There were two big winners in this year’s Tata Steel chess extravaganza in the Dutch city of Wijk aan Zee, one a name we know and one a name we may be hearing a lot more about in the years to come.
World champion Magnus Carlsen, who appears to have found an extra gear to his game that even his elite opponents cannot match, was a decisive winner of the Tata Steel Masters event, clinching first place against a top-notch 14-grandmaster field even before taking a last-round forfeit over COVID-stricken Russian GM Daniil Dubov. It was the Norwegian’s eighth win at the Tata Steel invitational, traditionally the first major event of the new chess year.
And matching Carlsen’s outright victory in the Tata Steel Challengers event was 18-year-old Indian GM Arjun Erigaisi, who took the B tournament by 2 full points with an outstanding 10½-2½ score. Erigaisi, just one of a promising crop of young Indian talents who has flown under the radar until now, thus earns an invitation to next year’s Masters events — and a likely pairing with Carlsen.
In his first major classical tournament since defending his world title against Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in November, Carlsen’s undefeated 9½-3½ final tally was made even more impressive by the fact that he beat his three nearest pursuers — Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, Richard Rapport of Hungary and Anish Giri of the Netherlands — in their individual games, and also pinned a loss on American GM Fabiano Caruana, the world’s No. 2-ranked player who turned in an uncharacteristically spotty performance in the event.
Carlsen’s win over Caruana illustrated what is becoming an axiom of modern chess: He who gets in the first exchange sacrifice wins.
Play is balanced early in this Rossolimo Sicilian, but Black’s pressure on the imposing White center forces Caruana into a fateful decision on 20. c4 dxc4 21. bxc4 Qa6 22. c5!? (Nd2 a4 23. f3, keeping the center intact, looks more flexible) Bc6, leaving White’s remaining bishop blocked behind the central pawns.
Black expertly exploits the now-immobile White center with 25. Nd2 Qe2 26. f3? (the first real mistake; 26. Re1 Qh5 26. f3 keeps things in balance) Rxd4! 27. Bxd4 Qxd2 28. Rd1 Qf4 — Black has only a pawn and a minor piece for the rook, but the locked-in White bishop is pretty much a “tall pawn” for the rest of the game. Carlsen after the game was also critical of White’s decision to allow a queen trade, severely limiting Caruana’s hopes of complicating the play.
The champ’s two bishops come into their own in the ensuing play, with the magnificent bishop on c6 both contributing to the attack and blocking both enemy rooks from getting into the game. Black’s 36. f4 e5 37. fxe5 fxe5 allows White to shed one weak center pawn, but also allows the Black rook and bishop on e7 new scope to initiate offensive maneuvers.
With Black’s king set to join the party, White’s passive game goes steadily downhill: 45. Rb6 (Bb2 Rb3 46. Kd1 a3 wins for Black) Rf5 46. Ba3 (a miserable post for a piece that underperformed throughout the game) Kf7 47. Rf2 Rf3! 48. Rxf3 exf3 49. Kf1 (even 49. Rxc6 bxc6 50. Kf2 Ke6 51. Kxf3, eliminating the passed pawn, does no good, as the ending is winning for Black after 51…Kd5 52. h3 Bd4) Bd4. White is completely bottled up and the Black king is on the march; Caruana recognized the inevitable and resigned.
The Challengers flight was not as strong as it has been in past years — Erigaisi was the top-ranked player in the field at 2632 — but the young Indian still managed to impress with a number of powerful performances. His knights performed some impressive attacking choreography in his Round 2 victory over 16-year-old Belgian GM Daniel Dardha.
In a Kalashnikov Sicilian, White obtains a death grip on d5, but Dardha is holding his own as Black until 23. Be2 Kf8 23. Bf3 g6?! (the f5-square was certainly a hole in Black’s position, but this opens up squares in front of the Black king that White will quickly target; 24…Qc5 25. Qd2 Qb4 was safer and more active) 25. Qd2 Kg7 26. Ne2 b5 — starting the mandatory bid for counterplay, but Erigaisi is not to be diverted.
White breaches the defense with a classic “Chigorin knight” jump, named for the great Russian attacking master who made the move his calling card: 29. Rc3 Rc6? (see diagram; 29…Qd7!, to slow down what’s coming, was definitely better, as the rook lands on a particularly unfortunate square for Black) 30. Nef5!.
Black reacts poorly to the impertinent knight on 30…Neg8?! (compounding his woes; 30…gxf5 31. exf5 leaves both the bishop and the rook on c6 under attack, but the damage could have been limited in lines such as 31…Rxc4 32. fxe6 Rxc3 33. Qxc3 fxe6 34. Qd3+ Kg7 35. Qd2 Ng6 36. Nxh5+ Nxh5 37. Bxh5 Qe7) 31. Qg5 Bxf5? (opening the floodgates) 32. exf5 Rcc8 33. Be4 Nxe4 34. Nxe4 Qe7 35. Rg3!!, a really nice idea — White sees he doesn’t need to keep his queen to prosecute a winning attack when his knight will prove so nimble.
The finale: 35…Qxg5 36. Nxg5+ Kg7 37. fxg6 Nh6 (recapturing with either the king or pawn allows 38. Ne6+, winning) 38. gxf7 Rd7 39. Ne4+ Kf8 (Kxf7 40. Rxd6 Nf5 41. Rxd7+ Ke6 42. Rgd3), and now one last knight trick wins the point: 40. Rg8+! Nxg8 41. fxg8=Q+ Kxg8 42. Nf6+, collecting the rook with decisive material advantage; Black resigned.
Caruana-Carlsen, Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2022
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. c3 Nf6 6. Re1 O-O 7. d4 d5 8. e5 Ne4 9. Be3 cxd4 10. cxd4 Qb6 11. Qe2 Bd7 12. Ba4 Rac8 13. Nc3 Nxc3 14. bxc3 Qd8 15. Bb3 Na5 16. Rac1 Nxb3 17. axb3 Qb6 18. Qa2 a5 19. Qa3 Rfe8 20. c4 dxc4 21. bxc4 Qa6 22. c5 Bc6 23. Rb1 a4 24. Rec1 Rcd8 25. Nd2 Qe2 26. f3 Rxd4 27. Bxd4 Qxd2 28. Rd1 Qf4 29. Qb4 e6 30. Bc3 Qxb4 31. Bxb4 Bxe5 32. Ba3 Bf6 33. Kf2 Be7 34. Rb6 Rc8 35. Rd2 f6 36. f4 e5 37. fxe5 fxe5 38. Re2 Rf8+ 39. Ke1 Rf5 40. Rb1 e4 41. Rc1 Bh4+ 42. g3 Bg5 43. Rb1 Rf3 44. Bc1 Bf6 45. Rb6 Rf5 46. Ba3 Kf7 47. Rxc6 bxc6 48. Rxe4 Re5 White resigns.
Erigaisi-Dardha, Tata Steel Challengers, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2022
1. 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nb5 d6 6. c4 Be7 7. N1c3 a6 8. Na3 Be6 9. Nc2 Bg5 10. Be2 Bxc1 11. Rxc1 Nf6 12. O-O O-O 13. Qd2 Qe7 14. Nd5 Qd8 15. Nc3 Qb6 16. Rfd1 Rac8 17. b3 Rfd8 18. h3 Qa7 19. Bf1 Ne7 20. Ne3 Qb8 21. Qd3 h5 22. h4 Qa7 23. Be2 Kf8 24. Bf3 g6 25. Qd2 Kg7 26. Ne2 b5 27. Ng3 bxc4 28. bxc4 Kh7 29. Rc3 Rc6 30. Nef5 Neg8 31. Qg5 Bxf5 32. exf5 Rcc8 33. Be4 Nxe4 34. Nxe4 Qe7 35. Rg3 Qxg5 36. Nxg5+ Kg7 37. fxg6 Nh6 38. gxf7 Rd7 39. Ne4+ Kf8 40. Rg8+ Nxg8 41. fxg8=Q+ Kxg8 42. Nf6+ Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at email@example.com.
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