Two thousand and nineteen starts fast – and with a bang. The first major chess tournament of the new year kicks off on Saturday with the 81st Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the fabled Dutch coastal chess town of Wijk aan Zee with a sparkling all-star field in the ‘Masters’ event capped by the record-breaking six-time defending champion, Magnus Carlsen, hard on the heels after the Norwegian world #1 recently defended his World Championship title in London and World Blitz title in St. Petersburg.
The 14-player field (with an average rating of 2753) also includes top 10 stars Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Ding Liren (China), Anish Giri (Netherlands), ex-world champions Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) and Viswanathan Anand (India), with a full supporting cast of Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Sam Shankland (USA), Vladimir Fedoseev (Russia), Santosh Gujrathi Vidit (India) and Jorden van Foreest (Netherlands).
This is a long-standing festival event steeped in history, which has long since eclipsed Hastings as the game’s longest-running continuous super-tournament. It was in 1938 that the Dutch steel giant Hoogovens first held a (works) tournament in Beverwijk and it moved to its spiritual home of Wijk aan Zee itself in 1968. Since then it has gone through two more iterations starting from 2000-2010 with sponsorship from the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate Corus, the company formed by the merger of British Steel and Hoogovens. The Indian company Tata Steel bought Corus in 2007 and the name changed to the Tata Steel tournament in 2011.
This year’s event is therefore either the 81st or ninth Tata Steel tournament. But whatever the nomenclature, the wonderful tradition of “Wijk” – as it is affectionately known as – is always regarded by players, punters and pundits alike to be the highlight of the international chess calendar, despite it coming so early in the year.
There’s live coverage throughout at all the usual chess portals or you can follow the games direct at the official tournament site at tatasteelchess.com. The Wijk rounds start daily at 13:30 hrs local time (ET 08:30, PT 05:30) except for the last round which starts at 12:00 hrs. The Chess on Tour rounds (5 and 10) start at 14:00 hrs.
Photo: Magnus Carlsen gets set to defend his Wijk title | © official site
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda
World Blitz Championship, (7)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Nd5 Bc5 6.Bg2 d6 7.0-0 0-0 8.e3 Bb6 9.Nxb6 axb6 10.b3 Bf5 11.d3 We have a quiet Reti-type position of sorts from the English Opening – there’s nothing much in the position, but Carlsen finds a way to exploit a little weakness in Duda’s position. 11…Qd7 12.Nh4 Bh3 13.e4 Bxg2 14.Kxg2 Nd4 15.Be3! The knight looks strong on d4 – but by trading the bishop for knight, Carlsen is looking to make his own knight the better minor piece left on the board by quickly hopping into the f5 outpost to simultaneously attack d4 and also the Black king. 15…b5 16.Bxd4 exd4 17.cxb5 Qxb5 18.Nf5! Carlsen’s knight is just so strategically well-placed on f5: attacking d4 and potential threats aimed at the Black king. 18…Qb6 19.Qd2! Awkward, as now …g6 can be strongly met by Qh6! totally busting Black’s kingside protection. 19…h6? Nobody really likes to admit to retreating in such positions, but Duda’s only chances to survive this was to try to hunker down with 19…Ne8 and look to get in …g6 to shunt the problematic knight off the strong f5 outpost. 20.Qf4! Things have gone from bad to worse for Duda in just a few moves, as suddenly Carlsen is threatening to smash through with Nxh6+ – and to prevent this, Duda has to make even more awkward concessions. 20…d5 21.e5 Nh7 22.Qg4 The Black position is all but bust here, as 22…Qg6 loses on the spot to the knight fork with Ne7+. 22…g6 23.Nxh6+ Kh8 24.h4 Black is just a pawn down and his knight has been effectively squeezed out of the game – Duda’s only shot here is to try and create a little “chaos” in the position, which he goes for. 24…c5 25.h5 g5 26.Nf5 Qe6 27.Rfe1 b6 Duda’s only hope is trying to create the illusion of “something” on the queenside with his attack on a2 and his strong-looking mass of queenside pawns – but Carlsen ruthlessly and very effectively kills off the game. 28.Re2 Rg8 29.Rae1 Ra7 30.f3 [see diagram] Carlsen makes it all look so, so simple as he “bosses” the position by defending his queen and looking to jump the knight into d6 with multiple threats. 30…Rga8 A minor threat down the a-file that’s easily parried. 31.a4 Rg8 What else is there? The only way to somehow get the horrendously-placed Nh7 back into the game is by first defending the g5-pawn. 32.Nd6 Qxg4 Frustration, pure and simple – Duda could have put up a sterner defence with 32…Nf8 but after 33.Rc2 White will soon be looking to engineer b4 to breakdown the Black queenside pawn structure. 33.fxg4 Nf8 34.Rf2 Kg7 35.Ref1 1-0 Duda resigns with f7 falling, and with it, the game.