Tata Steel R11: Caruana and Firouzja miss chances, draw

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/29/2021 – Anish Giri is still the sole leader with two rounds to go at the Tata Steel chess tournament. The Dutchman drew world champion Magnus Carlsen with black while none of the players from the chasing pack managed to score a full point. Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja played a thrilling game, in which both missed chances to win. Jorden van Foreest rejoined the group trailing Giri by a half point with a victory over Pentala Harikrishna. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

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Van Foreest and Tari score

It will all be decided during the weekend, and it seems all but impossible for Magnus Carlsen to clinch and eighth tournament victory in Wijk aan Zee. The world champion is 1½ points behind sole leader Anish Giri, as he could not defeat him in their direct encounter on Friday.

Three players still have very realistic chances of getting the title. Fabiano Caruana, Alireza Firouzja and Jorden van Foreest have collected 7 points so far and will be looking to overcome the local hero in the final stretch of the competition. Out of these three, only Firouzja is yet to face Giri, as he will have the black pieces in their round-12 face-off.

In round 11, Caruana and Firouzja predictably played a fighting game, with the American getting the upper hand out of the opening and letting it slip away during time trouble. Firouzja then was a pawn up in the major-piece endgame, but was not able to make the most of his advatange against the defending champion’s stubborn defence.

Van Foreest and Aryan Tari were the winners of the day. The Dutchman defeated Pentala Harikrishna to score his third win of the event, while Tari took down previously-undefeated Andrey Esipenko. 

Anish Giri

Anish Giri drew Magnus Carlsen with black and goes into the last rounds as the sole leader | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Tactics, tactics

One of the two most anticipated matchups of the day delivered plenty of excitement for the many viewers following the games online. Firouzja played a strange novelty out of an Italian, with Caruana later commenting:

I had a very promising position, and also Alireza had like 50 minutes less than me, so I was extremely optimistic, and after 18.Be3 I spent I think at least 50 minutes, maybe more, just calculating 18...Nxg2 — it was the only move I was thinking about.

This is the position he was referring to:


Caruana finally decided not to give up his knight on g2 and played 18...c6 instead. The capture on g2 was not wrong at that point, but in fact it was winning after Firouzja’s mistaken 19.Bc4:


Once again the defending champion rejected going for the knight sacrifice, and explained:

I didn’t quite see how to follow up, and I thought that I shouldn’t sac a piece without actually seeing a follow-up.

Caruana played 19...Bc7, when 19...Nxg2 would have given him a large advantage — 20.Kxg2 Qh4 21.Nf3 Qxh3+ 22.Kg1 Rd8 [see diagram below] is very good for black according to the engines, but the ensuing lines are long and need to be precisely calculated. The world number 2 confessed that “every part of me wanted to take on g2”, so following his instinct would have been the right choice in this game.


After the text, a strategic battle ensued. Caruana erred before the time control, and Firouzja managed to get a superior endgame. The 17-year-old star did not find the most precise plan, however, and ended up allowing his opponent to save a half point.

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller sent us a thorough analysis of the final phase of the game.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Alireza Firouzja, Fabiano Caruana

In the midst of a fierce tactical battle — Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

A tough conversion

In his game with black against Van Foreest, Harikrishna incorrectly sacrificed a piece early in the game, as Van Foreest himself explained:

This idea is quite known, but I think it doesn’t really work in the position we had. [...] I knew that my position was very good, and that it was maybe close to winning after the opening, but there were so many hurdles to overcome, and I was never sure I was gonna win this game.

Even though the engines already give white a +3 advantage by move 20, things look quite different for the players dealing with the specific problems that arise over the board. As Jonathan Rowson said on Twitter:

Van Foreest gave back the piece on move 32:


32.Bxc5 dxc5 33.Rd8+ Kh7 34.Rxc5 and White now has a single extra pawn, but a very dangerous one, on the b-file.

Known for his strength in technical positions, Harikrishna defended stubbornly from this point on, but could not save the draw in the end. However, his young rival needed to continue finding the right manoeuvres until move 60 to get the full point.


Jorden van Foreest

Only a half point behind the leader — Jorden van Foreest | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Tari’s first win, Esipenko’s first loss

Perhaps considering this game as a good opportunity to take some risks in order to catch up with the leader, Esipenko played a couple of overly-optimistic moves in the opening, allowing Tari to get a strong initiative on the kingside as early as move 15:


The Norwegian was very comfortable in this position, and, after skilfully increasing his advantage, got to play a nice tactical trick to convert his position into a win:


29.Ra8 was the killer blow, as the queen cannot capture the rook due to 30.Qxh5+ with mate-in-3 on the board. Esipenko responded with 29...Qg6, but had to resign after 30.Rxf8+ Bxf8 31.Bd2 Na3 32.Bd3 Qxg5 33.Qe4:




Aryan Tari

Aryan Tari | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Round 11 results


Standings after Round 11


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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