Top Boards Face Off Peacefully, Maghsoodloo Sole Victor

Top Boards Face Off Peacefully, Maghsoodloo Sole Victor


GM Parham Maghsoodloo was the sole winner in round 11 of the 2023 Tata Steel Chess Tournament. GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov continues to reign in clear first, drawing confidently with black against his closest competitor, GM Anish Giri. GM Magnus Carlsen pressed but ultimately drew against GM Wesley So, maintaining their tie for third.

In the Challengers group, GM Alexander Donchenko won to steal back the sole lead. His closest rival, GM Mustafa Yilmaz, is in clear second by half a point. GM Javokhir Sindarov is currently in third with seven points. These three competitors have separated themselves from the rest of the field by a full point or more. 

How to watch?

A stark contrast between a round-robin and a Swiss system tournament is: In the Swiss system, we see the players at the top of the scoreboard matched up round after ound until they’re narrowed down to a sole victor. In a round-robin, the top players may dance around each other on the standings for a long time before meeting.

This is what made round 11 one of the most anticipated of the event. We got to see the leaders face off: Giri vs. Abdusattorov―competing for the top two spots―and Carlsen vs. So―trying to break the tie for third.

Would Giri utilize the white pieces to directly overtake the leader?

Would Abdusattorov cement his edge by holding off his closest rival with black?

Would Carlsen or So join in the chase for top honors and knock the other out of contention with a decisive result? 

Two previous Wijk aan Zee champions, four-time winner GM Levon Aronian and 2020 champion GM Fabiano Caruana, were also matched up this round. Caruana played an opening he doesn’t often employ, the Tarrasch Defense, leading to an IQP position. Aronian traded away his kingside fianchettoed bishop to win his opponent’s d4-pawn, leading to a rook and minor piece ending where Caruana soon won the pawn back and a draw as the first game to finish.

Two former champions face off to a balanced result. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023.

In the matchup between the top two, Abdusattorov surprised Giri in the opening, challenging his decade-older opponent in an ultra-sharp variation in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Commentator Hess described the significance of the tournament leader’s choice:

“It’s a huge moment. These types of positions are super sharp. You see Anish, he looks flustered. He knows that he’s been caught, and he’s not hiding it.

Before the game, we were wondering: Anish Giri, being the preparation wizard that he is and Nodirbek being young, it might be a struggle for him. But he is saying: I am taking it to my opponent. I’m not going to just sit there with the black pieces and be scared. No, he is playing a very sharp variation.”

He is saying: I am taking it to my opponent. I’m not going to just sit there with the black pieces and be scared.

-Robert Hess on Abdusattorov

Giri responded cautiously, opting to trade queens into an ending with a better pawn structure, due to Black’s isolated e6-pawn. However, Abdusattorov tended to his one weakness, and after all the rooks were traded off, Giri was unable to make progress. 

After the game, Giri revealed that he mixed up his opening preparation: “I tried my new strategy, which is to prepare one thing and play another. It’s actually worked well for me in the tournament so far, but today it didn’t. Unfortunately, I think I confused two variations with each other.”

Giri’s chances to catch Abdusattorov now rest, to some degree, on So and GM Jorden van Foreest, the Uzbek grandmaster’s opponents in the last two rounds. 

In his own game today, Van Foreest played the bold novelty 10…dxc4 against GM Ding Liren, tempting the world number two to pick up the b7-pawn with his queen and then venture to c7 with his knight with check, disrupting the Black king. Van Foreest’s idea was, in the wild resulting position, the adventurous white queen and knight have to be very careful to avoid being overpowered by the surrounding Black pieces. Ding was up to the challenge. He calculated accurately to emerge from the complications into an equal ending.

On the day of opening surprises, Van Foreest’s was certainly the wildest. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023.

GM Vincent Keymer vs. GM Richard Rapport was a battle in the art of maneuvering, loaded with subtle yet fascinating ideas by each side, which eventually traded down to a balanced ending. IM Adrian Petrisor has annotated their strategic duel.

Identity the feline on Rapport’s spunky shirt. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023.

GM Arjun Erigaisi spiced up the Ruy Lopez Berlin with 6.dxe5 and 10.f4, grabbing space in the center and on the kingside. GM Gukesh D. countered by challenging White’s center with pawn breaks on both c5 and f6. This caused many exchanges of pawns and pieces in the center, leading to an equal rook and minor piece ending, which the players eventually drew. 

GM Praggnanandhaa R. initially unsettled Maghsoodloo with a creative and rare move in the Najdorf Sicilian, 8.Nh2!? The Iranian grandmaster steadied himself, replying with pragmatic development. In the resulting middlegame, the Indian prodigy tried the bold tactical idea 17.Nf5 but overlooked Black’s counterstrike in the center with 18…d5! Maghsoodloo soon took over the position with his advancing center pawns and active supporting pieces.

In the ending, Maghsoodloo found an exquisite tactical idea to conclude the game. Can you find his brilliant finish?

This explosive victory is our Game of the Day, annotated by GM Rafael Leitao

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

In the post-game interview, Maghsoodloo shared his feelings about Praggnanandhaa’s unusual opening move: “I was really shocked after Nh2. It’s a very new move. I was not happy with this because also Magnus played a new move, …Bg4, and I lost that game. I was not ready… I was nervous in that moment. But after that, I think I found plenty of good moves and got a normal position, and he was also out of prep. Then it was a fight for me.”

The creative prodigy vs. the fierce attacker. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023.

So caught the world champion off guard in the Nimzo-Indian so much so that the American grandmaster had more time than he started with as Carlsen’s clock ticked down to an hour.

Carlsen responded with 12.d5!?, liquidating the center and most of the minor pieces. Carlsen considered this a pragmatic decision, allowing him to play for a small edge in the arising bishop vs. knight position while eliminating risk in the face of his opponent’s preparation.

In the simplified, symmetrical position, Carlsen looked for opportunities to create winning chances for the next 40 moves, but So defended accurately. The players drew with bare kings left on move 58.

Despite not gaining any ground on the leaders with just two rounds to go, Carlsen said he wasn’t really disappointed in the game: “I think your impression is wrong. I was pretty happy with the position I had. I have a very good bishop against his knight that has no anchor. I remember Ivanchuk won a game against Kramnik in a similar position.”

With just two rounds left, Carlsen nears his last chance to make a sprint for the top. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023.

In the Challengers section, Donchenko defeated GM Amin Tabatabaei with a tactical idea in the midst of a strategic fight. Can you find it?

GM Luis Supi beat IM Eline Roebers in a dynamic slugfest to win a second game in a row. And IM Thomas Beerdsen fought back to win vs. GM Velimir Ivic in a back-and-forth attacking saga.

Results – Masters Round 11

Current Standings 

Pairings – Masters Round 12

All Games – Masters Round 11

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