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Tata Steel Chess 2021: Carlsen, Giri, Grandelius Winners In Opening Round
Carlsen defeated Firouzja in the key game of the day. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Tata Steel Chess 2021: Carlsen, Giri, Grandelius Winners In Opening Round

PeterDoggers
| 67 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen started his Tata Steel Chess Tournament with a win. The world champion took some risks but then was rewarded as he profited from a blunder by GM Alireza Firouzja. The other winners of the day were GMs Anish Giri and Nils Grandelius.

How to watch?
The Tata Steel Chess Tournament runs January 16-31, 2021. All rounds start at 14:00 CET (5 a.m. Pacific) except for the final round that starts an hour earlier. You can follow the games at chess.com/events/2021-tata-steel-masters and watch the broadcast at chess.com/tv.


With just 14 players and two arbiters in the playing hall, a unique edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament began on Saturday. No smell of pea soup, no hundreds of amateurs, no talented grandmasters hoping to promote from the Challengers group into next year's Masters.

With a strict COVID-19 protocol in place, the players seemed hardly affected by the different playing conditions. It does help that face masks are not mandatory (the players, as well as all crew members, will be tested four times during the event), although some players were wearing one during parts of their games.

GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek said he felt "pretty safe" and probably summed up the general feeling among the players when he noted: "The will of playing again is higher than me being afraid that I might catch something."

See our preview for more background on how the tournament deals with the coronavirus situation.

Tata Steel Chess 2021 round 1 pairings

The tournament started with a bang: we had a most interesting matchup, between the current world champion Carlsen and a potential successor, Firouzja.

In general, it's very interesting to see how the Iranian youngster will be doing. Last year he made his debut with a decent 50 percent score but lost to the biggest names in the field: Carlsen and GMs Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Vishy Anand. Nine months later, he finished in second place at Norway Chess in October 2020—the last over-the-board super-tournament that finished exactly three months ago.

Carlsen, who had started his last seven Wijk aan Zee tournaments with draws, said his play in this first game was shaky. He came to the tournament just a day in advance from a long holiday in Seychelles but said it was more related to the first round than to jetlag or anything else.

"It was a typical first-round game, to be fair, thinking too much and miscalculating," he said.

Carlsen Wojtaszek Tata 2021
Carlsen checking Wojtaszek's position. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit /Tata Steel Chess.

The world champion admitted that he was taking risks at one point.

"When I played 23.d5 and sac'ed the pawn instead of, for instance, repeating moves, that was already a gamble," said Carlsen. "I felt that I would have decent compensation. It was sort of a trend, you know. I knew in my heart that once I had taken that decision I wasn't going to back down later on and look for equality, so I knew that at that point at least mentally I had already burned some bridges."

Carlsen said that what he did was "probably not correct" but thought it would give him chances for more than a draw. When he was about to give up playing for a win, he got help from his opponent.

Carlsen: "I don't know if 32...a4 was a huge mistake but at any event, it was unbelievably impractical, and I think that was the problem there. That if there is something forced there for him, then it's impossible to calculate with so little time. Instead, he blundered which was very fortunate for me, of course."

"Overall, I think neither of us is especially happy, but it's a start," said Carlsen. "At least in this tournament, there are no first few rounds with boring draws like last year. The first seven games were draws; I happily take this instead!"

The last time the tournament had a Dutch winner was in 1985 when GM Jan Timman clinched the first prize. Giri knows that, of course, and came close in both 2018 and 2019 when he finished in second place, twice behind Carlsen.

For the moment, Giri is keeping pace with the Norwegian GM as he scored a good win against another Norwegian player: GM Aryan Tari. The latter was brave to test his opponent in his specialty, the area of opening theory, but that didn't work.

Giri-Tari Tata Steel 2021
Giri and Tari in good spirits before the game. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Giri said that knew the piece sacrifice 8...Nxg4 long before Carlsen played it against GM Hikaru Nakamura last year. The Dutch GM had analyzed it deeply but didn't expect it for this round because Tari doesn't tend to play the Berlin defense.

"Fortunately, I managed to recall a lot of things, and he deviated quite early from the line that I had with Black," said Giri. He pointed out that the setup with the king on g2 and the rook on h3, blocking everything, was important. "He never really has any counterplay. The only question is whether he has a fortress.... Eventually, I was very happy to break through without a breakthrough."

Grandelius is playing in Wijk aan Zee for the fifth time but for the first time in the top group. He started his debut strongly, beating last-minute entry GM Alexander Donchenko. 

The German grandmaster, who on Thursday morning still didn't know that he would play in this tournament, looked solid in the opening. Then he played the slightly surprising 15...d5 move that opened the center. "After that, it was very complicated," said Grandelius, who couldn't really refute it.

"Originally, I thought I would have something very good, but then I started to calculate more deeply, and in all the lines there was one more move that I had missed in the end and everywhere it seemed that he was barely surviving. And the thing is, if he survives, he might be completely fine. So I was burning all my time and with 10 minutes left, I decided to play a relatively equal position, which was not the intention."

According to the Swedish grandmaster, Black was not precise in the ending and made the decisive mistake on move 36.

Of the four games that ended in draws, Caruana's game with GM Jorden van Foreest should be mentioned. The "other" Dutch grandmaster impressed last year with fourth place (ahead of Giri!) and continues his excellent play a year later. Drawing a tough rook endgame against the world number-two is not bad at all.

"There was a lot to calculate," van Foreest said. "I thought the rook endgame should be an easy draw, but there was no way to force it, let's say. I have to keep on playing good moves."

Caruana vs. Van Foreest Tata Steel Chess 2021
Van Foreest successfully played the banana variation as he drew with Caruana in a long endgame. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Games round 1

Tata Steel Chess 2021 round 2 pairings


See also:

PeterDoggers
Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by Chess.com in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!


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