Captivating Matchups: The Halfway Point at Tata Steel

Tournament cross tables can be deceptive, giving the impression that each round is of equal importance. Anyone who's been immersed in a competitive event knows that circumstances can make one game immensely more valuable than another. A game between the top seed and a new prodigy can serve as a glimpse into the future. A victory at a key moment can give one a tournament lead. A match between long time rivals can settle their score once and for all. A brilliancy prize worthy game can be remembered and replayed long after the final prizes have been taken home. Let's take a look at some of the most notable games so far.

Matchup #1:  Wei Yi vs. Magnus Carlsen

Wei Yi is a 16-year-old prodigy whose improvement trajectory has nearly mirrored Magnus Carlsen's. Each time Wei reaches a new milestone in his chess career, a myriad of articles are released, comparing his achievements to Carlsen's at the same age. Let's take a look at some of the stats.

Grandmaster Title

  • Carlsen became a grandmaster at age 13 and 4 months, making him the 3rd youngest ever.
  • Wei Yi obtained the title at age 14 and 5 months, making him the 4th youngest.

"Super-Grandmaster" Rank

  • Carlsen became a "super-grandmaster" at age 16 and 7 months, the youngest ever at the time.
  • Wei Yi broke Carlsen's record, passing 2700 at age 15 and 9 months.

National Championships

  • Carlsen won the Norwegian Championship in 2006 at age 15 and 8 months.
  • Wei Yi won the Chinese Championship in 2015 at age 15 and 11 months.

Rating Progress Chart

Magnus Carlsen

Age: 25 years and 2 months

Current Rating: 2844

Rating when he was Wei Yi's current age: 2710

Carlseni's rating progress chart

Wei Yi

Age: 16 years and 7 months

Current Rating: 2706

Wei Yi's rating progress chart The two phenomenal talents have even been compared in unusual aspects:

On the left, Carlsen wears a hoodie while facing Kasparov for the first time.

On the right, Wei Yi wears a hoodie as he faces Carlsen for the first time.

"How far can Wei Yi go? Will he soon be a threat to the World Champion?"

- David Martinez, Chess24

Naturally, the first game ever between the two has been one of the most anticipated games of the tournament.

"Round three features a very eagerly awaited matchup between Wei Yi, the Chinese superstar and perhaps heir of Magnus Carlsen, as he plays today against Magnus Carlsen."

-GM Yasser Seirawan, Tata Steel Live Commentator

The question remained: how would Wei Yi fare in a head-to-head game against the world champion?

Wei opened with the Ruy Lopez, and Carlsen countered with the Marshall Gambit, which Wei had never faced before in a tournament game. The game followed theory for a long time. Eventually, a rook endgame with a slight advantage for Carlsen occurred.

Against any other opponent, the winning chances would be considered minimal. However, Carlsen, referred to as "The Terrifying Grinder of Chess" by Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky, makes a habit out of exploiting small advantages in seemingly innocuous positions.

Throughout his career, Magnus has demonstrated a unique ability to apply immense pressure in objectively equal positions.

-GM Naroditsky

Would Wei Yi succumb to the pressure or would he be able to match Carlsen's technical precision?

Endgame Challenge

Wei Yi vs. Magnus Carlsen

How did Wei prevent Carlsen from slowly grinding his superior position to a victory?

Show Solution

 In rook endgames, active defense trumps passive defense.
Show Solution
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Wei, Yi"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo "2706"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/6k1/p7/Pr3p2/6pP/R5P1/6K1/8 w - - 0 50"]
[PlyCount "21"]

50. Rc3 $1 {Where is the rook headed? Behind Black's soon-to-be passed pawn!}
Rxa5 51. Rc6 Ra2+ 52. Kg1 a5 53. Ra6 {From this square, the rook can keep
watch on the a-pawn while cutting off Black's king.} a4 54. Kh1 Kf7 55. Kg1
Ra1+ 56. Kg2 Ra3 57. Kh2 Ra2+ 58. Kg1 Ke7 59. Kh1 a3 60. Kg1 {Draw agreed.} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Here's the full game:
[pgn][Result "1/2-1/2"] [White "Wei Yi"] [Black "Magnus Carlsen"] [ECO "C89"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "119"] 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3 Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qh4 15.g3 Qh3 16.Be3 Bxd3 17.Nd2 Qf5 18.Bd4 Rae8 19.Kg2 Qxf3+ 20.Kxf3 Re6 21.Rac1 h6 22.Kg2 Rg6 23.Ne4 Nf4+ 24.Kf3 Bxe4+ 25.Rxe4 Nd3 26.Rd1 Nxb2 27.Rd2 Ba3 28.Bb6 Rd6 29.Rxd6 Bxd6 30.Re2 Nd3 31.Rd2 Ne5+ 32.Kg2 Be7 33.f4 Nc4 34.Bxc4 bxc4 35.Rd7 Bf6 36.Rc7 Bxc3 37.Rxc6 Rb8 38.a4 Bb2 39.Ba5 c3 40.Bxc3 Bxc3 41.Rxc3 Rb4 42.a5 Rb5 43.Ra3 Rb2+ 44.Kh3 f5 45.Rc3 Rb5 46.Ra3 g5 47.fxg5 hxg5 48.Kg2 Kg7 49.h4 g4 50.Rc3 Rxa5 51.Rc6 Ra2+ 52.Kg1 a5 53.Ra6 a4 54.Kh1 Kf7 55.Kg1 Ra1+ 56.Kg2 Ra3 57.Kh2 Ra2+ 58.Kg1 Ke7 59.Kh1 a3 60.Kg1 1/2-1/2[/pgn]

Matchup #2: Magnus Carlsen vs. Fabiano Caruana

Considering the tremendous achievements of these players, the games between these two are often considered a prequel to a future world championship match.

Carlsen began with the unusual first move, 1. g3. Both players were in a fighting mood, creating complications and refusing to castle their kings the entire game. In the middlegame, Caruana uncorked 20...Ne5!? (View below). The double-edged game ended with a perpetual check against Carlsen's open king.

[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[WhiteElo "2844"]
[BlackElo "2844"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r3k2r/pp1q1p2/2npb2p/7P/2NPP3/4B1b1/PP1KQ1B1/R6R b kq - 0 20"]
[PlyCount "25"]

20... Ne5 $5 21. Nxe5 (21. dxe5 dxe5+ 22. Kc2 (22. Qd3 Bxc4) 22... Rc8 23. b3
b5) 21... dxe5 22. d5 Bg4 23. Bf3 Bxf3 24. Qxf3 Qb5 25. Rac1 Qxb2+ 26. Kd1 Bf4
27. Bxf4 exf4 28. Qxf4 Rg8 29. Rf1 Qd4+ 30. Ke1 Qb4+ 31. Kd1 Qd4+ 32. Ke1 Qb4+
Caruana shares his thoughts in the post-game interview: [youtube]  

Matchup #3: Fabiano Caruana vs. Ding Liren

This crucial victory in round 7 allowed Caruana to keep up the pace with Carlsen (who won quickly against Pavel Elijanov) in the race for first place, heading into the second half of the tournament. Additionally, it eliminated one of the top contenders, Ding Liren, from the tie for the lead. Can you find the behind-the-scenes tactic that allowed Caruana to secure an extra pawn?

Tactical Challenge

Fabiano Caruana vs. Ding Liren (Alternate Variation)

In the game, Ding played 20...Rb5, sacrificing the c4 pawn in an attempt for activity. What tactic was waiting for him if he played 20...Rc8?

White to move.

Show Solution

 There is a potential fork in the position: Use a combination to make it work. 

Show Solution

[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Ding, Liren"]
[Result "*"]
[WhiteElo "2787"]
[BlackElo "2787"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2rq1rk1/3n1ppp/p2p4/3NpP2/2p3Q1/P7/1PP2PPP/1R3RK1 w - - 0 21"]
[PlyCount "8"]21. f6 {This move serves two purposes: 1) threatens checkmate and 2) opens up the h3-c8 diagonal
for the white queen.} Nxf6 (21... g6 22. Ne7+) 22. Qxc8 Qxc8 23. Ne7+ Kh8 24.
Nxc8 Rxc8 {and White is ahead in material.} *[/pgn]
Here's the actual game:
[pgn][Result "1-0"] [White "Fabiano Caruana"] [Black "Ding Liren"] [ECO "C84"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2766"] [PlyCount "165"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 Na5 9. Ba2 c5 10. Nc3 Be6 11. Nh4 c4 12. Nf5 Bxf5 13. exf5 O-O 14. dxc4 Nxc4 15. Bxc4 bxc4 16. Bg5 Rb8 17. Rb1 Nd7 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Nd5 Qd8 20. Qg4 Rb5 21. Qxc4 Nb6 22. Nxb6 Qxb6 23. b4 d5 24. Qb3 Qc6 25. Rfe1 d4 26. a4 Rd5 27. h4 Rb8 28. Qf3 f6 29. Red1 Qc4 30. Qd3 Rc8 31. Rb2 Rd6 32. b5 Rb6 33. Ra1 h5 34. Ra3 Qd5 35. Rab3 e4 36. Qd1 Rd8 37. bxa6 Rxa6 38. Rb5 Qd6 39. a5 d3 40. cxd3 exd3 41. Rd2 Rc6 42. Rb3 Qc7 43. Rb1 Qxa5 44. Rxd3 Rdc8 45. Qxh5 Qe5 46. Rbd1 Rc1 47. Qf3 Rxd1+ 48. Rxd1 Qe8 49. g3 Rc5 50. Ra1 Qd7 51. Ra8+ Rc8 52. Ra5 Kh7 53. Rd5 Qe8 54. Kg2 Rc7 55. Ra5 Qf7 56. Qd5 Qxd5+ 57. Rxd5 Rc4 58. Rd2 Kg8 59. f3 Kf8 60. g4 Rc1 61. Kg3 Rg1+ 62. Rg2 Ra1 63. g5 Kf7 64. Kg4 Ra4+ 65. f4 fxg5 66. hxg5 Ra1 67. Rb2 Rg1+ 68. Kh3 Rf1 69. Rb7+ Kf8 70. Kg4 Rh1 71. f6 gxf6 72. g6 Ra1 73. Kf5 Ra6 74. Rf7+ Kg8 75. Re7 Ra4 76. Re4 Ra6 77. Re6 Ra4 78. Rxf6 Ra5+ 79. Kg4 Kg7 80. Rd6 Ra1 81. Kg5 Rg1+ 82. Kf5 Kh6 83. Rd8 1-0[/pgn]

Matchup #4: Wesley So vs. Anish Giri

Wesley So defeated Anish Giri (ranked #3 in the world ) in the first round. This is the first game Giri has lost in classical chess in a very long time. The win tied So for the tournament lead at the time.
[pgn][Result "1-0"] [White "Wesley So"] [Black "Anish Giri"] [ECO "A36"] [WhiteElo "2773"] [BlackElo "2798"] [PlyCount "73"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 c5 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. a3 d6 6. Rb1 a5 7. d3 e5 8. Nd5 Nce7 9. Nc3 Nc6 10. e4 Nge7 11. Nge2 O-O 12. O-O Bd7 13. Bd2 h6 14. Nb5 Be6 15. Nec3 b6 16. Nd5 Bxd5 17. cxd5 Na7 18. Nc3 f5 19. h4 f4 20. Bh3 b5 21. Ne2 f3 22. Nc1 h5 23. Nb3 a4 24. Na1 b4 25. axb4 cxb4 26. Qxa4 Nac6 27. Qd1 Nd4 28. Nc2 Nxc2 29. Qxc2 Rb8 30. Rfc1 Rb7 31. Qb3 Kh8 32. Rc4 Ng8 33. Rxb4 Rxb4 34. Qxb4 Bf6 35. Rc1 Qe7 36. Qb6 Bxh4 37. Rc7 1-0[/pgn]

Matchup #5: Hou Yifan vs. David Navara

Hou Yifan played a brilliant game, demonstrating her understanding of both the initiative and positional chess, against David Navara.

Positional Challenge #1

Hou Yifan vs. David Navara

How did Hou increase her positional advantage?

White to move.

Show Solution

 "The aim of all maneuvers on an open file is the ultimate intrusion along this file... into the enemy position." -Aron Nimzovich
Show Solution
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Hou, Yifan"]
[Black "Navara, David"]
[Result "*"]
[WhiteElo "2673"]
[BlackElo "2673"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r2q1r2/3n3k/1p2p1bp/p2pPp2/P2P1P1b/1N6/1P1BB2P/2RQ1R1K w - - 0 20"]
[PlyCount "15"]

20. Rc6 $1 {The rook penetrates into the position, soon sacrificing itself to
tear up Black's center and kingside pawns.} Rc8 21. Rxe6 Bf7 22. Rd6 Be7 23.
Bd3 Bxd6 24. Bxf5+ Kh8 25. Qg4 Rc7 26. Qh3 h5 27. exd6 {And Hou had a significant positional advantage in return for her exchange sacrifice. See next diagram for the game finish.} *[/pgn]

Positional Challenge #2

Hou Yifan vs. David Navara, Game Finish:

How did Hou turn her inactive knight on b3 into the game-winning piece?

Show Solution

Knights belong on outposts. White uses a four move maneuver to bring her knight to a critical kingside outpost. 

Show Solution

[pgn][Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Hou, Yifan"]
[Black "Navara, David"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "5rbk/4q2r/1p2Bn2/p2pBPQ1/P2P4/1N6/1P5P/5R1K w - - 0 34"]
[PlyCount "13"]34. Nc1 {The knight heads to g6. Black has no adequate defense.} Qg7 35. Qxg7+
Rxg7 36. Nd3 {Even the queen trade gives Navara's position no relief.} Rg4 37.
Nf4 Kh7 38. h3 Rg3 39. Ng6 Rxh3+ 40. Kg2 {Black resigns.} 1-0[/pgn]

Matchup #6: Restday Soccer

In Wijk aan Zee, the grandmasters compete in more than just chess. [youtube]  

Current Standings:

TataSteel Standings Round 7

  Watch live games and commentary at The Official Tata Steel Website