18 Jan

Marquee Match-up

The Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee is a marathon and not a sprint, and that means players tend to pace themselves at the start of the tournament before the big finish.  This means a few rounds can inevitably end up with all the games being drawn, and round two was such a round - however many of the games were nevertheless hard-fought, and one in particular, the marquee match-up between potential title rivals Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, proved to be a highly original affair.


Carlsen has admitted that among the field of younger players closing in on his title, Caruana is “the guy.” There is a great rivalry and respect between these two players that always makes for an interesting encounter between them - and many think that, with the Candidates tournament coming up in March, Caruana could well have the ‘right stuff’ to emerge as the first American since Bobby Fischer to challenge for the world crown.

And speaking of world championship matches, there was a major interview given by Carlsen to the top Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, on the eve of Tata Steel, where he again reinforced that he wanted to change the system to determine the title with an annual World Championship knockout tournament. “Each year, a battle for the world chess title gives a new dimension,” says Carlsen.


Officially, FIDE has not yet responded to Carlsen’s proposal first mooted several months ago.  “In the corridors of power some respond positively, others negatively,” adds Carlsen.   “The President of the Russian Chess Federation suggested recently that the world champion should be able to take on any challenge.  That can not be the intention.  I want a clear system.”  

 Photo © | http://www.tatasteelchess.com/


Round 2

Carlsen draw Caruana
Hou Yifan draw So
Karjakin draw van Wely
Tomashevsky draw Mamedyarov
Giri draw Ding Liren
Eljanov draw Wei Yi
Adams draw Navara

Round 2 standings: 1-3. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Wesley So (USA), Ding Liren (China) 1.5/2; 4-11. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, (Azerbaijan), David Navara (Czech Republic), Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), Wei Yi (China), Hou Yifan (Vhina), Loek van Wely (Netherlands) 1; 12-14. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Michael Adams (England) 0.5.

Round 3 pairings: So-Karjakin, Ding-Hou, Navara-Giri, Caruana-Adams, Wei-Carlsen, Mamedyarov-Eljanov, Van Wely-Tomashevsky.

There’s live video commentary coverage hosted by former US champion Yasser Seirawan each round, starting at 13:30 local time (07:30 ET, 04:30 PT) by clicking here.

GM Magnus Carlsen- GM Fabiano Caruana
78th Tata Steel ‘Group A’, (2)
Benko Opening
1.g3 The Benko Opening. This, as Caruana noted on his must-watch post-game summary with GM Yassar Seirawan, is an indication that Carlsen doesn't want to get involved in his opponent's notoriously thorough opening preparation, and just want's to "play some chess". 1...g6 2.Bg2 Bg7 3.e4 e5 4.Ne2 c5 Caruana pointed out that this wasn't the best of ideas - he can play either ...c5 or ...e5, but not both together. 5.d3 Nc6 6.Be3 d6 7.Qd2 Nd4 Basically, what we more or less have here, is a reversed English Botvinnik System - the big difference being the Black is a tempo down on the White side of it. 8.c3 Nxe2 A "flashy" alternative Caruana said he considered was 8...Bh3, but after 9.0-0 White has the better position. The ...Bh3 (Bh6 for White) trick is well-known in the Botvinnik system - and indeed, I had it played against me when I was Black against Jonathan Grant, in a Scottish Championship from the mid-1990s. It caused a mild panic when my opponent quickly flicked out Bh6; but I soon realised after I had castled, White had nothing. 9.Qxe2 Ne7 10.h4 A sign of aggression from Carlsen; and one that makes Caruana think carefully about his options now. 10...h6 More committal was 10...h5 - and probably the better option of the two choices Caruana had. 11.h5 g5 12.f4! Caruana is now seeing the drawback to his option of 10..h6, as Carlsen signals his intention of 'going for it' with this thematic breakthrough. 12...exf4 13.gxf4 gxf4 14.Bxf4 Nc6 15.Na3 Be5 16.Be3 Quite rightly declining the exchange of bishops, as the pawn weakness on ...h6 is a very tempting target, especially with White's h-pawn so far up the board. 16...Be6 17.Nc4 Bg3+ A tough choice, as its always nice to see a world champion denied of castling rights and his king wondering round the middle of the board - but here, Carlsen's king is secure and it just helps him connect his rooks. Perhaps better was 17...b5 18.Nxe5 Nxe5 19.d4 cxd4 20.cxd4 Nc4 and Black has some activity for his pieces. 18.Kd2 Qd7 19.d4 Carlsen opts to mobilise his central force immediately, not giving Caruana a chance to better coordinate his position - and its a plan that almost pays off for the world champion. 19...cxd4 20.cxd4 If Caruana doesn't find something fast, Carlsen's probable plan is Rc1 followed by Kc2-b1 with a dominant position. Caruana now goes into cunning mode. 20...Ne5! Taking full advantage of the wandering king, as after 21.dxe5 dxe5+ 22.Qd3 (Not 22.Kc2 as 22...Rc8 followed by ...b5, and suddenly White is in grave danger here.) 22...Bxc4 23.Qxd7+ Kxd7 and the extra pawn gives Black good winning chances. 21.Nxe5 dxe5 22.d5 Carlsen maintains his composure and his central initiative - but Caruana simply doesn't give up. 22...Bg4 23.Bf3 Bxf3 24.Qxf3 Qb5! (See Diagram) Again another move to try to confuse matters.  25.Rac1? Just when the win was within Carlsen's grasp, he falters and falls into forced repetition, missing the better move 25.b3! that offers a shield from all the checks: 25...Qa5+ (It looked dangerous, but after 25...Rc8 White simply takes the bishop and walks his king back to the safety of the kingside with 26.Qxg3 Qb4+ 27.Ke2 Rc2+ (27...Qxe4 28.Rhc1!) 28.Kf3 and Black has nothing.) 26.Kd3 Qa6+ 27.Kc2 Rc8+ 28.Kb2 and with no more checks and Rac1 coming, Black is lost. 25...Qxb2+ 26.Kd1 Bf4! The final piece of the saving jigsaw from Caruana, as with the bishops off, it is harder to hide from the checks. 27.Bxf4 exf4 28.Qxf4 Rg8 The precarious position of White's king makes it difficult for Carlsen to even attempt to win this. 29.Rf1 Qd4+ 30.Ke1 Qb4+ 31.Kd1 Qd4+ 32.Ke1 As Caruana pointed out, Carlsen would have been in grave danger after 32.Ke2 Rg2+ 33.Kf3 Qb2! and suddenly Black is the one looking for the win! 32...Qb4+ ½-½

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