“I think it’s one of the best days in my life,” said Russian
Grandmaster Andrey Esipenko after playing a near flawless game to defeat World Chess
Champion Magnus Carlsen. In one of the biggest shocks in Wijk aan Zee since
16-year-old Anish Giri beat Magnus in 22 moves in 2011, the 18-year-old met
Carlsen’s Najdorf with controlled aggression and was completely winning in 17
moves. 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja completed a triumph of youth by winning his
4th game to take the sole lead with five rounds to go.
You can replay all the games from Wijk aan Zee using the
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko, Tania
Sachdev and Jan Gustafsson.
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Esipenko defeats the World Champion at his 1st attempt
Andrey Esipenko said earlier in the tournament that Magnus
Carlsen was his idol and he couldn’t wait for their game, but he could hardly
have dreamt it would go this well. Magnus played the Najdorf and varied with 6…e6 from the 6…e5 Nils Grandelius had used
to get a good position against Andrey earlier in the tournament. The Russian
didn’t blink and two moves later quickly went for 8.g4.
Asked about that aggressive move, Esipenko explained:
I think it was his choice to beat me, probably, with this
opening, and I just played very logical, g4, g5, it’s the most aggressive way I
think, yeah. Before the game I wanted to play solid…
The first sign that it might be a tough day at the office
for Magnus was that he now sank into a 12-minute think before replying with 8…b5,
while Andrey kept blitzing 9.g5 Nfd7 10.a3. When Magnus now grabbed a pawn with
10…Bxg5!? 11.Qd2! Bxe3 12.Qxe3 and followed up with 12…Qh4?! it became clear
that we might get to see a sensation.
Andrey began to think, but the only question now was whether
he had even better options in the play that followed. 13.0-0-0 might have been
an improvement on 13.Rg1, while after 13…g6!? 14.0-0-0 Qe7 (a sad retreat) the
immediate 15.e5! looks to be crushing. In any case, the game was essentially over
after 15.f4 Bb7 16.Kb1 Nc6? (16…Nc5 is perhaps the best try in a tough position).
A sacrifice on b5 had been hanging in the air, but the g6
push and the undefended rook on h8 meant there was a surprisingly clean
knockout blow: 17.Ncxb5! axb5 18.Nxc6 Bxc6 19.Qc3!, hitting the bishop on c6
and the rook on h8. In less than 5 minutes, Esipenko played it, and Carlsen’s
fate was all but sealed.
In an online rapid event furniture might have been smashed
followed by a quick resignation, but over-the-board Magnus put on his best
poker face with just a quick shudder of recognition while Andrey jumped briefly
in his chair.
What followed was perhaps more about Magnus coming to terms
with defeat than chess, but if the World Champion wanted to test the nerves of his young opponent, Andrey
passed with flying colours. He didn’t stumble once as he played sharp,
convincing chess to reel in the full point. Jan Gustafsson takes us through the
The moment of resignation may be an interesting inflexion
point in the history of chess, depending where Esipenko goes from here.
For Magnus, of course, this isn’t something which he has to
deal with often.
At least he was able to find some gallows humour in the
Today is about Esipenko, however, with the young Russian
climbing to an unbeaten +2 in the tournament, and a 2696 rating, after beating
his hero not so long after he was a cute kid getting photographed with the
soon-to-be World Champion.
Esipenko’s start and end to his post-game interview with
Fiona Steil-Antoni were perhaps the best:
I think it’s one of the best days in my life. I feel very
great and I have nothing to say…
I don’t know how I will celebrate, but I will sleep very
It was almost a day exclusively about Esipenko, but an even
younger player, 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, stole some of the limelight!
Harikrishna 0-1 Firouzja
Firouzja started this year’s tournament with a loss to
Magnus Carlsen and was balancing on the edge of the abyss against Maxime
Vachier-Lagrave in Round 2, but he’s now won four games, more than any other
player, to climb into the sole lead on +3. That’s the same score with which
17-year-old Magnus won the event in 2008 after scoring 5 wins and 2 losses.
Harikrishna and Firouzja conspired to take the Exchange Slav
they played out of theory very early on, and ultimately they got just the kind
of murky and double-edged position in which Alireza thrives. The Indian
nevertheless seemed to be hanging on until he played 37.Nf4?! with just over 30
seconds on the clock.
Alireza, who was also in deep time trouble, immediately
seized the chance to play 37…d3!, freeing the d4-square for his bishop, and after 38.Nxd3 Bd4+! 39.Nf2 Rc2! Black was
suddenly completely on top, with the b2-pawn dropping and a powerful bishop
Harikrishna is a great endgame specialist, however, and he
came very close to holding the position until Firouzja’s sheer will power
eventually proved too much. It was the second d-pawn that would this time prove
decisive after 51.Nxb7?!
51…d4+! 52.Kf2 Rb2+! 53.Be2 Kf4 (Alireza isn’t playing for
pawns) 54.Nd6 Bd2 55.Kf1 Rb1+ 56.Bd1 d3! An artful final touch to end a powerful game!
Alireza’s rise was perhaps slowed down by the epidemic in
2020, but his trajectory remains that of a Carlsen, Kramnik or Kasparov who
could hit the world no. 1 spot in their teens. For now he’s fast approaching
the Top 10.
It’s fitting, however, that his next challenge is to face
Esipenko with the white pieces in Round 9, after Monday’s rest day. He
commented of Andrey:
He’s a very good player, he won against Magnus very
convincingly today, and I look forward to the game – I think it will be a very
Missed chances elsewhere
21-year-old Jorden van Foreest was close to continuing the
theme of youngsters terrorizing their experienced colleagues, with his 14…Bh3!
embarrassing world no. 5 (but now 10 on the live list) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
“He fell into one of the traps in this opening and after it
Black is immediately doing fine at least,” said Jorden. In fact he might have
hoped for more, until he made a slip of his own.
Jorden confessed his original plan here was 23…Rd5?, but he
spotted in time that it would have lost to 24.Rxf6!, while after 24…Ne4 24.Qg4!
it was Maxime on top, though Jorden comfortably held a draw.
Elsewhere Fabiano Caruana played the “Jobava London” (1.d4
Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4) against Anish Giri, commenting, “I thought it might be fun
and I felt like maybe I’m freestyling a bit today, but it wasn’t really what I
minded!” He was surprised by Giri’s ambitious 3…g6!? and later felt he got
chances in his opponent’s time trouble, though the game fizzled out into a draw
without Fabiano making any obvious mistakes.
Grandelius-Wojtaszek was similar, with Nils feeling he
should have pushed more at the end, though there was nothing clear that he’d
missed. Duda-Anton definitely did offer chances for David Anton in the run-up
to the time control, but he had so little time that he could only really hope
to stumble on the winning path by guesswork or intuition.
Only Donchenko-Tari was a relatively quiet draw, with both
players perhaps somewhat bruised by this stage of the event. The standings after Round 8 look as follows.
Going into the rest day it’s Alireza
Firouzja leading the race, with Andrey Esipenko joining the 4-player chasing
pack. Magnus Carlsen is now 1.5 points adrift on 50% and needs to win
at least 3 of his remaining 5 games to have a realistic chance of an 8th title.
The head-to-head scores before Round 9 are as follows.
You wouldn’t want to be Grandelius with Black against a
wounded Magnus, while Firouzja-Esipenko (their first classical game) and Giri-MVL are the other
games that immediately stand out. For an interesting statistical preview of Round 9 check out Chess by the Numbers, which currently gives Firouzja a 37.7% chance of winning the tournament, compared to 29.1% for Caruana and just 3.5% for Carlsen.
You can follow all the action live here on chess24 from 14:00 CET on Tuesday!