Tata Steel Chess 2021: Caruana Close To Winning Brilliancy Prize
Caruana vs. Duda. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Tata Steel Chess 2021: Caruana Close To Winning Brilliancy Prize

| 25 | Chess Event Coverage

In the third round of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, GM Fabiano Caruana failed to convert a much better ending after having played a brilliant, sacrificial middlegame vs. GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Tournament leader GM Nils Grandelius lost to Pentala Harikrishna and GM Alireza Firouzja won an excellent game vs. GM David Anton Guijarro.

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 and watch the broadcast at

The third round in Wijk aan Zee had both very sharp games and positional, maneuvering games. The surprising tournament leader made an early mistake and lost without a real fight. At the end of the day, the youngest participant scored his first win.

Tata Steel Chess 2021

Even though it ended in a draw (and started as a Petroff!), there's no doubt about what was the Game of the Day. Caruana-Duda was a fantastic fight that had two parts: one where the American GM showed his genius and seemed on his way to winning potentially the game of the tournament, and another where Duda groveled his way to a draw.

Duda said he had expected 1.d4 from his opponent. "It was obvious when he went 1.e4 that he had something in store," he said. Even though he admitted that it was risky to check Caruana's 2018 world championship preparation, Duda couldn't resist finding out what it was.

The novelty came on move 11, and then it quickly became a "total mess" (Duda). Caruana's 16.Ne6!!—played after 43 minutes of thinking—was marvelous, and when the American GM also found the quiet move 22.Bd4, the win seemed near.

Caruana-Duda 2021 Tata Steel Chess
Caruana-Duda. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Already an exchange up, Caruana needed to make the tough decision to either try and win in the attack or trade queens with one minute and 52 seconds left on the clock. He thought until he had just five seconds left and decided to go for the endgame.

Six more moves needed to be made before the time control, and in that phase Caruana lacked time to play accurately, while Duda grabbed every chance he was given. "I didn't like the endgame at all; probably it was technically winning at some point," he said after the game. 

After his dream debut of 2/2, Grandelius didn't have a good third day. In Aron Nimzowitsch's footsteps, he tried the Advance Variation of the French, a line that is rarely seen at the top level these days.

Grandelius did get out of the opening with a slight edge, but with two inaccurate moves in a row, he got into trouble. Harikrishna felt he was already more comfortable after his 19th move: "If White does not have any counter on the kingside, Black is much better here."

Harikrishna Grandelius 2021 Tata Steel Chess
Harikrishna-Grandelius. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

The 17-year-old Firouzja is back on 50 percent after a good win against last year's winner of the Challengers group. The Iranian teenager was surprised about his opponent's decision to trade queens on move 14, saying, "He accepted to just defend this endgame for five hours. He could have gone more active I think, castling even. Anything is possible, and the game is around equal."

The endgame wasn't that much better for White, but "he has to play always very passive, and I have always very good initiative. My pieces are always in a good place," Firouzja added.

It seemed that the fight could have gone on much longer, but when he saw 49...Nd6 appear on the board, Firouzja realized that his opponent had missed a decisive tactic.

One of the most interesting draws in this round was GM Andrey Esipenko vs. GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, in which the Frenchman got the opportunity to sac his queen. The sacrifice was maybe a bit too natural, said MVL: "Actually so natural that I even overlooked maybe other options." With that, he meant the trade of a piece for four pawns (see the annotations).

Black was still very comfortable in the middlegame, but more than a draw wasn't an option. "During the game I thought I should be better, but I couldn't figure out a way to bring my pieces back into place," said Vachier-Lagrave.

Another debutant in the Masters, GM Aryan Tari, had the reason to be satisfied with his draw today because his opponent was GM Magnus Carlsen. "I'm very happy to, against the best opponent, make a draw with black," Tari said.

How did he do it? Well, by playing a trendy line in the Tarrasch Queen's Gambit (following GM Wesley So's games at the recent Skilling Open) and holding his own in the subsequent endgame.

"I think it was a very good choice against him," said Tari. "Basically, Black takes a slightly [worse] but very, very solid position, and when you have so much time on the clock, it's a very good opening, I think, when you're happy with a draw. I think I defended well."

Carlsen-Tari 2021 Tata Steel Chess
Carlsen-Tari. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

It was a mixture of joy and relief that Tari showed afterward, as he said: "I was prepared for [all] that he would squeeze. I was expecting that I would have to sit and struggle for seven hours against Magnus because he never gives up. If there's a slight, slight chance, he will go for it, and often the opponent collapses."

After this round, nobody is on a perfect score anymore and nobody on zero points. GM Alexander Donchenko got his first half-point in his black game against GM Anish Giri and could even have hope for more.

"The way the game developed, I might not be too pleased because I was probably better throughout but honestly, after the last two games, I finally feel like I am playing this tournament," said the German GM.

Alexander Donchenko Tata Steel Chess
Alexander Donchenko. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

"Even though I was already doing all the same things that I'm used to and basically having the same routine, it still felt like I haven't arrived. I am still kind of traveling and trying to realize that I'm playing here. I am very glad it's starting to work out."

Round 3 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 Pts SB
1 Harikrishna,Pentala 2732 2828 1 ½ ½ 2.0/3 3.5
2 Carlsen,Magnus 2862 2805 1 ½ ½ 2.0/3 2.5
3 Giri,Anish 2764 2775 ½ 1 ½ 2.0/3 2
4 Caruana,Fabiano 2823 2815 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 1.75
5 Grandelius,Nils 2663 2834 0 1 1 2.0/3 1.5
6 Van Foreest,Jorden 2671 2764 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.75
7 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2784 2720 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.5
8 Esipenko,Andrey 2677 2753 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.25
9 Firouzja,Alireza 2749 2775 0 ½ 1 1.5/3 1.75
10 Wojtaszek,Radoslaw 2705 2659 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 1.75
11 Duda,Jan-Krzysztof 2743 2601 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 1.75
12 Anton Guijarro,David 2679 2652 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 1.75
13 Tari,Aryan 2625 2656 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 1.75
14 Donchenko,Alexander 2668 2471 ½ 0 0 0.5/3

Games round 3

Pairings round 4 Tata Steel Chess 2021

See also:

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.

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