The annual super-tournament in Wijk aan Zee on the windswept Dutch north coast is the first world-class event of the year. Its origins run back to 1938 when the local steel giant Hoogoovens held what originally started life as a simple works tournament, before ‘going professional’ in the early postwar years and then moving to nearby Beverwijk about three miles inland, and it didn’t move to Wijk aan Zee until 1968.
Since then it has followed the vicissitudes of the steel industry as Hoogoovens first merged with British Steel to form the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Corus and was then taken over by the Indian company Tata Steel. The name was formally changed in 2011 from the Corus to the Tata Steel tournament, making this year’s the 80th Tata Steel tournament, and thus a landmark jubilee edition.
This Dutch tradition does much to support their own players – yet despite the tournament’s longevity and through its many iterations, Dutch winners have been few and far between, with the last being Genna Sosonko and Jan Timman who were joint-winners back in 1981. But this year, the Dutch No.1, Anish Giri, gave the home crowds something to cheer about by getting off to a flying start of 2/2, beating Hou Yifan and Vladimir Kramnik to take the early lead.
And Giri probably couldn’t believe his luck when, in today’s diagram, Kramnik – who was defending well up to this point – inexplicably blundered with 26…Rxc3? (26…Rd6! was holding) only to realize that after 27.Qxb6 Nc4 28.Qb8 Nd7 29.Bxe7 Nxb8 30.Bb4! his rook was trapped and resignation followed a few moves later. And Giri’s explosive start will go a long way to seeing the young Dutch star back again in the world’s top 10 where he rightly belongs, as he now climbs up to No.13 in the unofficial live ratings.
But there’s a long way to go and it’s a very formidable field (with six of the top 11 in the world), and another intent on getting back to winning ways to make amends for his disappointing 2017 is the World champion, Magnus Carlsen. After a solid draw in the opening round with world No.2, Fabiano Caruana, Carlsen went on to score his first classical win of 2018, no thanks to his Indian opponent, Baskaran Adhiban, who all but pressed the self-destruct button at the critical moment.
1. A. Giri (Netherlands) 2/2; 2-4. M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Anand (India), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 1.5; 5-10. F. Caruana (USA), S. Karjakin (Russia), W. So (USA), G. Jones (England), V. Kramnik (Russia), P. Svidler (Russia) 1; 11-13. Wei Yi (China), M. Matlakov (Russia), B. Adhiban (India) 0.5; 14. Hou Yifan (China) 0.
Photo: A Dutch leader for a Dutch institution! | © Tata Steel tournament
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GM Baskaran Adhiban – GM Magnus Carlsen
80th Tata Steel Masters, (2)
Scotch Four Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 The Scotch Four Knights is a good solid opening for club players – but it does have a reputation of being very drawish, and especially at grandmaster level. However, when playing the world champion, it is perhaps not a bad idea to make him work to get more than a draw. 4…exd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 8.exd5 0-0 A little-nuanced play is going on here. Black can immediately capture the pawn with 8…cxd5 but after 9.Qe2+ Qe7 10.Qxe7+ Kxe7 11.0-0 the queens are exchanged early, leading more likely to a draw. But in this line of the Scotch Four Knights, the queens soon come off anyway. 9.0-0 Accepting the pawn plays right into Black’s hands: 9.dxc6?! Re8+ 10.Be3 Ng4! 11.0-0 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Qd6 13.g3 Qxc6 and Black will regain his pawn and have good attacking chances down the long a8-h1 diagonal. 9…cxd5 10.Bg5 c6 11.Qf3 Bd6 12.Rae1 Rb8 13.b3 a5N It’s a novelty from Carlsen, as here previously we’d usually see 13…h6 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Qxf6 gxf6 16.Ne2 c5 17.Ng3 and White is a little better, with Black having a bad pawn structure – but compensation with the bishop-pair that invariably see’s lots of draws from this position. With 13…a5, Carlsen aims to disrupt White’s queenside by opening the game a little for his bishop-pair and his rooks. It’s a new way of playing here but, in essence, White should retain a little edge here due to Black’s pawn structure. 14.h3 h6 It should be no real biggie, but with Adhiban playing 14.h3, Carlsen basically has got his …a5 move in for ‘free’ over the previous known line shown in the above note. 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.Qxf6 gxf6 17.Ne2 The knight is heading for f5 as in the above note. 17…c5 18.Ng3 Rd8 19.Nf5 Bf8 20.Ne7+ Bxe7 21.Rxe7 Be6 If anything, Adhiban still has the slightly better position as he’s swapped off a set of bishops and Carlsen still has the bad pawn structure – but here the Indian cracks and loses the thread of the game, and it doesn’t take long for Carlsen to take the advantage. 22.Rd1?! Much better was 22.Ra7 as it forces off a set of rooks after 22…Ra8 23.Rxa8 Rxa8, and it is hard to see how White could lose this. 22…c4! The slip-up allows Carlsen to seize his chance by exploiting the pin on the d-file. 23.Be2 a4 24.bxa4 The only option, as after 24.bxc4? dxc4 25.Rxd8+ Rxd8 26.Rc7 Rd2 Black is easily winning. 24…Bf5 25.Bf3? Adhiban has – what is more politely called – a brain freeze here, as he’s just made Carlsen’s pawns a big game-winner. The most obvious thing to do was to stop the pawns gathering momentum by first playing 25.c3!, and now the best Black can hope for here is 25…d4 (Unfortunately, the other option of 25…Rb2 loses on the spot to 26.Bxc4!) 26.Bxc4 dxc3 27.Rxd8+ Rxd8 28.Bb3 (perhaps Adhiban didn’t realize when calculating the position, that this also stopped Black from playing …Rd1+ and following up with …c2 passing the pawn? If so, it goes a long way to explain why he didn’t play 25.c3?) 28…c2 29.Re1! and White has everything covered – and although Black’s pawn looks menacing on c2, it is, in fact, a sitting target here, as White will soon be playing Rc1 followed by f3, Kf2 and heading for d2. 25…d4! The pawns are just monsters now – and ably supported by Black’s very active rooks and bishop. 26.a5 [White could have held on longer with 26.Re2 – but after 26…Rb2 27.Red2 d3 White faces an awkward and ultimately futile defense. 26…Bxc2 27.Rc1 Rb1 The rest of the game is now a technicality with the pawns storming down the board. 28.Rxb1 Bxb1 29.Rc7 c3 30.Bd1 Ra8 31.Rc5 Bxa2 32.Bc2 Be6 33.Kf1 Rc8 34.Rxc8+ Bxc8 35.Ke2 Ba6+ 36.Kf3 d3 0-1 As GM Ian Rogers once wryly observed, “Two passed pawns on the sixth rank beat everything up to a royal flush.”