Tata Steel Chess R5: Abdusattorov defeats Carlsen, takes the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/19/2023 – Nodirbek Abdusattorov grabbed the lead at the Tata Steel Masters after inflicting Magnus Carlsen’s second consecutive loss. A memorable round, played at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, also saw Arjun Erigaisi finding a tactical recourse to all but force a draw from an inferior position against Ding Liren, while Levon Aronian and Parham Maghsoodloo both scored full points with the white pieces. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

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Not quite unprecedented

With apologies to Jon Speelman, we had to use the ‘u-word’ while referring to the fact that Magnus Carlsen has just lost two classical chess games in a row (according to the English GM, ‘unprecedented’ is often used as a “screen behind the comforting foliage of which gormless politicians have hidden”).

Before the rest day at the Tata Steel Masters, Carlsen had lost to Anish Giri, and in the very next round, he was shockingly defeated by 18-year-old Nodirbek Abdusattorov. The last time Carlsen had lost two classical games in a row was in 2015, at the Norway Chess event, where he lost to Veselin Topalov and Fabiano Caruana in the first two rounds of the super-tournament.

To illustrate how surprising this is, Norwegian journalist Tarjei J. Svensen shared on Twitter the number of losses Carlsen has suffered per year since 2013:

...and we are only about to reach the fourth week in January.

The shock is compounded by the fact that Abdusattorov had the black pieces. For the youngster, the victory not only gained him 7 rating points (he is now among the top 20 players in the world) but also allowed him to climb to sole first place in the standings, with 4 points to his name. The Uzbek star already defeated Richard Rapport and Parham Maghsoodloo in his debut at the Masters section of the traditional Dutch festival.

Thursday’s results left Giri in sole second place a half point back, while three players are now sharing third place on 3/5: Praggnanandhaa, Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. The latter joined this group by beating Vincent Keymer with the white pieces.

Tata Steel Chess 2023

The Masters took a trip to Amsterdam to play round 5 at the Johan Cruyff Arena, home of the legendary Ajax Football Club | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Carlsen’s bold approach backfires

Round 5 saw the Masters’ participants making their way to the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam as part of the now traditional ‘Chess on Tour’ foray. The stadium is home to the long-established Ajax Football Club, which had Cruyff as its top star in different periods between 1964 and 1983 (Cruyff also coached the team between 1985 and 1988). The Dutch football legend was known for his dynamic style both as forward and as attacking midfielder.

A well-known fan of football, Carlsen was perhaps inspired by the splendid venue — and the player it pays tribute to — as he bravely opted for a continuation (with 14.Ba3) that gave up an exchange while preventing his opponent from castling kingside.

Abdusattorov grabbed the material and eventually gained the initiative. An entertaining fight ensued, with Carlsen showing his usual resourcefulness throughout and eventually managing to simplify into a queen endgame a pawn down. The distinctively difficult ending could have easily ended in a draw, but Carlsen was the one making the last mistake.

The Norwegian resigned the game on move 60.


Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Magnus Carlsen

Players and spectators intrigued by the most anticipated game of the round | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Arjun finds tactical counterpunch against Ding

In another lively encounter, Ding Liren found himself in a position with dangerous attacking chances against Arjun Erigaisi. The Chinese star, playing black, went for a tempting exchange sacrifice on move 31, one that turned out to be mistaken — but there was only one move that saved White in the sharp setup.


Ding’s 31...Rxf3 removes the defender of the h4-square, threatening to infiltrate with the queen along the dark squares. An immediate 32.Qxf3 would fail to 32...Qh4+ 33.Qh3 Be1, threatening both ...Rf1# and ...Nf2+, grabbing the queen.

However, White can escape these lines with the zwischenzug 32.Qd5+, which Arjun found after roughly two minutes and a half. After 32...Rf7, as seen in the game, White has 33.Bd8 and Black’s attack has lost momentum. 

And in case of 32...Kh8, White can now play 33.Qxf3, and there is a crucial difference with the aforementioned line since 33...Qh4+ 34.Qh3 Be1 fails to 35.Be5+ — yet another vital intermediate check!


Now Black is forced to play 35...Nxe5, and the knight has left its attacking post. Like in the game, this continuation ‘only’ leads to a draw. But what a draw! This half point achieved against the world number two might go a long way in Arjun’s tournament. 

Viswanathan Anand

A packed auditorium paying close attention to commentary given by guest of honour Vishy Anand | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Aronian and Maghsoodloo score

Parham Maghsoodloo bounced back from his loss against Abdusattorov by taking down a Jorden van Foreest in shaky form, while Levon Aronian grabbed his first victory of the event in his game with white against Vincent Keymer.


White is a pawn up in this technical ending, and here found the correct way to break through Black’s defences — 66.h5 gxh5 67.Bxf5 clears a path for the white monarch to infiltrate on the kingside (via g3-h4).

Aronian continued to show good technique until securing the full point twelve moves later. The US grandmaster will face Ding and Giri in the following two rounds. 

Levon Aronian, Vincent Keymer

Levon Aronian facing Vincent Keymer | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit / Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023

Standings after round 5 - 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.