World Chess’s columnist explains how Gawain Jones won the Challengers section at the elite tournament with some timely victories against top rivals.

Gawain Jones of England punched his ticket to the Masters section of next year’s Tata Steel Chess Tournament with a narrow victory in the Challengers section last Sunday. He edged out Markus Ragger of Austria, the top seed, on tiebreaks as both scored nine points.

Jeffery Xiong of the United States, who led after 11 rounds, but lost in Round 12 to allow Jones and Ragger to leapfrog him, finished in third with 8.5 points.

Jones’s margin over Ragger was partly built on his victory in their face-to-face meeting in Round 6. Had Ragger not lost, it was unlikely that anyone would have caught him. In the game, Jones, who had White, used a subtle idea in the Scotch that gave him good long-term pressure for a pawn. He then went on to win a nice rook-and-minor piece endgame.

Jones, Gawain C B vs. Ragger, Markus
79th Tata Steel GpB | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 6.2 | 20 Jan 2017 | ECO: C45 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6
4... Bc5 is the other main branch, while  )
4... Bb4+ is an interesting third way that's growing in popularity. The point is to take c3 away from White's knight, as only
5. c3 offers White prospects for an edge.  )
5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Nb6
8... Ba6 is an equally important variation that has also been played many thousands of times.  )
9. Nc3 Ba6
9... Qe6 is the main move, making room for the bishop's development.  )
10. b3
10. Qe4 is another option.  )
10... O-O-O 11. Bb2 Re8 12. f4 f6 13. O-O-O fxe5 14. fxe5 Qxe5 15. Qxe5 Rxe5 There aren't a huge number of games to reach this position, but many of them have involved grandmasters, including several featuring super-grandmasters on both sides of the board. White is down a pawn, but for the moment Black's minor pieces on the queenside are out of the action. That gives White time to create some counterplay, and in previous games White has used that time to central and develop with Bd3, Ne4 and Rhf1. Jones chooses instead a near-novelty, a move that had been played only once before and not at the GM level.
16. a4
16. Bd3 Re3 17. a4 Nd5 18. Rhf1 Nb4 19. Bf5 Bd6 20. Kd2 Rhe8 21. Bxh7 Bxh2 22. Bg6 R8e7 23. Rf8+ Kb7 24. Rh1 Bg3 25. Ba3 c5 26. Bxb4 cxb4 27. Nd5 Re2+ 28. Kd3 R7e5 29. Rhh8 Be1 30. Rb8+ Kc6 31. Kd4 Rxd5+ 32. cxd5+ Kd6 33. Rb5 Bc3+ 34. Kd3 Rxg2 35. Be4 Bxb5+ 36. axb5 Rg3+ 37. Ke2 Bd4 38. Bf3 g5 39. Rh6+ Ke5 40. d6 cxd6 41. Rh8 Bc5 42. Re8+ Kd4 43. Re3 Rh3 44. Rd3+ Ke5 45. Bg4 Rh2+ 46. Ke1 Kf4 47. Bxd7 g4 48. Bc6 g3 49. Rd2 Ke3 50. Bg2 Bd4 51. Re2+ Kd3 52. Kf1 Rxg2 0-1 (52) Nepomniachtchi,I (2720)-Eljanov,P (2718) Havana 2015  )
16... d6
16... Rg5 17. g3 Bb4 18. Ne4 Rg6 19. Bh3 Rf8? 20. a5! Bxa5 21. Nc5 Bb7 22. Rhf1? Rxf1? 23. Rxf1 Kb8 24. Rf8+ Bc8 25. Nxd7+ Kb7 26. Nc5+ Kb8 27. Bf5 1-0 (27) Malinarski, Y (2180)-Van der Veen,J (2118) Hoogeveen 2003  )
16... d5? is the move Black would like to play, aiming to liberate his minor pieces, but it's a simple mistake here due to
17. Nxd5  )
17. g3 Re8 Safeguarding the rook is desirable, but the loss of time helps White build his initiative.
17... Be7 was better.
18. Bg2 Bg5+ 19. Kc2 Rhe8 20. Bxc6 Nd7 White has regained his pawn, but Black is fully mobilized, or will be after playing ...Bb7 in the very near future.  )
18. Bh3+ Nd7
18... Kd8 also makes sense, aiming to bring the bishop back into the game with ...Bc8. White keeps an edge with
19. Bg2! Bb7 20. Ne4 Kc8! Sidestepping Nc5, which was the point of White's starting with 18.Bh3+ rather than the immediate 18.Bg2.
21. a5 Nd7 22. Rhe1 c5 23. Kc2 White retains an initiative that more than compensates for the pawn.  )
19. Rhe1
19. Kc2 Kd8! 20. Rhe1 Rxe1 21. Rxe1 Bc8 22. Ne4 keeps enough compensation for the pawn, but Black is holding.  )
19... Rxe1 20. Rxe1 Kd8 21. Ne2!? A nice idea. Instead of heading for e4, as in many of the lines above (including the games with 16.Bd3), Jones directs the knight to a new set of squares: d4 or f4, and from there squares like c6, e6, f5, and h5 are all possible destinations.
21. Ne4 h6 22. Kc2 Bc8 is also possible; as usual, White has enough for the pawn, but at least objectively nothing more.  )
21... Ne5 Offering to return the pawn to break the bind and finally develop the kingside.
21... Nc5! 22. Kc2 Bc8 23. Bxc8 Kxc8 24. Nf4 Kd7 keeps Black in good health. From here Black would like to play ...Rg8 and ...Be7, finishing his development and breaking the bind while holding on to the extra pawn.  )
22. Nf4 Bc8 23. Bxc8 Kxc8 24. Bxe5 dxe5 25. Nd3!
25. Rxe5 g6 and next ...Bd6 gives Black equality, despite the ugly-looking queenside pawns.  )
25... Bd6
25... g6! 26. Nxe5 Bb4 27. Re2 Alternatively,
...  Re8 28. Kd1 Rd8+ 29. Kc2 Re8 30. Kd3 Rd8+ 31. Ke4 Kb7 The point of Black's checks is that his rook may soon invade.  )
26. b4! A very good and very instructive move. White is not anxious to regain his pawn; it is more important for him to maintain as much of a grip on the position as he can.
26... Rf8
26... Re8! 27. c5 Ironically, Black's best is
27... Be7! , leaving the pawn completely unprotected and allowing White to pin the bishop. All the same: after
28. Rxe5 a6 29. Kc2 Kd7 Black plays ...Bf6 next and is completely fine.  )
27. Kc2 a6 28. Re2 Rf1?! Oddly, activating the rook is inaccurate, while putting it on the passive e8 square was best. Rules of thumb have exceptions, and in this case it's due to a critical tactical point.
28... Re8!  )
29. c5 Be7 30. Nxe5 Bf6 Black's misfortune is that
30... Kb7? walks into
31. Nc4! , threatening not only the obvious 32.Rxe7 but 32.Na5+ followed by Nxc6. In conjunction with White's rook going to the 8th rank, if possible, Black's king may end up in a mating net. The following (slightly cooperative) line is illustrative:
31... Bf6 32. Re8! Ra1 33. Na5+ Ka7 34. Nxc6+ Kb7 35. b5 axb5 36. axb5 Ra8 Else Rb8#, but
37. Rxa8 Kxa8 38. Kd3 is completely winning for White.  )
31. Nxc6 Ra1?!
31... Rf3 was better, keeping White's cut off.  )
32. Kb3 Rb1+?
32... Rd1 33. Ne5?! Rd5!  )
33. Kc4 Ra1 Here further checks help White:
33... Rc1+ 34. Kd5 Rd1+ 35. Ke6  )
33... Rd1 doesn't help either - compare this to 32...Rd1.
34. Ne5  )
34. Na5
34. Kd5! Rxa4 35. Re8+ Kd7 36. Ra8! followed by Nb8+ and Nxa6, winning.  )
34... Rxa4 35. g4? A big mistake that could have resulted in Ragger's qualifying for next year's Masters Group instead.
35. c6! was correct, threatening Re8+ followed by Nb7. After
35... Kb8 36. Re8+ Ka7 37. Rc8 Be5 38. Kd5 Bd6 39. Nc4 Rxb4 40. Nxd6 cxd6 41. c7 wins right away.  )
35... h6?
35... Ra1! 36. Kd5 Rg1 37. h3 Bc3! 38. Kc4 Re1 is equal, though Black may still have a modicum of suffering yet to endure.  )
36. Nb3?
36. Re6  )
36... Kd7?? Time trouble has probably been rearing its ugly head, and after a couple of errors back and forth White gets back on track.
36... Ra3!  )
37. c6+! Very nice. White achieves the setup he could have had on move 35, and once he reaches move 40 working out the last details will be a snap.
37... Kc8
37... Kxc6 38. Re6+ Kd7 39. Nc5+ is the simplest line, winning the rook outright.  )
37... Kd6 38. Nc5 also wins on the spot, threatening both Nxa4 and Re6#.  )
37... Kd8 doesn't help either:
38. Nc5 , and if Black preserves the rook it's mate in three.
38... Ra3 Threatening mate, but White comes first.
39. Nb7+ Kc8 40. Re8+ Bd8 41. Rxd8#  )
38. Nc5
38. Re8+ Bd8 39. Na5 was the most precise way, but Jones's method is good enough.  )
38... Ra1 39. Re8+ Bd8 40. Ne6 Rd1 41. h4 Pushing the pawns as far as they can safely go, in anticipation of the coming pure rook ending.
41... g6 42. Kb3 Rd2 43. Rg8 h5 44. g5 Rd6 Time to cash in.
45. Nxd8 Rxd8 46. Rxg6 Some rook endings are drawn, but not this one. Black's king is hopelessly passive, and eliminating its back rank vulnerability costs time while making it even more passive.
46... Kb8 47. Rh6 Ka7 48. Rxh5 Rd3+ 49. Kc4 Rg3 50. Kc5

Another key victory for Jones was against Vladimir Dobrov of Russia in the penultimate round. As in the previous game, Jones found an interesting and unobvious new idea in the opening – this time a 2.c3 Sicilian – and was rewarded with an overwhelming advantage in the middlegame. An error by Jones gave Dobrov a chance to survive, but Dobrov was outcalculated in the complications, allowing Jones to win in style.

Jones, Gawain C B vs. Dobrov, Vladimir
79th Tata Steel GpB | Wijk aan Zee NED | Round 12.1 | 28 Jan 2017 | ECO: B40 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. c3 d5 4. exd5 Qxd5 5. d4 Nf6 6. Na3 Nc6 7. Be3 cxd4 8. Nb5 Qd8 9. Nbxd4 Nd5 10. Nxc6 bxc6 11. Bd4 f6 12. Bc4 Bd6 13. Nd2
13. O-O O-O and here White has tried various moves, but never Nd2.  )
13... e5 Black was better served by first taking care of his king's safety.
13... O-O 14. Ne4 Kh8 15. Qa4 Be7 16. Qxc6?! Bd7 17. Qa6 Nb4! 18. cxb4 Bc8 19. Qc6 Qxd4! 20. Nc3 Qe5+  )
14. Qa4! A nice zwischenzug Dobrov may have overlooked.
14... Bd7
14... exd4?? 15. Qxc6+  )
15. Ne4! A second zwischenzug, fighting for the c5 square.
15... Qb8
15... Qe7 16. Be3 Nxe3 17. fxe3 Bc5 looks like Black's best choice. White should simply ignore the threat to the e-pawn and put the initiative first:
18. Rd1! Bxe3 19. Nd6+ Kf8 20. Nf7! Rg8 21. Bb3! White threatens Qe4, forking e3 and h7, and Qc4 should likewise be taken seriously, threatening various discovered attacks on the rook on g8.  )
16. Be3!
16. Bc5! is also strong:
16... Bxc5 17. Nxc5 Qxb2 18. O-O Nb6 19. Qd1 Rd8 20. Qh5+! g6 21. Qh4 Nxc4 22. Nxd7 Kxd7 23. Qxc4 Ke7 24. Qc5+ Black's extra pawn matters less than his precarious king.  )
16... Nxe3 17. fxe3 Be7?
17... f5 is better, resolving the tension.
18. Nxd6+ Qxd6 19. Qa5! Rf8 20. Rd1 Qe7 21. O-O  )
18. O-O-O This sort of position was more likely to occur in games between strong 19th century players than in those of our day. White is almost completely mobilized while Black's king is caught in the center, his rooks are both out of play, and the remaining three pieces aren't doing their jobs very well either. White's immediate threat is Bf7+, and queen moves to c8 or b7 allow Nd6+. Black can't move the Bd7 because of Qxc6+, and if 18...Qc7 then 19.Qb3 is strong. Black decides therefore to allow Bf7+ under the best possible circumstances.
18... Qb6 19. Bf7+ Kxf7 20. Rxd7 Rhb8 Now Black is almost "castled", he has exchanged off one of his less active pieces for White's beautiful bishop, and threatens to grab not primarily the e-pawn but the b-pawn, which would do serious damage to White's cause. Only one move lets White keep a serious advantage here, and Jones finds it.
20... Qxe3+? 21. Kb1 Rhd8 22. Nd6+ Kf8 23. Qc4! is a nasty shot Black cannot allow.  )
21. Qc4+! Kf8 22. b4? It was better to play
22. b3 , even though it allows the possibility of . ..Ba3.
22... Qxe3+ 23. Kd1! White threatens Nd6 again, and if Black's queen gives up the defense of the c5 square, White can move the knight there with great effect. For example:
23... Qh6 To meet 24.Nd6 with 24...Qg6.
24. Nc5! Qh5+ 25. g4 Qf7 26. Ne6+ Kg8 27. Kc2 With a lethal bind, not to mention the threat of Nc7.  )
22... Qxe3+ 23. Kb1 The threat is Nd6, but Black has two very decent defenses to this.
23. Kd1 Qh6 24. Nc5 Qh5+ 25. g4 Qf7 26. Ne6+ Kg8 27. Qxc6 The difference between 22.b3 and 22.b4 can be seen here. After
...  Rc8 28. Qd5 Rab8 29. Kc2  )
23... Rb5? This loses outright. Black has seen White's first threat...
23... Qh6! 24. Nc5 Qg6+ 25. Ka1 Bxc5 26. Qxc5+ Kg8 27. Qxc6 h6  )
23... Qf4 isn't as good as 23...Qh6, but it's keeps the game going.
24. Qxc6 Qf5 25. Ka1 Rd8 26. Nc5 Kf7 27. g4! Qxg4 28. Qd5+ Kg6 29. Ne6 Rxd7 30. Qxd7 Qg2 31. Rc1  )
24. Nd6 Rd5 - but he has missed a second threat. Were it not for this second threat, White would be just about lost.
25. Rxe7! Rd8!? A nice try, again forcing White to find a little trick to keep his advantage.
25... Kxe7? 26. Nf5+ is one cruel point, and  )
25... Rxd6? 26. Qf7# is another.  )
26. Rf7+! Kg8 27. Rxg7+! As on e7, so too on g7: the rook is immune from capture due to Nf5+ winning the queen.
27... Kh8
27... Kf8 28. Rf7+ Kg8 29. Rxf6  )
28. Rg3! A final critical resource, after which all doubts are gone. White is up a piece, and any move that saves Black's queen will allow Nf7, mating. (Even if it weren't mate, it would leave White a full rook after Nxd8, which is itself easily sufficient for the win.)


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.