One of the main reasons why the Tata Steel Masters is always an exciting start to the new year is the range of diversity in the playing strength of the 14-player field for the Dutch super-tournament: from the World Champion, ex-champion(s), top 10 stars, several who have had exceptional performances over the past year (US champion Sam Shankland, to name but one), young talents on the up, those promoted up after winning the previous year’s Challenger’s event (Vidit Gujrathl), and exceptional young Dutch talents (namely, Jorden Van Foreest).
With such a mix of playing strengths and experiences, you tend to get more decisive and exciting games throughout the tournament – and this year’s 81st edition of the Tata Steel Masters is no exception, where amongst a bevy of several tough draws and marathon encounters, we’ve also had eleven decisive games so far – and one of those will surely have come as a blessed relief for World Champion Magnus Carlsen!
As the tournament went “on tour” to the Taqa Theatre De Vest in Alkmaar, the early pace-makers, undefeated on 3½/5, are Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi who is now joined in the lead by Ding Liren of China, who with a power-house win with black over Shankland has now also overtaken Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to become the new world #3 on the live ratings!
And after setting a somewhat dubious modern-day record of 21 successive draws in classical chess, the World Champion also managed to break his hoodoo to win a game by beating the young Dutch debutant Jorden Van Foreest, and he now ominously joins the chasing pack half a point behind the leaders. The Round 5 victory will also come as something of morale-booster for Carlsen, who started with four successive draws to jump ahead of Anish Giri and Ding Liren, both of whom with claims to a 20-game drawing streak to their names.
One of my favourite cryptic chess quotes comes from the 8th World Champion (and 1973 Wijk aan Zee winner), Mikhail Tal, who once said: “You must take your opponent into a deep dark forest where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.” What Tal meant here was that sometimes in order to win, he would often gamble by throwing his opponents off guard with aggressive, albeit risky play – and against Van Foreest, Carlsen caught his inexperienced young Dutch opponent totally by surprise by taking him into that Tal-like walk in the forest – or Van Foreest, if you will!
1-2. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Ding Liren (China) 3½/5; 3-6. M. Carlsen (Norway), S. Vidit (India), A. Giri, (Netherlands), V. Anand (India) 3; 7-9. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), J-K. Duda (Poland) 2½; 10-12. V. Fedoseev (Russia), R. Rapport (Hungary), S. Shankland (USA) 2; 13. V. Kramnik (Russia) 1½; 14. J. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 1.
Video opposite: Magnus Carlsen explains his relief at ending his long drawing streak | © Tata Steel Chess
GM Jorden Van Foreest – GM Magnus Carlsen
Tata Steel Masters, (5)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 The razor-sharp Sicilian Sveshnikov that served Carlsen so well in his recent title match with Fabiano Caruana. This aggressive line started life as the Lasker/Pelikan variation, first named after the former world champion Emanuel Lasker (who first brought it to prominence against Carl Schlechter, in their 1910 title match) and then the Czech IM Jiri Pelikan. But it is rightly eponymously named after the Russian GM, Evgeny Sveshnikov, who arguably did more than any other player to popularise and promote what became his pet-line. 7.Nd5 Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 9.c4 Ng6 10.Qa4 Bd7 11.Qb4 Qb8 12.h4 h5 13.Be3 a6 14.Nc3 f5 Carlsen deviates from 14…a5 that so dramatically ended the deadlock against Fabiano Caruana in the first tiebreak playoff game in their World Championship Match last November in London. 15.0-0-0 Be7 16.g3 0-0 17.Be2 e4!?! The game effectively turns on this bluff from Carlsen – and one that Van Foreest walks right into. 18.Bd4 It is difficult in a complex position when you are making your debut in the Masters, and also playing the World Champion for the first time, and he suddenly pulls a huge bluff on you. The critical line was 18.Bxh5! a5 where Black does have “some” play for the pawn, but not as much as perhaps Van Foreest had wrongly assumed when calculating this all at the board, as after 19.Qb3 a4 20.Qb4 Ne5 21.Be2 a3 22.b3 Bd8 23.Nb5! it doesn’t look to be enough for the pawn with d6 and a3 under attack, and defending them allows White the time to sort flight squares for his queen. Of course, it goes without saying it is easy saying all this with the safety of a playing engine showing you the path out of the forest! 18…Bf6 The fight now is over the dark-squares and control of the crucial e5 square for the Black knight. 19.Bxf6 Rxf6 20.Qb6 Ne5 21.Kb1 Amazingly, if White continues with what looks like sensible developing moves, such as 21.Rhe1, Black can opt for the easy and clever plan of quickly trading queens with 21…Qa7! 22.Qxa7 Rxa7 23.Rd4 g6 and suddenly has better control of the board and the brighter prospects. 21…Be8 After missing the critical plan of 18.Bxh5!, it’s just amazing how quickly White’s position collapses under the pressure, as the position opens up to the benefit of Black’s more actively-placed pieces. 22.Rd2 Nd7 23.Qd4 On reflection better was perhaps 23.Qe3 trying to stop Black from playing …f4, which might well have held on for longer. 23…Qc7 24.Nd1? This is where it all begins to go so, so wrong for the young Dutchman. 24…Ne5 25.Ne3 f4! [see diagram] White’s position is now a wreck, as Carlsen superbly brings his pieces to life – the key to the White collapse being the fact that …Bg6, coupled with the threat of…Nf3 just crashes through for victory. 26.gxf4 Rxf4 27.Rg1 Things now go from bad to worse for Van Foreest – he simply had to admit he has a bad position and unable to prevent …Bg6 and the Black bishop springing to life on g6, and try to struggle on with 27.Ng2 Rf8 28.Rc2 Bg6! 29.Ka1 e3 30.Rcc1 Rxf2! (Much stronger than 30…exf2 31.Nf4 Qc5 32.Qd2! and White has realistic chances of consolidating his position and render the f2 pawn harmless.) 31.Nf4 Qc5! with a winning advantage for Black. 27…Bg6 28.Ka1 The only way to stop …Nf3 – but White is just lost now. 28…Raf8 There’s no letting up from Carlsen now – he just wants to pile on the pressure as quickly and efficiently as he can. 29.c5 This was the only try for White – and even that is going down quickly. 29…Rxf2 30.Qc3? With Carlsen relentlessly piling on the pressure, Van Foreest goes down in flames. As futile as it was, Van Foreest’s best try was the more obvious 30.cxd6 Qxd6 31.Rc2 Nf3 32.Bxf3 Rxc2 33.Bxh5 Rc7! 34.Bg4 (White has a back-rank mating problem after 34.Bxg6?? Qxg6!) 34…Qc5! 35.Qxc5 Rxc5 36.d6 Rd8 37.d7 and Black still has a little work left to do to convert the material advantage – but nothing that looks too complicated or onerous. 30…Qxc5 31.Qxc5 dxc5 32.d6 Kh7 33.d7 Nf3 0-1 Van Foreest resigns, as even being allowed to queen the pawn, he’s left in dire straits after 34.d8Q Rxd8 35.Rxd8 Rxe2! 36.Rf1 Rxe3 with the easiest of win.