Tata Steel Chess: So takes over, Carlsen sets new record

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/15/2020 – Wesley So defeated Alireza Firouzja to leapfrog him in the standings table of the Tata Steel Masters and become the new sole leader before the first rest day of the event. Five players are a half point back, including Vladislav Artemiev, who took down Vladislav Kovalev on Tuesday. In the meantime, Magnus Carlsen salvaged a draw from an inferior position again to set a new record of undefeated classical games. Surya Ganguly is now the sole leader in the Challengers. Expert analysis by GMs STEPHEN GORDON and DANIEL KING. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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Carlsen does it, again

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.

Following on his astounding performance of 2019, Magnus Carlsen continues to amaze the chess world. Despite not showing an up to standard performance in Wijk aan Zee so far, the world champion managed to draw his first four games to surpass Sergei Tiviakov's 110-game undefeated streak in classical chess. At this point, reporting on Carlsen's resounding achievements has become such a frequent occurrence that this might seem like a minor attainment. But it's not.

Given the availability of strong computer power to prepare openings, it is a feat in itself that Carlsen has not been caught in a line that simply wipes him off the board...since July 2018! Not to mention the fact that the previous record was set by a player who faced lower opposition — we should not underestimate Tiviakov's streak, but as was reported by Tarjei J. Svensen the Dutchman himself acknowledges how commendable Carlsen's feat actually is. He was asked by the Norwegian TV 2 how he felt after the record he set had been broken:

Of course it's sad. But Magnus is about to become the greatest chess player ever. I am not losing the record to an ordinary player, but one that really deserves it. I am still proud my record stood for 15 years.

The world champion is in good company:

Magnus Carlsen

Unbeatable? — World Champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Alina l'Ami

After keeping the streak alive for so long, the fact that Carlsen was so close to losing against young opponents in his last two games adds some spice to the storyline. In round four, he faced a very well-prepared Jorden van Foreest, who used a variation previously tried by the creative Levon Aronian to leave the world champion in a clearly inferior position out of the opening. White's sixteenth move was key in giving the youngster an edge:


16.g4 justifies White's previous play, when after 16...fxg4 17.g5 there is time to go 17...d7 18.ce4, using the pin on the d1-h5 diagonal. 

White was simply better while a pawn up, but Van Foreest did not find a powerful exchange sacrifice which would have left his famed opponent in an unenviable situation:


Van Foreest later confessed that he had seen the idea with 29.dxc4, giving up the exchange on c1, but instead of choosing this alternative he played 29.ce1, giving Black some time to regroup. In a post-game interview, Carlen himself explained that after the exchange sac he would have been "in huge trouble", but credit should also be given to him for having kept his cool in an inferior position for a second day in a row. The Norwegian declared:

It's been going okay. I mean, I'm saving bad positions every game — what's not to like? (smiles)

Grandmaster Stephen Gordon once again sent comprehensive analyses of all the Masters games. Do not miss his annotations:


Post-game interview with Magnus Carlsen

More videos at the official YouTube channel

So leapfrogs Firouzja

While Carlsen survived a tough position a pawn down, Wesley So reminded us he is one of the strongest technical players in the circuit by defeating the man of the hour, 16-year-old wunderkind Alireza Firouzja. So, who kicked off an excellent 2017 with a first place in Wijk aan Zee, took the game to a place in which he feels the most comfortable — a queenless position with a slight edge. The American used his pair of bishops in exemplary fashion, except perhaps when he failed to find the very best continuation on move 34:


White went to gain a pawn with 34.e2, but he had an even better alternative in 34.gxf5, as after 34...gxf5 35.♗b3 the light-squared bishop is ready to go to e6 and simply gobble up all of Black's weaknesses on the kingside and the centre. Nonetheless, the game continuation —34...d8 35.xd3 exd3+ 36.xd3 — was good enough for So to find a way to score a full point in the end.

The new sole leader was happy after beating the sensation of the tournament:

It's clear that Firouzja is the next big talent. I mean, he's probably underrated right now. It's amazing all the things he does, because he's only 16 and he's fighting already with the world's best.

The Filipino-born grandmaster feels his relatively bad form from the last few months might take a turn for the better:

It's a good way to start the year. I'm hoping to have a successful tournament here, because my last few tournaments last year have been pretty much subpar. I was playing horrible chess.

Stephen Gordon looked deeply into the So v Firouzja ending, noting that the youngster might have had some chances to incredibly save a half point:


Wesley So

The new sole leader, 2017 Tata Steel Masters champion Wesley So | Photo: Alina l'Ami

In the other decisive encounter of the day, Vladislav Artemiev bounced back from his loss from Monday, by taking down Vladislav Kovalev, who for a third time in four rounds had Black and lost. The unlucky drawing of lots left the Belarusian alone in the cellar of the standings before the first rest day. On Thursday, he will have the white pieces against the leader of the event — a good chance to start a comeback!

In the game, Artemiev used his usual positional style, constantly creating small problems to his opponent until pushing him to crack under pressure. The Russian got to show a nice combination to put an end to the struggle:


White was already a pawn up and had a solid advantage, but Kovalev's 39...d8 allowed his opponent to show a nice finish — 40.xe6 fxe6 41.e5 f8 42.xg6+ h8 43.h6+ g8 44.g6 and Black resigned, as the queen and knight duo is ready to wreak havoc around the opposite king. 


Vladislav Artemiev

Vladislav Artemiev | Photo: Alina l'Ami

The rest of the games finished drawn, with Anish Giri showing some ambitious ideas in the London against Nikita Vitiugov; Daniil Dubov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda exploring a sharp opening variation; Fabiano Caruana defending passively against Jeffery Xiong; and Yu Yangyi neutralizing Vishy Anand's Ragozin.

Round 4 games (annotated by GM Stephen Gordon)


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

Meanwhile, in the Challengers, a sole leader emerged after round four: Surya Shekhar Ganguly defeated Dinara Saduakassova to go into the rest day as the only contender on 3 out of 4. Much like in the Masters, five players are a half point behind, with Nihal Sarin and David Anton joining the chasing pack thanks to victories over Max Warmerdam and Jan Smeets, respectively.

Ganguly will face top seed Anton with White after the rest day. Let us not forget that the main motivation to win the Challengers is to get a spot in next year's Masters, a great opportunity that might end up becoming the big break for these strong grandmasters.  

Round 4 games - Challengers


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

Vinent Keymer, Wesley So

Some of the Challengers having a good time analysing while Wesley So is being interviewed in the background | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

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

Standings after Round 4 - Masters


Standings after Round 4 - 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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