John Henderson
By John Henderson

With a remarkable second-half performance at the 82nd Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, Fabiano Caruana had already clinched victory with the luxury of a round to spare – but the American world #2 didn’t rest on his laurels, as he grittily crafted out one more win in the last round over Vladislav Artemiev so that he could equal the record-setting winning score of 10/13 achieved by both Magnus Carlsen (2013) and Garry Kasparov (1999).

Caruana crushed the opposition with his +7 final winning tally (and a tournament performance of 2944) to claim victory by a resounding two points ahead of his nearest rival, Magnus Carlsen – a true powerhouse performance that will come as a massive boost for the American title aspirant ahead of the upcoming Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia (March 11-April 5), as he looks for a second tilt at the Norwegian’s world crown.

It’s not every tournament that the world champion finds himself trailing in second place behind the winner by a margin of two points, but even Carlsen himself paid tribute to his previous title challenger by describing some of Caruana’s games “wonderful” and that he deserved to win. Carlsen also noted that the American’s performance remind him of his own result in the same event in 2013, where he had one of his best performance ever and went on to win the candidates.

And what a result it was! In a golfing analogy, Caruana had a birdie-laden ‘back nine’ with a breath-taking second half score of 6½/7 – with six wins and ceding a draw to Nikita Vitiugov, and almost the reverse of his famous 2014 streak at the Sinquefield Cup, where he started with a remarkable run of 7 wins on the spin – as he romped to a massive victory.

This is also Caruana’s first Tata Steel Masters title, and he now follows in the footsteps of Nicolas Rossolimo (1953), Walter Browne (1974, 1980), Yasser Seirawan (1980), Hikaru Nakamura (2011) and Wesley So (2017) as American winner’s of the world’s longest-running and most storied super-tournaments of them all, that stretches back to the pre-war date of 1938.

Final standings:
1. F. Caruana (USA) 10/13; 2. M. Carlsen (Norway) 8; 3. W. So (USA) 7½; 4-5. J. Van Foreest (Netherlands), D. Dubov (Russia) 7; 6-9. V. Anand (India), J-K. Duda (Poland), A. Firouzja (FIDE), A. Giri (Netherlands) 6½; 10-11. J. Xiong (USA), V. Artemiev (Russia) 6; 12. N. Vitiugov (Russia) 5; 13. Yu Yangyi (China) 4½; 14. V. Kovalev (Belarus) 4.

Photo: Fabiano Caruana receives the winner’s trophy from Tata Steel Chairman Theo Henrar as Carlsen (second) and So (third) look on | © Alina l’Ami / Tata Steel Chess

GM Vladislav Artemiev – GM Fabiano Caruana
Tata Steel Masters, (13)
Reti’s Opening/Barcza System,
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nd7 A subtle way to play against the Reti/Barcza set-up, as with Qa4 coming with no check, Black can challenge the long light-squared diagonal, as we will soon see. 3.c4 dxc4 4.Qa4 a6 5.Qxc4 b5 6.Qc2 Bb7 7.Bg2 Ngf6 8.0-0 e6 9.d3 Be7 10.a4 c5 11.Nc3 Qb6 12.axb5 axb5 13.Rxa8+ Bxa8 The queenside pawns gives Caruana a little something extra to work with – and the world #2 makes them count as, inch by inch, he grabs a little more space in the position. 14.Bg5 0-0 15.Ra1 h6 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Nd2 Bxg2 18.Kxg2 Rc8 19.Qb3 Rb8 20.Nce4 Be7 21.Kg1 f5 22.Nc3 Ne5 23.h3 It is certainly a difficult position for White – and it probably takes a brave man now who would go for the engine ‘fantasy solution’ of 23.Qa2 Bg5 24.f4!? where, according to our silicon friend, Black only has a ‘minimal advantage’ after 24…c4+ 25.Kh1 cxd3! 26.fxg5 b4 27.exd3 bxc3 28.bxc3 Nxd3 29.gxh6 Qc6+ 30.Kg1 gxh6 31.Qc4 with near equality. Of course, we all saw that, didn’t we? 23…h5 24.Nf3?! This was the critical moment in the game, and it seems that to stay competitive in the game, White had to force the trade of queens now with 24.Qa2 h4 25.Qa7! Qxa7 26.Rxa7 Bf6 and, with the queens off the board, suddenly White has realistic saving resources, such as 27.Ra5! hxg3 28.fxg3 c4 29.d4 Nf7 30.Kg2! The check on d4 only gives Black hope of winning – without it, suddenly Black’s queenside pawns come under threat. Now after 30…b4 there’s the saving finesse of 31.Rb5! Rxb5 32.Nxb5 c3 33.bxc3 bxc3 34.Nxc3 Bxd4 35.Nb5 Bc5 36.e4 and White will easily hold this ending. 24…Nxf3+ 25.exf3 White’s shattered pawns just prove to be a long-term weakness. 25…Bf6 26.Re1 Kf7 27.Ne2 g5 28.g4 hxg4 29.hxg4 fxg4 30.fxg4 Qd6! Out of nowhere, suddenly White has to worry about mating threats coming down the open h-file. 31.Ng3 Qd5 32.Qc2 Trading queens offers no solutions. After 32.Qxd5 exd5 33.b3 b4 34.Rc1 Rc8 35.Nf5 Ke6 Black should eventually find a way to convert this ending; perhaps even as simple as a …Bc3 and bringing his rook round to target the vulnerable b3 and d3 isolated pawns. If one falls, the game falls with it. 32…Bd4 33.Qe2 Rh8 34.Ne4 Qe5 35.Qf3+ Kg7 36.b3 White’s last hope lay with finding 36.Qg3!? Qxg3+ 37.Nxg3 Rf8 38.Re2 Rf3 39.Kg2 Rxd3 40.Rxe6 Bxb2 41.Rb6 where the best he can try for is sacrificing the knight for some pawns and hope to wangle his way into a lone R+B v R ending tha’s technically a draw. 36…Rf8 37.Qe2 Qd5! With just a few simple moves, Caruana has made the most of the position as his pieces move into their most optimum squares, and with it, the pressure from his better-coordinated pieces soon pay off big-time for him. 38.Rf1 Kg6 The king helps to safeguards the g-pawn, and now White’s queenside becomes an added worry for Artemiev. 39.Qd1 c4! Taking full advantage of the fact that the d3 pawn is needed to protect  White’s only hope of trying to save the game, namely his Ne4 outpost, with it being the glue that holds his position together. 40.bxc4 bxc4 41.Kg2 Forced; White will need to play f3 to keep his knight in its outpost. 41…Ba7 42.f3 cxd3 43.Qa1? Admittedly Black’s d-pawn does look powerful, but the Ne4 plays a vital role by simultaneously controlling d2, g5 and f6. And with that in mind, perhaps better would have been 43.Qd2!? Rc8 44.Rc1! as 44…Rxc1 45.Qxc1 Bb6 46.Qc3! and it is hard to see how Black can make any winning progress now. 43…Be3! [see diagram] Covering both d2 and g5 – and slowly but surely, Caruana is squeezing all life out of his opponent’s miserable position. 44.Rd1 Qc4 45.Qc3 What else is there now? if 45.Qb2 Qc2+ 46.Qxc2 dxc2 wins on the spot. 45…Qa2+ 46.Nd2 Qc2 It’s just a matter of time now: the position is easily winning for Caruana, and with it being the last game to finish in the tournament, his opponent just prolongs his resignation for the sake of a few spite checks. 47.Qe5 Bxd2 48.Qxe6+ Kg7 49.Qe7+ Rf7 50.Qe5+ Kf8 51.Qb8+ Ke7 52.Qe5+ Kd8 There’s no perpetual – the Black king is going to run up the board to a safe haven from the checks. 53.Qb8+ Kd7 54.Qb7+ Kd6 55.Qb6+ Ke5 56.Qb5+ Kd4 57.Qb6+ Kc4 58.Qe6+ Kc3 59.Qe5+ Kb3 60.Qd5+ Kb2 61.Qb5+ Bb4+! It’s all over bar the shouting now. 62.Kg3 Qxd1 63.Qxb4+ Qb3 64.Qd2+ Kb1 65.Qe1+ Kc2 66.Qf2+ d2 0-1


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