Caruana Misses By Half Point, Ties for Third in Tata Steel Masters

GM Fabiano Caruana at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters
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GM Fabiano Caruana at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

World No. 2 and top American GM Fabiano Caruana couldn’t find the extra half-point he needed in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, finishing the 83rd annual Tata Steel Masters tournament just off the top of the standings.

Caruana finished with 8/13 in a three-way tie for third place, trailing leader GMs Jorden van Foreest and Anish Giri by a half point at the finish line. Van Foreest went on to defeat Giri in a playoff for top honors, and Caruana was placed fourth by tiebreakers. 

Caruana, van Foreest and Giri were the only three players to finish without defeat in the annual Dutch super-tournament known as the “Wimbledon of Chess," which due to COVID was pared down from its traditional bustling chess festival to just the 14 Grandmasters playing at physical boards this year. The American finished plus-three with victories over the bottom three players in the standings, bringing into focus several missed opportunities in earlier rounds. 


2021 Tata Steel Masters Final Standings
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courtesy Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

“Plus-three is not bad by any means, and I was happy to at least come into the last round a with chance at first,” Caruana said. “But it is disappointing. I missed a lot of chances early on, like my first four games I could have pretty much won all of them if I had made the most of my chances. And at the end I was hoping to score at least plus-one from these last two games.” 

Except for a few brief rounds when he was able to tie for the lead, Caruana seemed to mostly hang one half-point behind a regularly changing leader throughout the event. There was hope in the end, with the American facing opponents on the bottom half of the standings, though both Spanish GM David Anton Guijarro and Norwegian GM Aryan Tari were able to fight to draws.  


GMs Fabiano Caruana and Aryan Tari in the final round of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters Tournament
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GMs Fabiano Caruana and Aryan Tari in the final round of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters Tournament. // // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021


In Sunday’s final round, Caruana went for broke after his self-described “careless” 11. … Ng6 in an exchange French, later admitting he looked at Tari’s response of 12. Ne3 and thought ‘It’s over – I can’t win this.’ He attempted to keep things lively with 12. … f5 and allowing a triple-stack of his g-pawns, though the game continued to a slow fizzle. 

“I think Aryan played pretty well, I guess it never strayed outside the bounds of equality, even though I was optimistic,” Caruana said. “I’m pretty sure it was always a dead equal position, and a draw was logical.” 

[pgn][Event "83rd Tata Steel Masters"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2021.01.31"] [Round "13.5"] [White "Tari, Aryan"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C01"] [WhiteElo "2625"] [BlackElo "2823"] [PlyCount "84"] [EventDate "2021.01.16"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bd3 Bg4 6. c3 Bd6 7. O-O Nge7 8. Nbd2 Qd7 9. b4 O-O 10. Re1 Rae8 11. Nf1 Ng6 12. Ne3 f5 13. Nxg4 fxg4 14. Bxg6 hxg6 15. Rxe8 Rxe8 16. Ne1 Nd8 17. g3 Nf7 18. Ng2 c6 19. Bd2 Bc7 20. Qc2 Qf5 21. Ne3 Qh5 22. Ng2 Qf5 23. Ne3 Qh5 24. Ng2 Bd8 25. Rf1 Nd6 26. Bf4 Ne4 27. c4 Bf6 28. cxd5 Qxd5 29. Ne3 Qe6 30. Be5 Bxe5 31. Qxe4 Bd6 32. Qb1 Qe4 33. Qb3+ Kh7 34. b5 c5 35. dxc5 Bxc5 36. Rc1 Bxe3 37. Qxe3 Qxe3 38. fxe3 Rxe3 39. Rc7 Ra3 40. Rxb7 Rxa2 41. b6 axb6 42. Rxb6 Kh6 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Fabiano Caruana - Post Round 13 Interview

As defending champion, Caruana appeared very sharp through the first several rounds of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters, and much of his failure to convert was as much a testament to great defensive achievements by his opponents.  

The World No. 2 looked ready to accept brilliancies in the third round against Polish GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda, after bringing novelty to a Petroff with 11. Rhg1. The American’s 16. Ne6! was a beauty and brought a sharp middlegame attack that at one point had several white pieces hanging without enough time to capture. Duda’s defensive tightrope walk proved nearly perfect however, as time pressure rushed Caruana into an endgame he thought was winning. The polish GM’s knight held up, however, to Caruana’s rook advantage. 

[pgn][Event "83rd Tata Steel Masters"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2021.01.18"] [Round "3.4"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Duda, Jan-Krzysztof"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C42"] [WhiteElo "2823"] [BlackElo "2743"] [PlyCount "101"] [EventDate "2021.01.16"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Nxc3 6. dxc3 Be7 7. Be3 Nd7 8. Qd2 O-O 9. O-O-O Nf6 10. Bd3 c5 11. Rhg1 b5 12. g4 Bb7 13. Qe2 c4 14. Bf5 Re8 15. Nd4 Nd5 16. Ne6 Qa5 17. Qf3 Bf6 18. g5 Bxc3 19. Bxh7+ Kxh7 20. g6+ fxg6 21. Ng5+ Kh8 22. Bd4 Bxd4 23. Rxd4 Nf6 24. Qxb7 Rab8 25. Qf7 Re1+ 26. Rd1 Rxg1 27. Rxg1 Re8 28. Ne6 Rxe6 29. Qxe6 Qxa2 30. Qh3+ Kg8 31. Qe6+ Kh7 32. Qh3+ Kg8 33. Qa3 Qxa3 34. bxa3 Kf7 35. Kd2 a6 36. Ke3 Nd5+ 37. Kd4 Ne7 38. Re1 Ke8 39. a4 Kd7 40. axb5 axb5 41. Rg1 Kc6 42. h4 Nf5+ 43. Kc3 Nxh4 44. Kb4 Nf3 45. Rxg6 Nd4 46. c3 Ne2 47. Rxg7 Nf4 48. Ka5 Ne2 49. Kb4 Nf4 50. Ka5 Ne2 51. Kb4 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
GMs Fabiano Caruana and Jorden van Foreest at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters
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GMs Fabiano Caruana and Jorden van Foreest play in the first round of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021


Van Foreest was the first Dutchman to win in Wijk aan Zee in 36 years, though a hometown hero was certain with the playoff against Giri. Van Foreest entered ranked 67th in the world and 11th among the 14 GMs making up the 2021 Tata Steel Masters field, and the win of the prestigious super-event stands as one of the biggest of his career. 

“Jorden played amazingly well, super impressive. He was well prepared, he was playing very well, I think he showed super high quality throughout,” Caruana said. “I feel like this might even correspond to his strength – it didn’t feel like a fluke or anything, it feels like he’s just a very strong player, and this is a result he is capable of.” 

“I still have a flashback of our first game: if I had converted that, then maybe the tournament would have taken a different turn for both of us.” 

[pgn][Event "83rd Tata Steel Masters"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2021.01.16"] [Round "1"] [White "Caruana, F."] [Black "Van Foreest, Jorden"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D32"] [WhiteElo "2823"] [BlackElo "2671"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2021.01.15"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 c5 4. e3 Nf6 5. Nf3 a6 6. cxd5 exd5 7. g3 c4 8. Bg2 Bb4 9. Bd2 O-O 10. b3 Bf5 11. O-O Bd3 12. Re1 Nc6 13. Ne5 Nxe5 14. dxe5 Bxc3 15. Bxc3 Ne4 16. Bb4 Re8 17. f3 a5 18. Ba3 Nc3 19. Qd2 Nb5 20. Bb2 a4 21. f4 a3 22. Bc3 Qb6 23. Bb4 Red8 24. Rac1 Be4 25. Be7 Re8 26. Bxe4 dxe4 27. bxc4 Rxe7 28. Qb4 Rc7 29. Qxb5 Qxb5 30. cxb5 Rac8 31. Rxc7 Rxc7 32. Rd1 g5 33. b6 Rc6 34. Rd8+ Kg7 35. Ra8 Rc1+ 36. Kg2 Rc2+ 37. Kh3 gxf4 38. gxf4 Rxa2 39. Kg4 Rxh2 40. Rxa3 Rb2 41. f5 Rg2+ 42. Kf4 h5 43. Kxe4 h4 44. Ra1 h3 45. Kf3 Rb2 46. Rh1 h2 47. Kg3 Rb5 48. Kf4 Rb2 49. Kf3 Kh6 50. Kf4 Rf2+ 51. Kg4 Re2 52. Kf3 Rb2 53. Kg3 Kg5 54. e6 fxe6 55. fxe6 Rxb6 56. Rxh2 Rxe6 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]

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