The recently-concluded 80th Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch north coast is not only one of the world’s strongest events, but also one of the best-loved. On a technical level, the tournament is always impeccably run by Jeroen van den Berg and his highly-experienced organising team, with excellent playing conditions inside the hallowed hall of the De Moriaan Sports Centre – and there is real camaraderie inside the playing hall, born out of a huge mass of chess players all fighting together under the one roof.
But in contrast to many of its rivals, the Dutch tournament bucks the trend by not just comprising of a single A-list cast of super-grandmaster, but a whole raft of other events taking place, going down to sections for club players but also touching the top group in the “Challengers”, a very strong international tournament in its own right, with the winner richly rewarded with a coveted automatic invitation to play in the next year’s Masters tournament.
This is in part a showcase for tomorrow’s stars, and at the same time part egalitarian in nature, because we have to remember that World Champion Magnus Carlsen won his own way through the ranks by first winning the ‘C group’ back in 2004. Therefore there’s the added lure of promotion to the Masters – and for many, this could well become the first time they play under the glare of the media spotlight alongside the world’s elite.
This year’s Challengers proved to be an intriguing two-horse race between the latest upcoming Indian ace, Gujrathi Santosh Vidit, and Anton Korobov, the seasoned Ukrainian back on the comeback trail. Both shared the lead going into the penultimate round – but top seed Vidit seized his chance by scoring 1.5/2 while Korobov crashed with 0.5/2, as the Indian went on to win the title outright with his unbeaten score of 9/13.
“This victory means a lot to me,” said a victorious 23-year-old Vidit, adding “because I qualify for the Masters section in 2019.” (Watch the full Tata Steel Chess video interview opposite)
1. GS. Vidit (India) 9/13; 2. A. Korobov (Ukraine) 8; 3-6. J. Xiong (USA), A. Bassem (Egypt), J. Van Foreest (Netherlands), D. Gordievsky (Russia) 7.5; 7. M. Bluebaum (Germany) 6.5; 8-10. E. L’Ami (Netherlands), B. Bok (Netherlands), A. Tari (Norway) 6; 11-12. L. Van Foreest (Netherlands), M. Krasenkow (Poland) 5.5; 13. D. Harika (India) 5; 14. O. Girya (Russia) 3.5.
GM Gujrathi Santosh Vidit – GM Michal Krasenkow
80th Tata Steel Challengers, (2)
Sicilian Four Knights
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 The Sicilian Four Knights. 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Nd5 8.Ne4 Qc7 9.f4 Qb6 10.c4 Bb4+ 11.Ke2 Just like Magnus Carlsen’s win over Wesley So that we annotated in an earlier column, Motivating Magnus, the White king is in no danger here with the center being blocked. 11…f5 12.exf6 Nxf6 13.Be3! More precise than 13.Nxf6+ gxf6 14.Be3 Bc5 and White doesn’t get the developing tempo – as in the game – that makes all the difference. 13…Qd8 The alternative didn’t fare any better: If 13…Qc7 14.Nxf6+ gxf6 15.c5! d6 16.Qxd6 Qxd6 17.cxd6 Bxd6 and Black is left stranded with a terrible pawn structure, offering White a nice advantage. 14.Nd6+ Bxd6 15.Qxd6 Qe7 16.Bc5 Qf7? This has all been seen before up to 16.Bc5, but Black bit the bullet and accepted he stood worse by exchanging queens and a holdable endgame after 16…Qxd6 17.Bxd6 Ne4 18.Be5! where White has the obvious advantage – but with a little hard work, this is perfectly defendable for Black. But by keeping the queens on the board, Krasenkow all but decides his own fate. 17.Ke3! As Steinitz was wont to say, “The king is an active piece, so use it!” 17…g5 There’s no milage with the random knight check of 17…Ng4+ as after 18.Kf3 h5 19.h3 Nh6 20.Bd3 and White is set to centralize his rooks on e1 and f1 as a prelude to crashing a path through to Black’s king. 18.Be2 g4 The position is fraught with dangers for Black, as witness one very attractive line with a ‘windmill theme’ after: 18…gxf4+ 19.Qxf4 h5 20.Rhf1 Ng4+ 21.Bxg4 Qxf4+ 22.Rxf4 hxg4 23.Raf1 d5 24.Rf7 g3 25.Re7+ Kd8 26.Rff7! gxh2 27.Bd6 Bb7 28.Bc7+ Kc8 29.Be5 h1Q 30.Rc7+ Kd8 31.Bf6+ Ke8 32.Rce7+ Kd8 33.Rxb7+ Ke8 34.Rbe7+ Kd8 35.Rxa7+ Ke8 36.Rfe7+ Kd8 37.Rxa8#. 19.Rac1 One for the mavens of “mysterious” rook moves. More clinical was the more direct rook move of 19.Rhf1! with f5 to follow. 19…h5 20.Rc3 Qg7 21.Bd3 Kf7 22.Kd2 And now we see the point behind Vidit’s mysterious rook move – he want’s to take the safety-first option by marching his king to safety on the queenside before going for Krasenkow’s king. 22…Re8 23.Re1 Qh6 24.Kc2 a5 25.Re5 Nh7? A blunder. Best was 25…Ng8 but Black is all tied up in knots anyway after 26.Rg5 Ne7 27.Qe5 and the position is set to collapse. 26.Rf5+! [see diagram] 26…Kg8 27.Qe5 1-0