Tata Steel Chess R8: Firouzja beats Ding, shares the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/22/2024 – By beating none other than world champion Ding Liren, Alireza Firouzja joined the leading pack at the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee. The remaining decisive result of the round saw Ian Nepomniachtchi defeating former co-leader Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Meanwhile, in the Challengers, Marc’Andria Maurizzi beat Saleh Salem and leapfrogged him in the standings. Maurizzi is now the sole leader of the event with 5½/8 points. | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Jurriaan Hoefsmit

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Ding blunders

Following a long hiatus from competitive chess, world champion Ding Liren is struggling to recover his usual form in Wijk aan Zee. So far in the 14-player Tata Steel Masters, Ding has signed five draws, defeated Gukesh D., and lost to Praggnanandhaa R. and Alireza Firouzja.

These results have cost him 10.8 rating points, as he now stands 1½ points behind the leaders with five rounds to go.

In the last round before the second rest day of the event, Ding had the black pieces against Firouzja, who came from playing three decisive games in a row — a loss, a win and a loss — in the previous rounds.

The contenders entered a sharp line out of a QGD Semi-Tarrasch, with Firouzja giving up a pawn as early as on move 11. Consequently, tactical opportunities emerged rather quickly.

White has a strong initiative for the pawn, and Black needs to be permanently careful due to his weakened dark squares on the kingside (he was forced to play ...g7-g6 to deal with his opponent’s threat along the b1-h7 diagonal).

After thinking for around 25 minutes, Firouzja here played the strong sequence 17.Rxe7 Nxe7 18.Rxd4, when Black needs to tread lightly to keep things under control.

Placing one of the knights on d5 is Black’s best chance here, though extreme precision would still be needed in order to consolidate his position in the ensuing struggle.

Ding was surely in trouble, but his next move (a blunder) was nonetheless a big surprise for those following the game live — 18...Qc7 simply gives up material after 19.Ne4 Qxc2 20.Nxf6+ Kg7 21.Bxc2

White has two minor pieces for a rook, and the better coordinated army. Ding’s facial expressions showed disappointment, but he continued playing until move 43, forcing his opponent to demonstrate good technique before grabbing his fourth win of the event.

Video analysis by IM Robert Ris

Another crucial matchup in the fight for the lead ended decisively in round 8. Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who came from scoring an outstanding positional victory over long-time sole leader Anish Giri, was defeated by Ian Nepomniachtchi in similar, positional style. Nepo’s handling of his strategic edge was nothing short of impressive (find below expert analysis of the game by GM Karsten Müller).

With Giri and Abdusattorov losing in consecutive rounds, the top of the standings looks crowded in the Masters. Firouzja, Giri and Gukesh are now sharing the lead with +2 scores, while there are no fewer than four players standing a half point back: Nepomniachtchi, Abdusattorov, Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi.

On Tuesday, after the participants get a second rest day, Giri will play black against Ding, Gukesh will have the white pieces against Vidit, and Firouzja will try to make the most of his game with black against underdog Alexander Donchenko.

Results - Round 8

Anish Giri

Co-leader Anish Giri | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Nepomniachtchi 1 - 0 Abdusattorov

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Divya Deshmukh following Ian Nepomniachtchi’s game | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Standings after round 8

All games

Challengers: Maurizzi beats Salem, takes the lead

For a second day in a row, we saw the sole leader of the Challengers losing and allowing another contestant to get sole first place in the standings. Saleh Salem, who inflicted a first loss on Erwin l’Ami to grab the lead in round 7, was defeated by Marc’Andria Maurizzi, the new sole leader in the ‘B group’.

Maurizzi recently won the World Junior Championship (for players under 20) at 16 years of age. In round 8, the youngster saw Salem giving up a pawn for activity in the middlegame.

White controls the open c-file and has the bishop pair, but Black looks fairly solid — and has an extra pawn, after all.

What followed was a combative struggle, lasting 59 moves, with Maurizzi showing tenacity to take down a resourceful defender. The junior world champion told Fiona Steil-Antoni afterwards that he was not sure exactly where Salem had gone wrong in the middlegame.

Marc'Andri Maurizzi

Marc’Andria Maurizzi | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Lennart Ootes

Three more games finished decisively in the Challengers:

  • Leon Luke Mendonca climbed to shared second place after grabbing a second win in a row, as he defeated Anton Korobov with the black pieces (find below expert analysis of the game by GM Karsten Müller).
  • Divya Deshmukh also collected a second consecutive win. The Indian rising star beat Eline Roebers, who has yet to sign a draw in the event.
  • Daniel Dardha, who came from drawing all his games until round 7, got the better of second seed Mustafa Yilmaz.

Results - Round 8

Daniel Dardha

Daniel Dardha beat Mustafa Yilmaz | Photo: Tata Steel Chess Tournament / Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Korobov 0 - 1 Mendonca

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Standings after round 8

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.