Caruana Solid Through Tata Steel First Half; Magnus, Firouzja Ahead

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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 American GM Fabiano Caruana sits a half-point out of first place at the 83rd annual Tata Steel Masters tournament in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, as the prestigious super-event moves into its second half.  

Through eight rounds Caruana, the defending champion of the "Wimbledon of Chess," remains undefeated with two wins, including a victory over French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on Saturday that left the American temporarily tied for the tournament lead. On Monday’s rest day, however, Caruana sat in a four-player tie with 5/8, trailing 17-year-old GM Alireza Firouzja who rode out of the weekend on a three-game win streak. 

With play resuming Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. eastern, Caruana will lean into the second half of Tata having already played the top half of the current standings. A pivotal game looms in the 11th round Thursday with tournament leader Firouzja, who is Caruana’s last remaining opponent currently holding a plus-score. But not before the American takes the white pieces against a limping World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen on Wednesday. 

“Nobody’s really showing a super-dominant score, there’s a lot of players who are in contention for the top spots, and unusually Magnus is sort of struggling quite a lot,” Caruana said. “It’s going to be close, I can’t really make a prediction.” 

 

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Fabiano Caruana - Post Round 8 Interview

 

Carlsen’s return to the physical board in Wijk aan Zee has been just short of lackluster, middling in eighth place with 4/8 on Monday and his only victory coming in the tournament’s opening round against Firouzja. Since then, the World Champion has seemed out-of-form and unable to capitalize on his chances, all of which came to a head in a rare, crushing defeat by the hands of Russian youngster 18-year-old GM Andrey Esipenko on Sunday. 

 

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GM Magnus Carlsen at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters
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World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters. // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

 

Heading the other direction from Carlsen, Caruana’s play has looked fresh and inspired in Wijk aan Zee. Saturday’s win over MVL was a hopeful preview: Caruana chases the Frenchman as the current leader of FIDE’s Candidates Tournament, postponed at its halfway point. The two GMs are scheduled to meet in the next round when the event resumes this spring.

On Saturday, Caruana broke through a Najdorf Sicilian with MVL accepting the poisoned b-pawn. The Frenchman mis-stepped in a knight trade,  recapturing with 13. … exd5 instead of the sound cxd5, and Caruana’s subsequent 14. e6! was all-but the game winner. 

[pgn][Event "83rd Tata Steel Masters"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2021.01.23"] [Round "7"] [White "Caruana, F."] [Black "Vachier Lagrave, M."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B97"] [WhiteElo "2823"] [BlackElo "2784"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2021.01.15"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Qb6 8. Qd2 Qxb2 9. Rb1 Qa3 10. Be2 Nc6 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. e5 Nd5 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. e6 f6 15. Bh5+ Kd8 16. Bh4 d4 17. Bf2 Qc3 18. f5 Qxd2+ 19. Kxd2 c5 20. Bf3 Ra7 21. g4 g6 22. Bh4 Be7 23. Rb6 h5 24. h3 Ke8 25. Bg3 Rc7 26. Kd3 hxg4 27. hxg4 Rxh1 28. Bxh1 gxf5 29. gxf5 Bf8 30. Kc4 Rh7 31. Be4 Be7 32. Bxd6 Bxd6 33. Rxd6 Bb7 34. Bxb7 Rxb7 35. Rxa6 Rb2 36. Kxc5 Rxc2+ 37. Kxd4 1-0 [/pgn]

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GM Fabiano Caruana at the 2021 Tata Steel Masters
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GM Fabiano Caruana in the fifth round of the 2021 Tata Steel Masters. // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Caruana’s other victory of the tournament came in the second round, a dazzling attack with the black pieces over German GM Alexander Donchenko. In this Queen’s Gambit Declined Slav defense, both sides featured kingside pawn storms that reached the black monarch first. But 21. exf7+ merely provided shelter for Caruana’s king, and soon he was threatening mate on other side of the board. Caruana’s 26. … Ba3 was a beauty that ushered white’s collapse. 

[pgn][Event "83rd Tata Steel Masters"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2021.01.17"] [Round "2"] [White "Donchenko, Alexa"] [Black "Caruana, F."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2668"] [BlackElo "2823"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2021.01.15"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Be4 7. f3 Bg6 8. Bd2 Be7 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. Qc2 Nbd7 11. O-O-O a6 12. g4 dxc4 13. Bxc4 b5 14. Be2 c5 15. d5 Nxd5 16. Nxd5 exd5 17. f4 b4 18. e4 d4 19. e5 Nb6 20. e6 Qd5 21. exf7+ Kf8 22. h4 Qxa2 23. Qxg6 b3 24. Be1 c4 25. Rxd4 Na4 26. Qb1 Ba3 27. Qxa2 bxa2 28. Kc2 Rb8 29. Rd8+ Rxd8 30. bxa3 c3 31. Bg3 Rd2+ 32. Kb3 Nc5+ 0-1 [/pgn]

Each game of the Tata Steel Masters event will be played with a time control of 100 Minutes for 40 moves, followed by 50 minutes for 20 moves, then 15 minutes for the remaining moves with a 30 second cumulative increment for each move starting from the first move. The tournament schedule plays one game per day, with round nine on Tuesday and concluding January 31. Another rest day is planned for Thursday, January 28. 

 

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The 2021 Tata Steel Tournament Playing Hall in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands.
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The 2021 Tata Steel Tournament Hall in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. // credit Jurriaan Hoefsmit – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

All rounds begin at 8:00 a.m. eastern time, except for the final round on January 31, which will begin an hour earlier. For the event livestream and more information, visit the official Tata Steel website

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