There’s no such thing as neighbourly Nordic love, as Magnus Carlsen discovered, with his bid to break the rating 2900-barrier suffering a minor setback at the annual Dutch super-tournament of the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk Ann Zee. In round five, the World Champion was held to a draw by tournament bottom seed, Nils Grandiulis of Sweden, in a result that saw Carlsen shed more rating points.
Carlsen is a record-breaking seven-time winner of the traditional first major of the year, and while an eighth title is still very much on the cards, his bold 2022 aim of breaking 2900 could well be a statistical metric too far even for a super chess human as the world No 1. To break 2900, Carlsen needs to better his previous best winning Wijk score of 10/13 in 2013.
That seems difficult now, because in Carlsen’s first five games of his latest Wijk campaign, despite not losing, he’s failed to convert a couple of golden opportunities that by his own admission, was “throwing away some opportunities” that would have seen him on-course for a big rating gain. But after ceding four draws, his live rating dipped -4.4 points, down to 2860.6, and 40-points adrift of his mark – and even just to stand still in Wijk, Carlsen needs to score 9/13 to maintain his rating.
But the Norwegian was soon back on track for a rating-gain by the end of today’s exciting round six, as he systematically took down overnight co-leader Richard Rapport. More ominously though for the field, there’s a very familiar face in the lead as Carlsen now joins Santosh Vidit and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov all on +2 after six rounds and a three-way tie at the top on 4/6. And with that vital win over Rapport, Carlsen has restored his live rating to 2864.2, and now, rating-wise, only in a deficit of -0.8. The challenge now will be to score at least 5/7 in the remaining rounds so as not to lose rating points; but knowing Carlsen’s resolve, his goal will be to better that, and possibly 6/7 – still a dauntingly tall order.
Yet while Carlsen labours with his own self-imposed challenges, you got to love the devil-may-care attitude of big Shak Mamedyarov having the chutzpah to play 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g4?!? with the bizarre gambit being declined by Russian teenager Andrey Esipenko, and then followed up with a brace of unexpected back-to-back wins over Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Jorden van Foreest in rounds four and five respectively, to not only jump into the co-lead but also storming back up the Top 10 world rankings with a big rating hike.
Tata Steel Masters standings:
1-3. M. Carlsen (Norway), S. Vidit (India), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 4/6; 4-5. A. Esipenko (Russia), R. Rapport (Hungary) 3½; 6-8. S. Karjakin (Russia), J-K. Duda (Poland), A. Giri (Netherlands) 3; 9-13. S. Shankland (USA), F. Caruana (USA), D. Dubov (Russia), J. van Foreest (Netherlands), R. Praggnanandhaa (India) 2½; 14. N. Grandelius (Sweden) 1.
GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda
84th Tata Steel Masters, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 cxd4 More normal in the Semi-Tarrasch is 5…Nxd5 but the text, I believe, was originally played in the fabled Zurich Candidates Tournament 1953 by Paul Keres. The whole line though looks more like an improved version of the Schara-Henning-Gambit (without the gambit), and apparently has a reputation of being “drawish”. 6.Qxd4 exd5 7.e4 The main line, and perhaps more what Duda expected, is 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 0-0 9.Be2 h6 10.Bh4 Nc6 11.Qd1 Be6 12.0-0 Rc8 13.a3 Ne4 14.Bxe7 Nxe7 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Nd4 Nd5 as happened recently in Mamedyarov-Vidit, World Rapid Ch. 2021. 7…dxe4 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Ng5 Be6 10.Nxe6+ fxe6 11.Bg5 h6 12.0-0-0+ Ke7 13.Bxf6+ gxf6 14.Nxe4 f5 15.Ng3!?N A novelty from Mamedyarov, though the more usual 15.Nc5 still looks better. 15…h5 16.Bc4 Nd7 17.Kb1 Ne5 18.Bb3 Kf6 19.Rhe1 Re8 20.Ba4 Re7 21.h4 Ng6 22.Rd4 Rc7 23.Bb3 e5 24.Rd8 Nxh4 25.Re8? For reasons that will soon become clear, White needs to play 25.Rh1 Kg5 26.Bc2 that retains the advantage, as long-term, Black’s pawns on h5, f5 and e5 will become very vulnerable. But Mamedyarov simply overlooked something. 25…Ng6 26.Re6+ Kg5 27.Bc2 h4! It suspiciously looks as if Mamedyarov had missed this resource that sees the advantage swing to Duda. 28.Re3!? A spirited try, given the changed circumstances. The point is that 28.Nxf5? Rxc2 wins, and no better is 28.Bxf5 hxg3 29.Bxg6 gxf2 30.Rf1 Bc5 also easily winning. 28…e4?! Duda gets carried away in the delusions of his improved position, and blows his advantage away. But winning was 28…Bg7! with major threats of both 29…Rfc8 and 29…Nf4 that can’t be defended against. 29.Nxf5!? A nice shot with Duda’s king caught in no man’s land. 29…Kxf5 30.R3xe4 Rxc2 The only move to stay in the game. 31.Kxc2 Bc5?! Better was the mini-rook lift plan of 31…Rh7!? with the idea of swinging the rook over with …Rc7+ followed by …Bg7, which seems to co-ordinate Black’s pieces very quickly. 32.g4+! [see diagram] Another excellent shot from the ever-inventive Mamedyarov, and this one appears to bamboozle Duda. 32…Kg5? It all begins to go downhill from here for Duda, who simply had to play 32…hxg3! 33.fxg3 Bb6 34.g4+ Kg5 with an equal game. 33.f4+! Nxf4 34.R6e5+ Kxg4 35.Rxc5 Kf3?! Duda is still a little in bamboozlement, as now was the time to bail-out with the draw after 35…h3! 36.Rcc4 Rf8 37.Re7 b5 38.Rg7+ Kh4 39.Rd4 Rf5 a better version than in the game, as here b7 doesn’t hang. 36.Rb4 h3? To be honest, watching this game live, my initial reactions was that Black must have enough here to draw – but on closer inspection, White is winning with correct play. To hold, Duda had to find 36…Ng2! 37.Rc3+ (Similarly, 37.Rf5+ Kg3 38.Rg5+ Kf3 39.Rb3+ Ne3+ is also heading for a draw.) 37…Ne3+ 38.Kd2 Rd8+ 39.Rd3 Rxd3+ 40.Kxd3 h3 41.Rxb7 h2 42.Rh7 Ng4 which is a draw. 37.Rc3+ Kg4 38.Rcc4 Rf8 There’s no tricks to save the inevitable now. After 38…Kg3 39.Rxf4 h2 40.Rg4+ Kh3 41.Rgd4! h1Q 42.Rb3+ Kg2 43.Rd2+ Kf1 44.Rd1+ Ke2 45.Rxh1 Rxh1 46.Rxb7 White has a technically won R+P ending. 39.Rxb7 The difference between this and the note to move 35 is day and night. Not only does the rook win the b7 pawn here, but it swings over to the ideal h7 square to pick off the troublesome passed h-pawn. 39…h2 40.Rh7 Kg3 41.Kb3! 1-0 A subtle winning move that forces Duda’s resignation, as he now realises he can’t stop Rc3+ and Rc2 winning the h-pawn.