Rising young stars, falling legends, deflated chess computers, clumsy soccer games, brilliant attacks, a commentator faux-pas, chess hungry spectators, windy beaches -- all this was present during the Tata Steel traditional chess tournament (Jan. 9-25) in the coastal Dutch town of Wijk aan Zee, one of the major chess events of 2015.
In the end, the world champion Magnus Carlsen, 24, emerged as the winner of the grandmaster group, but it wasn't easy. A group of grandmasters in their early twenties chased him all the way. Carlsen overcame a sloppy start with an incredible spurt of six straight wins. He slowed down somewhat, finishing with four draws, but nobody was able to catch him.
We expected last year's winner, the Armenian Levon Aronian, 32, and the American-Italian Fabiano Caruana, 22, the number two rated player in the world behind Carlsen, to fight for the top honors, but they didn't have a good start. Instead, four other young stars came through.
The Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri, 20, is the world's top junior and number six on the FIDE Rating list. The new American addition Wesley So, 21, is right behind him at number seven. The top Chinese player Ding Liren, 22, only drew three games and booked seven wins against the bottom players. And the top Frenchman and former World Junior champion Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 24, had the best result in games among the top five.
This year the grandmasters also played in Rotterdam and in The Hague (photo)
Amazingly, the rhythm of the tournament was set by the 46-year-old Ukrainian grandmaster Vasyl Ivanchuk. He took quick lead after six rounds with 4.5 points. His first game drew some questions. It looked like his opponent Baadur Jobava of Georgia resigned in a drawn position.
Ivanchuk,Vasyl - Jobava,Baadur
Wijk aan Zee 2015
43.Rxa4 Black resigned.
Somebody turned down the calculating power of the analytical engine Stockfish and it fooled the commentator Yasser Seirawan. When Jobava resigned, the engine showed the position as equal and Yasser asked:"Where is the win?" The answer came from Ivanchuk. He promptly showed the idea of "walking pants" - a theoretical term of two uncatchable pawns marching down.
43...bxa4 44.Kc4 Kc6 45.Kd3 Kd5 46.e6 fxe6 47.f6 Kd6 48.c4 e5 49.c5+ Ke6 50.c6
Just on time! The black king is hopeless against the white pawns. One of them queens, for example 50...e4+ 51.Kc2 e3 52.c7 Kd7 53.f7 e2 54.c8Q+ wins.
There were always two sides to Ivanchuk. On the one hand, his career was full of brilliant strategic plans, incredible combinations and astonishing tournament victories only to be followed by sudden blunders, unexplainable losses and lapses in his performance.
In 1991 Ivanchuk turned 22. We were talking about a new world champion after he outplayed all the world's best, including Kasparov, Karpov and Timman, and took first place in Linares. It helped him to the number two spot on the FIDE rating list.
However, in the summer of 1991 in Brussels, Artur Yusupov played his immortal rapid game and eliminated Ivanchuk from the Candidates matches. For the last two decades Ivanchuk has been one of the best players and together with Anand and Boris Gelfand - two grandmasters of his generation - refused to age in chess.
Ivanchuk was caught by Carlsen in round seven and in the next round faced Wesley So, 21, playing for the United States. Computers are one reason why the game is getting younger and So is the master of his laptop. He is so good that he became a coach of the U.S. team at the 2013 World Team Championship and 2014 Chess Olympiad.
"Wesley was extremely helpful," says the U.S. captain John Donaldson.
"He knows an incredible amount about opening theory, likes to work on chess all the time, has a pleasant manner and is willing to share." From now on, he will be playing for the U.S. team, perhaps even on the top board. On FIDE February Rating list So moves to number seven, the other American, Hikaru Nakamura, is number 10.
It seems So surprised Ivanchuk with a knight sacrifice in the delayed Marshall Attack in the Spanish opening. The Ukrainian just followed Aronian's analysis from his Candidates game against Anand. But it became clear that Aronian's analytical team unplugged the computer too soon, leaving the piece sacrifice undiscovered. Suddenly, there it was on the board, the work of number-crunching monster, too foreign to a human mind. And Wesley So knew about it. Giri and Carlsen were clearly interested in the game.
Ivanchuk,Vasyl - So,Wesley
Wijk aan Zee 2015
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3
Ivanchuk avoids the Marshall gambit 8.c3 d5.
8...Bb7 9.d3 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nbd2 Qd7!?
Levon Aronian's novelty, connecting the rooks and planning to bring the queen rook into play.
12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5
Aronian played 13...Nf6 almost immediately against Anand in the 2014 Candidates tournament and after 14.Re1 Rae8 15.Nf3 Bd6 16.Be3 Re7 17.d4 Rfe8 18.c3 h6 19.Ne5 Bxe5 20.dxe5 Rxe5 21.Qxd7 Nxd7 22.Red1 White had a bishop pair and turned his small edge into victory in 47 moves.
This knight leap is more in the spirit of the Marshall gambit and leads to a piece sacrifice.
The Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri pointed out this sacrifice in the third issue of New In Chess last year. It was picked up by a few players, but the credit goes to computers.
Komodo 8 suggest a different piece sacrifice: 14...Nxh3+ 15.gxh3 Bf6 16.Rh5 g6 with roughly equal chances.
An amazing computer move. The threat to win a piece back with 16...a4 gives Black time to bring his queen rook to the kingside via the square a6. "Show it to Levon," writes Giri, " and the rest he would have managed by himself."
It looks like Aronian's analytical team didn't let the computer work long enough to find the little combination.
Ivanchuk decides to eliminate one attacking piece, but now the material is almost level and Black can still increase the pressure. Two other moves, 16.a4 and 16.c4, were already played.
Incredibly, the game Guliyev-Gustafsson, Germany 2014, followed 13 computer moves:
16.a4 Ra6 17.Qe2 Rg6+ 18.Kh2 Bd6 19.Nh4 Bxe5+ 20.Qxe5 Re8 21.Qf4 Rf6 22.Qg3 Re1 23.Bh6 Rxf2+ 24.Qxf2 Rxa1 25.Nf5 Rh1+ 26.Kg3 Bc8 27.Qg2 Qxf5 28.Qxh1 Qg6+ 29.Kf2 Qxh6 30.Qa8 Qxh3 31.Bd5 Qf5+ 32.Ke1 Qe5+ 33.Kd2 Qf4+ 34.Ke2 Qe5+ 35.Kd2 Qf4+ 36.Ke2 Qe5+ 37.Kd2 ½-½
It gives the impression the players agreed on the content beforehand.
After 16.c4 Ra6 17.d4 Rg6+ 18.Kh2 Rf6 Black has the edge because of White's unstable king, for example:
A. 19.Re3 Bd6+ 20.Kg2 Rg6+ 21.Kf1 Qxh3+ 22.Ke2 (22.Ke1 Rf6 23.d5 Bc5-+) 22...Rf6!
B. 19.d5 bxc4 20.Bxc4 Bd6;
C. 19.Rd5 Bd6+ 20.Ne5 bxc4 21.f4 Qe6 or 19...Bxd5 20.cxd5 Qf5 21.Kf1 Re8.
16...Qxe7 17.c3 Ra6
The point of Black's combination. The threat is 18...Rf6. Ivanchuk pushes his d-pawn to block the deadly diagonal a8-h1, but it does not work.
The computers prefer 18...Rg6+ 19.Kf1 Qd7 but So's plan is good enough.
19.d5 a4 20.Bc2 Rd8 21.Qe1
After 21.Bg5 Rxd5 22.Bxf6 Qxf6 23.Qe2 Re5 24.Qd3 Bxf3+ 25.Qxf3 Rg5+ Black wins.
21...Qd7 22.Ng5 h6 23.Ne4 Rg6+
The pin 23...Qxd5 is even stronger.
24.Kh2 f5 25.Ng3 Qxd5 26.Qg1
Black's position is overwhelming and So can finish the game with various sacrifices. He chose the quiet hammer.
Another way to victory is 26...Rxg3! 27.Kxg3 (27.fxg3 Qd2+ 28.Bxd2 Rxd2+ 29.Qf2 Rxf2+ 30.Kg1 Rxc2 wins.) 27...Rd6 28.Kh2 Rg6! wins.
After 27.Be3 Qxe3! 28.fxe3 Rd2+ wins.
After Ivanchuk's loss, Carlsen took the lead and was able to keep it till the end.
The Challenger Group
The 15-year-old Chinese whiz-kid Wei Li won the challenger tournament, a qualification for the top grandmaster group. Nobody could match his incredible result. The Chinese thought highly of him and included him in the gold medal team in the last olympiad.
Wei certainly has a bright future. Besides the high score, he also entertained the fans.
Wei Yi - Haast,Anne
Wijk aan Zee 2015, Group B
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3
This variation of the Taimanov Sicilian has a lot of admirers. White quickly clears the first rank, preparing the long castling.
In connection with the next move, this plan scored well for Black. Wei does not believe in statistics: the black pieces will be pushed from the center. White will gain time and space. There is nothing wrong with the logical development 7...Nf6.
Wei scored a quick victory against Lei last October in Zhongshan: 8...Nf6 9.f4 Nc4 10.e5 Nxb2 11.Bd2 Nd5 12.Nxd5 exd5 13.Nf5 g6? (13...Qxc2 14.Nxg7+ Bxg7 15.Qxg7 Rf8 seems better.) 14.Nd6+ Bxd6 15.exd6 Qb6 (15...Qxd6 16.Qc3 wins.) 16.Qb3 Qxd6 17.Qxb2 Qe6+ 18.Kf2 and black resigned.
9.0-0-0 h4 10.Qh3 b5 11.f4 Nc4 12.Bxc4 Qxc4 13.f5 Bb7 14.Rhf1 e5
After 14...Rc8 15.Nf3 b4 16.Ne5 Qc7 17.fxe6! wins.
15.Nb3 Qc7 16.Kb1 Rc8?!
Allowing a nice tactical strike. 16...Nf6!? was necessary.
The pawn on d7 is covered by the Queen only and Wei finds a little combination to win material.
17...Nxf6 18.Rxf6! gxf6 19.Bb6! Qc6
The Queen is overloaded. After 19...Qxb6 20.Qxd7 mates.
20.Na5 Qe6 21.Nxb7 Rb8
Exchanging the Queens 21...Qxh3 22.gxh3 Rb8 23.Nd6+ Bxd6 24.Rxd6 is also unpleasant, but now White wins with a direct attack.
Black has no time to swap the queens: 22...Qxh3 23.Nc7+ Ke7 24.Bc5+ d6 25.Rxd6! Rxb7 (Or 25...f5 26.Nd5+ Ke8 27.Rd8+ Rxd8 28.Nf6 mate.) 26.Rd1mate.
24...Qxf6 25.Qc8+ Ke7 26.Bc5+ d6 (26...Ke6 27.Qe8+ Be7 28.Rd6 mate.) 27.Qxb7+ and white mates soon.
After 25...Kxd8 26.Qxc6 wins. But now the Queen returns to deliver a beautiful long-distance mate.
Undefeated with seven wins, David Navara, 29, didn't finish first. It only magnifies Wei's accomplishment. However, with his attractive play and high rating, the Czech champion belongs in the top group and I expect him to be there next year.
Navara produced some fascinating ideas throughout the event. One example is his miniature against Jan Timman, 63, who played one of the worst tournaments of his otherwise brilliant career.
Navara reversed the battery of Bishop and the Queen. The bishop acted like a slingshot shooting the queen into the enemy's position to take advantage of the weak dark squares.
Navara, David - Timman, Jan
Wijk aan Zee 2015, Group B
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Bb4+ 4.Nbd2 0-0 5.a3 Be7 6.e4 d5 7.e5 Nfd7 8.Bd3 c5 9.h4!?
White prepares the Greek gift sacrifice 10.Bxh7+.
After the other pawn defence 9...h6 White can set-up a dangerous Q+B battery 10.Bb1 Re8 11.Qc2.
Ignoring the threat losses, loses, for example 9...Nc6 10.Bxh7+ Kxh7 11.Ng5+ Kh6 12.Ndf3 and White's attack prevails.
10.h5 cxd4 11.Nb3
A novelty, preventing 11...Nc5 and leaving the d2 square for the queen.
Attacking the center with 11...Nc6 was a good alternative, for example 12.Bf4 dxc4 13.Bxc4 g5 with a playable game.
Navara calculated the sharp computer variation 12.hxg6 cxd3 13.g7 Kxg7 but did not see 14.Nfxd4! It gives White a furious attack, for example: 14...Qc7 15.Rxh7+ Kg8 (15...Kxh7 16.Qxd3+ Kg8 17.Qg3+ Kh7 18.Bf4 Nc6 19.Kd2) 16.Qg4+ Kxh7 17.Bf4, threatening 18.Kd2 and 19.Rh1+.
12...b5 13.Bd3 Bb7 14.Qd2!
White shifts the B+Q battery to the right. Computers agree with this move. White's dark bishop is ready to catapult the white Queen to the square h6. The set-up of the Queen in front of the Bishop was seen in other openings.
A flawed combination based on a double attack of two knights. But White has too much pressure against the black king and Timman never recovers the piece. Black should have tried 14...g5, although 15.Bc2 Bxf3 16.Qd3 f5 17.exf6 Nxf6 18.Qxf3 Qd6! 19.0-0! (19.Qxa8 Nc6 20.Qb7 Qe5+ 21.Be3 dxe3 22.0-0-0 Bxa3 23.bxa3 Na5 is equal.) 19...Nbd7 20.Bxg5 is more pleasant for White.
15.Nxe5 Qd5 16.Nf3 g5
A sad necessity. After 16...Qxb3 17.hxg6 Bxf3 (17...fxg6 18.Qh6 Kf7 (18...Rf7 19.Bxg6 Rg7 20.Bxh7+ Kf8 21.Nxd4+-) ) 18.g7 wins.;
And after 16...e5 comes 17.Qh6 Nd7 18.Bg5! threatening 19.hxg6.
After 17...Qxb3 White can choose how to win: 18.Rh3 Qd5 19.Nxh7 f5 20.Qh6 Qe5+ 21.Be3 dxe3 22.Rg3+ Qxg3 23.fxg3; or 18.Bxh7+ Kh8 19.Nf3 Bxf3 20.gxf3 Qxf3 21.Qh6!.
After 18...Nc6 19.Nxh7! wins.
Or 19.Rg3 Qh1+ 20.Bf1 f4 21.Qe2 fxg3 22.Qxe6+ Kh8 23.Qxe7.
Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.
Images by Alina l'Ami
Correction: The article stated that Magnus Carlsen is 22. He is 24. It has been corrected.