Five-way tie at the top

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(Photos by Jurriaan Hoefsmit)

Overnight leader Nils Grandelius suffered his first defeat at hands of Pentala Harikrishna in the third round of the Tata Steel Chess allowing four players to catch up with him atop the leaderboard.

Reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen now shares top spot together with Grandelius, Pentala, Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana.

Harikrishna comfortably solved all his opening problems on the Black side of the French Defense against Grandelius but nothing foreboded the leader’s defeat.

However, 25. Bc1 played by the Swede turned out to be a serious mistake. After the exchange of the dark-squared bishops, the Indian built up pressure with natural and strong moves and quickly won White’s a2-pawn. Black’s b-passer became unstoppable and Grandelius toss in the sponge.

In another match, David Anton was confidently holding his ground in the game with Alireza Firouzja but a misstep on the control 40th move, allowing White’s knight on g6, cost him dearly.

Alireza did not miss his chance to breach the defensive perimeter, scored a full point, and returned to the 50% mark.

Caruana and Jan-Krzysztof Duda arguably played the most riveting tactical game of the round. Both demonstrated deep calculation in an extremely sharp position with opposite-side castling.

The American found a very strong sequence (the first line of Stockfish 12) and emerged up an exchange for two pawns. Chess engines are very optimistic about White’s chances but one inaccuracy by Fabiano (38.Re1 instead of immediate 38.a4) was enough for Jan-Krzysztof to escape with a draw.

In the Norwegian duel, Carlsen was unable to break through Arian Tari’s accurate defense and had to settle for a draw.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek got a clear edge with White against Jorden Van Foreest but erroneously traded all the rooks (23.Rc7, keeping one pair of rooks on the board looks much stronger) and let the Dutchman gradually equalize. The opponents shook hands on move 40.

Andrey Esipenko opted for 4.Qxd4 in the Sicilian Defense to avoid Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s trademark Najdorf variation and very soon the opponents stepped into uncharted territory.

On move 17 the Frenchman was forced to sacrifice his queen but got sufficient positional compensation. It seemed that both opponents had no desire to take extra-risks as a draw by repetition was agreed on move 33.

Alexander Doncheko broke his losing streak and made a comfortable draw with Black facing Anish Giri. It is a very important result for the young German whose confidence might have been shaken after two straight defeats.

Standings: 1. Pentala Harikrishna, Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana, Nils Grandelius – 2; 6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Jorden Van Foreest, Andrey Esipenko, Alireza Firouzja, Radoslaw Wojtaszek – 1½; 11. Jan-Krzysztof Duda, David Anton, Arian Tari – 1; 14. Alexander Donchenko – ½.

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