by IM David Martinez
The Christmas holiday is over and with it the parties, family reunions and days of vacation… When I go out on my street in the Prosperidad neighbourhood of Madrid people talk about the cold, how bad you feel after eating so much and the notorious January struggle ahead. After only a week how many New Year’s resolutions have we all already broken?
However, despite such discomfort there are two groups who are very happy at this time of year:
Those who hate family reunions. The relaxation of knowing you no longer have to see that unbearable cousin or grumpy mother-in-law is priceless.
Fans of top-level chess. After a tough Christmas we see the return of the very best players in one of those tournaments that never disappoints.
The 77th edition of Tata Steel Chess is about to
begin. It’s also known simply as Wijk aan Zee, for the small town where it
takes place, although this year there are also going to be rounds played in
Rotterdam and The Hague.
From the 10-25 January we get to enjoy a tournament that’s always not only strong, but special. Let’s take a look at some of the things that make Tata Steel 2015 unmissable.
First the line-up of the top Masters event:
Tata Steel maintains a format that’s now unique in the world, at least for elite chess. 14 players compete in no less than 13 rounds, giving us 7 games every day, and obviously enhancing the spectacle compared to the more limited closed tournaments we’ve become accustomed to.
Carlsen had a good 2014, maintaining his world no. 1 spot with ease, defending
his World Championship title against Anand and adding the Rapid and Blitz World
Championship titles for good measure in Dubai… However, Caruana’s sensational
7/7 against Caruana in the Sinquefield Cup and the Italian-American’s high-water
mark of 2844 on the rating list led many to question the absolute supremacy of
Magnus. They haven’t met since St. Louis, where Caruana won their mini-match
1.5:0.5, and if there’s one game that will have special importance for Magnus
in Tata Steel it’s going to be his encounter with the world no. 2 Fabiano
Among the top six rated players in the starting line-up five are under 25 years old. Apart from the world numbers 1 and 2 it’ll be especially interesting to see how the “young guns” are developing.
Anish Giri, the Dutch no. 1, is still only 20 but is now rated 2784 after climbing 50 points in 2014. In 2015 he’ll be aiming to take that last step into the select group of 2800+ players. Will he manage?
21-year-old Wesley So is still an almost new face in top-level tournaments. He had a decent performance in Wijk aan Zee last year (6/11) but thanks to his magnificent 2014 he’s gone from being one of the also-rans to one of the favourites. Will he be capable of fighting for first place in this company?
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has attracted less publicity than his contemporaries,
but he didn’t exactly have a bad 2014, breaking into the Top 10 and maintaining
a rating north of 2750. When Maxime plays a tournament you should always be on
the lookout for his openings, since in my opinion he’s one of the most creative
and deep analysts and always brings something new to the table. If I had to draw
up a list of highlights of 2014 one of them would be his
beautiful game against Carlsen in the first round of the Sinquefield Cup.
It was “only” a draw, but what a draw!
There are players who, besides being immensely strong, have turned into crowd favourites for the way they approach their games: displaying creativity and a willingness to take risks. Tata Steel Chess has seldom let us down when it comes to inviting such characters, and two stand out this year.
Baadur Jobava relishes life and manages to express that on the board. He guarantees original openings, risk-taking when others would look to equalise and a battle in every game. If I was organising an elite tournament I’d also invite Baadur!
45-year-old Vassily Ivanchuk has struggled over the last year. His 2714 rating puts him at no. 33 in the world, far from the top ten heights he’s inhabited for the last two decades. Although some might be inclined to write, perhaps with some justification, about the decline of Ivanchuk, I won’t be one of them. I still believe that like his contemporary Vishy Anand the Ukrainian grandmaster has a lot to offer with his vast repertoire and deep knowledge of chess. Vassily ended 2014 on a positive note at the World Mind Games in Beijing, and although that was only speed chess I think it may have been a sign of a return to his best. His biggest rival, as for almost the whole of his career, will be himself – his nerves and time trouble issues… but isn’t that also part of the show?
With Judit Polgar retiring it’s great to see that Hou Yifan has begun to take over her mantle, and in fine fashion! The 20-year-old Women’s World Champion combines the world of the board with studying International Relations. Nevertheless, her 2014 was magnificent – she picked up 44 rating points, dominated the Women’s FIDE Grand Prix series and only slipped up once – a decisive loss to Kateryna Lagno in the Olympiad, which allowed the Russian team to win that match. Hou Yifan already appeared in Wijk aan Zee in 2013, when she notched up three wins for a decent showing, and had the chance to play in another elite round-robin in July 2014. She should have good memories of that, and picked up 14 Elo points in the process.
Hou Yifan’s weak point, at least in comparison to very strong opposition, is the opening, where she doesn’t demonstrate the same depth of ideas as her rivals and, as in the case of the Lagno game mentioned above, she can suffer setbacks. Nevertheless, the World Champion has all the tools to play a great tournament and is liable to pull off a surprise or two since if there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that she’s not afraid of anyone.
of the charm of Tata Steel is that as well as featuring hundreds of amateur
players it also has a second elite group – the Challenger Tournament – from
which the winner qualifies for the top event in the following year. The
organisers have once again demonstrated fine taste in selecting the line-up, which includes another top woman - Russian Champion Valentina Gunina.
15-year-old Wei Yi is currently China’s great hope. His statistics leave no doubt about his potential, since brushing 2700 at his age is something only a select few have managed. The tournament looks perfectly set up for him, since on numerous occasions he’s demonstrated an ability to score heavily against opponents rated 2550-2650, where the majority of his rivals in the event can be found. Alongside the unpredictable Czech no. 1 David Navara, I consider Wei Yi a big favourite for the tournament.
14-year-old Samuel Sevian gained the grandmaster title at the age of 13 and is the newest US rising star. It’s not just his strength, though – Sevian has a spectacular style more reminiscent of the great players of the past like Mikhail Tal than 21st-century chess. We’ll have to see how he adapts that to the precise defence of stronger opposition, but for now let’s just enjoy some games that are destined to be obligatory viewing for lovers of complications!
To encourage you to follow him here’s the video that made him famous, back in 2010. He upset International Master Greg Shahade in an enjoyable blitz game that has since passed one million views!
fact that this is the 77th edition tells you almost all you need to know about
the legendary history of the event. It’s long since stood out for the fact that
while inevitably not as “strong” as an event with fewer players it allows
fighting spirit, creativity and beauty to come to the fore. As we’ve mentioned
more than once, the organisers have again done everything they can to encourage
that tradition to continue.
It was in Wijk aan Zee 16 years ago, in 1999, that Garry Kasparov managed to produce one of the most beautiful games in chess history against Veselin Topalov. His double rook sacrifice 24.Rxd4! cxd4 25.Re7!! won the unanimous applause of the chess world.
Of course one of the other charms of the North Sea coast in January is the weather
Some early photos suggest it might not only be the wind the players have to contend with:
It perhaps says something about his 2014 that we’ve
managed to get this far without mentioning the once perennial world no. 2 and runaway
winner of Tata Steel in 2013, Levon Aronian. He clearly stocked up on sunshine
over the break, though, so perhaps he’s ready to make a
chess24 is the official broadcast partner of Tata Steel Chess 2015 and the best way to watch the event will be with our broadcast tool here at chess24 and embedded on the official website. You’re no doubt very familiar with it by now, but have you discovered all the features? Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent provide a whirlwind tour:
chess24’s Macauley Peterson will be producing the show in Wijk with Yasser Seirawan heading up the commentary team (see the full commentary schedule here). We’ll of course also be covering the tournament here in the news section. The curious may be interested in our articles from last-year’s event (revealed using our nifty search function always available at the top of the screen) – it’s unlikely you’ve seen them, since we were only testing out the system before our launch in February 2015!
Today sees the start of the amateur events and the official opening ceremony, while Round 1 of the Masters and Challengers gets underway at 14:00 CET on Saturday. We already know the Challenger pairings:
Let the party begin!
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