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?

 

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.

Caruana shares his thoughts in the post-game interview:

 

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.

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.

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.

Positional Challenge #2

Hou Yifan vs. David Navara, Game Finish:

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

Matchup #6: Restday Soccer

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

 

Current Standings:

TataSteel Standings Round 7

 

Watch live games and commentary at The Official Tata Steel Website

 

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