“Chess is a fairy tale of 1,001 blunders” and “The mistakes are all there waiting to be made,” are just two enduring quotes from the legendary Grandmaster of the epigrams, Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956). And never was Tartakower’s words more truer than in round 8 of the 80th Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee, where, inexplicably, World Champion Magnus Carlsen blundered away a whole piece to British champion Gawain Jones, and yet remarkably he still went on to win the game!
We take up the story from today’s diagram position, where Jones has just retreated his bishop from e6 with 16…Bc8, and now Carlsen walks into a trivial tactic by playing 17.g4?? It’s hard to know what was going through Carlsen’s mind here with this blunder. One possible explanation I thought when watching it all dramatically unfold live like a slow-motion car crash, was perhaps it might well have been a ‘fingerfehler‘ from Carlsen, and he intended to play the correct move of 17.h4. 17…f4! 18.h4 fxe3 19.Qxe3 h6 20.Qc5 Bb7 Here the simple 20…hxg5! 21.Qxc6 Be6 22.Bxd5 Bxd5 23.Rxd5 Qb6 24.Qc4 Qe6! was easily winning. 21.Ne4 Re6 22.h5 Qb6 23.g5 hxg5 24.Qa3! Rb8 25.b3 Qd8?! 26.Qxa7 gxh5 27.Rxh5 – and by now, Jones has lost the plot following a series of ‘panic’ moves after finding himself a piece up against the world champion, and set for the biggest win of his career.
Yet despite still being a piece to the better, he’s quite lost now, as there’s no way to protect his exposed king, and indeed Carlsen went on to score a remarkable win in 42 moves. But rather than the fingerfehler I initially thought, it seems it was just an outright blunder, and Magnus made no excuses for it, commenting “It’s a little embarrassing, obviously, more than a little embarrassing to blunder a piece in such a crude way, but obviously I’m happy with the win.”
And Carlsen should indeed be happy with the win, as it now put’s him in a three-way tie for first place with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Anish Giri, as the Dutch No.1 gave the local crowd something to cheer about with a very smooth and impressive win over the Azeri front-runner. And going into the final week of the first major of the year, Giri, Carlsen, and Mamedyarov lead on 5.5/8 – which in itself is remarkable, as I simply can’t remember a previous Wijk aan Zee tournament where, after 8 rounds, three players were tied for first on +3, a score normally enough to win come the end.
1-3. A. Giri (Netherlands), M. Carlsen (Norway), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 5.5/8; 4-5. A. Kramnik (Russia), W. So (USA) 5; 6-7. V. Anand (India), S. Karjakin (Russia) 4.5; 8-9. P. Svidler (Russia), M. Matlakov (Russia) 4; 10. G. Jones 3.5; 11-12. Wei Yi (China), F. Caruana (USA) 3; 13. B. Adhiban (India) 2; 14. Hou Yifan (China) 1.
Photo: It’s that very embarrassing moment for a World Champion when he blunders a piece, and the other players just can’t believe it | © Alina l’Ami (Tata Steel Chess)
GM Anish Giri – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
80th Tata Steel Masters, (8)
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.e3 Nf6 5.d4 cxd4 6.exd4 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Qb3 e6 Diverging from 8…Nxc3 9.Bc4! Nd5 10.Bxd5 e6 11.Bxc6+ bxc6 12.0-0 Qd5 as seen in Giri-So, Leuven 2017, that ended in a draw – and Mamedyarov was soon to regret not follow what looked the easier path to equality. 9.Bb5 Bg7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Bxc6 The immediate capture renders it difficult for Mamedyarov to develop his light-squared bishop – a task that becomes all the more difficult with Giri’s simple follow-up plan of Ne4-c5. 11…bxc6 12.Re1 Qd6N This is either a novelty from Mamedyarov that backfires or simply yet another ‘fingerfehler’ with the placement of where the queen goes here. If it is a novelty, then it is a bad one, as the tempo(s) gained by simply attacking the queen with obvious moves turns out to be one of the deciding factors in the outcome of the game. If it is a fingerfehler, then that happens. And the reason I say this is that the only other game with this position saw 12…Qb6 13.Qc2 and a quick draw in Tomashevsky-Alekseev, Sochi 2017. 13.Ne4! Not only hitting the queen but gaining easy access to the wonderful c5 outpost for the knight. 13…Qb4 14.Qc2 Swapping queens will only solve Black’s problems, so Giri rightly avoids this. 14…a5 15.a3! Taking the c6-pawn would give Black the advantage after 15.Qxc6 Bb7 16.Qc2 (Worse is 16.Qd6?! Nf6! and suddenly Black’s pieces are very active, and he’ll soon claim back his pawn.) 16…Nf6! and Black has excellent compensation for the pawn with his active pieces. 15…Qb6 16.Nc5 The knight is a monster on c5, where it dominates Black’s light-squared bishop – and it is very difficult to shift it. 16…Re8 Another rather awkward move for Mamedyarov to make, but forced as 16…Rd8 17.Bg5 just gains another tempo on the game after 17…Re8 18.Ne5 f6 19.Nc4 etc. 17.Ne5 f6 Mamedyarov can’t let both knights dominate the board – but in moving the e5 knight, he further weakens his position. 18.Nc4 Qc7 19.Bd2 e5 The only logical follow-up to 17…f6 – but now the e5 pawn becomes a big liability. 20.dxe5 fxe5 21.Qa4 Strategically, Black is lost here with his pawn weaknesses on e5, c6, and a5 – but kudos to Giri for how he now goes about smoothly converting the win. 21…Nb6 22.Nxb6 Qxb6 23.Qc4+ Kh8 24.Bc3 Bf5 A bad move in a difficult position. The best chance for Mamedyarov to try and hold on here was with 24…Qb5 25.Qxb5 cxb5 but after 26.f4! Ra7 27.Bxe5 Rae7 28.Bxg7+ Kxg7 29.Kf2 the endgame is just simply winning in the long-run for White. 25.g4! Bc8 26.Re4! Despite superficially weakening his position with the last two moves, Giri keeps complete control of the position, and now threatens Rae1 heaping further pressure on e5 – and Mamedyarov soon cracks with the relentless pressure. 26…Qb5 27.Rae1 Qxc4 28.Rxc4 Rb8 29.h3 h5 30.gxh5 gxh5 31.Rh4 Kh7 32.Ne4! 1-0 It looks like yet another premature resignation from Mamedyarov but, in reality, he has a quite hopeless position to defend here, one possible line being 32…Kh6 33.Bd2+ Kg6 34.Re3 Bf5 35.Rg3+ Kf7 36.Nd6+ and a heavy loss of material.