Tata Steel R9: Carlsen beats Shakh, Giri wins again

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/26/2022 – In a crucial confrontation, Magnus Carlsen beat Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to reclaim the sole lead at the Tata Steel Masters tournament. The one player keeping up the pace with the world champion is Anish Giri, who got the better of Sam Shankland to remain a half point behind the Norwegian. Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana also won in round 9. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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A repeat of 2018?

Four years ago, Magnus Carlsen won his sixth title in the main event of the Wijk aan Zee chess festival after beating Anish Giri in tiebreaks. The Norwegian got his seventh title the very next year, with Giri finishing in sole second place, a half point behind. This year, the 84th edition of the traditional event sees the same two players fighting for tournament victory with four rounds to go.

In the 2018 edition, after nine rounds, the same two names topped the standings, with the exact same number of points — except that it was Giri who was leading on 6½/9, while Carlsen was the one trailing a half point behind. The world champion scored two wins in his four remaining games (both with the white pieces) to catch up with the Dutchman. Carlsen won the tiebreaker to take home the title.

That was the first edition in which tiebreaks were used to decide tournament victory — previously, the players tied atop the standings were considered shared winners. Curiously, Giri was also one of the contenders the one other time a tiebreaker for tournament victory took place in Wijk, as he lost to Jorden van Foreest in Armageddon last year.

These are only two of the many great performances by Giri in Wijk aan Zee. Perhaps this year he will finally manage to get the much-elusive triumph. First, he needs to catch up with the perennial favourite, though. It is a tall order, but the fact that he has scored four consecutive wins (including his win by forfeit over Daniil Dubov) bodes well for the local hero.

Anish Giri

Anish Giri | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Carlsen takes down Shakh

After eight rounds, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had an undefeated 5½ score, a great performance which put him in shared first place with the world champion. The Azerbaijani knew during the rest day that he would face Carlsen with the black pieces in round 9 — and apparently he used that time to prepare the ever-fighting Catalan Opening.

Not surprisingly, a tense position arose early in the game, with Mamedyarov needing to think long and hard to decide on what path to follow on move 14.

 

Most likely, Mamedyarov was considering two main alternatives: 14...Nb4 and 14...cxb5, as played in the game. After the knight manoeuvre, Black would get a somewhat clumsy position while maintaining material balance — e.g. 14...Nb4 15.Qe4 cxb5 16.Rxa5 Ba6, defending the b-pawn. On the other hand, recapturing the pawn led to a sequence in which Black gave up an exchange. Of course, Shakh chose the latter.

There followed 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Bxa5 Nc6

 

Black does get better mobility in this variation, but it is never easy to defend a position an exchange down against the world champion.

Carlsen doubled his rooks on the a-file while keeping his opponent’s passed pawn on the c-file in check. The engines gave White the advantage, but it was a pawn break by Shakh which quickened the world champion’s victory.

 

23...f6 allowed 24.Nd3, and Black’s idea of continuing with 24...fxe5 failed to 25.Nxe5 Nxe5 26.Rxe6 c2 27.Qe1, and the Azerbaijani resigned.

 

In the end, White’s light-squared bishop turns into a key attacking piece, as it can grab the d-pawn to threaten all sort of dangerous discovered checks. 

 

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2022

A great-looking playing hall | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Giri breaks through

Former US champion Sam Shankland has proved to be tough to beat in Wijk, but on Tuesday he lost a second game in the tournament after having been defeated by Vidit Gujrathi in the first round and drawing all his remaining encounters. The American and Giri quickly swapped queens, with Shankland — playing black — later sacrificing a pawn to activate his king.

 

21...d5 seems to be a good idea, but White will certainly get a chance to torture his opponent in the remainder of the game. It did not take long for Black to go astray, though, as Shankland played the wrong pawn move shortly afterwards.

The game continued 22.exd5 f5 23.Bh3 Kd6 24.c4

 

In this position, 24...e4 would keep White looking for ways to break through in a difficult setup, while Shankland’s 24...b6 allowed an immediate 25.g4, and the bishop and rook will get open lines to infiltrate in every potential ensuing sequence. Giri needed nine more moves to convert his advantage into a win.

 

Round 9 results

 

Standings after round 9

 

All games - Round 9

 

Replay all the Masters’ games at Live.ChessBase.com

Arjun cannot stop winning

With four rounds to go, Arjun Erigaisi has a 2-point lead in the Challengers tournament, as he stands on an astounding 8 out of 9 score after beating Zhu Jiner with the black pieces on Tuesday. His closest chasers, Rinat Jumabayev and Thai Dai Van Nguyen, both drew with the white pieces. In the remainder of the tournament, only Nguyen will get a chance to face the leader, as Jumabayev already played Arjun — and got one of the two draws the Indian has conceded throughout the event.

Round 9 also saw Jonas Buhl Bjerre and Marc’Andria Maurizzi scoring full points. Maurizzi grabbed his first win of the event in style — he mated Lucas van Foreest on move 27!

 

The young Frenchman is having a tough time in Wijk, but getting to play a miniature to score his first full point must have been highly enjoyable — 27...Nf6#

Jonas Buhl Bjerre

Jonas Buhl Bjerre beat Surya Ganguly in round 9 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 9 results

 

Standings after round 9

 

All games - Round 9

 

Replay all the Challengers’ games at Live.ChessBase.com

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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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