Tata Steel 11: Carlsen can’t stop Giri

Anish Giri remains the sole leader of the Tata Steel Masters
with two rounds to go after a relatively comfortable draw with the black pieces
against Magnus Carlsen left the World Champion all but out of contention to win
an 8th title in Wijk aan Zee. The game of the day saw Alireza Firouzja and
Fabiano Caruana both miss wins, which allowed Jorden van Foreest to catch them
in 2nd place by defeating Harikrishna. Andrey Esipenko’s aggressive play
against bottom seed Aryan Tari backfired as the 18-year-old Russian suffered his
first loss.

You can replay all the games from the 2021 Tata Steel
Masters using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson,
Peter Leko and Lawrence Trent.

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Giri marches on

16-year-old Anish Giri famously beat Magnus Carlsen in 22
moves back in 2011 in their first ever encounter. Since then, however, the
World Champion has turned into Giri’s nemesis in Wijk aan Zee. In 2018 Anish
scored a brilliant unbeaten +5, but that was matched by Magnus, and while over
the long history of the event that would have been enough to be declared the co-winner, that year a playoff was held and won by Magnus.

In 2019 Giri bounced back from a first round loss to win
five games and go into the final game with the white pieces against Carlsen
needing a win to claim the title. It wasn’t to be, and Anish again fell just
short of winning his home super-tournament. The rivalry has continued on and
off the chessboard…

…but if Giri doesn’t win this year’s event it won’t be
because of Magnus, after their Round 11 game ended in a draw that saw few
sparks fly. Anish was happy with the outcome.

If a draw with Magnus with Black is not a good result, your
life is in danger! Something is really going wrong!

Anish admitted the Giuoco Piano he played had gone somewhat
wrong, with computers pointing out some hidden resources for White. The last
chance for more perhaps came after 18…Ng6.

In his in-depth analysis of the game, Jan points out that
19.Ndf3! was the chance to keep the game alive, while after 19.Nxg6 Bxg6 there
was little left for White.

Anish was still somewhat concerned:

It was a bit suspect what I did, because I’ve got this
bishop outside on the other side, on h5-g6, which is a bit strange. It’s well
known it’s very dubious to play this way, but on the other hand, I got the rest
of the position sort of fixed nicely, so I thought it was ok.

The 42-move draw was a good outcome for Giri which got
better when two of his key rivals drew.

Firouzja and Caruana both miss big chances

Firouzja-Caruana was also an Italian game, but it was
altogether more exciting. 10.Bb5?! by Alireza Firouzja handed the initiative to
world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, which is a very dangerous thing to do.

By move 18 it was critical.

Fabiano sensed blood and ultimately thought for over 40
minutes here, but he was unlucky, since at this particular moment it seems
sacrificing a piece offered nothing more than equality. As he explained:

I had a very promising position and also Alireza had 50
minutes less than me, so I was extremely optimistic, and after 18.Be3 I spent I
think at least 50 minutes, maybe more, just calculating 18…Nxg2, it’s the only
move I was thinking about. 19.Kxg2 Nh4 20.Kh1 and all sorts of lines involving
Qd5 or Bxh3, and I couldn’t quite make it work, but I really wanted to play it.
Every part of me wanted to take on g2, but I couldn’t really see how to. 

assume that it’s not worse for Black or anything, and maybe it’s very strong,
but I didn’t quite see how to follow up, and I thought I shouldn’t sac a piece
without actually seeing the follow-up, so I thought for 50 minutes and I made
another move, and of course this was a giant waste of time.

The real misfortune for Fabi was that after he eventually
played 18…c6 his opponent’s reply, 19.Bc4?, did make Nxg2 a winning move, but
this time the US star blitzed out 19…Bc7?! in just 16 seconds.

The surprising point is that it’s all about a new detail –
the undefended bishop on c4. After 20.Kxg2 the move is 20…Qh4!, pinning the
d4-knight to the bishop. The main threat is the little jab c5, e.g. 21.Kg1 c5!
and Black is winning back the piece with a decisive advantage. There’s even
another way to exploit the loose bishop on c4, since the plausible defensive
move 21.Qf3 runs into 21…Ne5!, hitting the queen and bishop.

None of those tactics were in any way beyond Fabi, but it
was understandable that after burning so much time on the previous move he
wanted to play fast and didn’t expect Firouzja’s move to have made so much
difference. In fact a move later, after 20.Ng3, the best option was still
20…Nxg2!, though this time, with the f1-square available for the c4-bishop,
White has more defensive resources. That moment was missed as well, however,
and the game lurched towards time trouble.

At first it was only Alireza who was seriously short on
time, but the 7 minutes Caruana spent on 28…Qg6!? left both players down to a
minute and a half. “Qg6 was terrible, and I was completely lost, I guess”, said
Fabi, but although it wasn’t the best move in the position the main issue was
just the time he’d taken. Three moves later he was actually winning!

The tactics that Firouzja has whipped up here in time
trouble are part of the reason he’s such a formidable player, but in this case
the absolutely cold-blooded 31…Kh8! wins for Black. There was no chance to
calculate it all, but it turns out moves like 32.Rxg7, with Rh7+ to follow,
lead nowhere against accurate defence.

Instead Fabi got down to 19 seconds on his clock before
playing 31…g6?!, when after 32.Nxh6+ White was already better. Fabi here
avoided 32…Kg7 33.Bg5!, but after 32…Kf8 33.Re4 his 33…Nf4?! allowed 34.Ng4!
and he was forced to go for exchanges that hugely helped Firouzja’s cause. Alireza
was tempted by a tactical operation that clarified the situation further at the cost of
reducing his edge, but when the dust had settled after time trouble it was
still White firmly in the driving seat.

It was now time for Firouzja to return the favour by taking a
long think to make a dubious decision. 41.c4?! gave Fabiano hope in a game he
was by this point expecting to lose.

I think it was most practical for him to play 41.Rd3 instead
of 41.c4, trade off rooks, and I think that White has either objectively a
winning position, or just like an 80% chance of winning in a practical game. c4
I was kind of happy about, because at least now we fight.

In fact what we soon got was a forced line where 48…Qf5! was
the key move!

Caruana called that move, threatening mate-in-1, “a miracle”,
with the point that after 49.Qa8+ Ke7 50.Qxb7+ Black is holding everything
together with 50…Rd7. “No I didn’t see Qf5 – this Ke7 Rd7 was just insane, and
I couldn’t make anything work!” said Firouzja.

A repetition with 51.Qg2 Rd2 52.Qb7+ looked on the cards,
but Alireza found the impressive 51.Qh1!, giving up the f2-pawn to gain a rook
ending a pawn up. It was no more than a symbolic advantage, however, and a fantastic fight ended in a 61-move draw, with Firouzja and Caruana half a point
behind Giri.

The remaining draws weren’t critical for the title race, with
Donchenko-Duda and Anton-Grandelius never deviating too far from equality.
Wojtaszek-MVL, however, saw Maxime go a bit too far even for what Magnus
Carlsen has previously labelled the “French School of Suffering”. A Grünfeld gone wrong gave
Radek Wojtaszek real winning chances, but the Polish star felt the way he failed to convert
summed up his tournament.

I had some games where I should convert my chances, but if
you don’t score yourself normally they will score against you – this is how it

The two remaining games, however, were decisive and critical
for the final standings.

Tari 1-0 Esipenko

Before this clash, Andrey Esipenko was on an unbeaten +3
after winning three of his last four games, and going into the final weekend he
was facing 2625-rated Aryan Tari, 2671-rated Jorden van Foreest and 2668-rated
Alexander Donchenko. The Russian wouldn’t be human if the thought hadn’t
occurred to him that he had a genuine shot of winning one of the most
prestigious events in chess at the age of 18.

That may have been his downfall, since he chose the
relatively rare Ruy Lopez Steinitz Defence with 4…d6 and then later went for an
unconvincing knight manoeuvre f6-h5-f4-e6.

Tari described his position after 15.h4 as “really nice”,
and the computers agree after the reply 15…h5?! Black’s position really
collapsed when he went for 25…f5?, with Esipenko seemingly having missed a
tactical shot a few moves later.

29.Ra8! destroyed Black’s coordination. 29…Qxa8? is mate-in-3 after 39.Qxh5+, while after 29…Qg6 30.Rxf8+ Bxf8 31.Bd2 Na3 32.Bd3 Qxg5
Black is even up material, but White’s advantage is overwhelming. 33.Qe4!
provoked resignation.

Aryan was thrilled to pick up a first win.

Esipenko can’t be written off yet, since he’s just 1 point
behind Giri and faces Jorden van Foreest in the next round. 

Jorden is level
with Caruana and Firouzja just half a point the leader after a win in Round 11.

Van Foreest 1-0 Harikrishna

This was a strange game, since the usually rock-solid
Harikrishna was in deep trouble by move 13.

11…f5!? gets the computer’s stamp of approval, but that perhaps only means that Black’s position is already bad. After 12.d4
exd4 13.hxg4 d3!?
it seems Black never had enough compensation. 

It was by no means easy…

…but although Jorden was very critical of the way he played
afterwards it looks as though objectively he never put a foot wrong before
eventually sealing victory in 60 moves.

That means that Anish Giri leads Caruana, Van Foreest and
Firouzja by half a point with just two rounds to go.

We have two huge clashes in Round 11, Giri-Firouzja and
Esipenko-Van Foreest, while there’s little doubt Caruana and Carlsen will be
going all-out to beat Anton and Wojtaszek respectively. It’s noteworthy that Firouzja
beat Giri in last year’s Tata Steel Masters
in their only previous
classical game. 

Things are getting serious…

The penultimate round is on Saturday, with all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET.

See also:

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