Tata Steel Chess: Firouzja takes the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/14/2020 – The third round of the Tata Steel Masters saw 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja take the sole lead after beating Vladislav Artemiev with the white pieces. Fabiano Caruana and Jorden van Foreest also won, while Magnus Carlsen was in trouble against Jeffery Xiong, but managed to save a half point to tie Sergey Tiviakov's 110-game unbeaten streak in classical chess. Five players are still sharing the lead in the Challengers. Do not miss the thorough analyses provided by GM STEPHEN GORDON. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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The streak survives

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.

So far all nine decisive results of the 2020 Tata Steel Masters favoured the player with the white pieces. In round three, however, the pattern could have been broken by 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who reached a superior position from the black side of a Semi-Tarrasch Defence against none other than world champion Magnus Carlsen. In the end, Carlsen held the draw, thus continuing his unbeaten streak in classical chess. The Norwegian has gone 110 games undefeated, matching Sergei Tiviakov's all-time record.  

Carlsen is set to face Jorden van Foreest with Black in round four, when a draw or a win will add the undefeated for the longest time accolade to a series of remarkable historic results he obtained in 2019 — he currently holds the triple crown, as he reigns supreme in classical, rapid and blitz chess

Magnus Carlsen

110 classical games unbeaten — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The streak is not the only big storyline developing in Wijk aan Zee, however, as the youngest participant (in an already youthful line-up) became the sole leader of the competition after three rounds. Alireza Firouzja recently decided to play under the FIDE flag instead of continuing to represent his native Iran. At 16, he kicked off 2020 as the highest-rated junior player in the world — China's Wei Yi will turn 21 this year.

On Monday, he obtained an edge against Vladislav Artemiev's Caro-Kann in the early middlegame. Firouzja never lost the thread and beat his Russian colleague after 57 moves. He could have got the job done around twenty moves earlier though:


White opted for the straightforward 36.xf8+ xf8, when after 37.b3+ h7 38.xf8 he is a piece to the good. The queens left the board on move 44, and Artemiev had to concede defeat not long after. In the diagrammed position, however, White had 36.♕e6+ ♚h8 and the good-looking 37.♕f5 — after 37...g6 38.♖xf8+ ♞xf8 39.♕xf8+ ♚h7 40.♕f7+ ♛g7 41.♗xg6+ Firouzja would have entered a much better version of the ending a bishop up.

Grandmaster Stephen Gordon annotated the game that left Firouzja alone atop the standings table on 2½ out of 3:


Post-game interview with Alireza Firouzja

More videos at the official YouTube channel

Artemiev was not the only Russian losing the shared lead in round three, as his compatriot Daniil Dubov was defeated by Jorden van Foreest. The young Dutchman shared last place in the previous edition, scoring three victories and losing no fewer than seven games. Van Foreest seems to have arrived in Wijk aan Zee with a similar unconfined attitude this year, as he has yet to draw a game in this edition. 

In the process of getting his second victory with White, he correctly calculated he could give up his queen in exchange for a strong passer on the b-file:


Instead of recapturing the f7-knight in the previous move, Dubov had attacked his rival's queen with 32...e4. Van Foreest rightfully assessed that he had a big edge and immediately went for 33.c6 (the more prosaic 33.♕c2 was better according to the computer, but not as visually attractive). The game continued 33...xf7 34.cxb7 xc4 35.bxc4 e5 36.cxb5. Black tried to find some miraculous perpetual with his queen and bishop, but Van Foreest found the way out and got the win about ten moves later. 


Jorden van Foreest

2016 Dutch national champion Jorden van Foreest | Photo: Alina l'Ami 

Returning to the streak of the world champion, it was only slightly surprising to see Carlsen going for a quick kingside expansion with White against Jeffery Xiong — the Norwegian has shown a more aggressive attitude of late. 


White had already advanced his h-pawn a couple of moves earlier, and saw nothing wrong with further pursuing the kingside expansion with 19.g4. Weakening the king in such way tends to lead to a sharper fight, when a single mistake might prove costly — Carlsen later confessed that his 21.h2 was an error, as he did not foresee Xiong's 21...d6+, when there is nothing better than 22.g1 back. 

From that point on, the young American had the upper hand, but beating Carlsen is no easy task — the undefeated streak proves it! The world's strongest player knew he needed to take drastic defensive measures, and so he did, rightly putting his hopes on his passer on the h-file. The draw was signed on move 56.


Post-game interview with Jeffery Xiong

While Carlsen fought for a draw, world number two Fabiano Caruana scored his first win of the event, over Yu Yangyi; the clash between big guns Vishy Anand and Anish Giri suddenly came to an end when the Indian accepted Giri's draw offer from what seemed to be a completely playable and slightly favourable position; Jan-Krzysztof Duda was on the worse side of a draw for a third day in a row, this time splitting the point against Vladislav Kovalev; and Nikita Vitiugov signed a rather uneventful draw with Wesley So.

Remaining games from Round 3 (annotated by GM Stephen Gordon)


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

Erwin l'Ami, Anish Giri

Erwin l'Ami is focusing on his own play in Wijk aan Zee, but he usually works as Anish Giri's second during top events | Photo: Alina l'Ami

White continued to prevail in the Masters section, while the Challengers had an uncharacteristic peaceful day. All seven games finished drawn, leaving the same five players sharing the lead — Rauf Mamedov, Pavel Eljanov, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Erwin l'Ami and Jan Smeets are all on 2 out of 3. Mamedov and Eljanov are paired up against each other in round four, the last one before the first rest day.

Round 3 games - Challengers


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

Nihal Sarin

On 1½ out of 3 — 15-year-old prodigy Nihal Sarin | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

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A review of the day's action by GM Yannick Pelletier

Standings after Round 3 - Masters


Standings after Round 3 - 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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