When Dr. Max Euwe defeated Alexander Alekhine to unexpectedly become world chess champion in 1935, in doing so he inadvertently transformed the perception of chess in Holland and paved the way for the most successful sponsorship deal in the game’s history – namely the forging of chess and steel that, through several sponsors and iterations, now gives us the jubilee 80th edition of the Tata Steel Tournament in the tiny windswept Dutch northern coastal town of Wijk aan Zee.
With Euwe’s sensational title win, Chess went on to become ingrained into the Dutch culture. He dominated the early war and postwar edition of the now Tata Steel Tournament, winning the title five-times between 1940 and 1958. And since the early Sixties, despite hosting arguably the best super-tournament on the chess calendar, Dutch winners have been few and far between, with the last coming in 1985 with Jan Timman. But could we be set for another home-winner to give the very vocal Dutch fans something to cheer about?
Russian-born Dutch No.1, Anish Giri, 23, was once seen as a likely title challenger to Magnus Carlsen, but he hit a bad patch through most of 2017 and dramatically dropped out of the world’s top 10. He also had a reputation of – in old-school casino parlance – being the “cooler”, dampening the action with lots of draws in tournaments. But now we’re seeing a more free-spirited and courageous side to Giri, as he’s the one making all the running in the tournament by taking the sole lead going into the final four rounds.
With his very impressive unbeaten +4 score, Giri not only leads the field on 6.5/9, a half point ahead of Carlsen and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but in the process he’s also seen a big rating spike of 20+ points to jump six places and a welcomed return once again to the world’s top 10 in the unofficial live rating list.
1. A. Giri (Netherlands) 6.5/9; 2-3. M. Carlsen (Norway), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 6; 4-5. V. Kramnik (Russia), W. So (USA) 5.5; 6-7. V. Anand (India), S. Karjakin (Russia) 5; 8. P. Svidler (Russia) 4.5; 9-10. G. Jones (England), M. Matlakov (Russia) 4; 11-12. Wei Yi (China), F. Caruana (USA) 3.5; 13. B. Adhiban (India) 2.5; 14. Hou Yifan (China) 1.5.
Photo: Giri draws the pre-tournament No.1 pairing – a portent of things to come? © Alina L’Ami (Tata Steel Chess)
GM Maxim Matlakov – GM Anish Giri
80th Tata Steel Masters, (9)
1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Bg4 3.Bg2 c6 4.0-0 Nd7 5.h3 Bh5 6.d4 e6 7.c4 Be7 8.Nc3 dxc4 9.b3 This is a standard theme in the Reti, with White sacrificing a pawn for the momentum of rapid development and control of the center of the board. 9…cxb3 10.Qxb3 Qb6 11.Qa4 Ngf6 12.Rb1 Qc7 13.Bf4 Qc8 14.Rfc1 For the sacrificed pawn, Matlakov has good compensation with his free-flowing piece-play and control of the center of the board – but a pawn is a pawn, and Giri, for his part, has a very solid position that’s going to be difficult to break down. 14…0-0 15.Qb3 Bg6! This indirectly defends the b7-pawn, as after White plays Rb2, then …Ba3 is always a big threat. 16.Rb2 Rd8 17.a4 As noted above, 17.Qxb7? loses the exchange to 17…Ba3 etc. 17…a5 18.Nd2 The knight is heading to c4 to target the holes on d6 and – more specifically – b6. If Matlakov can get a good grip of these squares, then he’ll have something for the pawn – but Giri finds a clever way to return the pawn and activate his pieces. 18…Nh5 19.Be3 Nhf6 20.Nc4 Nd5! 21.Qxb7 Bb4 22.Qxc8 Raxc8 The engines tell us there’s nothing much in the position now, but if Giri can get in the freeing …c5, White will face pressure as Black unravels. 23.Na2 Nxe3 24.fxe3 The “natural” 24.Nxe3? backfires to the omnipresent threat of 24…Ba3 winning material. 24…c5 25.Nd6? A knee-jerk reaction that immediately backfires. Simpler, and much better was 25.Rd1 cxd4 26.Nxb4 Rxc4 27.Nc6! and Black has nothing here – and, in fact, if anything, he stands a little bit worse here. 25…Ba3! [see diagram] This nicely liquidates down to a won ending for Giri. 26.Nxc8 Bxb2 27.Ne7+ Alas, all White is doing is helping Black get his king more active for the endgame. 27…Kf8 28.Nxg6+ hxg6 29.Rc2 Ba3 30.Bc6 cxd4 31.exd4 Rc8 It’s more than likely that when calculating 25.Nd6, Malakov didn’t spot just how strong the pin on the c-file was going to be. 32.e3 Ke7 33.Kf1 The problem for White is that, after 33.Rc3 Black has a nice forcing line that runs 33…Bb2 34.Rc2 f5! 35.Kf2 Kd6 36.Be4 Rxc2+ 37.Bxc2 g5 and the Na2 is effectively locked out of the game. 33…Bd6 34.g4 Nb6 35.Rc1?! Matlakov cracks under the pressure by Giri. The lesser evil was bringing the king closer to the center, but even then, Black has a winning game: 35.Ke2 Rh8! 36.Rb2 Bc7 either the a- or h-pawn falls. And if 35.Kf2 f5! (stopping Be4) 36.e4 Ba3 37.Ke2 Rd8! 38.Ke3 Rh8! and again the rook will – eventually – pick-off the h3 pawn. 35…Ba3 36.Rc3 Bb4 37.Nxb4 axb4 38.Rc5 b3 With the pin on the c-file, White will have to lose material to stop the b-pawn. 39.a5 Nd7 0-1