a flying start. In Round 2, six out of seven games were quite interesting, with Yu vs Carlsen being the exception. It is understandable that the Chinese GM wanted to stop the bleeding after his surprising loss in Round 1. As for the World Champion, by now he has learned to shrug off such games, where his opponents use the white pieces to build an ultra-solid position with no ambition in order to split the point. A draw here and there isn't a disaster, neither rating-wise, nor in terms of chances for overall tournament success. I'm sure we will see @realmagnuscarlsen (forgive my boomer's attempt at 21st-century humour) at full strength in the rounds to come.

A visibly disappointed Carlsen explained that if he had wanted to get the sort of position he got against Yu, he would have "at least played the Sveshnikov". He concluded:

It was a bit depressing. Anyway half a point is okay, but obviously it's not inspiring. 

Yu Yangyi

Yu Yangyi held the World Champion to a draw | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Once again, there were two match-ups between Mount Olympus dwellers, and one of them produced a decisive result not long after Carlsen's game was drawn. Wesley So confidently turned back Anand's attack to safeguard his king and retain the extra piece.


It's hard to tell what was on the background of this game. My guess is both players were on their own earlier than they are willing to admit.

Post-game interview with Wesley So

More videos at the official YouTube channel

Anish Giri continues to impress. After holding Carlsen with Black (and even giving Magnus a scare), he pushed real hard against Caruana. A sharp line of the 4.c2 Nimzo went off the theoretical path on move 13 and led White to a better endgame. Give credit to Fabiano for buckling down and defending tough for the required 60+ moves.

Vladislav Kovalev's misfortunes continued. It's always hard to have two Blacks at the start of a tournament, and here Kovalev received no break as Dubov's original handling of the English posed problems early in the game.


Once again, a rather strange disregard to his own pawn from Kovalev. He's 0/2 now, and in dire need of one solid game.

Dubov, on the other hand, thought he could have won the game much more quickly. In his usual self-deprecating style, he was very critical of his play at multiple points. In the end, it was time trouble that left Kovalev completely lost.

Daniil Dubov, Vladislav Kovalev

Daniil Dubov defeated Vladislav Kovalev | Photo: Alina l'Ami

It would be a tough call to award the Game of the Day Trophy, if such prize existed. One candidate is Duda vs Firouzja, the game that certainly lived up to the billing.


That's how close Alireza was to a prefect start!

For a second day in a row, Duda saved a half point from a clearly inferior position. The Polish grandmaster confessed:

I'm playing very badly I think, but somehow I managed not to lose any game. I hope I will perform better.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Alireza Firouzja

Two fearless contenders — Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The battle between the two Russian participants went to Artemiev's favour. The opening looked like a Queen Gambit Accepted where White omitted playing one move, d2-d4! It seemed the game was headed for a heavy positional struggle, when Vituigov's decision to change the pawn structure (13...c4) altered the course completely. As a result, White got a pleasant edge in the endgame, which Artemiev skilfully converted to a full point.

Another interesting game I followed closely brought success to the young American star. Jeffery Xiong made just one careless move, but, overall, his play was very impressive.


Xiong kicked off the event with two Whites, but now has to face Magnus Carlsen with Black in round three. Will he prepare specially to come up against such difficult challenge? Jeffery responded:

I think I'll take it just as a normal game. [...] No reason to change anything.

Bloody round it was, but it was White that went 4:0.

Jorden van Foreest, Jeffery Xiong

Jorden van Foreest is on 50% after losing against Jeffery Xiong | Photo: Alina l'Ami

With plenty of action in the Masters group I didn't have time to take a longer look at the Challengers. A couple of things worth mentioning: Jan Smeets' nice win with Black over the young Nodirbek Abdusattorov, and Rauf Mamedov using the Fried Liver Attack to beat Nils Grandelius in deep endgame.

Interesting fact: both groups have exactly five people sharing the lead!

Erwin l'Ami

Co-leading on home soil — Erwin l'Ami | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

A review of the day's action by GM Daniel King

Standings after Round 2 - Masters


All games - Masters


Standings after Round 2 - Challengers


All games - Challengers



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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