Tata Steel Chess 2021: Esipenko Shocks Carlsen as Firouzja Grabs Sole Lead
Andrey Esipenko. Photo: Alina l'Ami/Tata Steel Chess.

Tata Steel Chess 2021: Esipenko Shocks Carlsen as Firouzja Grabs Sole Lead

| 99 | Chess Event Coverage

In his first-ever classical game with the world champion, GM Andrey Esipenko scored a crushing, upset victory vs. GM Magnus Carlsen. The just 18-year-old Russian GM dominated the game from start to finish. GM Alireza Firouzja won his third consecutive game and is now the sole leader at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament going into the second rest day.

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

Chess fans are well aware of how rare it is for the world champion to lose. Carlsen was unbeaten for 125 games between July 2018 and October 2020. His loss of today is the biggest upset in Wijk aan Zee since the then-16-year-old GM Anish Giri beat him in 2011, but that was almost three years before Carlsen became world champion.

During Carlsen’s reign, the only two games that come close in terms of losing to a teenager is his loss against the then-17-year-old Chinese GM Lu Shanglei at the 2014 World Blitz and his loss to the 16-year-old Uzbek IM Shamsiddin Vokhidov at the 2018 World Rapid.

As his closest follower Tarjei Svensen noted, today was Carlsen's first loss in Wijk aan Zee since 2017 and his first loss against a sub-2700 player since 2015.

Tata Steel Chess 2021 Round 8 Results
To beat the world champion is one accomplishment, but to do it in such a crushing style is another. Quite early in the opening, a Sicilian Scheveningen, Esipenko sacrificed a pawn, the most aggressive option. He later said that, with that Sicilian, Carlsen probably wanted to try hard to beat him.

"Before the game, I wanted to play solid," said Esipenko. "I think it was his choice to beat me with this opening probably, and I just played very logical. After the opening, I thought maybe I'd have some chances because it's really an initiative position. After I sacrificed my piece, I felt like I could do something in this game."

Esipenko Carlsen Tata Steel Chess 2021
Esipenko put Carlsen under pressure from the start. Photo: Alina l'Ami/Tata Steel Chess.

The win was largely based on an early mistake by Carlsen. His 16...Nc6? allowed a strong piece sacrifice on b5 and also after that, Esipenko finished the game splendidly, finding more killer moves on the road to victory.

Someone found a photo of these players from 2013.

"I think it's one of the best days in my life.... I feel very great and I have nothing to say!" was how Esipenko started his interview. He still couldn't really believe what had happened, as he added: "I still can't get it. Maybe tomorrow I will realize it, that I won."

His reply to the question of what he'll do on the rest day was funny: "I think I will go to the supermarket!" The background behind this is that the quarantine period for the international players expired today, so now they have more freedom.

The players also got their third test for COVID-19 right after their games, to which Carlsen referenced in a great tweet after the game. It was good to see him keeping his sense of humor after his loss.

It's early to make the statement, but today does feel a bit like the day that the new generation is knocking on the door of the current top players. The only participant younger than Esipenko, 17-year-old Firouzja, won his third game in a row and is now the sole leader with an impressive 5.5/8.

It says a lot about his versatility that, while he is known for his sharp, tactical style, Firouzja was again the last player to finish as he ground down his opponent in an endgame.

Alireza Firouzja Tata Steel Chess 2021
Alireza Firouzja, on his way toward his first super-tournament victory? Photo: Alina l'Ami/Tata Steel Chess.

He got the advantage in the opening because, just like GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda the other day, GM Pentala Harikrishna erred early.

"He blundered in the opening somehow…. I don't know if he blundered or misjudged the position," Firouzja said about 14.gxf6. "I think I'm better out of the opening, but he defended very well. I think all the game I was much better, but the endgame was tough, so I'm happy that I managed to win."

Behind Firouzja we now find Esipenko in shared second place together with three players who drew their games today. Two of them did that against each other.

GM Fabiano Caruana played the opening creatively against Giri: 1.d4, 2.Nc3, and 3.Bf4. This system has been played often by Georgian GM Baadur Jobava and was once coined "Neo-Veresov" by this author (as it's kind of a modern version of 3.Bg5, the actual Veresov).

"I thought it might be fun. I felt like maybe I'm freestyling a bit today, but it wasn't really what I minded," Caruana said.

Giri's 3...g6 suggested the Dutchman wanted a fight, and that's what he got.

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

"I got optimistic at some point out of the opening, but I kind of overestimated my position once the position got semi-locked," said Caruana. "I felt it should be very close to equal."

The American GM thought he might have missed a chance on move 34, but the engine evaluates the pawn endgame as a draw.

The last name in the group of players on 5/8 not mentioned yet is GM Jorden van Foreest, who continued his excellent tournament with a good draw against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. It seems that the Frenchman was out-prepared once again as his opponent played arguably the Move of the Day with 14...Bh3.

"He fell into one of the traps in this opening, and after that Black is immediately doing fine at least," said Van Foreest. "I didn't know too much about the position. I just knew Black is fine after 14…Bh3, and that's all. It turned out I still had to play quite accurately to draw."

Round 8 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 Pts SB
1 Firouzja 2749 2857 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 5.5/8
2 Giri 2764 2788 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 5.0/8 19.75
3 Esipenko 2677 2848 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 5.0/8 19.75
4 Van Foreest 2671 2837 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 5.0/8 19
5 Caruana 2823 2802 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 5.0/8 18.75
6 Grandelius 2663 2780 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 4.5/8
7 Harikrishna 2732 2753 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 4.0/8 17.25
8 Carlsen 2862 2693 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 4.0/8 15.75
9 Wojtaszek 2705 2639 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.5/8
10 Vachier-Lagrave 2784 2614 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 3.0/8 12.75
11 Duda 2743 2652 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 3.0/8 12.75
12 Tari 2625 2646 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.0/8 10.75
13 Anton 2679 2638 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.0/8 9.5
14 Donchenko 2668 2597 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.5/8

Games round 8

Tata Steel Chess 2021 round 9 pairings

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.

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.

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