Firouzja shoots ahead, Carlsen Sicilian Defense fails

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Alireza Firouzja scored his third consecutive victory and got in front of the field with 5½ points out of eight at the Tata Open Chess championships.

Meanwhile Andrey Esipenko moved into joint-second spot when he gunned down reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, Esipenko is tied on five points with Anish Giri, Jorden Van Foreest, and Fabiano Caruana.

Magnus Carlsen opted for the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian Defense against Esipenko, to which the youngster reacted in a most aggressive way 8.g4, inspired by Keres Attack.

With 10.a3 the Russian offered a pawn sacrifice that Carlsen accepted. White obtained more than sufficient compensation and after imprudent 16…Nc6 by Magnus. Esipenko found a nice sequence with a temporary knight sacrifice, won a pawn and got an overwhelming position.

Carlsen tried to engineer some counterplay on the queenside but Esipenko was simply unstoppable today and defeated the World Champion on move 38.

The last time Carlsen lost in Sicilian Defense was almost 10 years ago, back in 2011. The happy winner called it “one of the best days in my life”.

Pentala Harikrishna and Firouzja battled out in the Exchange Variation of the Slave Defense. Despite a symmetrical pawn structure, the opponents reached a very interesting unbalanced position in which Alireza grabbed the initiative.

Closer to the time control the players exchanged mistakes with Pentala committing the fatal one (37.Nf4?). Apparently, the Indian GM missed the idea of 37…d4-d3 followed by Bd4+ activating the bishop.

Alireza did not convert his advantage optimally but his victory was never in doubt after that.

Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri played a high-quality game in which Black resourcefully maintained the balance and eventually reached a draw.

Jan-Krzysztof Duda tried to outwit David Anton in a maneuvering play but ended up in an inferior position. Luckily for him, the Spaniard missed a very strong idea 32…d5! and the Pole escaped with a draw.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek comfortably equalized on the black side of Caro-Kann Defense against Nils Grandelius and even got a slight edge. However, White had sufficient defensive potential which Nils exploited to score a half-point.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jorden Van Foreest had an interesting theoretical discussion in the Ruy Lopez. At some point, one may have thought that White got an upper hand but after a brilliant 14…Bh3! Black is at least equal. Moreover, Jorden emerged even slightly better but it quickly fizzled out into a draw.

The game between Alexander Donchenko and Arian Tari saw a popular line of the Catalan in which the Norwegian introduced a novelty on move 13 that allowed him to equalize. A draw by repetition was agreed shortly after.

Standings after Round 7: 1. Alireza Firouzja – 5½;  2. Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana, Jorden Van Foreest and Andrey Esipenko – 5; 6. Nils Grandelius – 4½; 7. Pentala Harikrishna and Magnus Carlsen – 4; 9. Radoslaw Wojtaszek – 3; 10. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Arian Tari, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and David Anton – 3; 14. Alexander Donchenko – 2.

Photos by Jurriaan Hoefsmit

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