Tata Steel Chess R11: Donchenko sole leader in the Challengers

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/28/2023 – Nothing changed atop the standings of the Tata Steel Masters, as Nodirbek Abdusattorov held Anish Giri to a draw with black, and Magnus Carlsen could not get much with white against Wesley So. Thus, Abdusattorov still has a half point lead over Giri ahead of the tournament’s final weekend. Meanwhile, in the Challengers, Alexander Donchenko beat top seed Amin Tabatabaei to go into the final two days of action in sole first place. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

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Fighting for a spot in the Masters

Alexander Donchenko is currently the third-highest rated player in Germany, and is one of the four players representing the new generation of chess talents in the European country — together with Vincent Keymer, Matthias Bluebaum and Rasmus Svane, all aged 25 or younger.

The Russian-born grandmaster most recently showed his class at the French ‘Top 16’ team tournament, where he scored 7/8 points for Vandoeuvre Echecs, with wins over Andrey Esipenko, Arjun Erigaisi and Jorden van Foreest.

Note that two out of the three players mentioned above are playing in the Masters section this year, and we might as well see Donchenko participating in the main event next year. After beating top seed Amin Tabatabaei in round 11, the German regained the sole lead in the Challengers, leaving Mustafa Yilmaz in second place a half point back.

In the final two rounds, Donchenko will face Thomas Beerdsen and Velimir Ivic (both currently on 6/11 scores), while Yilmaz will play Luis Paulo Supi (5½/11) and Eline Roebers (3/11). In case of a tie for first place, a blitz tiebreaker will decide the winner of the event.

Yilmaz let the world know he is ready to fight in the tournament’s final sprint:

There’s still two games left, nothing’s finished. I haven’t had the last word yet.

Leontxo Garcia

Long-standing chess journalist Leontxo García hit the gong singling the start of round 11 | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Facing the ever-dangerous Tabatabaei with white, Donchenko entered a position with a pair of hanging pawns and an inferior structure — but also with the bishop pair and more active prospects. By move 24, it was clear that White was the one looking for chances to score a win.


Black is struggling to find an active plan, and instead needs to deal with his opponent’s threats as effectively as possible. Tabatabaei went for 24...Red8 here, and after 25.Qb1 h6 26.c5 chose a forcing continuation which only made things worse — 26...Bxf3 27.Bxf3 further increased White’s advantage.


27...bxc5 28.Bb7 followed, and there is no way for Black to avoid losing an exchange. The game lasted twelve more moves, as Donchenko continued to find strong manoeuvres until securing his sixth victory of the event.

Tata Steel Chess 2023

Two days to go at the 85th edition of the traditional chess festival in Wijk aan Zee | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Standings after round 11 - Challengers


All games - Challengers


Maghsoodloo beats Pragg

While the players contending for first place in the Masters drew their direct encounters — Nodirbek Abdusattorov v Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen v Wesley So were both balanced games throughout — Parham Maghsoodloo bounced back from his loss against Carlsen in his game with black against Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. This is the second time in the tournament that the Iranian GM scores a full point right after losing in the previous round. 

Already in an inferior position, Pragg attempted to untangle with a rather abrupt 24.f4, but the pawn push only allowed Maghsoodloo to cement his advantage.


24...Qb6+ is a crucial zwischenzug here, as after 25.Kh2 Black can play 25...f5, solidifying his pawn structure, since the queen is now protecting the backward g6-pawn.

Pragg tried to muddy the waters tactically from this point on, but to no avail: Maghsoodloo did not falter in conversion, and went on to collect a 52-move victory.

Parham Maghsoodloo, Praggnanandhaa

Parham Maghsoodloo inflicted Praggnanandhaa’s second loss in a row | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

The fight for the title

With two rounds to go, chances for a last-minute comeback by a player near the middle of the pack have all but disappeared. Realistically, there are four participants who might end up getting the title in the traditional Dutch event. And Saturday’s penultimate round might turn out to be defining. The following are the key pairings of round 12:

  • So vs. Abdusattorov - a win for the US grandmaster would create a bit of a traffic jam atop the standings.
  • Carlsen vs. Praggnanandhaa - the world champion will get white against a player who comes from losing three of his last four games.
  • Van Foreest vs. Giri - even a draw might leave Giri in the shared lead (if So beats Abdusattorov).

Notably, three of the four title contenders remain undefeated in the tournament. All except the world champion!

Erwin l’Ami, Anish Giri

Anish Giri strolling with his long-time second Erwin l’Ami, who has a 50% score in the Challengers | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Standings after round 11 - Masters


All games - Masters



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.