What makes the recent Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Dutch hamlet of Wijk aan Zee stand out, is that it is not just one single super-tournament for the elites. In safer, pre-Covid times, there would be a whole raft of other events taking place, going right down to sections for club players and juniors – and this is what generates the special atmosphere created inside the normally crowded De Moriaan Sports Center.
There’s very few venues where wannabe teenage world title aspirants, grandmasters, amateurs and chess enthusiasts can all play under the same roof as Magnus Carlsen & Co. But due to an emergency Covid lockdown in the Netherlands through mid-December to mid-January, rather than a veritable smorgasbord of tournaments, this year it only featured two, the Masters and Challengers, with all the other events having to be cancelled, and the children’s tournament taking place online.
And while all eyes were firmly fixed on the Masters, the Challengers – ‘and, in safer times, also the ‘C’ tournament – has traditionally become a showcase for tomorrow’s stars; and vitally important for those rising stars, as Tata Steel Chess is built on a true egalitarian spirit, with the winner(s) promoted into the next event up. The most famous teenagers to have risen through the ranks, as it were, into the Masters has been Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin.
And while Carlsen dominated in the Masters, the Indian teenage Grandmaster Arjun Erigaisi equally dominated in the Challengers, as the 18-year-old ruthlessly cut up the field en route to a famous victory. Erigaisi won with a round to spare and a remarkable score of 10½/13, two-points clear of his nearest rivals, to finish with a TPR of 2804 (better than all but the top three in the marquee event), and he now claims his golden ticket into next year’s Tata Steel Masters. And with the rating spike, he also climbs 49 places to enter the world’s Top-100 club for the first time in his career.
Tata Steel Challengers final standings:
1. GM A. Erigaisi (India) 10½/13; 2-3. GM T. Nguyen (Czech Rep.), GM J. Bjerre (Denmark) 8½; 4-5. GM R. Jumabayev (Kazakhstan), E. L’Ami (Netherlands) 7½; 6-7. L. van Foreest (Netherlands), IM V. Murzin (Russia) 7; 8. GM M. Warmerdam (Netherlands) 6½; 9. GM S. Ganguly (India) 6; 10. GM D. Dardha (Belgium) 5½; 11-12. IM P. Shuvalova (Russia), GM M. Maurizzi (France) 4½; 13. IM R. Vogel (Germany) 4; 14. WGM Zhu Jiner (China) 3½.
Photo: Scaling new heights, Arjun Erigaisi returns next year to the Masters | © Lennart Ootes/Tata Steel Chess
GM Arjun Erigaisi – GM Surya Ganguly
Tata Steel Challengers, (6)
Giuoco Piano. Modern Two Knights
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 It’s a little more like the venerable Max Lange Attack – named after the 19th-century German analyst, Max Lange – that has largely fallen out of fashion in contemporary master praxis – but here, with a a more modern twist, as we’ll soon see. 6…d5 7.Bb5 Sensibly transposing into the Two Knights Modern, as the interpolation of c3 rather than 0-0 sees the double-edged and tricky Max Lange approach with 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7 Rg8 favouring Black. 7…Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Be3 f6 Diverging from 10…Bg4 as seen in So-Carlsen in last year’s Opera Euro Rapid on the Champions Tour, that saw Black achieve more than full equality, though Carlsen inexplicable and very spectacularly collapsing. 11.exf6 Also a good alternative was 11.Qb3!? Nxc3 12.Bxc6 bxc6 13.Qxc3. 11…Nxc3 12.bxc3 Qxf6 13.0-0 Bg4 14.Be2 Bxf3 15.Bxf3 Rad8 There’s really not much in the game here – but crucially, the big difference proves to be how Erigaisi’s superbly mobilises his bishop-pair. 16.Be2 Na5 17.a4 c6 18.Bd3 Bc7 On reflection, better might well have been 18…Qh4 just to stop Erigaisi’s queen coming into the attack. 19.Qg4! This is where the game starts to dramatically swing Erigaisi’s way. 19…Rde8 20.Rae1 Bd8 That’s quite a concession now to have to make, retreating the bishop to d8, just to play …Qh4 in an attempt to trade/remove the White queen from the attack. 21.g3 Qf3 22.Qh3! Keeping the queens on only highlights Black’s problems on the kingside. 22…g6 23.Be2! Damage done by eliciting the weakening …g6, the bishop now heads to pastures new to further exploit the chronic white-square weakness in the Black camp. 23…Qf5 It only helps White to play a move he wants to play anyway, but no better was 23…Qe4?! 24.Bh6 Rf7 25.Bd2! Rfe7 26.Bg4 Qxe1 27.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 28.Bxe1 Rxe1+ 29.Kg2 and, with Bc8 and Qd7 coming, Black will have no chance to regroup his pieces. 24.Bg4 Qf6 25.Bf4 h5 26.Bd7 Rxe1 27.Rxe1 Kh7 28.Re6! [see diagram] It’s a pile-on now, as Erigaisi takes full control with his opponent’s pieces randomly scattered, lacking mobility and co-ordination to defend against the coming onslaught. 28…Qf7 29.Rd6! There’s no stopping Be6 and Rd7(+) winning now. 29…Qe7 30.Be6 Rxf4 Pure desperation, but then again, what else is there now anyway? 31.Rd7 Rf6 32.Rxe7+ Bxe7 33.Bc8! Threatening Qd7, which to defend against, Black has to further tie up his pieces. 33…Rd6 34.g4! With Ganguly all at sea, Erigaisi comes in for the cold kill by smashing his way through to the Black king. 34…Nc4 35.gxh5 gxh5 36.Be6! Just cutting the rook off from defending the Black king, which is now caught wandering dazed and confused in no-man’s land. 36…Kg7 37.f4 Nd2 38.f5 Rxe6 A clear admission that Ganguly is going to immediately resign after he makes the time control. 39.fxe6 Ne4 40.Qxh5 Ng5 41.Qe8 Kf6 42.Qd7 1-0