This year was a very special jubilee 80th edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee – and fittingly for the occasion, it turned out to be one of the most memorable of recent years for the Dutch supertournament with an exciting and dramatic finale to the proceedings, as World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the Dutch No.1, Anish Giri, both on +5 scores, sharing first place and unbeaten on 9/13, and having to duke it out for the bragging rights to the 2018 title.
It was a fitting end to a high-scoring tournament, with the coveted title to the first major of the year being decided by a blitz playoff, which Carlsen easily won 1.5-0.5, as the Norwegian finally ended the hex of not winning a classical supertournament victory in over a year – and in doing so, he also broke the Wijk record by capturing his sixth title.
In the long and storied history of the tournament that started in 1938, Jan Hein Donner, Efim Geller, Garry Kasparov and John Nunn have won three titles; Max Euwe, Levon Aronian, Viktor Korchnoi and Lajos Portisch won four titles – but now, edging ahead of Vishy Anand with five titles, is Magnus Carlsen who holds the all-time record on the Roll of Honor with six titles. “It is huge for me obviously,” said Carlsen moments after his historic victory.”This is one of the top tournaments, not just right now but of all times. Having the record here, especially after such a bad spell that I’ve had, it’s amazing.”
But it takes two to tango, and Carlsen also praised the outstanding performance of local hero Giri, who came so close to ending the long barren spell of a Dutch winner at Wijk since Jan Timman back in 1985. And despite the disappointment for the 23-year-old Dutch No.1 in not winning, he gained new respect and many new fans with a more free-spirited style of play that was rewarded by a welcomed return again to the world’s top 10.
1-2. M. Carlsen (Norway)*, A. Giri (Netherlands) 9/13; 3-4. V. Kramnik (Russia), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 8.5; 5-6. V. Anand (India), W. So (USA) 8; 7. S. Karjakin (Russia) 7.5; 8. P. Svidler (Russia) 6; 9. Wei Yi (China) 5.5; 10-12. G. Jones (England), F. Caruana (USA), M. Matlakov (Russia) 5; 13. B. Adhiban (India) 3.5; 14. Hou Yifan (China) 2. (*Carlsen wins playoff 1.5-0.5)
Click on the video opposite to watch Magnus Carlsen’s official post-victory interview.
The blitz playoff between the two players was of a very high-caliber – and especially impressive was the first game that Carlsen won with one of his legendary trademark endgame grinds…only in fast motion!
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
80th Tata Steel Masters Playoff, (1)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.b3 d5 4.Bb2 Be7 5.e3 0-0 6.Nc3 c5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Nxd5 exd5 9.d4 Qa5+ 10.Qd2 Qxd2+ 11.Kxd2 Nc6 It’s a simple opening with equality and the queens exchanged early – but you got to wonder about allowing Carlsen to easily achieve a trademark grinding position he loves to play. The reality, though, is that a top elite player as Giri, should be able to hold such positions, and his game-plan would have been to get this sort of position to draw with black and then try to win with white. 12.dxc5 Bxc5 The isolated d-pawn will give Carlsen something to bite on – but Giri will be hoping he can activate his pieces in return, and swap off as many more pieces as possible. 13.Bb5 Bb4+ 14.Ke2 Be6 15.Rac1 Rac8 16.Rhd1 Be7 17.h3 a6 18.Bd3 Nb4 19.Bb1 Rxc1 20.Rxc1 Rc8 21.Rd1 Nc6 22.g4! With Giri having the isolated d-pawn, Carlsen looks to gain space by quickly mobilize his kingside pawns. 22…h6 23.Nd4 Nxd4+ 24.Bxd4 Ba3 25.f4 f6 Exchanging rooks was also an option, but alas no solution to Black’s problems: If 25…Rc1 26.Rxc1 Bxc1 27.Kf3! And White will soon be playing e4 with a big endgame advantage having the better bishops, more active king and his kingside pawns more mobile. And for this reason, Giri – rightly – keeps the rooks on the board. 26.Bg6 Kf8 27.Kf3 Ke7 28.h4 Bb4 29.Bd3 Bd7 30.e4 Bc3?! It all becomes a little awkward now for Giri after this inaccurate move. A better try was 30…dxe4+ 31.Bxe4 b5 32.h5 Bc6! 33.Bxc6 Rxc6 as White can’t play 34.Ke4 due to 34…Re6+ 35.Kf5 Rd6! 36.Ke4 Re6+ 37.Kd3 Ba3 and Black’s pieces are more mobile and active, and therefore holding the position being a more optimistic possibility. 31.Bf2 Bc6 32.exd5 Bxd5+ 33.Be4 Bxe4+ 34.Kxe4 Ke6? It’s hard to be critical with the vagaries of a blitz game, but with no prospects of achieving an ending with bishops of opposite colors, Giri’s last chance for survival was to attempt to keep the rooks on the board, and he should have tried 34…Bb4 35.Rd4 Bd6 36.Rc4 Re8 where, although White has the upper-hand, he can at least try better to hold this position. 35.f5+ Ke7 36.Rc1! [see diagram] It’s too late now – Carlsen easily finds a way to exchange rooks that liquidates down to a won bishop ending, and crucially of the same color! 36…Rc6 37.Kd3 Bb4 38.Rxc6 bxc6 Giri now not only now has the further weakness of split pawns on the queenside, his kingside pawns are all locked on dark-squares, making them vulnerable to being attacked by the bishop. 39.Kc4 Bd6 40.Bc5 Kd7 41.h5 Bf4 Giri is lost now. If 41…Ke7 42.Bxd6+ Kxd6 43.b4! Ke5 44.Kc5 Kf4 45.Kxc6 Kxg4 46.Kb6 Kxh5 47.Kxa6 and White’s pawn will queen first. 42.Bf8 Ke8 43.Bc5 White can’t be too hasty to go pawn grabbing with 43.Bxg7? as 43…Kf7 traps the bishop and leads to a draw after 44.Bxh6 Bxh6 45.Kc5 a5! – but Giri is in bind, as his king has to stay where it is for the trap to work, and it allows Carlsen to make the breakthrough on the queenside. 43…Kd7 44.Kb4 Bd2+ 45.Ka4 Kc7 Something has to give, and Giri opts to let the g7 pawn fall. 46.b4! Bf4 47.Bf8 Kb6 48.Bxg7 Bg5 49.Bf8 Bf4 50.Be7 Bg5 51.Kb3! With Giri paralyzed with his king defending c6 and a6, and his bishop tied down to defending the pawn weaknesses on f6 and h6, Carlsen finds the easy winning plan of Kb3-c4-d3 and re-routing his bishop to e3 via c5. 51…Kc7 52.Kc4 Kd7 53.Bc5 Kc7 54.Kd3 Kd7 55.Be3 1-0 Giri resigns, as the forced exchange of bishops leaves an easily won king and pawn ending.