Tata Steel Challengers: Yilmaz grabs the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/19/2023 – Round 5 of the Tata Steel Challengers tournament took place on Wednesday, while the participants of the Masters had their first rest day. Three decisive results left Mustafa Yilmaz as the sole leader in the standings. The Turkish champion defeated top seed Amin Tabatabaei with the black pieces. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

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“What the hell is going on?”

Mustafa Yilmaz, aged 30, crossed the 2600 rating barrier for the first time in May 2016. Since then, for almost seven years, his rating has oscillated between 2595 and 2637. Suddenly, after five rounds at Tata Steel Challengers, Yilmaz finds himself in a great position to achieve a major milestone in his career, as he is the sole leader in the standings with 4/5 points. On Wednesday, he beat top seed Amin Tabatabaei with the black pieces. 

Replying to an official tweet announcing his standing atop the tournament table, the 3-time Turkish champion wrote: “What the hell is going on?” next to a smiley emoji. He later added:

Or, in English, “My favourite day at chess tournaments: the free day”. Indeed, after five rounds of hard-fought chess, the Challengers will get a rest on Thursday, when only the Masters’ participants will be playing at the main stage of the tournament hall.

Three players stand a half point behind Yilmaz. Joining former co-leaders Alexander Donchenko and Velimir Ivic, who drew their round-5 games, is Olympic gold medallist Javokhir Sindarov from Uzbekistan, who defeated Jergus Pechac with white to claim his second win of the event.

Javokhir Sindarov

Javokhir Sindarov | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

In Tabatabaei v Yilmaz, a combative opening led to a tense position with a pair of knights facing a pair of bishops in an asymmetrical structure. Black was putting considerable pressure on his opponent’s weakened pawn on the d-file when Tabatabaei incorrectly decided to break the tension in the centre.


Maintining the status quo with 37.Qc2 or 37.Ne2 was the way to go, but White rushed with 37.d5, counting on tactical shots to justify his giving up an exchange in the continuation that followed — 37...cxd5 38.Rxd5 Bxd5 39.Rxd5 Rxd5 40.Nexd5 Qxf6 41.Nxf6


White is material down, but the potential discovered check and the black king’s general vulnerability look somewhat dangerous. However, Yilmaz had foreseen that after the low-key 41...Kf7 there was nothing to worry about. 

Tabatabaei continued trying to create problems for his opponent until move 49 when he finally conceded defeat.

Mustafa Yilmaz, Amin Tabatabaei

Amin Tabatabaei apparently thought it was also a rest day for the Challengers, as he arrived in the playing hall almost 15 minutes late | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023 

Yilmaz and Sindarov were not the only winners of the day, though. Thomas Beerdsen grabbed his first full point of the tournament by beating Eline Roebers with the white pieces. Out of a topical line of the French Defence, which leaves the kings castled on opposite flanks, Roebers achieved a considerable advantage — until one single misstep turned the tables completely.


Roebers had shown great calculation ability to reach this position with black. Given the complexity of the position, though, both players had spent ample amounts of time. 

Pressed by the clock, Roebers faltered with 28...e2 when the sensible 28...Ke7 was the one move that kept her advantage intact. Luckily for Beerdsen, there was not much to consider as to how to continue in such a double-edged position.

29.Qg8+ Ke7 30.Qxb8 exd1Q+ 31.Rxd1, threatening both mate-in-two (Qd8+ and Qd7#) and Bb4+, grabbing the queen.


Black is doomed. Roebers tried 31...Qd6, but resigned after 32.Bb4 c5 33.Bxc5. It was a painful, albeit instructive, loss for the former World Youth Champion in the U-14 girls’ category.

Eline Roebers

Popular among her young compatriots — Eline Roebers | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Standings after round 5 - Challengers


All games - Challengers



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.