John Henderson
By John Henderson

In stark contrast to many of its rivals, the annual Tata Steel Chess Tournament, now in its 82nd edition, and held in the quaint little Dutch North Sea coastal chess hamlet of Wijk aan Zee, comprises of not just one single super-tournament but also a whole raft of other events, going right down to sections for club players and juniors – and this more than anything else creates a genuine buzz inside the playing venue of the ‘De Moriaan’ Sports Center.

After all, there’s very few venues where wannabe teenage world title aspirants, grandmasters, amateurs and chess enthusiasts from the world over can play in the same playing hall as world title rival superstars Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand. And while all eyes are firmly fixed on the Tata Steel Masters, the ‘B’ and ‘C’ tournaments should not be ignored, as they have traditionally become a showcase for tomorrow’s stars.

The Dutch organisers – led by legendary Tournament Director Jeroen Van den Berg – have successfully built a unique set of tournaments based on a true egalitarian spirit, with each winner qualifying for promotion to the higher section the following year; the most famous to have risen through the ranks being Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. More recently, there’s also 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who proved such a revelation this year in his first super-tournament.

So the B tournament is always the one to watch, because, with its added attraction of an automatic seat in the next year’s Masters, its usually a formidable event in its own right, with the battle to take the title keenly contested from start to finish, leading to many interesting games, and invariably going down to the wire of a dramatic final round.

And this year proved no different. But seizing his big moment was 24-year-old Spanish Grandmaster David Antón – who revels in the nickname of “El Niño” because of the storms he creates at the board – who recorded one of the biggest results of his career, as he stormed to thfirst place and the title. And with it, the popular Madrilenian now qualifies for his very first super-tournament next year, where he will get to play alongside world title top guns Carlsen, Caruana and Anand.

Final standings:
1. GM D. Antón (Spain) 8½/13; 2-4. GM N. Abdusattorov (Uzbekistan), GM P. Eljanov (Ukraine), GM E. L’Ami (Netherlands) 8; 5. GM S. Ganguly (India) 7½; 6-7. GM V. Keymer (Germany), GM N. Sarin (India) 7; 8-9. GM N. Grandelius (Sweden), GM L. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 6½; 10-11. GM J. Smeets (Netherlands), GM R. Mamerdov (Azerbaijan) 6; 12-13. IM M. Warmerdam (Netherlands), A. Smirnov (Australia) 4½; 14. WGM D. Sadaukassova (Kazakhstan) 3.


GM David Antón – GM Jan Smeets
82nd Tata Steel Gp.B, (4)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Be7 7.0-0 Nc6 8.Nbd2 Bf5 9.Re1 Nd6 10.Nf1 0-0 11.Bf4 Be6 Better is 11…Bg6 or 11…Bxd3 but with the text, Smeets just walks into an attacking tsunami that he’s lucky his opponent couldn’t find the way to kill him off quickly. 12.c3 Qd7 13.Qc2 g6 14.Ne3 Rfe8 15.h4 Bf8 16.Ng5 Nd8 17.h5 White has an overwhelming position – and when I briefly saw this game live, I have to admit I thought Black was about to fold like a sheet of A4 at an origami contest! 17…Bg7 18.hxg6 hxg6 19.Re2 With all White’s pieces poised to strike, Antón – to his credit – doesn’t look to rush his attack, but with Black virtually paralysed, he instead plays the most inviting move of all as he adds to his opponent’s misery by doubling rooks on the e-file. 19…b6 20.Rae1 N8b7 21.Nxe6 Qxe6?! Dangerous, but with 21…Rxe6 going down to the obvious 22.Nxd5, it could well be that Smeets had had enough by this stage, and he just wanted the agony all to end – but Antón takes pity on him by not following up with the right moves. 22.Nf5 Qd7 23.Nxg7 It is hard to be critical here when White has such a powerful position, but Antón lacked the ‘killer touch’ with the obvious 23.Ne7+! Kf8 (The alternative of 23…Kh8 crashes and burns to 24.Bxg6! fxg6 25.Qxg6 and a quick mate on the horizon.) 24.Bg5 (This time after 24.Bxg6 Black can hobble on longer with 24…Qg4 25.Bxd6 Nxd6 26.Bd3 though White retains a big advantage.) 24…Qg4 25.Qd2 Nc4 26.Qc1 and I really can’t see how Black can possible survive long here. 23…Kxg7 24.Be5+ f6 25.Bxg6 fxe5 26.Bxe8?! Antón missed the winning zwischenzug first of 26.dxe5! and the jig is up for Black. If 26…Nc5 (Alternatively, 26…Ne4 27.Bxe4 dxe4 28.Qxe4 Nc5 29.e6!! Nxe6 30.Qg4+ Kf6 31.Re5 and the Black king is going to be mated.) 27.Bxe8 Nxe8 28.Re3 Ne4 29.Rh3 there’s soon going to be a mate coming with Black’s king caught naked. 26…Rxe8 27.Rxe5 Rxe5 28.dxe5 Ne4 Normally two knights for the rook is a good deal – but here, with the precarious state of the Black king and those extra passed kingside pawns should easily see White home. 29.f3 Ng5 30.Qd2 Qf5 31.Qxd5 Nc5 It’s really all over bar the shouting here – but, irony of ironies, there’s no point in Smeets resigning right now, as this is arguably the best position he’s had the whole game! 32.Qd8 Nge6 33.Qf6+?! I think Antón had wasted so much time on his clock trying to find the right killer blow and failing, that by this stage he was in a little time pressure, as there’s no other rational reason for him to trade the queens when 33.Qe7+ Kg6 34.b3 and moves like 34…Qf4 falls to the ‘engine-screaming’ endgame-winning finesse of 35.Re4!! Nxe4 36.Qxe6+ Kh5 37.Qe8+ Kg5 38.Qg8+ Kf5 39.Qf8+ Kxe5 40.Qe7+ Kd5 41.c4+ Kd4 42.Qxe4+ Qxe4 43.fxe4 Kxe4 44.Kh2 and an elementary K+P endgame win. 33…Qxf6 34.exf6+ Kxf6 Luckily, White has two connected kingside passers – if it were just one, then winning this wouldn’t have been easy. 35.Rd1 b5 36.g3 Na4 37.Rd2 a5 38.Kf2 Nb6 In such hopeless endings, your best hope is to try and liquidate as many pawns as you can, and then try and find a way with the king and knights to blockade the passed pawns/find a fortress. And while 38…b4 was probably the best starting point to go about this, Smeets tries to do this a slower way. 39.b3 a4 40.Ke2 Nc5 41.b4 Ne6 42.f4 a3 43.Kf3 Na4 44.Rc2! c6 45.g4 The pawns are running, and with it, the game should really be over soon – but hey, this is chess, and it is never over till the fat lady sings! 45…Nc7 46.Ke4?! Oops.  The simple wins was 46.c4! and Black’s queenside pawns look set to fall – but with the move played, it is far from clear there’s an easy win now. 46…Nd5! 47.g5+ Kg6 48.Ke5 Naxc3 The obvious move, but Smeets could have given Antón a little something to think about with 48…Nb2! 49.Ke6 Nd3 50.f5+ Kxg5 51.Rg2+ Kh6 52.Rg1 N3f4+ 53.Ke5 (White has to be careful and not fall down the rabbit hole of 53.Kd6? Ne2! 54.Rg6+ Kh5 55.Ke5 Nexc3 56.Rxc6 Nxa2 and we could be in the topography of draw country.) 53…Nd3+ 54.Ke4 Nf2+ 55.Kd4 Nf4 56.Rg8! with the idea of swinging over to a8 to pick-off the a3-pawn. White should still be winning, but it just goes to show you how tricky such endings can be, and you should never give up hope. 49.Rc1? [see diagram] Antón begins to drift at the critical moment. Again, White has to be brave and start pushing the pawns further up the board. After 49.f5+! Kxg5 50.Rg2+ cuts the king off on the h-file, and now f6 will win with ease. 49…Kg7?? The ending is getting a bit ‘complicated’, and it is not so easy to calculate all the nuances going on here – but the all-seeing engine sees all! After the immediate capture of the pawn with 49…Nxa2! 50.Rxc6+ Kh5! where again, it is not so easy to win this, as 51.Rh6+ Kg4 52.Rh1 (If 52.g6 Ne7! 53.g7 Nxb4 and all bets could be off as to just who is winning now!) 52…Naxb4 53.Rg1+ Kh5 54.g6 Ne7 55.g7 a2 56.Ke6 Nbd5 and again, things are not so easy for White to convert the win, with the best try looking to be 57.Ra1 but after 57…Kg6! 58.g8Q+ Nxg8 59.Kxd5 Kf5 60.Rxa2 Nf6+ the Namilov Tablebases kick-in to tell you that this is just a draw. 50.f5 The pawns are on the move again, so now White is winning once again. 50…Nxa2 51.Ra1 Naxb4 52.Rxa3 Nc7 53.f6+ Kg6 54.Rf3 Nba6 55.f7 Nc5 56.Rf6+ Kxg5 57.Rd6 N7e6 58.Rxe6 Nd7+ 59.Kd6 1-0


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