Tata Steel Chess: Firouzja takes down Giri

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/17/2020 – Alireza Firouzja rejoined the leading pack at the Tata Steel Masters by taking down Anish Giri in their first-ever classical encounter. GM TIGER HILLARP PERSSON analyses. Fabiano Caruana could have also caught up with Wesley So, but he failed to finish off Jorden van Foreest from a position of strength. The other winner of the day was Vishy Anand, who bounced back to fifty percent with a victory over Jeffery Xiong. Meanwhile, an eventful round in the Challengers left Pavel Eljanov, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Erwin l'Ami sharing the lead. Round-up show by GM DANNY KING. | Photo: Official site

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At the Philips Stadium

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.

Chess and football have been crossing paths the last few days. Quique Setién, a 2055-rated chess player, was appointed as the head coach of Barcelona, while in Wijk aan Zee, the traditional football match that includes some of the protagonists of the Tata Steel tournament was followed by round five being played at the Philips Stadium, home of the PSV Eindhoven. Wednesday's football match was won by Team Magnus, which outscored Team Van Wely 8 to 5, but when the action returned to the chessboards it was Alireza Firouzja and Vishy Anand who ended up as winners.

Firouzja, who has quickly made a name for himself among the elite, is now sharing the lead with Wesley So, after the American beat him in their direct match-up. The 16-year-old defeated Anish Giri in their first-ever direct classical encounter to catch up with So. Of course, he does not feel pressured to win the event, as he explained after his latest win:

I think I have the same confidence I had at the start of the tournament. [...] I just want to make some good moves and see what happens.

Magnus Carlsen, Nodirbek Abdusattorov

Magnus Carlsen facing Nodirbek Abdusattorov's defensive efforts | Photo: Official site

Firouzja described his game against Giri as "very strange and interesting", and we can only agree. White got to weaken Black's kingisde pawn structure but allowed his opponent to get the bishop pair. Following the game while only paying attention to the computer evaluations might give the viewer a false sense of how complex the struggle actually was. Both contenders, in fact, spent quite some time making decisions due to the strange nature of the position. By move 36, the minor pieces had left the board and it was Black who needed to be careful:


This is a great endgame to study deeply. White needs to play carefully in order to take advantage of his trumps, but a single tempo wasted might give Black a chance to equalize immediately. Firouzja improved his position, and Giri faltered by going into a pawn ending that was lost for Black:


From this position, Firouzja went on to get the full point eight moves later. A well-timed 46.a4 slowed down Black's queenside, while the white king gained a dominating position.

GM Tiger Hillarp Persson adds his analysis to the conversation:


Grandmaster Danny King also deep-dived into the intricacies of this game during his 47-minute video round-up:

The youngest player in the field was joined in the winner's circle by the oldest participant — by quite a margin — of the event, former world champion Vishy Anand. Anand won in Wijk aan Zee for the first time back in 1989, no fewer than fourteen years before Firouzja was born! In fact, this is Vishy's twentieth visit to the coastal Dutch city, and he is currently a point behind the leaders on 2½ out of 5.

On Thursday, the "Tiger of Madras" defeated another youngster, United States' number five Jeffery Xiong. Anand had the white pieces and countered Xiong's French Winawer with principled, active play. Early in the game, Black played 7...f8, losing the right to castle, which prompted Anand to go for the initiative on the kingside. Xiong defended resourcefully, counter-attacking on the opposite flank, but White was always in the driver's seat. Anand confessed he only felt confident about getting the win after his 31st move:


After 31.c4, a tactical sequence led to massive simplifications — 31...g4 32.cxd5 xd4+ 33.xd4 xc2+ 34.xc2 xd4+ 35.d3 xe2 36.xe2:


This is a winning endgame for White, who carefully advanced his strong centre until provoking Black's resignation on move 43. The result means both players are sharing 6th to 10th place on 2½ points. 

After the game, Anand was asked about the training camp Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand are leading in India. The 50-year-old responded with a smile:

I missed Boris, unfortunately. I was very happy to have dinner with Kramnik before coming. [...] I couldn't have in a million years predicted that I would bump into Vladi in Chennai, but it was a very nice surprise, maybe for both of us.


Tata Steel Chess 2020

Dutch fans attended the stadium, not to see goal celebrations, but to enjoy expert commentary by Robert Hess and Tex de Wit | Photo: Official site

In the meantime, Carlsen managed to keep his undefeated streak alive, despite once again getting an inferior position in the early middlegame. This time around it was Daniil Dubov who could not break the world champion's defences. The Russian, who has worked as Carlsen's second, went for a line that they had not explored together, but it was only when Carlsen played the wrong knight move that Black got an edge:


The world number one remembered that many times in these positions taking the knight to c4 is a goal of White's, but not here, where putting it on f1 is a much better idea. After 17.c4, Black gets the initiative with 17...e6 18.b3 fxe4 19.fd2 exd3, and White has been quickly put on the defensive.

Carlsen noticed what he had done and showed he has what it takes to save half points when necessary. Later on, he noted that it is not uncommon for him to start the 13-round event slowly:

It's been massively depressing, but the good thing is that I have 2½ points, and I think mostly at this point I've had 3 points, so in that sense the situation is not dire by any means.

Let us not forget that the Norwegian holds the record for most triumphs in Wijk aan Zee, where he has won the A group a whopping seven times.


Magnus Carlsen, Daniil Dubov

Magnus Carlsen had trouble in his game against Daniil Dubov | Photo: Official site

The latest challenger for the world crown and current number two in the world, Fabiano Caruana, could have joined the leaders on Thursday, but could not find a winning continuation after Jorden van Foreest badly erred in the early middlegame. The young Dutchman was only worried about having to leave the stage too quickly with a loss when Caruana mishandled his advantage:


The American attacked the knight with 19.c4 instead of with 19.h3. In the game, 19...g8 works for Black, while after h3 Black either gives up the knight — and remains three pawns down with a weakened king — or the game continues 19...♞f6 20.♕a3, when White's initiative is too much to handle. In the end, the point was split after 35 moves. It was certainly a disappointing result for Caruana.

Annotations by Tiger Hillarp Persson

Post-game interview with Jorden van Foreest

The remaining three encounters finished drawn, with Jan-Krzysztof Duda v Vladislav Artemiev the one that could have resulted in a decisive result for either side. As usual in Wijk, a host of interesting match-ups await in next round, although there is no doubt about which one will attract the most attention from the start: Magnus Carlsen will have the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana — world numbers one and two will try to gain momentum by beating their biggest rival!


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

Meanwhile, the Challengers had an eventful round. Only three decisive results had been seen in the last two rounds combined, while on Thursday six players left the playing hall victorious, as Ganguly vs Anton was the one game to end in a draw. Pavel Eljanov and Erwin l'Ami won to join Ganguly in the lead, while Lucas van Foreest, Nils Grandelius, Jan Smeets and Nodirbek Abdusattorov also scored full points.

The fight for first place is fierce, with Anton, Van Foreest and Smeets a half point behind the leaders. Furthermore, Anton will get a chance to shake the top of the standings table, as he faces L'Ami in round six.

Round 5 games - Challengers


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

Standings after Round 5 - Masters


Standings after Round 5 - 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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