Only one game in the top section ended decisively. Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, managed an easy draw.
The annual Tata Steel Chess Tournament got off to a relatively slow start on Saturday as all but one of the games in the top section ended in draws. Only Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine managed to win, beating Richard Rapport of Hungary after a rather strange opening.
The Tata Steel tournament, which is held every year in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, and is named after the owner of the nearby steel factory, is in its 79th edition. It is not only one of the oldest tournaments in the world, it is also the longest as it features a field of 14 playing a round-robin, or 13 rounds.
The participants in this year’s top section include Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion; Sergey Karjakin of Russia, who Carlsen defeated late last year to retain the title; two other top players from Russia, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Dmitry Andreikin; Wesley So, a Filipino-born grandmaster who now plays for the United States (and with whom I won the team gold medal at last year’s Chess Olympiad); Levon Aronian of Armenia; Pentala Harikrishna and Adhiban Baskaran of India; Wei Yi of China; Radoslaw Wojtaszek of Poland; and Anish Giri and Loek van Wely, representing the host country.
Tata Steel Chess
Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So at the beginning of their game, which ended in a draw.
Carlsen had an interesting pairing in Round 1 as he faced So. So has been the second-best player in the world for some months now, winning the Sinquefield Cup and the London Classic en route to clinching last year’s Grand Chess Tour. I think that So may be the biggest threat to dethrone Carlsen in the future, but this time the World Champion had no problems holding a draw with the Black pieces.
So, Wesley vs. Carlsen, Magnus
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 1 |14 Jan 2017 |1/2-1/2
( 11... e6This is the more common move, after which Black is usually fine )
12. Bc3Not the most challenging choice.
( 12. Rc1 )
( 12. Be2This move and Rc1 looked like they would have given Black more problems. )
12... Qc713. Qxd5White restores material equality, but after 13... e614. Qc4Qxc415. Bxc4Rc8The position is symmetrical, dead even, and extremely boring. If there was no 30-move rule, I would expect the players to agree to a draw at this point. So Carlsen held a draw with Black rather easily against an opponent who might one-day challenge him for the crown. 16. Bb3Be717. Ke2Be418. Bxg7Rg819. Be5Rxg220. Rac1Rxc121. Rxc1Rg522. Bf4Rc523. Rxc5Bxc524. Bc4b525. Bd3Bxd3+26. Kxd3f527. f3Kd728. e4Kc629. h3h530. b3Bb631. Be5Bc532. Bf4Bb633. Be5
Anyone who reads my articles on World Chess knows how fascinated I am by Rapport as he always manages to create interesting and original positions. His Round 1 game was no exception, but Eljanov navigated the complications better.
Eljanov, Pavel vs. Rapport, Richard
Tata Steel Masters |Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands |Round 1 |14 Jan 2017 |1-0
15. Nd5An unusual opening lead to a bizarre and sharp middlegame. Rapport is the first to miss a chance. 15... d3?Releasing the tension and missing a great opportunity:
( 15... Ba6!16. Nxe7+Nxe717. Bxa8Qxa818. exd4Qc6!And Black would have an edge. )
16. Qxd3e417. Nxe7+Nxe718. Qc2!?
( 18. Qxd6There was nothing wrong with this move, but Eljanov clearly preferred to keep the position closed. 18... Qxd619. Rxd6Be520. Rd2!Be621. Bf1Rac822. Rc2Black would have some compensation for his material deficit, but probably not enough for equality. )
18... Ba6I don't like this move, but Black is probably a little worse no matter what he does.
( 18... Nc619. c5!?bxc520. Nxc5White has some pressure. )
19. Nd4!Qd720. b3Nc621. Bb2Black is left with a loosened kingside and backward d6 pawn and has no compensation for these weaknesses. 21... Ne522. Ne2!Well played. Eljanov unblocks the bishop on b2 and reroutes the knight to the f4 square, which is ideal for it. 22... Nd323. Bxg7Qxg724. Nd4Now that the bishop on b2 has been traded, Eljanov returns the knight to d4 because the situation has changed and the knight is more effective there than on f4. back. The idea is simple and strong. 24... Rae825. Rxd3!The exchange sacrifice is a relatively easy decision to make in this position. Black's pawns are weak, his bishop is awful and his rooks have no open lines. 25... exd326. Qxd3Bb7
( 26... Re527. Qc3And White would have a clear edge. )
27. Bxb7Qxb728. Ne2!Simple and elegant. The pawn on d6 is the target and Black has absolutely no counterplay. 28... Rf629. Nf4Qe430. Qd2White has no interest in trading queens at this point. 30... Rc831. a4!Playing patiently. White prevents any eventual possibility of b5 by Black. 31... Rc532. Rd1Qf333. Nd5Rf734. Qc2a6?A blunder but the position was hopeless anyway. Note how much better the knight on d5 is than either of Black's rooks. 35. Nxb6Black's edge is more than sufficient now.
( 35. Rd4This move was even better. The queen is trapped on f3 and will soon be lost after Rf4. )
35... Qe436. Qc3Qe537. Rd4a538. Qd3Rc639. Nd5Kg740. Nc3Rf641. Rd5Black is about to lose more pawns and still has no counterplay, so he throws in the towel.
( 15... g6!According to the engine, this was the only move that led to equality. The point is that after 16. Be4Bxe417. Rxe4Qd7!18. Ne5The knight on h5 is defended. This idea was very hard for a human to find. )
16. Ne5g617. Bb5!Black's pieces are seriously restricted in scope and the d-pawn is very dangerous. 17... Qc818. Qa4!a619. Bf1b520. Qh4Qd821. Rad1Things have gone very well for White in the last few moves and the positioning of his pieces has improved significantly. 21... Kg7
( 21... Nd5The engine offers this move, but after 22. Qh6!Qxd623. Rd3!The position is extremely dangerous for Black. White threatens Rh3, so the only way to try to survive is 23... Qc724. Rh3f5!25. c4!Even if Black makes it this far, he is still under a great deal of pressure. ...bxc426. Bxc4 )
( 27. Rb1!This move was simple and strong. The pawn on b3 will be captured, after which White's advantage would be overwhelming. )
27... Nf428. Bc6Bxc629. Nxc6Qxd430. Nxd4b2Now Black has some counterplay. 31. g3e5!32. Nb5
( 32. Rxe5?Ra133. Ree1Rfa8!And Black would be winning. )
( 32. gxf4exd433. Rxd4Rfb834. Rb1Ra135. Rdd1Rxb136. Rxb1Kf6White has to play precisely to hold on. )
32... Ne633. Rb1
( 33. Rxe5Ra134. Ree1Rfa8Black's b-pawn once again gives him enough counterplay. )
33... Rfc8!?This forces exchanges that will end in an endgame that is unpleasant for Black, but should end in a draw with precise play.
( 33... Nc5!This saves the pawn on b2 and keeps the tension in the position. The engine evaluates the chances as equal. )
34. Rxb2Rxc435. Rxe5Ra1+36. Kg2Rd1White's extra pawn is firmly under control, and endgames with rooks are often drawn. Adhiban managed to get some pressure but was unable to break through in the rest of the game. 37. h4h538. Ree2Rc539. Rec2Re540. Nc7Ree141. Rd2Nd842. Nd5Nc643. Ne3Rg1+44. Kf3Rxd245. Rxd2Kf646. Nd5+Ke647. Nf4+Kd748. Nd3Nd849. Nc5+Kc650. Ne4Kd751. Nc5+Kc652. Ne4Kd753. Ra2Nc654. Rb2f555. Rb7+Ke656. Ng5+Kxd657. Kf4Rf158. Nf7+Ke659. Ng5+Kd660. Nf7+Ke661. Ng5+Kd6
In Round 2 on Sunday, I have a funny feeling that the all-Indian matchup between Harikrishna and Adhiban will be a fun one.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
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