For Indian fans, the final round of the Challengers group of Tata Steel Chess piqued more interest than the Masters. With his win in the penultimate round, Vidit Gujrathi had broken the long standing deadlock between him and Anton Korobov for the top spot and was on the brink of clinching the title. A win would have sealed it once and for all, depriving Korobov of even a mathematical chance of making a comeback. A draw, on the other hand, would have forced the Ukrainian to go for broke. Gujrathi chose the latter.
In his game against Jorden van Foreest in the final round, Gujrathi chose to go with his usual Queen’s pawn opening with the white pieces to which the Dutch teenager responded with a Queen’s Gambit accepted. Queens were traded quite early in the game and soon an exchange of a pair of rooks followed. By the 24th move, Gujrathi successfully exchanged another pair of rooks and made it clear to his opponent that splitting points was more or less inevitable. The two signed the truce immediately.
After the game Gujrathi said, “Today, I thought I should play a bit, but not risk too much. That is why I went for this endgame. He (Van Foreest) messed up in the opening, somehow, and I got a very comfortable position. But, at some point in the endgame, I missed one tactic and allowed him to liquidate after which, in the final position, I had absolutely no chance.”
With Gujrathi’s game drawn, the onus was now on Korobov to win his game and catch up in the lead. But the task ahead was a difficult one. Korobov was pitted against Dmitry Gordievsky, a 2,622-rated grandmaster, and had the black pieces.
Korobov opened with the Gruenfeld Defence and as was required of him, threw all but the kitchen sink at his opponent to carve out a win. But Gordievsky, who had a slightly better position out of the opening, went on to improve his position a lot more in the middle game. Soon, the Russian GM went on to win an exchange and after a long, tumultuous 78-move battle, Korobov was forced to resign.
Gujrathi, with this win, has qualified for the Masters segment of the tournament and will be seen matching his wits with the crème dela crème of the chess world in the next edition of the tournament.
Talking about his win, the 23-year-old said: “This victory means a lot to me because I qualify for the Masters section in 2019. The pressure as the top seed was immense, but I am glad that I managed to prove myself. I am looking forward to playing against players like Carlsen, Anand, Caruana, So, Giri and others in 2019.”
Gujrathi also sees this win as a big milestone towards his dream of battling for the world title in the years to come. Talking about his future plans, he said, “I want to continue working hard on chess and aim for the World Championship title in the years to come. For this I would need to play more against the best players in the world. I am hoping that this performance will get me invitations to the top Round Robin events in 2018.”
Besides, qualifying for the Masters segment in the next edition of Tata Steel Chess, this win also earned Gujrathi 5.3 rating points. His current rating has now shot up to 2,723 and has put him on the 30th spot in the world rankings.
Gujrathi’s performance also won him praise from the Indian chess legend, Viswanathan Anand. “Gujrathi, I thought, was completely professional how he qualified for the A. So, my congrats to him for that,” Anand said.
In the Masters, there was a tie for the first place between Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen, who had both drawn their final game comfortably and had scored 9.0/13. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also had a chance to catch up with the leaders if he could beat Anand in the final round with the white pieces.
The two played a Queen’s Gambit in which the Indian came up with some sparkling tactics in the opening but after the initial fireworks burned out, the game drifted into an endgame where Mamedyarov’s rooks had good activity. Unfortunately, for Mamedyarov, there wasn’t enough firepower in his initiative to deliver the knock-out punch and, in the end, he had to settle for a draw.
With this draw, Mamedyarov lost his chance to contend for the title while Anand had to settle for the fifth place on the leaderboard. Talking about his overall performance Anand said, “Plus 3 is not a bad result but given that practically everyone has plus three or more, you shouldn’t get too impressed.”
About the draw against Mamedyarov, Anand said he was caught in a line he did not remember very well. “He caught me in some line which I couldn’t remember very well. It’s typical phenomenon. So, I had to sit and grovel for a long time but I think I did that reasonably well,” he said.
After the games of the final round had concluded, it was time for Carlsen and Giri to battle it out for the title prize in a two-game blitz tie break. The time control for the mini-match was five minutes for each player with a 30-second increment from the first move.
The first game kicked off with the English Opening with Carlsen having the white pieces. After an early trade of queens, Carlsen had good play against black’s isolated queen pawn. With his two bishops and a rook, Carlsen setup a good blockade on the weakened pawn.
On his 30th turn, Carlsen surprisingly exchanged his king’s pawn for Giri’s weakened queen pawn. This changed the nature of the position drastically and gave the reigning world champion a better bishop than his opponent. Continuing in his trademark style Carlsen went on to win the game after 55 moves of play.
In the second game of the tie break, Giri found an enterprising piece sacrifice from the white side of an Italian Opening. Carlsen immediately returned the piece to start taking over the initiative. Giri had an extra pawn at this point which he sacrificed in order to be able to exchange queens and soon the players agreed to a draw.
This is Carlsen’s sixth title at Wijk Aan Zee. Until the start of the tournament, he was sharing the record for maximum title wins at the event with Anand with five wins apiece. Talking about his achievement, Carlsen said, “It’s huge for me obviously. This is one of the top tournaments not just right now but of all time. Having the record here, especially after such a bad spell that I have had, it’s amazing.”
About his play in the blitz, Carlsen said after the game that he was playing a bit slowly. “It was very hard after playing classical chess for 13 days to switch to blitz mode and I didn’t really manage that. You could see that especially in the second game when I was a little bit wobbly. But yeah, fortunately I managed to prevail.
Final Standings (Masters)
Final Standings (Challengers)
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2018 20:26:28 IST