Tata Steel R12: Almost there

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/31/2021 – Anish Giri failed to convert a superior position against Alireza Firouzja in the penultimate round of the Tata Steel chess tournament. The Dutchman nevertheless goes into the final day of action as the sole leader, with three players standing a half point behind. In case of a tie for first place, a blitz tiebreaker — and Armageddon, if necessary — will decide the winner. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

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Firouzja does not give up

Anish Giri was two pawns up in and endgame with rooks and minor pieces in his crucial encounter against Alireza Firouzja in round 12. Eventually, that turned into a position with four passed pawns against a knight, with a rook per side on the board. For a long time it seemed like Giri was heading to a victory, in which case a draw in the final round would have been enough to secure tournament victory. However, Firouzja never stopped creating practical problems for his opponent and was rewarded with a half point after a lengthy struggle.

The 17-year-old wunderkind commented:

It was a miracle. I guess it was payback for yesterday — the same thing happened yesterday, so I’m very happy for the result and I look forward for tomorrow.

Firouzja referred to the chances he missed against Fabiano Caruana in round 11, when he was first in deep trouble and then got a clearly better position after the time control. No matter what happens on Sunday, Firouzja has once again proved he is not only amazingly strong but also a fearless fighter. And he could still end up winning the tournament!

In fact, there are five players who still have theoretical chances of taking the title. Giri, of course, who will play black against David Anton; Firouzja (white against Wojtaszek), Caruana (black against Tari) and Jorden van Foreest (white against Grandelius) are a half point behind; while Andrey Esipenko (black against Donchenko) would need a number of results going his way to catch up with Giri, as he is currently trailing the leader by a full point.

The action on Sunday starts two hours earlier, at 11.00 UTC (12.00 CET, 06.00 ET).

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Another lengthy and enjoyable edition of the tournament is coming to an end | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

It’s never easy to beat a top GM

It does not make sense to keep calling Firouzja a talented rising star, as he has so far gained 10.8 rating points in Wijk to reach the 14th place in the live ratings list — he is provisionally above Vishy Anand, Hikaru Nakamura and Peter Svidler in the ranking. And on Saturday he demonstrated that he is not all about tactical skirmishes and spectacular attacking wins, as he defended a worse position for hours against one of the strongest technical players in the world.

Against 1.e4, the youngster played the French instead of his usual Caro-Kann Defence. Giri, also a renowned theoretician, was ready for the challenge, and played a line which Firouzja described as “a very good, solid way” to get a better endgame.

Firouzja considered his 36th move to be a key mistake:


Instead of 36...Kf8, the youngster thought 36...f6 was better in order to bring his king to the centre more quickly. 

Nine moves later, White had two passed pawns on the queenside, and it seemed a matter of time before he converts his position into a win:


Converting this into a full point is by no means trivial, especially five hours into the game in the twelfth round of a tough elite tournament. However, as Giri pointed out, playing 47.a4 only complicated matters for white, as he will always need to keep an eye on his b4-pawn.

Soon after, Giri agreed to give up his bishop to get four passed pawns (connected in pairs) against Black’s knight, with the rooks still on the board:


This position is still winning for white, but Firouzja continued to find the most stubborn defensive resources until a draw was agreed on move 67.

Nigel Short explained on Twitter:

German GM Karsten Müller took a closer look at the complex ending seen in the most important game of the round.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Anish Giri

Still the favourite to win the event — Anish Giri | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Harikrishna gets the one win of the day

After his loss against Van Foreest on Friday, Pentala Harikrishna immediately bounced back to a fifty-percent score by beating Alexander Donchenko with the white pieces. The players reached a sharp heavy-piece endgame which the engines evaluated as equal. But, with queens still on the board, a single slip can lead to disaster:


42...Qxc3 was playable here for black, while his 42...Qf6 turned out to be the deciding mistake. Harikrishna spent two minutes deciding on 43.c5, when White gets to coordinate an attack first. There followed 43...dxc5 44.Rxc5 a3 45.e5 Qh8 46.Qb4:


White threatens a deadly discovered check and there is no defence for his opponent. After 46...Qa8+ 47.Kh2 Ke8 48.Rb5 Qc6 49.Rb8+ Kd7, a double attack put an end to the game:


50.Qd4+ and Donchenko resigned.

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller analysed how Black could have defended from the critical position that arose on move 42, noting that “constellations with queens and rooks have endgame and middlegame components”.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Alexander Donchenko

Alexander Doncheko was invited as a late replacement | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

MVL and Duda play an instructive endgame

Out of a Petroff Defence, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jan-Krzysztof Duda — both currently on 5/12 in the standings table — reached the following endgame by move 29:


White played the imprecise 30.d5+ here, and further worsened his position in the next move. Duda, however, was not able to finish off his opponent and a draw was agreed after 76 moves.

GM Müller took a closer look at the instructive ending with rooks and minor pieces.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Jan-Krzysztof Duda

Jan-Krzysztof Duda checking his colleagues’ game; while Giri calculates his difficult ending against Firouzja? | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit 

Round 12 results


Standings after Round 12


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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adbennet adbennet 1/31/2021 06:05
I on the other hand completely agree with Nigel Short. Endgame mistakes happen because of fatigue, which can cause all sorts of "abnormal" thinking errors. Ghost pieces, making two defensive moves in a row for the opponent, blanking out on the correct plan at the end of a long calculation, there are many ways to mess it up. But the key point Short is making is that, unlike the engine, we don't know how many candidates *work*, so we have to calculate a lot of lines, not just the winning line. (a) That takes away available time from calculating the winning line. (b) And leads to more fatigue and more errors later.

I once travelled to a tournament and as top seed (nowadays there would be at least four GMs entered) I won it with a difficult last-round game against a worthy master. My concluding combination should be in a tactics book. In the post-mortem there was a local master (not playing in the event) who commented that I was weak, stupid, and finally challenged me on the spot to a blitz match. I politely declined. It w0uld not have been a fair contest. He was fresh, whereas I had just played 30 hours of chess in 2.5 days! Of course I was weak, stupid, etc. I was exhausted, the tank was dry. Chess is hard, sometimes you just can't do it. Giri tired can't play like Giri fresh, it's an unreasonable expectation.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 1/31/2021 06:02
46 a4 Nd5 47 Rd7 Rb6 48 Ka3! was still won in a simple way, as I was told (contrary to what I originally wrote).

Still, calculating 43 Bxb5+, which after Rxb5 44 Kxa4 Kxc2? leads by force to a queen endgame where white can trade queens (Qb3+ after promotions) , should take a top grandmaster normally less than 3 minutes – Giri had 50. Apart from that, queening the a-pawn instead of the b-pawn should also be easily winning, as the black king is badly placed (start Qd5+).
People following and commenting on the games on internet don't all follow engine lines. These variations were NOT given by the online engine, which continued with 44... Rb8 (after which the connected pawns easily win; you've got enough time to sacrifice your rook for the e-pawn).
Of course the situation wasn't normal: near the finish line people either tend to relax or see ghosts. But there is no need to hide clear mistakes by commonplaces: that's a bad way of defending people. On the contrary, one should emphasize that mistakes like these are completely abnormal for great players like Giri.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 1/31/2021 11:24
@Jacob the world chess championship nowadays is also decided by blitzing it out when a tie..unfortunately.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 1/31/2021 10:52
Blitz, and possibly armageddon tiebreak? What rubbish. Shared first is shared first.