Fabiano Caruana entered the Tatasteel Chess Masters tournament’s last round one and a half points ahead of the runner-up, the reigning World champion Magnus Carlsen. An interesting, double-edged, psychological situation, allowing one to reveal his deep inner character as a chess fighter.
With the tournament win ensured irrespective of the final day results, a practical player would probably look for a good moment to offer or force a draw. Those inclined towards entering the celebrating mood as soon as this is justified could play the last game in a relaxed mood, with his thoughts flying away towards the moment of the closing ceremony. But practice has shown that both these approaches are risky and likely to lead to a defeat. Nobody would like to end an otherwise successful tournament with an upset, isn’t that true?
The most admirable and constructive attitude is playing the game as if the whole tournament fate was depending on it. This is what Fischer used to do until reaching what others considered childish excesses and, to a slightly more moderate extent, Karpov was known for, too. This is not only likely to attract the admiration of the spectators and commentators, but also to keep one fit for the situations when the last round is decisive for the final classification.
We cannot know Caruana’s train of thoughts during his last round game in Wijk aan Zee, but its course and result strongly suggest that he belongs to the latter category.
Artemiev,Vladislav (2731) – Caruana,Fabiano (2822) [A13]
Tata Steel Masters Wijk aan Zee, 2020
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nd7 3.c4 dxc4 4.Qa4 a6 5.Qxc4 b5 6.Qc2 Bb7 7.Bg2 Ngf6 8.0–0 e6 9.d3 Be7 10.a4 c5 11.Nc3 Qb6 12.axb5 axb5 13.Rxa8+ Bxa8 14.Bg5 0–0 15.Ra1 h6 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Nd2 Bxg2 18.Kxg2 Rc8 19.Qb3 Rb8 20.Nce4 Be7 21.Kg1
White has treated the first phase in the slow mode, hoping to retain a symbolical advantage by occupying the a-file.
This is not only a way to activate the bishop to f6, but, as we will see, also the start of a massive kingside pawn expansion. It may be a sign that he had assimilated the lesson offered to him by Kortschnoj in the game ending.
22.Nc3 Ne5 23.h3
23.Qa2 Bg5 would face the knight with problems finding a good square. When playing his last move Artemiev might have feared a combination of the ideas …c5–c4 and .. .Ng4.
Creating the unpleasant threat …h5–h4.
23…Bg5 would have been good, too.
Not a beautiful move to play.
But if 24.h4 Kf7 followed by …g7–g5 soon Black would get a strong kingside attack.
24…Nxf3+ 25.exf3 Bf6 26.Re1 Kf7 27.Ne2 g5
Suddenly Black has space advantage all over the board.
28.g4 hxg4 29.hxg4 fxg4 30.fxg4 Qd6 31.Ng3 Qd5 32.Qc2 Bd4 33.Qe2 Rh8 34.Ne4 Qe5 35.Qf3+ Kg7 36.b3 Rf8 37.Qe2 Qd5! 38.Rf1 Kg6 39.Qd1?! c4!
40.bxc4 bxc4 41.Kg2 Ba7?!
41…c3 or 41…Rf4 42.f3 c3 possibly followed by …Rf8–b8–b2 would have maintained Black’s advantage.
42.f3 cxd3 43.Qa1?
43.Qd2 would have offered White chances to defend his fortress.
The passed pawn decides now.
45.Qc3 Qa2+ 46.Nd2 Qc2 47.Qe5
A desperate attempt to save the game by perpetual.
47…Bxd2 48.Qxe6+ Kg7 49.Qe7+ Rf7 50.Qe5+ Kf8 51.Qb8+ Ke7 52.Qe5+ Kd8 53.Qb8+ Kd7 54.Qb7+ Kd6 55.Qb6+ Ke5 56.Qb5+ Kd4 57.Qb6+ Kc4 58.Qe6+ Kc3 59.Qe5+ Kb3 60.Qd5+ Kb2 61.Qb5+ Bb4+ 62.Kg3 Qxd1 63.Qxb4+ Qb3 64.Qd2+ Kb1 65.Qe1+ Kc2 66.Qf2+ d2
Carlsen drew his last game so Caruana won the 82nd Wijk aan Zee tournament by an impressive margin of two points! Our sincerest applause!