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John Henderson
By John Henderson

The 83rd Tata Steel Masters is heading into its decisive final weekend on the Dutch coast in Wijk aan Zee with the intriguing scenario of local hero Anish Giri moving into the sole lead in the first major of the year – and if the unbeaten +4 new leader can hold his nerve going into the final weekend of the tournament, he could becoming the first Dutch winner at Wijk in 36 years!

Giri somehow managed to keep alive some spurious winning chances in a near sterile position against Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 10, and his perseverance was rewarded by a stunning and unlikely win, as the Pole was forced into an immediate resignation. And with it, the Dutch #1 now takes a half point lead at the top ahead of the chasing pack that includes defending champion Fabiano Caruana plus young guns Andrey Esipenko and Alireza Firouzja.

Dutch winners have been few and far between in the world’s longest-running super-tournament that dates back to the pre-war days of 1938 when Hoogovens, the local steel giant, staged its first (works only) tournament in nearby Beverwijk. Former world champion Dr Max Euwe and Jan Hein Donner were just two of the notable early past Dutch winners from the Beverwijk era; but the last local hero at Wijk proved to be the redoubtable Jan Timman back in 1985.

Giri is now chasing history….but ominously standing in the Dutchman’s way is his long-time rival both over-the-board and on social media, World Champion Magnus Carlsen! A stuttering Carlsen finally came to life by winning a game, beating Swedish early leader Nils Garndelius in round 8, and he’s now lurking with intent 1½-points off the pace set by Giri – but the two rivals come face-to-face in Friday’s big clash of round 11.

Could 2021 finally be Giri’s big statement year? It’s long-overdue, but he’s in the sole lead going down the homestretch with just 3 rounds to play, but Magnus with the White pieces and on the comeback trail will not let Giri pass with an easy draw – so we can expect fireworks and a true test of Giri’s nerves.

Standings:
1. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 7/10; 2-4. Andrey Esipenko (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE) 6½; 5. Jorden Van Foreest (Netherlands) 6; 6. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 5½; 7-8. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Nils Grandelius (Sweden), 5; 9-11. Aryan Tari (Norway), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4; 12-13. Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), David Anton (Spain) 3½; 14. Alexander Donchenko (Germany) 3.

GM Anish Giri – GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek
83rd Tata Steel Masters, (10)
London System/Mason Attack
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 The Mason Attack – named after the 19th century Irish master James Mason, who made his mark in the chess world after he and his family immigrated to America to escape the Great Potato Famine in the early 1860s – is a close cousin to the London System; and indeed, as in this game, with the interpolation of the quick Nf3, we simply just make a quick transposition back to the London System. 2…d5 3.e3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 Bg4 6.c3 e6 7.Qb3 Qc8 A more nuanced approach than the most common reply here at club-level, which is 7…Qb6 8.Qxb6 axb6 but after 9.Bb5! while the game is roughly level, long-term Black has problems defending his crippled queenside pawns. 8.h3 Bh5 9.Be2 Slightly better was the option of 9.Bb5 – but Giri’s approach takes the game into a sort of reversed Slav Defence, with White having an extra move. The extra move in a Slav shouldn’t really amount to much, but nevertheless it is what it is, and some White players are content just have the safety of the Slav position, in the hope that Black might well over-reach. 9…Be7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Qd1 Nd7 12.Re1 Qd8 13.dxc5 Nxc5 14.b4 Nd7 15.a3 Nb6 16.Rc1 f6 I thought the thematic 16…a5!? was the better way to equality for Black; but what do I know? 17.e4 The retreat square on e3 comes in handy for the bishop. 17…e5 18.Be3 Bf7 Black can’t play 18…d4? as the tricks favour White, vis-á-vis 19.cxd4 Nxd4 20.Bxd4! exd4 21.Nxd4 and White wins a pawn. 19.Bxb6 axb6 20.exd5 Bxd5 21.a4 f5 22.b5 e4 There really shouldn’t be anything in this position, as it all looks to be fizzling out to an equal position following some forced trades. 23.bxc6 exf3 24.Bxf3 bxc6 25.Bxd5+ cxd5 26.Nf3 Bf6 Both players have mutual queenside pawn weakness that should cancel each other out. 27.Re6 Kh8 28.Qb3 Qd7! 29.Rxb6 Rxa4 Just when you start to believe this game has “draw” written all over it, “drawmeister” Giri remarkably just finds a little something that makes him want to play on – and he gets rewarded for it! 30.Rd1 Raa8 31.Rxd5 A little too hasty to snatch the pawn; better first was 31.Rb5! Qc8 32.Nd4 and White definitely has a “little something” after 32…Qc4 33.Qxc4 dxc4 34.Nxf5 – but whether it’s enough to try to force a win now after 34…Ra3!? 35.Nd6 Bxc3 36.Nxc4 Ra2 is questionable. 31…Qc7! Giri most likely just missed this move, the point being that he can’t play Rd3 to defend the c3-pawn due to …Ra1+ winning. 32.g3 Qxc3 33.Qxc3 Bxc3 34.h4 The only thing Giri has going for himself now is the more active rooks – but rather than giving in to the temptation of the draw, he takes a little advantage of his opponent’s time-trouble to at least take the game past move 40…and that’s when the position just starts to get a little “iffy” for the Pole. 34…Kg8 35.Rb7 Rad8 The simplest way to try to force the draw, as a set of rooks coming off will greatly ease Black’s position. 36.Rc5 Rc8 37.Rd5 Rcd8 38.Rdb5 Rd6 It’s no biggie in the greater scheme of things, but simpler was just to play 38…Ra8 and ask White how is he going to make progress? 39.Rc7 Ba1 40.Kg2 Ra6 41.h5 Ra2 Not easy to see after relaxing following the adrenalin-rush of making the time control, but best was 41…Rh6! 42.Rc1 Ra6 and it is difficult to see how White makes progress; and especially if Black can get in the more freeing …f4. 42.Rd5 Ra6 43.Nh4 g6? A tricky position, but Wojtaszek drops his guard, missing that 43…f4! 44.g4 f3+ 45.Kg3 Rd6! and White can’t capture due to …Be5+, which should be enough to hold the draw. 44.h6! f4 45.g4 f3+ 46.Kg3 Rb6 47.Rcd7 Giri is marginally better here with the more active rooks and some spurious back-rank threats, but Wojtaszek fails to spot a wonderful Giri trick that the Dutchman is intent in setting-up. 47…Rb3 48.g5 Bb2? In all honesty, you really can’t blame Wojtaszek for missing Giri’s stunning next move, but kudos to the Dutchman for setting the trap in the first place! And for this reason, we’ll soon see why the only hope was 48…Rb4 49.Re7 Rb6 50.Nxf3 and trying to hang on here. 49.Rxh7!! 1-0 [see diagram] A complete bolt out of the blue for Wojtaszek that forces his immediate resignation, as 49…Kxh7 50.Rd7+ Kg8 51.h7+ Kh8 52.Nxg6# and a mate with just a touch of élan. And in the above note, after 48…Rb4, the reason White can’t play 49.Rxh7 is that Black has the cunning reply 49…Rxh4! that forces an even more cunning riposte of 50.Rg7+!! Bxg7 51.hxg7 Rff4 52.Rd8+ Kxg7 53.Rg8!+ and a forced stalemate after 53…Kxg8 or a delayed stalemate with 53…Kf7 (or h7) 54.Rf8+! (or Rh8+!) etc.

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