A Thrilling Conclusion To The 2021 Tata Steel Chess Tournament

The Tata Steel Chess Tournament, held annually in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands since 1938, has grown to become one of the largest and most prestigious chess tournaments in the world. The fourteen-player Master section round robin has been called “the Wimbledon of chess.”

Of course, the 83rd edition of the tournament was affected by the pandemic. The Amateur section did not play, and many of the events surrounding the tournament were cancelled or held online. Only the Master section took place, and even within this small group, COVID-19 had some effects. Daniil Dubov, fresh off eliminating Magnus Carlsen in the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters, could not participate due to a possible exposure to the coronavirus. This made way for the young German grandmaster Alexander Donchenko in his first super-strong event.

There were a number of other last-minute changes to the lineup. Along with Dubov, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had been announced as participants as late as December. For various reasons they were unable to participate and were replaced with Pentala Harikrishna of India, Nils Grandelius of Sweden and Poland’s Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

The gruelling thirteen-round classical, over-the-board tournament took place in the last two weeks of January and created many surprises in the chess world.

Who could have predicted that the final-round match between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen would have no impact on the final standings? MVL, who entered the tournament as the #5 ranked chess player, seemed to be off his game throughout the event. He is expected to lose 24 rating points, slipping out of the top ten, to fifteenth place.

Carlsen also performed rather poorly, including a stunning eighth-round loss to the 18-year-old Andrey Esipenko of Russia. Carlsen ended up in 6th place overall, going 7.5/13, while Esipenko made shockwaves by taking third place with an impressive 8/13, beating out Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja on tiebreaks.

Firouzja, the 17-year-old prodigy from Iran, can take solace in the fact that his strong performance in this tournament has earned him a spot on the top ten worldwide.

It is sure to be front-page news in the Netherlands that, for the first time since Jan Timman’s victory in 1985, a Dutch player won at Wijk aan Zee. This was guaranteed by the final score between Anish Giri and 21-year-old Jorden van Foreest, a tie at 8.5/13 each.

For the last few years ties have been decided by a play-off at the Tata Steel, and so Giri and van Foreest squared off for two rapid (5+3) games, both of which ended in a draw. This led to the entire match coming down to a truly wild armageddon game, with Giri drawing the White pieces. The time controls were five minutes for White, four minutes for Black, with a three-second increment starting after the 60th move. Black has draw odds in an armageddon game, meaning that if the game is drawn, Black is awarded the win.

After a brisk opening that saw a few errors made on both sides, Giri spent an entire minute considering his 26th move, consuming half his remaining time, and came up with an imaginative move that the engine considered a serious blunder, and led to a flurry of exchanges. The position remained quite even, but late in the game on the 56th move, in significant time trouble, van Foreest blundered his Bishop. This left Giri with an easily winning position, but only twelve seconds on the clock to reach move sixty and the desperately needed increments that would kick in afterwards. It wasn’t enough time. Two moves later, Giri’s clock had run out, and it was over!

So congratulations to Jorden van Foreest, who comes from a long line of Dutch chess masters, for his first win at Wijk aan Zee! With this performance, van Foreest’s rating exceeds 2700 for the first time in his career.

Here is the wild and woolly armageddon game that decided the match (as well as all of the other games in the final round.)

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