Americans Out at Earth-Shaking Wijk aan Zee

Wesley So at Wijk aan Zee, Photo Cathy Rogers 

For five years the traditional Wijk aan Zee super-tournament – this year celebrating its 80th edition – has gone on tour; devoting two rounds of 13 each year to moving the top tournament to various Dutch cities. The cities (or landmarks such as the Rijksmuseum) bid for the right to host the best players in the world, supplementing the funding received from the perennial tournament sponsor, the local steelworks variously branded over the decades as Hoogovens, Corus and nowadays Tata. For the tenth round of the 2018 edition of the Tata tournament on Wednesday, the most ambitious relocation yet was made, transferring 14 of the world’s elite players, alongside organizers, commentators and press, to the northern city of Groningen, more than 200 kilometres from Wijk aan Zee. The players left Wijk aan Zee soon after the ninth round and some arrived as late as 10.30pm. The only player who preferred to travel on the morning of the round was World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who took his own Tata Chess car with his father and arrived late morning for the 2pm start.

Spectators in Groningen, Photo Cathy Rogers 

Groningen is a town with a long chess history, hosting the first international tournament held after World War I, a World Junior Championship in 1976, a PCA Interzonal, as well as all but the final of the 1996/7 FIDE Knock-out World Championship tournament. Add to that the Schaakfestival Groningen, which has run over the Christmas period continuously for 45 years. One memory from Groningen is watching a 15-year-old long-haired Vladimir Kramnik perform modestly in the Open tournament and deciding that he would never be a top player because he lost too much time during the game chain smoking. A year last he returned to Groningen, won the Open and never looked back. Apart from chess, Groningen is known for being next door to one of the world’s largest gas fields and having an ancient university, operating continuously since 1614. The gas riches were a financial boon for the Dutch government but from the 1980s the province of Groningen started noticing a surprising and increasing number of earthquakes, caused by gas drilling. Despite recent production cuts, the earthquakes have continued with 100,000 people reporting earthquake damage and a repair bill totally more than $1 billion. Little more than a week from the arrival of the Tata tournament, a quake measuring Richter 3.4 was reported, the worst for five years. Fortunately the city of Groningen continues to escape most serious worries and the grand and ancient University of Groningen was in perfect order when the players arrived for the tenth round. The local Mayor and other dignitaries were on hand to greet the Grandmasters on the steps of the university entrance, with plenty of chess fans and media on hand. When the action started at 2pm local time, it was hard to know which game to watch with immediate complications arising on most boards. However quite soon both 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and English debutante Gawain Jones found the ground giving way beneath them.

[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B22"] [WhiteElo "2640"] [BlackElo "2767"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] 1. e4 c5 2. c3 Nf6 3. e5 Nd5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bc4 Nb6 6. Bb3 c4 7. Bc2 d6 8. exd6 Qxd6 9. O-O Bg4 10. h3 Bh5 11. Re1 O-O-O 12. Be4 e6 {[#]} 13. b3 $6 {Anand suggested after the game that Jones had spent too much time trying to remember his preparation and this move in combination with White's last, is not the way to go. After} (13. Na3 {the position remains very unbalanced because} f5 { can be met by} 14. Nb5 $1 Qd7 15. Bxc6 bxc6 16. Nbd4 {when anything could happen.}) 13... f5 14. Bc2 g6 $1 {The star move of the game, almost certainly prepared, though long ago, by Anand. Black is happy to give up the c4 pawn to ensure control of the centre.} 15. bxc4 e5 16. d4 $2 (16. d3 {was passive but necessary.}) 16... exd4 $1 17. Bg5 {[#]} Bg7 $3 {Anand, who was on his own after 16.d4, took only eight minutes to establish that this exchange sacrifice would be very strong for Black.} 18. Bxd8 Rxd8 19. Qd3 {The only way to cover the advance of the d4 pawn and avoid trouble on the long diagonal. However Anand simply keeps playing forcing moves and Jones' ramshakle defences soon collapse.} Qf4 $1 20. Qd2 Qxd2 21. Nbxd2 dxc3 22. Nb3 Bxf3 23. gxf3 Nb4 24. Re2 Nxc4 {Already Black has two pawns for the exchange and dominating pieces and Anand gives Jones no chances as he pushes White around.} 25. Rc1 b5 26. Na1 Bh6 27. Rb1 a5 {[#] Jones, short of time to add to his worries, could almost resign here but keeps Anand busy until the time control.} 28. Kg2 Nd2 29. Rbe1 Bf4 30. Re7 Rd7 31. Re8+ Kc7 32. Ra8 a4 33. Re6 Kb7 34. Rae8 Bd6 35. Bd1 Nd5 36. Re1 Nf4+ 37. Kh1 Bc5 38. Be2 Nxe2 39. R1xe2 b4 40. R2e5 Rc7 0-1 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Svidler, Peter"] [Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D38"] [WhiteElo "2768"] [BlackElo "2804"] [PlyCount "42"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. d4 Bb4 5. cxd5 exd5 6. Bf4 {A very, unusual choice -} (6. Bg5 {is almost de rigeur at top level - though Ding Liren gave 6. Bf4 a brief moment of notoriety when he used it to lose the final title-deciding game of the 2017 World Cup.}) 6... Ne4 7. Qa4+ $6 {This move, playable one move earlier, was strongly criticised after the game by Mamedyarov. The immediate} (7. Rc1 {would keep more options open for White.}) 7... Nc6 8. Rc1 O-O 9. g3 {[#] Apparently all according to plan for Svidler, but Mamedyarov's next two moves forced the veteran to start thinking.} g5 $1 10. Be3 f5 $1 11. Bg2 f4 12. gxf4 Bxc3+ 13. bxc3 gxf4 14. Bd2 Kh8 15. Qb3 $2 { Svidler had used only 30 minutes to this point, but his 15th move took 35 minutes and confirmed Anand's theory that any think longer than 10 or 15 minutes is probably leading you to consider worse and worse moves. Even so, if White's best is the computer's suggestion of} (15. Rg1 {then White's situation is already dire.}) 15... Na5 $1 {Once the Black knight lands on c4, White is completely tied up.} 16. Qc2 Nc4 17. Rd1 Rg8 {The reason we have computers is to show us beautiful missed opportunities such as} (17... Nexd2 $1 18. Nxd2 Ne3 $1 {.}) 18. Ne5 {Desperation, and allowing another beautiful refutation which Mamedyarov does not forego.} Nxe5 19. Bxe4 {[#]} Qg5 $1 {The threat of 20... Qg1+! forces White to give up a piece and the game.} 20. Bxf4 Qxf4 21. Bxd5 Bf5 0-1 [/pgn]

Anish Giri in post game interview, Photo Cathy Rogers

Mamedyarov’s win took him back to the top of the standings, equal with Anish Giri, who had managed to create nothing against the tournament’s drawing master Sergey Karjakin.

Mamedyarov, Photo Cathy Rogers 

Of the two US players competing in the top tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, the defending Wijk aan Zee Champion, was having by far the better tournament, just a point from the lead, while Caruana was sitting in eleventh place having scored just 1/5 between rounds 3 and 7.

Wei Yi vs. Caruana, Photo Cathy Rogers

While Caruana was forced to settle for a sharp but inevitable draw against an apparently unambitious Wei Yi, So was presented with the hardest job in modern chess; playing black against the World Champion.

Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers

The game turned into an epic, which can best be covered by a series of diagrams.

[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, W."] [Result "*"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2792"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rn1qkb1r/ppp2ppp/4pn2/3p1b2/2PP1B2/4PN2/PP3PPP/RN1QKB1R b KQkq - 0 5"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] {White's move order allows Black to play} 5... Bxb1 $5 6. Qxb1 Bb4+ 7. Kd1 $1 { which at first sight looks as if it must be good for Black, but in fact both players had already employed the system with White! After} Bd6 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 {Carlsen tried the new idea} 10. cxd5 $5 exd5 11. e4 {but after} Be7 {White's advantage, if any, appeared to be minimal.} * [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, W."] [Result "*"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2792"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rk1/pp2bpp1/1q5p/3pP3/5P2/P2B4/1P1QK1PP/R3R3 b - - 0 22"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] {Were it not for his centrally placed king, White would have a clear edge, so So gives White no time for the king to move to safety.} 22... f6 $1 23. e6 $3 Qxe6+ 24. Kf3 $1 {A fantastic concept. The king is safe, or at least safe enough, while White can now target Black's weak light squares. After} Qd7 25. Rad1 Rad8 26. Qe3 Bd6 27. Bg6 {White's control of the position is obvious but Black's next move, instead of the passive 27...Qc6, only makes matters worse and reaches the position in the next diagram.} f5 $6 * [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, W."] [Result "*"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2792"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3r1rk1/pp1q2p1/3b2Bp/3p1p2/5P2/P3QK2/1P4PP/3RR3 w - - 0 28"] [PlyCount "8"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] {Most players would seek to win back the lost pawn, either on d5 or a7 but Carlsen decides to enter an endgame a pawn down, knowing that he should eventually regain the pawn with advantage. In addition, without queens Carlsen's king will not only be safe, it will be well placed..} 28. Qe6+ $1 Qxe6 29. Rxe6 Bc5 (29... Bb8 $5 {was worthy of consideration, but after} 30. h4 $1 {and 31.h5, Black is struggling.}) 30. Re5 $1 {Winning back not one pawn but two.} Rf6 31. Bxf5 Bd6 {Black is already being forced to chose between lesser evils.} (31... Kf7 32. Rdxd5 Rxd5 33. Rxd5 Be7 {might be tenable, but then again, against Carlsen it might not.}) * [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, W."] [Result "*"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2792"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r3/pp3k2/3b1rp1/3R3p/3R1P2/P4K1B/1P4PP/8 b - - 0 36"] [PlyCount "20"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] {White's last move 36.Re4-d4, was a little incautious and So immediately takes his chance...} 36... Be5 $1 37. Rb4 g5 $1 38. g3 $1 {Diamond cut diamond.} b6 $1 (38... g4+ 39. Bxg4 hxg4+ 40. Kxg4 {would give White a decisive fourth pawn for the piece.}) 39. Rd7+ Kf8 40. Rh7 g4+ $1 41. Bxg4 hxg4+ 42. Kxg4 Bd6 43. Rc4 a5 $2 {Now a fourth pawn falls and resistance becomes impossible.} (43... Rg6+ $5 44. Kf5 (44. Kf3 Bc5 {offers enough counterplay.)}) 44... Rg7 {may not hold in the long run but was the best chance. (Carlsen said later that with only three pawns he felt that Black should draw, at least theoretically.)}) 44. Rc6 Kg8 45. Rb7 Be5 46. Rcxb6 * [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "80th Tata Steel GpA"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2018.01.24"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "So, W."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2792"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6k1/8/8/PR6/1P3PP1/3Kr3/5b2/8 w - - 0 60"] [PlyCount "31"] [EventDate "2018.01.13"] 60. Kc4 $1 {The final piece of precision. Carlsen knows that his f pawn is invulnerable because White could then force an exchange of rooks with an easy win.} Re4+ 61. Kb3 Kf7 (61... Rxf4 62. Rf5 {is the first problem for Black.}) 62. Re5 $1 Rd4 (62... Rxf4 63. Rf5+ Rxf5 64. gxf5 Kf6 65. Kc4 $1 Kxf5 66. Kd5 { keeps the Black king out of the game, after which the White pawns can advance without hindrance.}) 63. b5 Rd3+ 64. Kc2 Rg3 65. g5 Bd4 66. Rd5 Be3 67. Rd3 Rg2+ 68. Kb3 Bc1 69. b6 Ke6 70. Rd4 Rb2+ 71. Ka4 Kf5 72. Rb4 Ra2+ 73. Kb5 Bxf4 74. Rxf4+ $1 Kxf4 75. b7 1-0 [/pgn]
As a result of his success in the war of attrition, Carlsen moved to the tournament lead for the first time, tied with Giri and Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov will have White against Carlsen in the next round, a clash which may well decide the tournament (and decide whether Carlsen moves ahead of the Anand who like Carlsen has won the Wijk aan Zee tournament five times). As usual, Tata on Tour turns the arrival of the top players into an excuse for a one day chess festival but, as in Utrecht two years earlier, the numbers almost swamped the organizers. The playing hall held fewer than 200 spectators, leaving about 500 of the overflow to fit into the commentary room watching the Chess24 broadcast live. The locals, many seeing a high level tournament for the first time, had other options – a simultaneous exhibition, chess virtual reality equipment, a computer area for online games, a room for friendly games, a chess and education display among them. However it seemed that most had come to see Carlsen so the queue to enter the playing hall never disappeared. Carlsen versus So was also the second-last game to finish, allowing six and a half hours for fans to catch a glimpse of him playing. The few who decided not to return home after Carlsen won could also enjoy the treat of the World Champion analysing his game in the commentary room. The University later reported that 3,000 people had come to the UoG to watch the games – no doubt a rough estimate but entirely possible. Bringing high level chess to all corners of the country is a Dutch tradition, taken to extremes in the 1935 Alekhine v Euwe world title match when the players took a train to a new city almost every second morning. However the modern, less taxing version, seems to be a wonderful way of bringing the top players to fans in out-of-the way places and is a great promotion for the game. Of course the distances in the US are magnitudes greater than in the Netherlands but could the Sinquefield Cup in the future have the players competing for a day in Columbia or Springfield, or even further afield? Even as a one-off, it could be an idea worth considering. The 11th round of the Tata tournament resumes in Wijk aan Zee on Friday. Games start at 7.30am AEST and may be viewed via or GMs Rogers is a frequent contributor to US Chess and Chess Life Magazine and was one of the "Best of US Chess" top writers for his reportage on the 2017 World Cup.