The Dutch Spirit Endures - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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As the world more or less collectively hunkers down through the global pandemic to save lives, there has been some surprises that have come out of lockdown – none more so than in chess, as the venerable ancient game has had a remarkable renaissance with major online events, such as the now newly-titled Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

Hard to imagine how much in less than a year the game has dramatically raised its profile while other cultural and sporting events are fighting for their very survival. This time last year, we were getting ready for the first major of the year, the traditional Tata Steel Masters, held in the tiny Dutch North Sea hamlet of Wijk aan Zee – how little were to realise that due to the coronavirus crisis, that this was to prove to be one of the very few elite-level super-tournaments held in 2020.

A new year always brings new hope with a vaccine, and for 2021, as we all collectively begin to emerge from our Covid-imposed hibernation, chess-wise, Wijk aan Zee once again leads the way, being only the second classical super-tournament to be held during the pandemic. A scaled-back 83rd Tata Steel Masters gets underway on Saturday, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen making his 17th appearance in the tournament he made his big international breakthrough in back in 2004.

The Norwegian ace heads the field that also includes three other top 10 players: Defending champion Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France). The rest of the 14-player all-play-all includes: Anish Giri (Netherlands), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Daniil Dubov (Russia), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland), David Anton (Spain), Andrey Esipenko (Russia), Joden Van Foreest (Netherlands), Nils Grandelius (Sweden) and Aryan Tari (Norway).

The Tata Steel Masters is only taking place due to a thorough consultation with the Dutch Chess Association, NOC*NSF (Dutch Olympic Committee/Dutch Sports Federation) and the regional and local governments (including Veiligheidsregio Kennemerland – the regional health and safety authority).

The atmosphere inside the De Moriaan sports arena however will be very different this year due to the high-standard of antivirus safeguards in place. There will be no other tournaments taking place, no massed throng of visiting spectators, and inside the crowd-less De Moriaan, a special bubble-like set-up with screens separating the arena in which the grandmasters will play.

The Tata Steel Masters runs 15-31 January, with the first round getting underway on Saturday, 16 Jan., with all rounds starting at 14:00 CET (09:00 ET | 06:00 PT). Rest days are scheduled for 20, 25 & 28 Jan., and there’s a full list of top commentators for the live coverage throughout on the official Tata Steel site.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Nikita Vitiugov
Tata Steel Masters, 2020
Ruy Lopez, Martinez variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 The modest but solid ‘Martinez Variation’ has the advantage of cutting off most of the opening theory associated with the Lopez – so no need to worry about the Marshall Attack, Chigorin, Zaitsev or the Breyer. 6…b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.Bd2 0-0 9.h3 h6 10.Re1 Re8 11.a3 Bf8 12.Nc3 Rb8 13.Ba2 Ne7 14.Nh4 Both sides begin the process of probing for knight outpost – for White, the critical squares are f5 and g4, for Black its f4. 14…g5 15.Nf3 Ng6 16.Nh2 c6 17.Ne2 d5 18.Ng3 dxe4 19.dxe4 Rb7 20.Qf3 Nf4 21.Rad1 Rd7 22.Be3 Rxd1 23.Rxd1 Qe7 24.Ng4 Nxg4 25.hxg4 Rd8 26.Re1 c5 27.Nf5 Qc7 Not an easy position to find yourself defending against the World Champion. Immediately trading the strong knight had consequences, with 27…Bxf5 28.exf5 Qf6 29.g3 Ng6 30.Qb7! and suddenly Black’s position looks vulnerable. 28.g3 As we will soon see, this is a clever move not just designed to kick the knight from its outpost. 28…Ne6? Vitiugov missed a vital move that would have kept him in the game – and now he pays for it. After 28…Be6! 29.Bb1 (If 29.gxf4 exf4! 30.Bxe6 fxe6 31.Bc1 exf5 32.exf5 Qd7! Black has equality.) 29…Ng6 30.Qh1 Bxf5 31.exf5 Ne7 32.c4! Qc6 33.Be4 Qd6 White is clearly better, but Black is far from dead here. 29.Qh1! [see diagram] Pure genius from Magnus! It is said in chess that one of the most difficult winning moves to spot is a retreating queen move – and more so here, as the queen retreat all the way back to h1! But it comes with major threats now to h6 that can’t be easily answered. 29…f6 Carlsen is probing many weaknesses now. If Black tries 29…Nd4 30.Nxh6+ Bxh6 31.Bxd4! he’s forced into the compromising position of having to follow up with 31…Kg7 32.Be3 Bxg4 33.f3 Bc8 34.Bd5 Rd6 35.Qh5 Rg6 36.Kf2 with g4 followed by Rd1 or Rh1 with a big bind on the position. The second point is that 29…Kh7 30.Bxe6 fxe6 31.Nxh6!! is crashing through to win. 30.Bd5 1-0 The resignation is arguably premature, to say the least – but White has a big advantage now, though Black can try and hang on with 30…Qh7, but after the second retreating move of 31.Bd2!, suddenly tBa5 puts the Black rook in a quandary about where to go. And if 31…Bd7 32.Ba5 Rb8 33.b4  Black is beginning to run out of sensible moves to make.

 

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