When Dr Max Euwe sensationally defeated Alexander Alekhine to unexpectedly become world chess champion in 1935, it transformed the perception of chess in the Netherlands and paved the way for the game’s most successful sponsorship in chess history – a collaboration that was forged between chess and steel, dating back to 1938, and through a series of leading steel company sponsors Hoogovens, Corus, and now Tata Steel.
This year’s 81st Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the little Dutch coastal chess hamlet of Wijk aan Zee is not only traditionally the first major of the year, but it also arguably the highlight of the chess calendar. With the notable exception of Bobby Fischer, all world champions since Euwe have played at Wijk – and indeed the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen holds the record for the most number of titles to his name, winning six times.
January 2018 seems a long time ago now, but, amazingly for Carlsen, last year’s Tata Steel Tournament was the only classical tournament he managed to win outright – a dubious record of sorts by the Norwegian’s very own high standards, as he’d come accustomed to winning just about every event he plays in. And after a very tight title-defence in November, another dubious record for Carlsen is that he has now gone 17 games with no decisive result.
And Carlsen is looking to start 2019 with a bang with a Malcolm McLaren-like ‘Double Dutch’ of winning a second successive Tata Steel Masters – and with it, quickly break his long drawing streak. However, in the opening two rounds, despite playing very dynamic chess and sacrificing the exchange in two highly-entertaining games against Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi respectively, Carlsen had to be content with two well-earned draws, despite his streak now stretching to 19 games.
But while Carlsen is stuck in a draw glut, there’s no such worries for local stars Anish Giri and Masters debutant Jorden Van Foreest, who seem to have started 2019 and the tournament by skipping through the ropes with their own version of the Double Dutch by both losing in the opening round, only to hit back with a brace of wins in round two.
Ding Liren ½-½ Carlsen
Radjabov ½-½ Kramnik
Shankland ½-½ Mamedyarov
Fedosev ½-½ Rapport
Vidit ½-½ Duda
Giri 0-1 Nepomniachtchi
Van Foreest 0-1 Anand
Carlsen ½-½ Nepomniachtchi
Kramnik 0-1 Giri
Mamedyarov ½-½ Radjabov
Rapport ½-½ Shankland
Anand ½-½ Fedoseev
Duda 0-1 Van Foreest
Ding Liren ½-½ Vidit
Photo: Magnus Carlsen’s drawing streak is now at 19 games – but his games have been highly-entertaining! | © Alina l’Almi /official site
1—2. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), V. Anand (India) 1½/2; 3-12. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), R. Rapport (Hungary), V. Fedoseev (Russia), S. Shankland (USA), Ding Liren (China), M. Carlsen (Norway), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), S. Vidit (India), A. Giri (Netherlands), J. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 1; 13-14. V. Kramnik (Russia), J-K. Duda (Poland) ½.
GM Ding Liren – GM Magnus Carlsen
81st Tata Steel Masters, (1)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5!? A sort of Polish Defence, a very provocative way to meet White’s opening set-up. The Polish Defence proper (1.d4 b5) is risky for Black, as White can get in the desirable 2.e4; though Boris Spassky did dramatically play it in the final game of his first ill-fated World Championship match in 1966 against Tigran Petrosian as he needed a do-or-die win. He achieved an equal position, but in trying to avoid the draw at all costs, pushed the envelope too far and he lost. But the Polish Defence was found to be a very reliable way to meet 1. Nf3 and g3, where White is committed to fianchettoing his bishop, as it also prevents c4 from being played – and has been very successfully adopted by Spassky and even Anatoly Karpov. 3.d4 e6 4.Bg5 c5 5.d5 The game has taken on a sort of Torre Attack twist to it, and already we are in uncharted waters with no known games in theory here! 5…Qa5+ Black’s best move. You can’t be greedy here and play 5…exd5 as after 6.Bxf6! Qxf6 7.Nc3 d4 8.Nd5 Qd6 9.e4! White’s activity with his lead in development, not to mention the easy of which punch away to undermine the Black pawns, makes it difficult for Black to control things. 6.Bd2 Qb6 7.dxe6 fxe6 8.a4 Ding has to hassle Magnus and not allow him to dictate how and when he pushes his a7-e6 pawn mass forward. 8…b4 9.a5 Qd8 10.Bg2 Nc6!?! Another provocative move from Magnus, who is seduced into sacrificing the exchange for the central domination with his pawns and pieces. After the game, Carlsen commented that he felt this move a bit “over-zealous”, but he just couldn’t resist the moment. The safety-first try was playing 10…d5 allowing White to start chipping away at the pawn mass immediately with 11.c4 or even 11.c3. 11.Ne5 Ding accepts the challenge – and you can’t say these two players aren’t playing for an easy opening round draw, can you! 11…Nxe5 12.Bxa8 d5 A truly dynamic position. Black has central domination for the exchange – but White has problems in as much as the Ba8 has no retreating squares and the a-pawn could become a target. 13.a6 Bd7 14.Bb7 Bd6 Ding has the material, but Magnus has the power-play in the centre with his pawn mass and active pieces. 15.Bg5 Nf7 16.Bxf6 Qxf6 17.Nd2 Interestingly, the Norwegian super-computer, Sesse, thought White stood clearly better after 17.c4!? with the analysis going on 17…bxc3 18.Nxc3 h5 19.f4 h4 and a very murky position indeed. But just as murky looked 17…0-0!? 18.cxd5 Be5 and, to my eye and playing engine, it feels as though Black has more than enough compensation to cause White problems here. I certainly wouldn’t like to try and fathom this position out over the board – for either side! 17…0-0 18.0-0 Qxb2 Black looks to be on top now with the pawn mass threatening to push forward – but Ding moves swiftly to start to breakdown the pawns. 19.e4 Qd4 No better was 19…Bb5 20.exd5! Bxf1 21.Rb1 Qf6 22.Qxf1 exd5 23.Bxd5 and White stands no worse here. 20.exd5 e5 The problem for Black, is that 20…exd5?! backfires to 21.Nb3 Qxd1 22.Rfxd1 d4 23.Ra5! and suddenly White is ready to capture on c5, as 23…Ng5 24.f4 Bg4 25.Re1 Nf3+ 26.Bxf3 Bxf3 27.Nxc5 Rc8 28.Nb3 Rxc2 29.Nxd4 Rc5 30.Ra4 and although the position remains a bit tricky with Black having the bishop-pair, with careful play White’s material advantage should be winning. 21.Nb3 Qe4 22.Qd3 Qg4 If Magnus can find a way to keep the queens on the board right now, then he has excellent attacking prospects on the White king – but Ding keeps cool and shows his mettle by finding the best way to hold his position together. 23.f3 Qh5 24.Nd2 Ng5 25.Bc6 Ding has cleverly found his way out of any potential difficulties. 25…Bh3 26.Bb5! White has a white square blockade on the queenside, and Black a black square blockade. 26…Bxf1 27.Rxf1 Rxf3! [see diagram] It has been a wonderfully original and very dynamic scrap between the world #1 and 4 – but Carlsen rightly senses that the time has come to kill everyone’s fun with a tactic that soon fizzles the game out to a draw now. 28.Nxf3 e4 29.Qe3 Nxf3+ 30.Rxf3 Forced. 30…Qxf3 31.Qxf3 exf3 32.Kf2 ½-½ With the notoriously drawing bishops of opposite colours, and the queenside pawns on white squares and dark squares, the game is just a draw now – but a draw that was a credit to the fighting spirit of both players.