Tata Steel Chess: Amazing turnaround leaves Caruana in the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/20/2020 – Fabiano Caruana caught up with Alireza Firouzja atop the standings table of the Tata Steel Masters after beating Vishy Anand from a clearly lost position. In the meantime, Magnus Carlsen, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Vladislav Kovalev grabbed their first wins of the event. In the Challengers, Nils Grandelius and David Anton joined the four-player chasing pack that stands a half point behind sole leader Pavel Eljanov. Do not miss the thorough analyses provided by GMs DANIEL FERNANDEZ and YANNICK PELLETIER. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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"This was a miracle"

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.

World number two Fabiano Caruana started this year's edition of the Tata Steel Masters slowly, but after scoring back-to-back wins during the weekend he is now sharing the lead with Alireza Firouzja on 5½ out of 8. The American's path to the top was not without difficulty though. In round five, he failed to convert a winning advantage; the next day, he held Magnus Carlsen to a draw with the black pieces; on Saturday, he outplayed Daniil Dubov; and finally, he beat Vishy Anand after surviving a completely lost position. In fact, Caruana described his win over Anand as "a miracle".

Despite having positioned himself as the second strongest player in the world — or third at worst, after Ding Liren's amazing 2019 — for quite a while now, Caruana has yet to win the "A group" in Wijk aan Zee. In 2008/09, he won the C and B groups in consecutive years, but his best performance so far on the main stage was a shared second in 2016, when, coincidentally, he tied with Ding Liren a full point behind Carlsen. 

Caruana will play co-leader Firouzja in round ten, a day after the youngster faces the tough task of sitting opposite a hungry-for-victories Magnus Carlsen.  

Fabiano Caruana

Will Fabiano Caruana finally win the Masters? | Photo: Alina l'Ami

In round eight, Caruana had the white pieces and faced an ambitious Vishy Anand — the Indian agreed to gain an exchange while allowing his opponent to get a strong initiative. Caruana successfully upped the pressure, but Anand kept finding effective defensive manoeuvres. When the time control was approaching, White faltered, offering a queen trade that led to a clearly inferior endgame:


There followed 37.f6+ xf6 38.exf6+ h7 (perhaps the move that Caruana missed) 39.e5 d6 (the only move that keeps the edge) 40.f7 g7. The American later noted that he had panicked while low on time, correctly pointing out that 37.♘f6 was "significantly better". What had been a favourable position throughout now became an uphill struggle.

What happened from this point on was nicely described by grandmaster Daniel Fernandez (see full annotations below): "This is the one time in a hundred when an elite game erupts into unexpected and unnecessary drama". Anand knew he was winning, but more than once failed to find a clean path to convert his advantage. For example:


The former world champion played the computer's first suggestion here, 43...d8, but from a human point of view it would have been better to go for 43...♜xe6 44.♘xe6+ ♚xf7, when the annoying passer has been eliminated and Black has a technically winning knight endgame — the kind Anand would convert nine out of ten times.

As it happened, Anand not only failed to get the full point but ended up allowing White's king to infiltrate, prompting Caruana to get an unexpected 61-move win. Certainly a painful loss for the Tiger of Madras. 


Post-game interview with Fabiano Caruana

First-time winners

The remaining three decisive games of Sunday saw players scoring their first wins in this edition of the tournament. Vladislav Kovalev came from losing all his four games with Black and managed to get his first full point while, precisely, marshalling the black pieces. For Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Magnus Carlsen, on the other hand, their first victories came after a streak of seven half points. The world champion was happy he finally managed to break the cycle:

It's the first chance I've actually had in the tournament, and it ended in a win, so obviously that's huge for me, and it means I can still sort of hope for something. Obviously, coming into the rest day, it's a massive boost.

While Carlsen's win was rather clean — in fact, Daniel Fernandez called it "something of a positional masterpiece" — Kovalev left the cellar of the standings table only after Jeffery Xiong inexplicably gave up a piece while having a clearly superior position:


It is clear that White is in the driver's seat, and this is the kind of position in which a piece sacrifice is necessary to break through, but 28.xa7 was uncalled for here — that move would only make sense if White gets to play b6 immediately, winning with the connected passers. Furthermore, Xiong could have successfully given up the same knight on e5 a couple of moves earlier.  

In the game, the youngster did not recover after this mistake and ended up losing from what seemed to be a defensible position. 

Do not miss to replay these three games with thorough annotations, including Duda's exemplary handling of a double-rook endgame:


Yu Yangyi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda showed good technique to take down Yu Yangyi | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Three games finished peacefully in round eight, with former sole leader Firouzja finding himself on the defensive side against Jorden van Foreest. Daniil Dubov and Wesley So called it a day after merely fifteen moves, while Anish Giri could not get much with White against Vladislav Artemiev.

After the rest day, the highly anticipated match-up between Firouzja and Carlsen will be the highlight of round nine.


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

Alireza Firouzja

Still sharing the lead — Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Grandelius and Anton in the hunt

The Challengers is heating up in the meantime. Five 2600+ players are fighting to get the coveted spot in next year's Masters, and all of them seem to be a good fit to face that challenge. Pavel Eljanov continues as sole leader; Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Erwin l'Ami drew their direct encounter and remain a half point back; while Nils Grandelius and David Anton won their round eight encounters to join the chasing pack.

Grandelius lost in round two, but has now recovered by scoring 3½ points on the last four days of action, while Anton defeated Indian prodigy Nihal Sarin to reach 'plus two'. Coincidentally, the Swedish and the Spaniard will be facing each other after the rest day. 

Round 8 games - Challengers


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

David Anton

David Anton during round seven | Photo: Alina l'Ami

Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier reviews the action of the day

Standings after Round 8 - Masters


Standings after Round 8 - 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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