Chess Piece

82nd Tata Steel Masters
Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands
January 10-26, 2020

Final Standings

1 Fabiano Caruana USA 2822, 10.0/13

2 Magnus Carlsen NOR 2872, 8.0/13

3 Wesley So USA 2765, 7.5/13

4-5 Jorden Van Foreest NED 2644, Daniil Dubov RUS 2683, 7.0/13

6-9 Anish Giri NED 2768, Viswanathan Anand IND 2758, Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL 2758, Alireza Firouzja FIDE 2723, 6.5/13

10-11 Jeffery Xiong USA 2712, Vladislav Artemiev RUS 2731, 6.0/13

12 Nikita Vitiugov RUS 2747, 5.0/13

13 Yu Yangyi CHN 2726, 4.5/13

14 Vladislav Kovalev BLR 2660, 4.0/13

Average Rating: 2740  Category 20

Time Control: 100 minutes for the 1st 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves followed by 15 minutes for the rest of the game with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1

The new FIDE rating list has been released and the Tata Steel Masters, being the only strong tournament rated in January, played a big role in the new rankings (the Gibraltar Chess Festival was also concluded in January but the results were submitted too late to be included in this list):

Top 10 Classical Players

1 Magnus Carlsen NOR 2862

2 Fabiano Caruana USA 2842

3 Ding Liren CHN 2805

4 Alexander Grischuk RUS 2777

5 Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2774

6 Levon Aronian ARM 2773

7 Wesley So USA 2770

8 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2770

9 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2770

10 Teimour Radjabov AZE 2765

As you can see from the table above Caruana won the Tata Steel Masters with 10/13, 2 full points ahead of Magnus Carlsen. This added 20 points to his rating and took off 10 points from Magnus, a total movement of 30 points. He is now “only” 20 points behind the no. 1.

On the other side of the tournament table the Russian Nikita Vitiugov and Chinese Yu Yangyi both lost a lot of points (16 and 17 points, respectively) and would probably spend the next few days trying to forget about this tournament as quickly as possible.

Fabi has been strongly mentioned as a potential world champion for at least the past six or seven years. You will recall that in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup he started with seven straight wins, including one against Magnus Carlsen, in the process becoming only the third player in history to reach a live rating of over 2850 (the other two, of course, are Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen). That record-breaking performance installed him as the favorite to win the 2016 Moscow Candidates Tournament and he really did come very close to earning a world championship match, only losing out to Sergey Karjakin in the final round.

The opposite happened in the next Candidates Tournament, 2018 Berlin. Fabi had a rather lackluster 2017 and then finished -3 in the 2018 Tata Steel Masters. However, when the Candidates tournament started in March 2018 he defeated Wesley So in the first round and kept the lead almost all the way. There was a mild crisis when he lost in the third to last round to Karjakin, allowing the Russian to overtake him in the standings, but two wins in the final two rounds (against Aronian and Grischuk) got him the tournament victory.

This year Caruana has just finished +7 in the Tata Steel Masters. Maybe it would not be out of place for us to predict a good performance in the upcoming Yekaterinburg Candidates in March?

In a January 2018 interview, Fabiano Caruana was asked: “If you could pick five people, dead or alive, to play in a game of chess, who would you choose?” He listed Capablanca, Morphy, Fischer, Alekhine and Botvinnik.

The subtle positional feel of Capablanca, the Morphy force in open games, Fischer’s terrific all-around play, Alekhine’s power chess and the systematic analysis of Botvinnik! You will recognize the Alekhine touch in the following game.

Caruana, Fabiano (2822) — Firouzja, Alireza (2723) [E71]
Tata Steel Masters (10), 22.01.2020

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.h3

The Makogonov Variation. In its original form White plays h3, Nf3, Be3 and then g2–g4. The modern treatment of the Makogonov is to omit Nf3 and go straight to Be3. What is the difference? Well by keeping the knight on g1:

Black’s normal response to the Makogonov is …e7–e5 and, after White closes the center with d4–d5 then …Nf6–h5 followed by …f7–f5 and …Nf4. This is not so strong with White’s knight on g1;

With white’s knight on g1 there is the possibility of the maneuver Ng1–e2–g3. On g3 the knight is more actively played to support the attacking setup with Be3, Qd2, h4–h5, etc.

5…0–0 6.Be3 Nc6

Black’s main response is 6…e5 and 2nd most popular is 6…c5, but Firouzja goes another way.


The text is the correct response. There is a bit of a trap here: 7.Nf3? e5 8.d5 Nd4! 9.Nxd4 exd4 10.Bxd4 Nxe4! 11.Nxe4 Qh4! 12.g4 Re8 13.Bg2 Bf5! White has to be careful here. At a minimum Black will be recovering his piece with an equal position.


Black can also play 7…Nb4 then 8.a3 Na6 and it can later go to c5 to target White’s e4 pawn. But I had always wondered why White would chase the knight to a6. We can just leave the Black knight there on b4 where it does not do anything.

8.f4 Ned7

In the first 8 moves Black’s knight has gone from b8–c6–e5–d7. A gigantic waste of time? Perhaps, but White’s position has also been loosened up. That is why we like the King’s Indian Defense, both sides have their chances.


White is obligated to keep pushing. If he slows down to “complete his development” Black is ready: 9.Nf3 e6 10.Bd3 (10.dxe6 fxe6 11.Bd3 Nh5 12.Qd2 b6 followed by Bb7 Black is more than OK.) 10…exd5 11.cxd5 Qe7 12.0–0 (perhaps 12.Kf2 should be played) 12…Nxe4! 13.Nxe4 f5 with chances for both sides.

9…c6 10.Nf3 cxd5 11.cxd5 b6

In the 2017 European Championship Pavlidis tried 11…Nc5? against England’s Gawain Jones but his position was too cramped and he got stepped on with 12.Bxc5 dxc5 13.e5 Nd7 14.Qc2 Qa5 15.Nd2 Nb6 16.a3 Nd7 17.0–0–0 a6 18.Bg2 Rb8 19.d6 e6 (19…exd6? 20.Nc4 Qd8 21.Nxd6) 20.h4 White’s attack soon proved fatal. Jones, G. (2662) — Pavlidis, A. (2546) Heraklion 2017 1–0 51.

12.Nd4 Nc5

Firouzja revealed after the game that at this point he was still within his preparation.

13.Qf3 Bb7 14.g5 <D>


The mayhem begins.

14…Nfxe4!? 15.Nxe4 Bxd5 16.Nf6+ exf6 17.Qxd5 Re8 18.Nc2 fxg5 19.0–0–0

Greed does not work here: 19.fxg5? Bxb2 20.Rb1 Re5 21.Qg2 (21.Qc4 keeping an eye on c3 does not work because of 21…d5) 21…Bc3+ 22.Kf2 d5 White is not going to survive this attack.

19…gxf4 20.Bd4

[20.Bxf4? Qf6 with a double attack on b2 and f4]

20…Bxd4 21.Qxd4

Black has four pawns for the piece and it is not clear who is ahead. Positions like this though are native to Fabi and he completely outplays Firouzja starting now.

21…Ne6 22.Qd2!

Completely wrong is 22.Qxd6 which opens up lines for Black against the white king. Let’s see what happens: 22…Qf6 23.Qa3 (23.Kb1?? Rad8 wins the white rook) 23…Rac8 24.Kb1 h5 we have a position where all three results are possible.

22…Qf6 23.Kb1 Rac8 24.Bb5 Red8 25.Nb4 d5!

Taking away the d5 square from the white knight.


[26.Nxd5? Qf5+ 27.Ka1 Rxd5! 28.Qxd5 Rc1+ winning the queen]

26…Rc5 27.a4! d4 28.Nd3 Rf5 29.Rf3 g5 30.Rg1 Kf8?

A mistake. 30…Kh8 is much better: 31.h4 gxh4 32.Rgf1 Rg8! (not possible with his king on f8) 33.Nxf4 Ng5 34.Rd3 Ne6 35.Rdf3 Ng5=

31.h4! h6

[31…gxh4 32.Rgf1 wins the crucial pawn on f4]

32.hxg5 hxg5 33.Rh3 f3 34.Bc4 Ke7 35.Bxe6 Kxe6 36.Qh2!

A high class move. Fabi is not afraid of Black’s passed f-pawn and concentrates on getting at his opponent’s king. Take note that he is threatening Rh6.


[36…Kd7 37.Rh6 Qe7 38.Rc1 Rc8 39.Re1 Qf8 how else can he keep an eye on d6? 40.Qh3! Qxh6 41.Qxf5+ Kd8 42.Qd5+ Kc7 43.Re7+ Kb8 44.Qb7#]

37.Rf1 Kd7 38.Rh6 Qe7 39.Rxf2 Rxf2 40.Qxf2 Kc8 41.a5!

Black’s king has made it to the relative safety of the queenside, but Fabi’s attack is not yet over.

41…bxa5 42.Qc2+ Kb8 43.Nc5 Rd6 44.Rh8+ Rd8 45.Qb3+ Kc7 46.Qb7+ Kd6 47.Rh6+ f6 48.Ne4+ 1–0

[48.Ne4+ Ke6 49.Nxg5+ Kd6 50.Nf7+ Ke6 51.Nxd8+ Qxd8 52.Qe4+ Kd7 53.Rh7+ the end]

Well, what do you think? I think at his current form Fabi can beat anybody.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.