Tata Steel halfway

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Tata Steel Chess Masters
Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands
Jan. 10-26, 2020

Current Standings (7 of 13 rounds)

1. Alireza Firouzja FIDE 2723, 5.0/7

2-4. Wesley So USA 2765, Fabiano Caruana USA 2822, Jorden Van Foreest NED 2644, 4.5/7

5-10. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2872, Jan-Krzysztof Duda POL 2758, Viswanathan Anand IND 2758, Anish Giri NED 2768, Daniil Dubov RUS 2683, Vladislav Artemiev RUS 2731, 3.5/7

11. Jeffery Xiong USA 2712, 3.0/7

12-13. Nikita Vitiugov RUS 2747, Yu Yangyi CHN 2726, 2.5/7

14. Vladislav Kovalev BLR 2660, 1.5/7

Time Control: 100 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 50 minutes for the next 20 moves followed by an additional 15 minutes play-to-finish, with 30 seconds added to your clock after every move starting move 1

GM Alireza Firouzja (born June 18, 2003) is an Iranian chess prodigy. Aside from winning the Iranian Chess Championship at 12 years of age (the youngest ever to do so) he is the second-youngest player (after China’s Wei Yi and just a bit younger than Wesley So) ever to reach a rating of 2700, accomplishing this aged 16 years and 1 month.

The past few months have been pretty turbulent for him. In December 2019 Iran ordered its players to withdraw from the 2019 World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships in Moscow to uphold their ban against Iranians playing against Israelis. Firouzja would not allow politics to interfere with his chess and responded by announcing that he would no longer play under the Iranian flag and proceeded to Moscow to play.

In the 2019 Moscow Rapid Chess Championship Firouzja finished with the silver medal, a point behind Magnus Carlsen but ahead of such feared speed chess experts such as Hikaru Nakamura, Artemiev, Aronian, Dominguez Perez, defending champion Daniil Dubov, Le Quang Liem, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, etc.

In the Blitz section Firouzja was a contender as well and might have finished among the medalists were it not for the controversial finish against Magnus Carlsen where he lost on time in a game where he was winning almost all of the way.

Anyway it was clear to everybody that Firouzja could contend against the best in the world in speed chess, and when it was announced that he had been invited to the Tata Steel Masters tournament, one of the strongest in the world, we were all wondering how he would do against the top players of the world under classical time control.

Well, now we have the answer. He is deadly in classical chess as well.

In 7 rounds against high caliber opponents Alireza won all four of his white games (vs Giri, Artemiev, Xiong and Kovalev), drew two (Duda and Yu Yangyi) and lost one (Wesley So) with Black.

Firouzja, Alireza (2723) — Artemiev, Vladislav (2731) [B12]
Tata Steel Chess Masters
Wijk aan Zee NED (3.5), 13.01.2020

Artemiev had a breakout year in 2019. Just 20 years old he won the Gibraltar Masters in January 2019, taking clear first with 8½/10 (+7–0=3). He represented Russia at the 2019 World Team Chess Championship in March, scoring 6½/8 (+5–0=3) as Russia won gold. Later in the same month, Artemiev won the European Individual Championship in Skopje. He is all set to replace the recently retired Vladimir Kramnik in the Russian national team.

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5

No surprise at all. Artemiev is an ardent practitioner of the Caro-Kann.

4.h4 h5 5.c4 e6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Nge2 Nd7 8.Ng3 Bg6 9.Bg5

For some reason this move came as a surprise for Artemiev, who started gobbling up lots of time — a total of an hour on his next 4 moves.

9…Qb6 10.Rc1 dxc4

Pawn-grabbing with 10…Qxb2 is actually playable in this case but definitely to be avoided if you are unfamiliar with the lines.

11.Bxc4 Nf5 12.0–0 Be7

[12…Nxd4? 13.Na4 Qa5 14.Qxd4 Qxa4 15.Rfd1 c5 16.Qf4 Black is in danger of being wiped out in the opening]

13.Nxf5 Bxf5 14.Bxe7 Kxe7 15.Qd2

White has emerged from the opening with obviously the better game as Black’s king is not secure.

15…Qd8 16.Nd1!

Excellent! The knight is better-placed on e3 to support his f-pawn advance.

16…Nb6 17.Ne3 Kf8 18.Nxf5 exf5

Not 18…Nxc4? 19.Qb4+! Kg8 20.Ne7+ Kh7 21.Rxc4 White is clearly better.

19.Bb3! Qxh4 20.Rfe1 Rh6

Trying to prevent e5–e6.



21…fxe6 22.Bxe6 Re8


22…Qf6 23.Re5!;

And 22…Rf6 23.Qb4+!

23.Bxf5 Rxe1+ 24.Rxe1 Qd8 25.Qd3 Kf7 26.Qf3! Qf6

[26…Kg8 doesn’t work either because of 27.Be6+ Kh7 28.Qf5+ Kh8 29.Bf7]

27.Qb3+ Kf8 28.Qa3+ Qd6 29.Qe3 Qd8 30.Qe4 Rf6 31.Bg6 Kg8 32.Qh4! Qd5 33.Re8+ Rf8 34.Qe7 Nd7 35.Bc2! Qxd4 36.Rxf8+ Nxf8 37.Bb3+ Kh7 38.Qxf8 Qxb2 39.Bg8+ Kh6 40.Qf4+ g5 41.Qd6+ Kg7 42.Bb3 Qa1+ 43.Kh2 Qf6 44.Qxf6+ Kxf6 45.Kg3 b5 46.Bd1 h4+ 47.Kg4 c5 48.f4 gxf4 49.Kxf4 Ke6 50.Kg4 a5 51.Kxh4 a4 52.g4 c4 53.g5 a3 54.Be2 Kf5 55.Kh5 Ke4 56.g6 c3 57.Bd1 1–0

The only one who could stop Firouzja was Wesley So. You should study the following game carefully. It seemed on the surface that nothing was happening, and then suddenly Wesley was winning. An impressive display of chess depth.

So, Wesley (2765) — Firouzja, Alireza (2723) [D27]
Tata Steel Chess Masters
Wijk aan Zee NED (4.4), 14.01.2020

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0–0 a6 7.b3

Starting around 2016 this move has become popular, almost as popular as the old main line 7.dxc5. In particular the former Top Ten player Aleksey Dreev has been very successful with it. By the way, in last year’s FIDE Grand Swiss tournament where an automatic candidates spot is awarded to the winner there was this game Adhiban vs Nakamura in the 7th round which was agreed drawn in this position. It is games like this which lead to rumors that Nakamura is no longer the fighting player he used to be. He actually finished half a point behind Wang Hao, the winner. Wang Hao is now in the Candidates’ and Naka is not.

7…cxd4 8.Nxd4 Be7 9.Bb2 0–0 10.Be2 Bd7 11.Nd2 Nc6 12.Rc1 Rc8 13.N4f3

Firouzja has already shown the world that he can be quite efficient and deadly when there is a plan, but Wesley is testing him if he knows what to do when there is nothing to be done. I wonder if I am making sense?

13…b5 14.a3 Qb6 15.Rc2 e5

This cannot be considered a mistake, but White focuses on the weakened white squares in the center and acts accordingly.


Wesley rejects the offer to exchange black’s e5 pawn for his a3 pawn after 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.Rxc8 Bxc8 18.Bxe5 Bxa3.

16…Rfd8 17.Qe2 Bg4 18.Rfc1 Na7 19.Rxc8 Rxc8 20.Rxc8+ Nxc8 21.h3

Small gains. Wesley gets the two bishops and control of White squares in the center as Black has to exchange on f3 or otherwise lose his e5–pawn.

21…Bxf3 22.Qxf3 Qd8 23.Qe2 Qd5 24.Bc2 Nd6 25.Qd3 Qxd3 26.Bxd3 Nd7 27.g4 g6 28.Ne4 Nxe4 29.Bxe4 Nc5 30.Bc2

This might seem like a dead dry position, but Black has a problem — Wesley will play b3–b4 fixing the Black pawns on a6 and b5 and then go after them with his light-squared bishop.


Firouzja decides to give up a pawn to destroy Wesley’s light-squared bishop. He may have overlooked something though …

31.b4 Nd3 32.Bc3!

The black knight is trapped.

32…Kf8 33.Kf1 f5 34.Ke2?!

There seems to be a much stronger move available here: 34.gxf5 gxf5 35.Bb3 followed by Be6, winning the crucial f5–pawn.

34…Bd8 35.Bxd3 exd3+ 36.Kxd3 Kf7 37.e4! fxg4 38.hxg4 g5?

This is the losing move as he blocks his own bishop. Better chances are offered by either 38…h5 or 38…Bg5. <D>



Looks like a mistake as now Black has Bb6+ which wins the White pawn on f2.

39…Bb6+ 40.Kd5 Bxf2 41.Kc6!

Suddenly it is clear that White is winning — the Black queenside pawns cannot be saved.

41…Ke6 42.Kb7 Kd7 43.Kxa6 Kc6 44.e5! Be3 45.e6 Bc1 46.a4 bxa4 47.Be5! 1–0

Brilliant game for Wesley.

On Tuesday next week I will have the final results of the Tata Steel Masters tournament for you. This should be very interesting.


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.