Back in 1975, the organisers of the-then Hoogovens super-tournament in the little Dutch coastal town of Wijk aan Zee initiated the “Leo van Kuijk prize” for the most spectacular game of the tournament. The expectations were breathtaking encounters, griping contests, some glamour and not to mention a little charm along the way. And over the decades since, many grandmasters and masters have been rewarded for their thrilling play, including some world champions and future world champions.
The inaugural prize was won by the Czech-American grandmaster, Lubos Kavalek – though not for a striking win, as perhaps some would expect for such prizes, but for a truly fascinating struggle that led to a draw against the tough Hungarian grandmaster, Lajos Portisch, who went on to claim victory in the tournament. On his debut at Wijk in 2004, Magnus Carlsen, at the age of 13, won the prize and was quickly dubbed the “Mozart of Chess” by first recipient Kavalek in his much-missed Washington Post column.
Garry Kasparov created his “immortal masterpiece” against Veselin Topalov in 1999, arguably perhaps the most brilliant game of his career, and equally arguably also the best game ever played over the 81 editions of the tournament. More recently, Vishy Anand’s impressive sacrificial gem against Levon Aronian in 2013 brought many plaudits and immediate memories of the legendary Akiba Rubinstein.
And in two bloodthirsty rounds, 7 and 8, two sacrificial games stood out as being leading candidates for this year’s most spectacular game at the 81st Tata Steel Masters: Radjabov vs Vidit and Carlsen vs Rapport. Radjabov’s effort, though spectacular, was a little flawed in its execution; but Carlsen’s game was silky-smooth from start to finish: the magic being in just how the world champion so effortlessly and swiftly brought all of his pieces into the attack before he delivered the coup de grâce.
And that win gives Carlsen a very impressive +3 unbeaten score of 5.5/8, and he now shares the joint-lead with the man whom he originally won the crown from, the redoubtable Vishy Anand – who closing in on his half-century at the end of this year, still continues to defy the generation gap and the media searching for an answer to when he’ll retire – with big back-to-back wins over the out-of-form ex-champion Vladimir Kramnik, and the current world #4, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
1-2. M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Anand (India) 5½/8; 3-5. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Ding Liren (China), A. Giri (Netherlands) 5; 6. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 4½; 7-8. G. Vidit (India), J-K. Duda (Poland) 4; 9-10. V. Fedoseev (Russia), S. Shankland (USA) 3½; 11-12. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), R. Rapport (Hungary) 3; 13. J. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 2½; 14. V. Kramnik (Russia) 2.
Video: Magnus Carlsen is in the “mood”, scoring 3½-points from his last four games | © Tata Steel Chess
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Richard Rapport
81st Tata Steel Masters, (8)
Sicilian Scheveningen, Fianchetto variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.g3 a6 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.0-0 d6 By a transposition, we’ve just transposed into a Sicilian Scheveningen Fianchetto variation. 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Na4 Rb8 11.c4 With this Maróczy Bind-like move, Carlwantswant to clamp down on Black playing …d5. 11…c5 I think there was a case for Rapport delaying …c5 for a move or two, and just get on with developing his pieces with 11…Be7 and first see what set-up Carlsen has in mind before doing anything commital. 12.b3 Be7 13.Bb2 0-0 Also an option was 13…Bd7 14.Nc3 Bc6 with a classic Sicilian set-up for Black. 14.Qe1!? There’s method in Carlsen’s madness. Putting the queen on d2 looks the more natural move that most club players would automatically go for, but Carlsen comes up with a cunning multi-purpose move: From e1, the queen makes room for the rook coming to d1, supports the e4-pawn, threatens to push on with e5 (with or without f4), and also brings to the table the subtle manoeuvre of Bc3-a5 to stop a Black rook getting to d8 to support the d6-pawn. 14…Nd7 It is starting to get a bit tricky for Rapport to complete his development. Maybe more preferable was trying 14…Bd7 even although White can throw a spanner in the works with 15.e5!? Ne8 (It gets trickier for Black after 15…dxe5 16.Rd1! Ng4 17.Bh3! Bxa4 18.Bxg4 Bf6 19.f4 and the game looks to be opening up to White’s advantage.) 16.Qe2!? Bxa4 17.bxa4 dxe5 18.Bxe5 Bd6 19.Bc3 and White’s bishop-pair have the potential for any coming attack – and Black will also have to be careful about White playing Rab1 and controlling the b-file with a rook. 15.Rd1 Bb7 16.Qc3! With this manoeuvre, Carlsen gains a couple of moves on the clock and a bonus move on the board, as Black can never play Bxb2 as he wouldn’t be able to defend d6. 16…Bf6 17.Qd2 Be7 18.Qc3 Bf6 19.Qd2 Carlsen doesn’t want the three-fold repetition – he was just burning a couple of moves on the clock. 19…Be7 Carlsen has basically got in Qd2 for free, as Rapport now has no other option to defend d6 than to keep his bishop on the board. 20.f4! The threat of allowing White to push on with e5 now has to be stopped somehow. 20…e5 Forced. Black would love to indirectly defend the knight against the X-ray attack of e5 with 20…Rbd8 but, unfortunately, White has the simple winning plan of 21.Bc3-a5! 21.Bc3 Bc6 22.Ba5 Qb7 23.Nc3 The crux of the position is that Carlsen has cleverly out-manoeuvred his opponent, denying Rapport the chance to potentially defend his weak d6-pawn by putting a rook on d8. 23…exf4 24.gxf4 Rfe8 25.e5! Again, the target is the awkwardly-placed knight on d7. 25…Bxg2 26.Qxg2 dxe5 If 26…Qxg2+ 27.Kxg2 Rb7 28.exd6 White has a winning material advantage. 27.Nd5! The pawn sacrifice offers a superb outpost on d5 for the knight, which soon becomes the fulcrum for Carlsen’s attack. 27…e4 Rapport is now in dire straits, with this being the only move available to him. If 27…Bf6 28.Bc7! and 27…Bd6 28.Nc7! both win material. 28.Bc3 f6 29.Kh1! It’s yet another clever move from Carlsen, who simply nudges his king to the corner to vacate g1 for a rook to come into the attack down the g-file. 29…Kh8 30.Rg1 Bf8 31.Ne3 Carlsen is intent on making Rapport suffer and shows no interest in the tactical-strike continuation of 31.Nxf6! Nxf6 32.Bxf6 which will also win. The reason for Carlsen taking the “scenic route”, is that he’s found a way to manoeuvre all of his pieces to contribute to the attack. 31…Qc6 32.Rd5! As Dr John Nunn was wont to say annotating such a move, “Let’s invite everyone to the party!” Carlsen now finds a way to bring his rook into the attack, with the clever lift of Rd5-h5. 32…Qe6 33.Rh5 Qf7 34.Qh3 What’s not to like here? Carlsen has now got all of his pieces involved in the attack – the end is now not far off. 34…g6 35.Rh4 Rb6 Rapport is trying to quickly shore up his kingside defence – but something has to give in such position when the world champion is relentlessly piling on the pressure. 36.f5! Ne5 Unfortunately for Rapport, because of the Bc3, he can’t play 36…g5?? as White will quickly win with 37.Rxg5! followed by Rh5 and Alekhine’s Gun loaded and ready to fire down the h-file. 37.Nd5 Rd6 38.fxg6 Nxg6 39.Bxf6+! [see diagram] The combination quickly forces Rapport to resign, as the sting in the tail is the knight fork on f6. 39…Rxf6 40.Rxh7+! 1-0 Rapport resigns, as after 40…Qxh7 41.Qxh7+ Kxh7 42.Nxf6+ Kh6 43.Nxe8 Be7 44.Re1 Black is left defending a hopelessly lost ending.