Tata Steel R10: Giri sole leader

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/28/2021 – Anish Giri scored a win from what seemed to be a drawn position over Radoslaw Wojtaszek to grab the sole lead in round 10 of the Tata Steel chess tournament. Three players are chasing the Dutchman a half point behind — Andrey Esipenko joined previous co-leaders Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja in shared second place thanks to his victory over David Anton. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

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Will this be Giri’s year?

Despite having been a fixture among the chess elite for a number of years already, Anish Giri is famous for not having won many elite tournaments during his career, with Magnus Carlsen at times jokingly mentioning this fact on Twitter as a playful revenge for Giri’s witty remarks on the same social media platform.

Giri, who has been the top-rated Dutch player for quite a while now, has had great performances in Wijk aan Zee. Most notably, at 16, he defeated Carlsen in the 2011 edition, while he had back-to-back remarkable results in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, he scored 9/13 to share first place with the world champion but lost the deciding blitz tiebreaker in the fight for the title, while in 2019 he got clear second place with 8½ points, again behind Carlsen. 

In this edition, Giri grabbed the sole lead with three rounds to go by defeating Radoslaw Wojtaszek from a drawish endgame. Fittingly, the Dutchman will face Carlsen in the next round, to be played on Friday. Alireza Firouzja and David Anton will be the last hurdles in his attempt to claim his first title in Wijk.

A three-player chasing pack stands behind the local hero on 6½/10. Previous co-leaders Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana — who had a slightly better position against Carlsen — drew their games on Wednesday to stay in the race for first place, while the sensation of the tournament, Andrey Esipenko, obtained his third win in four rounds to join them in shared second place.

Tata Steel Chess 2021

Alireza Firouzja taking a stroll | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Although it was not relevant in the fight for the title, the game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Donchenko was the most intriguing encounter of the round. After losing his last three games with black, MVL bounced back by surviving a close-to-lost position before outplaying his young German opponent.

Press officer Fiona Steil-Antonio interviewed Vachier-Lagrave after his victory, noting that the last two winners of the Candidates Tournament — Sergey Karjakin and Caruana — qualified to face Carlsen in a World Championship match after having disappointing showings in Wijk aan Zee. The Frenchman, who is currently sharing first place in the Candidates with the second half left to go, confessed:

I didn’t do this on purpose, if that’s the question (smiles). [...] It’s definitely a good thing that it happened here and not in the Candidates, but there’s still a lot of work to do to make it not happen in the Candidates.

The long-anticipated over-the-board tournament in Wijk aan Zee will come to an end on Sunday. Will this finally by Giri’s year?

Magnus Carlsen

Seven-time winner in Wijk aan Zee — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Never stop trying

The most relevant decisive result of the round was seen in a game that seemed to be heading to a draw for quite a while. Giri had a small initiative in an ending with a pair of rooks, a minor piece and three pawns per side:


As Giri himself pointed out, there is no optimal way for Black to deal with the threat against the f4-pawn, as after 43...Raf6 White has 44.f4 and will most likely get an endgame with 3 against 2 on the kingside. Wojtaszek’s 43...g6 was also troublesome, as 44.h6 hinders the black king’s mobility permanently.

The Polish grandmaster continued to defend passively, but he failed to foresee a tactical shot that put an end to the game on move 49:


49.Rxh7 and Wojtaszek resigned due to 49...Kxh7 50.Rd7+ Kg8 51.h7+ Kh8 52.Nxg6#.


Anish Giri

Anish Giri | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Impressive Esipenko

Much has been said about Firouzja’s incredible ascent to the top of the chess world — and about Wei Yi previously — while Esipenko quietly rose through the ranks in recent years. The Russian youngster defeated David Anton in round 10 to remain a half point behind the leader and join the “2700 club” in the live ratings list.

Esipenko was actually worse out of the opening, but a tactical oversight by Anton allowed him to get the upper hand:


The Russian explained that Anton let his advantage slip when he allowed 34.a3 Nc6 35.b4 cxb4 36.c5:


Attacking the knight first was a key zwischenzug. There followed 36...Nb5 37.axb4 Bf6 38.Bd3 Nc3 39.Bxc3 dxc3 40.Bc4 Qe7:


The tactical sequence leaves White a pawn up after 41.Rxc3 Rxb4 42.Bd5 Nd4 43.Qxa6. Esipenko combined threats with his passer on the c-file and his active rooks and bishop to get a crucial 56-move win.


Andrey Esipenko

Andrey Esipenko | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

An opening disaster turns into a win

It has really been a dire tournament for France’s number 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave so far. Although he got lucky on Wednesday and managed to survive a losing position to later get a win in a queen endgame against Donchenko, he will surely consider this to be nothing more than a minor consolation given how below-standard his performance has been. This is how the position looked after 19 moves:


It all had gone wrong for White. Fortunately for MVL, Donchenko misplayed the position shortly after and then failed to readjust to the new situation, which prompted him to play imprecisely in the endgame.

Queen endings are always tricky. GM Karsten Müller took a closer look at the final stage of a game full of ups and downs.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander Donchenko

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated Alexander Donchenko | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Round 10 results


Standings after Round 10


All games



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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