- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

It was a momentous week in which one world champion (barely) retained her title and one world championship hopeful made a (bold) statement that he’s ready for another run for the crown.

In Vladivostok, reigning Chinese women’s world champion GM Ju Wenjun barely held off Russian challenger GM Aleksandra Goryachkina in a hard-fought rapid playoff Friday to keep the title she won two years ago.

Across the continent in the fabled Dutch chess town of Wijk aan Zee, American GM Fabiano Caruana posted a dominating 10-3 score to win the 82nd annual Tata Steel Group A Tournament. Against a world-class field, Caruana finished two full points ahead of the second-place finisher, Norwegian world champ Magnus Carlsen, and the two may very well meet up again when Carlsen defends his title in a match later this year.

The Ju-Goryachkina match was a battle throughout, with six of the 12 classical games producing a decisive result. The young Russian won Game 12 to force overtime and nearly took the first of four rapid playoff games.

But Ju’s experience showed in the critical third playoff game, where she appears to have knocked her opponent off stride with a new line in the Reti Opening. In the diagrammed position, after Goryachkina has just played 36…Re7-g7, White’s extra pawn is nice, but it’s her strongly placed pieces and pressure down the e-file that really count. A string of moves by White’s homely f-pawns decides the game and, effectively, the match.

Thus: 37. f5! e5 (Nxd4 38. Qd3 e5? 39. Qxd4) 38. dxe5 fxe5 (on 38…Nxe5, White has 39. Bb2 [and not 39. f4? d4! 40. Re4 Qg8 41. fxe5 Rxg3+ 42. Kh2 Rxa3, and Black holds] Re7 40. Qe2, with the powerful threat of 41. f4) 39. f6! Rg5 40. f4! Rxh5 (Rg8 41. Qf5 Qf7 42. fxe5 Rg5 43. e6 Qxh5 44. Qd3) 41. fxe5!? (this proves good enough, but the time-pressed Ju could have clinched things at once with 41. g4! Rh4 42. Qf5 Qf7 43. fxe5, and the pawns are overwhelming) Qe6 42. Kg1 d4? (the final mistake — 42…Rf5 forces White to still work for the win) 43. Qg6! (threatening the rook and mate on g7; Black is busted) Qd7 44. e6 Qc7 45. Qxh5, and Black resigned facing 45…dxe3 46. Qxh6+ Qh7 47. Qxh7+ Kxh7 48. f7 and wins.

At Tata, Caruana drew his game with Carlsen but defeated a string of younger rivals, including rising star GM Alireza Firouzja. The 16-year-old Iranian briefly led the tournament but suffered some losses in the later rounds to the big boys, including Caruana and Carlsen, to end up with a level 6½-6½ score.

In their Round 10 encounter, Caruana later admitted he was surprised by Firouzja’s 6…Nc6!? in this King’s Indian line, and was on the verge of drifting into an inferior game when he uncorked 13. Qf3 Bb7 (if Black can get in a timely…e7-e6, the White center will be under heavy pressure) 14. g5!?, changing the complexion of the play after forcing 14…Nfxe4!? 15. Nxe4 Bxd5 16. Nf6+ exf6 17. Qxd5 Re8 18. Nc2 fxg5 19. 0-0-0 (fxg5?! Bxb2 20. Rb1 Bc3+ 21. Kf2 Re5 looks very pleasant for Black) gxf4 20. Bd4 Bxd4 21. Qxd4 — Firouzja gets four pawns for the piece, but as Caruana later remarked, Black’s d-pawn is actually a liability severely limiting the scope of Black’s own rooks.

White’s pieces have more scope and avenues of attack, advantages that are only magnified when Black allows his king to be flushed out into the open on 30. Rg1 Kf8? (going the wrong way; on 30…Kh8 31. h4 gxh4 32. Qf2 Rg8, Black’s pawns are a mess, but he can challenge White’s kingside pressure) 31. h4! h6 32. hxg5 hxg5 33. Rh3!. Black tries to transfer his king to the queenside, but the journey proves too perilous: After 37. Rf1 Kd7 38. Rh6 Qe7 39. Rxf2 Rxf2 40. Qxf2 Kc8 41. a5!, it turns out the queenside is no safer than the kingside.

The finale: 44. Rh8+ Rd8 45. Qb3+ Kc7 (Ka8 46. Qd5+ Kb8 47. Na6+ Kc8 48. Qc6+) 46. Qb7+ Kd6 47. Rh6+ f6 48. Ne4+, and Black resigns. It’s over in lines such as 48…Ke6 49. Nxg5+ Kd6 50. Nf7+ Ke6 51. Nxd8+ Qxd8 52. Qe4+ Kd7 53. Rh7+ Kd6 54. Qxd4+, winning.

Spanish GM David Anton Guijarro captured the Tata B Group with an 8½-4½ score, earning a slot in next year’s premier section.

Caruana-Firouzja, 82nd Tata Steel Tournament, Group A, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2020

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3 O-O 6. Be3 Nc6 7. d5 Ne5 8. f4 Ned7 9. g4 c6 10. Nf3 cxd5 11. cxd5 b6 12. Nd4 Nc5 13. Qf3 Bb7 14. g5 Nfxe4 15. Nxe4 Bxd5 16. Nf6+ exf6 17. Qxd5 Re8 18. Nc2 fxg5 19. O-O-O gxf4 20. Bd4 Bxd4 21. Qxd4 Ne6 22. Qd2 Qf6 23. Kb1 Rac8 24. Bb5 Red8 25. Nb4 d5 26. Rhf1 Rc5 27. a4 d4 28. Nd3 Rf5 29. Rf3 g5 30. Rg1 Kf8 31. h4 h6 32. hxg5 hxg5 33. Rh3 f3 34. Bc4 Ke7 35. Bxe6 Kxe6 36. Qh2 f2 37. Rf1 Kd7 38. Rh6 Qe7 39. Rxf2 Rxf2 40. Qxf2 Kc8 41. a5 bxa5 42. Qc2+ Kb8 43. Nc5 Rd6 44. Rh8+ Rd8 45. Qb3+ Kc7 46. Qb7+ Kd6 47. Rh6+ f6 48. Ne4+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

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