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General Jan 12, 2022 | 3:24 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen hunts 8th title as Tata Steel Chess starts Saturday

Magnus Carlsen will be hunting a record 8th title in the Wijk aan Zee top group when the Tata Steel Masters starts at 14:00 CET on Saturday 15th January. 2020 winner Fabiano Caruana and local hero Anish Giri are likely to provide the toughest competition, as 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa makes his supertournament debut. Another Indian, 18-year-old Arjun Erigaisi, is perhaps the player to watch in the Challengers, while the dream team of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson will be back here on chess24!

The first two weeks of 2022 have been very quiet in chess terms, but as anyone who’s checked out the 2022 Chess Calendar will have seen, there are no breaks in sight for the rest of the year! Here’s all you need to know about the 84th edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.   

When does Tata Steel Chess start?

The action kicks off at 14:00 CET (8:00 ET, 18:30 IST) on Saturday 15th January, with the Opening Ceremony and drawing of lots taking place on Friday. There are three rest days, on the 19th, 24th and 27th January.  

Where can I watch Tata Steel Chess? 

We’ll have all the action right here on chess24! Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

Best of all, we have Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson back for live commentary. They last covered Wijk together in 2020, when Peter memorably got things rolling with a story about a real-life Komodo dragon. 

What’s the format?

After the pandemic prevented the Challengers being held in 2021, we’re back to having both the Masters and Challengers as 14-player all-play-all events in 2022. The time control is the longest in chess — each player has 100 minutes for 40 moves, then 50 minutes for 20, then 15 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment added after each move. 

There’s one change this year, however, with new regulations stating that however many players tie for first all of them will get the chance to play for the title. That follows Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja all tying for 1st but missing out on the chance to play for medals in the World Rapid and Blitz Championship in Warsaw. 

More pertinently, perhaps, Firouzja also found himself in a similar position in the 2021 Tata Steel Masters. While he was still playing his last-round game against Radek Wojtaszek and could tie for 1st place, it was already known that Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest would contest the playoff for the title, since Alireza had worse tiebreakers. The chain of events that followed left Firouzja furious

Firouzja's anger was soon echoed on social media

The new regulations set out playoff scenarios for two, three, four and 5+ players, and there’s a second twist since the organisers state, “We want to avoid flying pieces, as seen in several Armageddon games”. 

The new approach is that after a pair of normal blitz games (or more, depending on the number of players tied), they start playing single sudden-death blitz games. White has 2.5 minutes to Black’s 3 (to compensate for the advantage of moving first), and they keep playing such games until one side wins.

Who’s playing?

The 14-player fields in Wijk famously give the organisers the opportunity to invite a mixed field, and once again we’ve got a wide range in the Masters, from four Top 10 stars to 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa.

NameFederationAgeRating (Nov 1, 2021)World rank
1Magnus CarlsenNorway3128651
2Fabiano CaruanaUSA2927924
3Anish GiriNetherlands2727727
4Shakhriyar MamedyarovAzerbaijan3627679
5Richard RapportHungary25276311
6Jan-Krzysztof DudaPoland23276013
7Sergey KarjakinRussia32274318
8Vidit GujrathiIndia27272722
9Daniil DubovRussia25272024
10Andrey EsipenkoRussia19271426
11Sam ShanklandUSA30270829
12Jorden van ForeestNetherlands22270235
13Nils GrandeliusSweden28267268

The Challengers is even more diverse, including 14-year-old Marc Maurizzi, 15-year-old Volodar Murzin, 16-year-old Daniel Dardha, 17-year-old Jonas Bjerre, 19-year-old Zhu Jiner and 20-year-old Polina Shuvalova, while the top seed, by a whisker, is 18-year-old Arjun Erigaisi.  

There are lots more questions we could ask about the fields. 

Where is Alireza Firouzja?

18-year-old Alireza Firouzja starts 2022 as the world no. 2, and it would have been wonderful to see him facing off against Magnus and co. in Wijk aan Zee after his near miss in 2021. It wasn’t to be, however. Alireza was invited, but Tournament Director Jeroen van den Berg revealed that they couldn't agree on money, with Alireza’s father asking for compensation for the way the 2021 event had ended

Ding Liren and Wesley So, who have both been reluctant or unable to travel during the pandemic, are among the other players missing, but we can hope to see both of them in action this February to April in the FIDE Grand Prix series.

Can Jorden van Foreest defend his title?

Jorden van Foreest, now 22 years old, was the Dutchman few would have predicted winning the title in 2021…

…but he managed to pull it off by winning four of his last eight games and then defeating Anish Giri in Armageddon in the tiebreak.

Defending the title would be an immense achievement, given Jorden starts as just the 12th seed, with Magnus joined as a favourite by runaway 2020 winner Fabiano Caruana, while Anish Giri, who lost playoffs in 2018 and 2021, is always a threat on home soil. He commented:

Wijk aan Zee is where most of my memorable moments in my chess career have happened. I have had it all there, made my GM title (2009), shared first place (2018, 2021), last place (2012), beaten Magnus Carlsen as a 16 year old kid (2011), lost 5 games in a row (2012). Every January, time and again, together with my friends and colleagues we are back in Wijk aan Zee, ready to battle it out in front of the home crowd in De Moriaan.   

Jorden comes into the event after the potentially career-changing experience of working as a second for Magnus Carlsen, with Daniil Dubov also in action and set to meet with his countryman and Ian Nepomniachtchi second Sergey Karjakin for the first time since Karjakin attacked Dubov over helping Magnus.

Karjakin (2009), Caruana (2020) and Jorden (2021) are the only players in the field apart from Magnus (2008, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 & 2019) to have won the title, but Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has come close, Richard Rapport is becoming an elite regular and Jan-Krzysztof Duda showed at the World Cup that he’s ready to challenge in major events. Wijk is likely to be a major test of how the Polish no. 1’s preparation for the 2022 Candidates Tournament is going.

Can Magnus Carlsen win an 8th title?

If there’s one player more at home in Wijk aan Zee than Anish Giri, it’s Magnus Carlsen, whose climb to the very top of world chess began when he won the C Group in Wijk aan Zee back in 2004. He’s since won the top title a record seven times, eclipsing Vishy Anand’s five. 

So will this year be title no. 8 for Magnus? Well, the “form” of the last two years isn’t convincing. In 2020 Magnus finished 2nd, but a full two points behind Fabiano Caruana. His 6th place in 2021 was a shocker after finishing in the Top 2 on the previous eight occasions he’d participated.

Nevertheless, Magnus is the clear favourite, and he’ll be hoping for the kind of World Championship boost he got in 2019. After a slow start of four draws he went on to win that event, unleashing some of the World Championship preparation he didn’t get to play in the match against Fabiano Caruana. He would go on to play the best chess of his career for half a year and match his peak rating of 2882.

Magnus starts 2022 rated 2865 and has already publicly stated his goal of reaching 2900 this time round…

…but it goes without saying that it’s a hugely ambitious target. With Caruana, the no. 2 seed in the tournament, rated 73 points below him, Magnus has absolutely no margin for error if he wants to maintain or increase his rating.

At the World Rapid and Blitz he lost rating in both disciplines and wasn't thrilled with his play…

…but it would be foolish to write Magnus off when he sets himself a goal!

Can Praggnanandhaa impress at his first attempt?

The only player making his debut in the Masters is 16-year-old Praggnanandhaa, for whom 2022 has the potential to be a breakout year. 

Praggnanandhaa’s brilliant performance in the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour Finals saw him qualify as a full participant of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour (more details soon!), so that he’s going to get to play the world’s very best on a regular basis. And now in Wijk aan Zee he’s making his supertournament debut. 

In terms of rating Pragg looks like the event’s only “whipping boy” (Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius was an early frontrunner in 2021), but few doubt the Indian talent is going to be among the absolute elite sooner rather than later, so no-one will be underestimating him.

The other young talent to look out for in the Masters is 19-year-old Andrey Esipenko, who in 2021 beat Magnus Carlsen and finished 3rd, just half a point behind the leaders. There was some controversy that he didn’t get a wildcard for the Grand Prix series, but that means there’s no reason for him to hold anything back in Wijk.

Can Arjun Erigaisi qualify for the Masters?

Vidit is playing the Masters for the first time since finishing an impressive 6th in 2019, but it’s likely that more Indian eyes will be on Arjun Erigaisi in the Challengers. The 18-year-old exploded onto the chess scene in 2021 by winning a qualifier for the Champions Chess Tour and then showed his rapid and blitz prowess in events in Riga and Kolkata. The fact that he’s received coaching from Rustam Kasimdzhanov, the long-term second of Vishy Anand and Fabiano Caruana, is an impressive statement of intent, and it will be fascinating to see if he can shine in a classical tournament. 

Vishy Anand was on hand to watch Arjun Erigaisi win the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid, and come very close in the Blitz | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

As mentioned, however, Arjun will face a host of ambitious youngsters (including 14-year-old French/Corsican GM Marc Maurizzi) as well as top “veterans” such as Surya Ganguly and Erwin l’Ami. 

Don’t miss Tata Steel Chess from Saturday onwards, with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson commentating in English: Tata Steel Masters | Tata Steel Challengers

See also:

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