21 January 2015
The five surprises of the Wijk aan Zee
Dmitriy Kryakvin covers the first eight rounds of the Tata Steel tournament
As I write this text, the eighth round is coming to an end. Of 56 games of the Tata Steel Masters, more than a half deserves our careful assessment. It is the topic of a small almanac rather than an overview article. Therefore, I chose to construct my report differently. Given that the interim results are equally as interesting as they are surprising, I decided to select five games amongst all others which amazed me the most.
1. A headache for the titans
In my view, Magnus Carlsen’s winning streak wasn’t even the greatest surprise of the tournament (haven't we often seen such determination from him after a rather weak start?), nor could we consider it to be the solid pace of the young-spirited Vasiliy Mikhailovich (which is hardly rare in history, however not so recently), but it’s certainly the hesitant play of those who were on top of rankings list and were widely considered the World Championship contenders. The excellent Levon Aronian didn’t pick up a single victory until his ninth round! Indeed Fabio had a more decent +1 score to his credit, but you should have seen Caruana converting his advantage against Van Wely in the eighth round, who played at first-category strength at best!
We’ve recently become accustomed to determined hierarchy in the world of chess. There’s Magnus – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. And then there is a group of the superb players between the Norwegian and the other star wannabes that includes Caruana, Anand, Kramnik, Grischuk, Aronian, Topalov, Karjakin, Nakamura, Mamedyarov, Gelfand, perhaps, and Giri. What we learnt from the Tata Steel tournament is that there are other forces that are unhappy with such an arrangement. Thus, as you see, Levon Grigorievich falls back to the 8th position in the live rankings with more and more new talent climbing up the list.
Wesley So – Levon Aronian
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.Nd2
This is one of the most fashionable continuations. Black have tried absolutely everything in this position: both the 8...Nf4 and 8...Nb4 moves, not to mention 8...a5 and 8...Bb7. There is no clear equality so far, but collisions go on in all the variations. The main intention of White is to provoke action from the opponent, eventually pushing his pieces further back or obtaining a favorable ending. The main discussion in the topical line 8...g6 goes around 9.c4 Ba6 10.Nf3 Qb4+ 11.Kd1!? Rb8 (11...Bg7 12.Qc2 Ne7 13.Qb3 quite recently occurred in a game between Morozovich and Matlakov) 12. Qc2 Ne7 13.b3 Bg7 14.Bd2 Qb6 15.c5 Qb7 16.Bxa6 Qxa6 17.Qc4 – there Ponomarev defeated Leko in 2010 as White. A year later Svidler beat Hracek, starting from 17.Re1 and only then offering a queen trade. Aronian wasn’t particularly flattered with such a turn of events, and the powerful team of the Armenian grandmaster produced such a curious novelty.
8...Rb8 9.c4 Nf4
A novelty. In 2011, Karjakin couldn’t equalize against Nepomiachtchi after the cautious 9...Nb4 10.Nf3 c5 11.g3 Qe6 12.Bg2 Be7 13.0-0 Bb7 14.b3 0-0 15.Bb2 Rfe8 16.Rfe1 h6 17.Bc3. Levon plays differently, and surprisingly, no one played like that yet. Black offers the white queen to grab his lonesome pawn on a7, while aiming to devour the strong White's center.
10.Qe3 Ng6 11.f4 f6 12.Qxa7 Rb7 13.Qf2
13.Qa8 Kd8! leads nowhere, and while the queen has problems returning, Black starts attacking the enemy king. Wesley So, the American grandmaster of Filipino descent, moves his strongest piece away and consolidates his position.
13...fxe5 14.f5 Nf4 15.Qf3 Qf7 16.g3 Nh5 17.Be2 Nf6 18.g4 d5 19.g5
Black decides to grab the f5-pawn, but his decision is seriously flawed. Better is 19...Nd7 20.Qh3 Nb6 (the engine recommends 20...h5, but it is hard to dare making such moves with all the pieces remaining on two back ranks) 21.Rf1 Kd8, threatening g7-g6.
It was necessary to sacrifice an exchange – 20...Nd7 21.Bh5 g6 22.Bxg6 hxg6 23.Qxh8 Nc5 24.0–0 Bxf5 with a decent compensation, but it almost seemed that the Armenian grandmaster decided to arrange his pieces for the next game. 21.0-0 Ne7 22.Bg4 h5! would have perhaps justified such a risky conception, but any player who is familiar with the puzzles in Konotop’s textbooks would have moved the bishop to h5.
21.Bh5! g6 22.fxg6 Bxh3 23.gxf7+ Kd7 24.fxg8Q Rxg8 25.Rg1, and Levon, apparently disappointed, continued for a while without a whole piece.
Clearly, any player can have those moments of a blank lethargic mind, which were so often reflected upon by Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov. Of course we should expect an entirely different style of play from both Levon and Fabiano in the World Cup and the FIDE Grand Prix. Although Caruana repeated his Tromso error one again.
Radoslaw Wojtaszek – Fabiano Caruana
1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nf3 0–0 6.0–0 d6
The Leningrad Dutch is growing more and more popular these days, often employed by the younger players. Quite rightly, as it isn’t the Grunfield nor the Nimzo-Indian, so there isn’t very much to learn, but this opening has its strength. Earlier a coach may have mocked his young apprentice: “Tell me who exactly would play such a pathetic defense? Vladimir Malaniuk perhaps?’’ But nowadays, when a virtuoso like Peter Veniaminovich Svidler is using this opening, it’s difficult to confront the younger generation on the matter.
Fabiano Caruana too has employed the Dutch on more than one occasion, and owes it credit for not qualifying for the 2014 Candidates tournament. In the World Cup quarterfinal against Vachier-Lagrave, the Italian took the risk of playing for victory in the tie-break game as Black, and pushed the f-pawn two spaces ahead. However, this came to no good: Maxime soon occupied all dark squares in the center and arranged a proper execution for his mighty opponent. The course of events in the Wijk aan Zee was very similar, and very much unfortunate for Black.
7.Nc3 c6 8.Re1
A very popular sequence of moves. On 8...Ne4 there is 9.Qс2 Nхc3 10.bхc3 e5 11.dхe5 dхe5 12.Ba3 with problems for Black. Therefore he has to play more cunningly.
8...Na6 9.b3 Ne4 10.Bb2 Nxc3 11.Bxc3 Nc5!
The idea of Mateusz Bartel. The Polish player equalized on a grandmaster level on two occasions: 12.Nd2 d5 13.cxd5 (13.Rc1 Ne4 14.Nxe4 fxe4 15.f3 Bf5 Zhao Xue-Bartel, 2014) 13...cxd5 14.Rc1 Ne4 15.Nxe4 fxe4 16.f3 Bf5 Ioannou-Bartel, 2014) – without any knights on the board, the central squares need little defensive effort on his part. However, Radoslaw, famous for his profound approach to any opening problems, found a valuable improvement.
12.Ng5! d5 13.Nh3 Ne4 14.Bb2
The knights remain in play, and while Caruana’s stallion will soon be pushed back by f2-f3, Wojtaszek’s cavalry would be more than willing to graze on the pleasant pastures on e5.
The ChessPro online commentators recommended 14...dxc4 15.bxc4 Be6 16.Qc2 Nd6 17.c5 Ne4 18.Nf4, however it also does not equalize completely. Fabiano reacts according to the classic guidelines of Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik, who has always been closely associated with the Dutch chess players - and so he fights for space on the queenside, while on the kingside he plans to seize the desirable e4-square with the g7-g5-g4 push.
15.Nf4 Bf7 16.cxd5 cxd5 17.Nd3 a5 18.a4 b5 19.axb5 Qb6 20.e3 Rfb8 21.Bf1 Qxb5 22.Ra3
Any second now, the positional claws will tear Black apart. The a5-pawn needs protection much more than the avant-poste on b3, and White’s pieces are arriving on the queenside much quicker than their counterparts. Perhaps 22...Qb6 rather deserved the attention, whilst sustaining material equality, or even 22...Be8, with hope to exchange a poor bishop. The situation ended up to be even more disappointing.
22...Qe8?! 23.f3 Nd6 24.Qa1 g5 25.Bc3, White seized a pawn and despite the fact that Radoslaw later lost focus and missed a tactical opportunity for Black, he converted his extra pawn rather confidently.
Fabiano will always be Fabiano, and despite losing a principled duel against Carlsen in a wild game, he defeated three of his opponents. However, he holds a rather modest position so far, tying for the 6th-7th places with Radjabov.
2. Vassily Ivanchuk’s new deeds
It is difficult to impress a chess player who had begun his career during the 90s with another story about the outstanding Ukrainian grandmaster. Back in those days, Ivanchuk could have easily claimed 1st place in any supertournament, or even sometimes he would be hopelessly dragging last and yet playfully defeat Kasparov. In fact, it was Vassily Mikhailovich who almost obstructed Magnus’ track for the championship title, afterwards questioning the press: “So, does he actually play well?’’. His individual encounter with Carlsen in still ahead, and so far, despite his failure against So, the grandmaster from Lvov looks fantastic.
Vassily Ivanchuk – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Ng4 7.Bc1 Nf6 8.Be3 Ng4
A conceptual choice, though if you’re playing in a random Swiss, the opponent may recognize the threefold repetition. On a positive side, the bishop's maneuver to g5 normally creates richer positions compared to the cliche 6...e5 7.Nf3. Especially if you followed the recent games of Boris Abramovich Gelfand.
9.Bg5 h6 10.Bh4 g5 11.Bg3 Bg7 12.h3 Ne5
13.Be2 Nbc6 14.Nb3 b5?!
Oh my gosh! In all sincerity, I had always thought that the strength of such players as Vachier-Lagrave, Wojtaszek or Giri lies not only in their strenuous practice, but above all in their capacity to remember and recreate sequences at the board. Even Emil Sutovsky, who often appear more like an encyclopaedia than a human being, sometimes complains that he struggled to remember certain moves. In this sense, the younger players performed faultlessly. However, Maxime suddenly forgets the move order and ends up in a difficult situation. Correct is 14...Ng6 15.Qd2 (or 15.0–0 Be5) 15...b5, and now the b2-pawn is hanging, therefore the Ivanchuk's standard maneuver employed in this game does not work.
15.a4! b4 16.Nd5
It feels even slightly uncomfortable to use an exclamation mark, as this maneuver is so typical for the Sicilian defence. The pawn on b4 is now weak, and the a6-a5 would expose b5 for White, not to mention the c4-square, too.
16...e6 17.Ne3 Bb7?!
Alexey Korotylev quite precisely pointed out that 17...Ra7! 18.Qd2 Rd7 would be a stronger move, truly in the style of Lev Polugaevsky, but even there Black is very far from equality. So we see Vassily Mikhailovich playing the simplest moves, each one pushing Maxime more and more to surrender.
18.Qd2 Qc7 19.0–0–0 0–0–0
Experts scorned Vachier-Lagrave for his long castling, but would 19...Rd8 20.h4? have been more sensible?
20.Kb1 Kb8 21.f3 a5 22.h4 Na7 23.Nd4 Ng6 24.hxg5 hxg5 25.Rxh8 Bxh8
Perhaps there had been a Kramnik-like transposition: 26.Nxe6 fxe6 27.Bxd6 Rxd6 28.Qxd6 Qxd6 29.Rxd6, and the rook with the pawns easily outplays two minor pieces. 26.Nc4 is very strong, as well as 26.Nb3 Be5 27.Bf2, but Ivanchuk made the most human, the most conceptual move, one that doesn’t make it into the first three lines according to the Houdini. One should use all the pieces, and White moves his inactive bishop to b3.
26...Nf4 27.Bb3 Qc5 28.Nc4 Ba6?
Perhaps a bad blunder, but even the most tenacious 28...d5 29.Ne2 (grabbing a pawn by 29.Bxf4+ is ill-advised: 29...gxf4 30.Qxf4+ Ka8 – 29...e5 30.Ne3 – 30.Nxf4 gxf4 31.Bh4) 30...d4 31.Bf2 gives Black the position that reminds of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ sentence.
29.Bf2 Bxc4 30.Nb5. Black resigns. As Viktor Korchnoi could say, ‘Life of a chess player begins at 45’.
3. The Magnus series
The great world champion is again facing Fischer’s ghost in a combat for the title of the best player of all time. After a weak start, terrible play and a defeat against Wojtaszek, Carslen won all five games (even six after nine rounds) in a row, and his list of victims includes Caruana and Aronian. Perhaps I shouldn’t really consider his series of victories to be particularly outstanding. Why, indeed, Magnus should not beat Hou, Van Wely or Baadur, who is clearly out of form?
Magnus Carlsen – Levon Aronian
In the last five years Black did not lose a single game on the elite level in this rather harmless line of the Ragozin defense. I’m certain Black will hold for another five years without much trouble. However, this is why Carlsen is truly special. On the day, he entangled his opponent completely. With the weaknesses on d5 and c7, Aronian cannot at all afford trading his bishop, and a counterattack also fails: 30...Bb4 31.Nb1 Ne4 32.Qg4 Kh8 33.Nd3 Bd6 34.Nc3 Nf6 35.Qf5, and he has to exchange his queen, and then the White activates their king, pushes the pawns forward on the kingside, creating new weaknesses – in other words, a routine business for Carlsen. Therefore Levon decided to create a strong pawn fortress on the right side of the board, overlooking, however, on a simple tactical blow.
30... g6 31.h5! Kg7
31...g5 is by no means better: 32.Nxd5 Nxd5 33.Qxd5 Bxg3 34.Qf5.
32.hxg6 fxg6 33.Nxd5
If not for this combination, Magnus could have go for the trademark 33.Qh1!? Rdd8 (33...Rf8 34.Qh3) 34.Nf3, and Pavel Maletin and Sergei Shipov, experts so close to my heart, could have initiated a 10-page discussion on whether or not it’s beneficial for our children to see such manoeuvres in play. However, this all had a more simple resolution.
33...Nxd5 34.Qxd5 Bxg3 35.Qg2!
A neat geometry, making it almost impossible to defend on g6. A mistake on the 36th move brings forth the inevitable.
35...Bd6 36.Nc4 Rf8? 37.Ne5! Bxe5 38.Qxg6+ Kh8 39.Qxh6+ Kg8 40.dxe5 Qxe5 41.Rg6+ with a swift victory for White.
Fabiano Caruana – Magnus Carlsen
In the opening the Italian showed once again that he is more efficient at home, but then Carlsen skilfully complicated the game, sacrificed a pawn and charged at the opponent’s king.
An interesting alternative is 21.Rfe1!? (the king prepares to hide behind the broad back of the rook) 21...Qg6 22.Kf1 Ng3+! 23.fxg3 fxg3 24.Ke2 Qh5 25.Kd1 (25.Rf1 loses on account of 25...Qh2! 26.Qg1 Rxf3! 27.Rxf3 Bxf3+ 28.Kxf3 Rf8+ 29.Kg4 - 29.Ke2 Rf2+ 30.Qxf2 gxf2 - 29...h5+ 30.Kg5 Bf6+ 31.Kg6 Qh4 32.Qxa7 Qg4+ 33.Kh6 Bg7+ with a victory, as pointed out by Chess Pro’s Alexey Korotylev in the live commentary) 25...Bxf3+ 26.gxf3 Qxf3+ 27.Kc1. It seems that White fought back, keeping a piece for a pawn, and should overcome due to passivity of the black rook on c8 and the bishop on g7. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of Black's passed pawns. After 27...h5 the computer shows that the game remains in a dynamic equilibrium. Caruana strives for more clarity and approaches a position, where Black faces the alternatives of either drawing or proceeding into a complicated endgame.
21...f3! 22.Nxg4 Qg6 23.Qe7!
Both opponents are at their peak. 23.Qe3 loses a queen: 23...Rf4 24.gxf3 Rxg4+ 25.fxg4 Qxg4+ 26.Kh2 Nf4 27.Qg3 Qh5+ 28.Kg1 Ne2+, there’s little hope of creating a fortress here. 23.Ne3 is just bad due to 23...Nf4. The black queen has no chance of hiding from the white queen’s pursuit, which means the attack has evaporated.
23...fxg2 24.Rfb1 Qxg4 25.Qg5 Qe2 26.Qe3 Qg4 27.Qg5 Qxg5!
Obviously! This is not only a display of the sheer thirst for victory, but also of objective positional analysis: from the practical point of view, White faces a more complicated task.
A bad mistake in a critical moment. Fabiano decided to sacrifice and exchange for a double-edged ending, however it is unclear why he made such a harsh decision. Perhaps he wanted to punish Magnus for his daring refusal of the move repetition?
29.Kh2 c5 was really asking for it, and a precise 30.Rb7! (with 30.Rg1 c4 31.Nb2 cxd3 32.Nxd3 Nxd3 33.cxd3 Rxf2, playing tie against Carlsen would have taken longer)30...c4 31.Rg1 cxd3 32.cxd3 Nxd3 33.Be3, with such pieces, the White wouldn’t have faced even a slight suggestion of problems.
29...exf4 30.Kxg2 f3+ 31.Kf1
After 31.Kh3 Bxa1 32.Rxa1 Kh8 33.Nc5 Rg8 the white king faces a threat of a back rank mate, which makes it easier for Black to convert his advantage.
An elegant resolution! The greedy 31...Bxa1 leads to an unclear ending: 32.Rxa1 Rb8 33.Ke1 Rb5 34.Kd2 Kf7, for example, 35.d4 Rd8 36.Ke3 Rdb8 37.Rh1 Ra5 38.Nc5 Rxa3+ 39.Kf4 Kg7 40.e5. Black is an exchange up and has adjacent passed pawns on both wings, but the outcome remains unclear, given the strength of the white cluster in the center.
32.Ke1 Rd8 33.Ra2 Rh4 also leads to a catastrophe.
A knockout! 33.Rd1 Rh4 34.Ke1 Bh6 proves to be checkmate, and in order to avoid that Fabiano sacrifices his entire pawn rank.
33.d4 Bh6 34.Ke1 Rxe4+ 35.Kd1 c5 36.Kc2 cxd4 37.Kd3 Re2 38.c4 Rxf2 39.Rd1 Re2. White resigns.
Magnus seems entirely unstoppable in the tournament. Perhaps, only Ivanchuk could possibly challenge him?
3. An advance from the Orient
The players from China won the Chess Olympiad and continue to fight for world supremacy. Having won a series of Swiss-system games, Ding Liren is looking excellent in the main tournament, and the wunderkind Wei Yi competes for a qualification to the Masters’ against David Navara. However, nothing happens without a little luck.
Ding Liren – Loek Van Wely
Loek Van Wely is the favourite hero of chess folklore amongst the Russian players. They love discussing his supposedly inflated rating, and his collection of checkmates in the Najdorf variation, and many other matters. Indeed, in utmost honesty, Loek himself often provokes such topics of conversation, and we do find excellent conceptions intertwined with disappointing missteps in his play.
White is determined to scrape a tie, and thanks to his active king who makes it to the queenside, may indeed achieve his aim. Black needed to take an exchange right now: 51...Ra8 52.Nxb2 Rb8 53.d4 Rb3 54.Kg2 Nb4 55.h5 Nd3 56.Nxd3 Rxb1 57.Ne5+, or 52.Ba3 (this is more accurate for White) 52...Ne5 53.Nxe5+ Bxe5 54.Bxb2 Rb8 55.Bxe5 Rxb1+ 56.Kg2, with lengthy technical stage still ahead. First Van Wely spoiled an advantage, and then, unbelievable, even lost the game!
51... Bc3?! 52.Ke2 Nb4 53.d4!
53.Nxb2 loses to 53...Nd5 54.Ba3 Rb3.
Shock horror! 53...Nd5 54.Kd1 Nb4 55.Ke2 leads to a draw by repetition. Now White simply grabs the b2-pawn.
54...Rxb4 55.Kd3 Kd5 56.Ne3+ loses a piece.
55.Rxb2, the disappointed home player lost the ending without much fight.
Wei Yi – Vladimir Potkin
25.Bb5! Qb6 26.Rg1 Bf8 27.Rh3!
Sweet and simple. The knight is immune: 27...Qxb5 28.Rxh7 Ne7 (or 28...Kxh7 29.Qg6+ Kg8 30.Ng5) 29.Qh3, and on 27...Nd8 the geometric sequence follows 28.Be8 Rc7 29.Rxh7 Kxh7 30.Bg6+ Kg8 31.Qh3, ensuing a victory. Black decided to give up an exchange, but it didn't save him.
27...g6 28.Ng5 Qxb5 29.Nxf7 Ne7
29...Kxf7 30.Rxh7+ leads to a checkmate.
30.Nh6+ Bxh6 31.Rxh6 Ra7 32.Qh3 Qe2 33.Rxh7 Qxc2 34.Rh8+ Kf7 35.Qh7+ Ke6 36.Rxg6+. Black resigns. “When will the Russian Chess Federation school have youngsters like this?’’ – Vladimir must have thought, undoubtedly.
4. The Wojtaszek Factor
Radoslaw seems to be the grandmaster who applies every effort to challenge those amongst the idolized elite rank. He is on the verge of entering the top ten in the world rankings, however, just like Wesley So, he is rarely invited to the supertournaments. He was lucky this time, having been granted a wildcard by the ACP as reward for his high position in the ACP Tour. And Wojtaszek fulfilled the expectations.
Radoslaw Wojtaszek – Magnus Carlsen
A powerful move, depriving the black queen the c6-square. Bad is 28.a5 cxd4 29.Bxd4 Bxd4 30.exd4 e3!, while 28.Rb2 cxd4 29.Bxd4 Bxd4 30.exd4 Qc6 gives Black serious counterchances.
This blunders a piece. 28...Kh7! sustained the pressure, as 29.a5 cxd4 30.exd4 e3 31.fxe3 Qe6 was a hasty action, and it is hard to make a sensible strengthening move. Note that 28...cxd4 29.Bxd4 Bxd4 30.exd4 e3 31.fxe3 Qe6 wouldn’t work because of 32.Qb3.
29.g4! cxd4 30.Bxd4 Bxd4 31.exd4 e3 32.gxf5 gxf5 33.Nf1, and here Carlsen decides not to resign earlier than Aronian does, who was playing against So down a piece. The colossal struggle served Black no relief.
Who would have thought that Magnus would come around and win so many games in a row! As I’m concluding my report, he added Radjabov to the streak. Remember London? The deciding games are all ahead.
P. S. Our most attentive readers would ask: where exactly are So and Vachier-Lagrave? Who are not just highly impressive, but are stepping on the toes of Carlsen himself and ready to claim the available spots in the top-10 of the world rankings. Both the performance and progress of Wesley and Maxime are so substantial that I decided to report on that in a separate article.