Reports Feb 1, 2016 | 10:28 AMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2016 Recap: Carlsen makes it five!

Magnus Carlsen interviewed shortly after confirming victory in the 2016 Tata Steel Chess Masters | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni 

Magnus Carlsen has matched Vishy Anand’s record of winning the top tournament in Wijk aan Zee five times, and he’s done it twice as fast — taking nine years to his great predecessor’s 18. Magnus completed the task on Sunday with utter professionalism, quickly reaching a position only he could win against Ding Liren, before drawing in 99 moves. That left the door open for Fabiano Caruana to share first place, but Evgeny Tomashevsky slammed it shut with a consolation win. Caruana still took second alongside Ding Liren, while Adhiban won the Challengers.

The final round of the Tata Steel Masters featured some very hard-fought chess, and a curiosity. Carlsen-Ding Liren and Adams-So reached the same Open Ruy Lopez position after 21 moves before the players went their separate ways. You can replay all the games from the tournament with computer analysis by clicking on them in the selector below:

And check out almost seven hours of brilliant commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson — if you make it to the end you may never look at dolphins in the same way again…

In our preview of the tournament we divided the players into five categories. Let’s revisit those to see how it went:

1. Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen made sure of his victory with a carefully played final game against Ding Liren | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Magnus once again justified his status as a player apart. Without needing to overexert himself he won five games, lost none, edged his rating back over 2850 and finished a full point ahead of the field:

Magnus explained in the post-tournament press conference that he was happy to have put a shaky period in mid-to-late 2015 behind him:

For the last few tournaments it’s mostly about restoring my play to the level it was before… I’m happy that I’m playing decently again and that there is some sense to my play, that it’s not just a mess in every game. When I play well my rating will follow, so I’m not too worried about that.

He was asked if he tries to play “a game for the ages” in tournaments:

I would if I could! To be fair, there weren’t any particularly brilliant games of mine this year. I focus mostly on the result. I really want to play brilliant games but the result has to come before and I don’t play for brilliancies just for the sake of it.

You might argue that Magnus’ wins over both Pavel Eljanov and Evgeny Tomashevsky had a touch of genius about them...

...but the result on which the whole tournament turned was the game against Loek van Wely. After four draws Carlsen took a gamble that proved much greater than he imagined. Loek missed a win in time trouble, lost and Magnus was back in business – winning three of the next four games and never being seriously worse in any other game. He explained:

The result from last year gave me confidence that I can do this again. The key is really to get on a streak at some point. It doesn’t really matter when you start winning them.

It bodes well for Carlsen’s World Championship defence later in the year that all aspects of his game are looking strong, including opening preparation. Jan Gustafsson noted on our commentary that Carlsen had quietly become a much more theoretical player, while remaining unpredictable… even for his second, Peter Heine Nielsen:

I always think – well, if he doesn’t know what I’m going to play then my opponent certainly doesn’t either, and if I don’t know what I’m going to play then it’s even better! Then there’s no way my opponent can guess it.

Watch the full press conference below:

Also watch Magnus Carlsen's remarks upon receiving the winner's trophy at the closing ceremony (courtesy Anna Rudolf):


2. The Candidates: Giri, Caruana, Karjakin, Hou Yifan

The events that matter for these players take place in March, and there were some clear signs it impacted on their play – but they had such different tournaments they need to be taken separately:

Fabiano Caruana, 8/13, joint 2nd

Fabiano Caruana was back to his old style of pushing in every game | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

After his nine draws in London, Fabiano was recognisable once more as a player with great aspirations to challenge for the World Championship title. He won two of his first three games and went on to rack up five in total, including a rare (for him) triumph in the Najdorf:

While Carlsen efficiently put the players at the bottom of the table to the sword Caruana beat three (Ding Liren, Eljanov and Wei Yi) from the top half. He went into the final round with good chances of catching Carlsen and even in defeat earned the admiration of Peter Svidler:


16…d3! would have forced a worse ending that Caruana could have good hopes of holding, but a draw wouldn’t be enough to take first place. Instead he went for 16…Qa2!?, creating chaos in which a Black win couldn’t be ruled out. In the end Tomashevsky defused the pressure and ground out a win, but at least if the same situation occurs in the final round of the Candidates Tournament Fabiano will have had some experience.

Caruana needed those heroics because of losing a position it seemed almost impossible to lose against David Navara. Svidler summed up:

Yes, he lost today and that cost him a clear second place and a chance at a tie for first, but in general I think he played very, very well. He had an off day against David Navara. He said himself I think in an interview that he felt “lousy” on the day and that I think reflected in his play.

Anish Giri, 7/13, joint 4th

The tone was set for Giri’s tournament by a loss to Wesley So in the very first round. Given some of the positions in the games that followed — not least an ending against Hou Yifan in the final round that was lost until move 70 — the remarkable fact is that he didn’t lose another game. As Svidler put it:

Anish had a bit of a weird one, to be honest, but even though I think he’ll be the first one to admit he wasn’t playing very well in this tournament he still finished on +1 and he is one of the most stable players around.

Or as Giri put it:

Sergey Karjakin, 6/13, 9th

While Sergey had said beforehand that this was going to be a training tournament for him, he’d also set a bar for success:

I’ll be satisfied if at the end I occupy a place no lower than third.

His end result was far below that, with a solitary win against Evgeny Tomashevsky, losses to Ding Liren and Mickey Adams, and generally lacklustre play all round. Magnus was critical:

I’ve always thought that having an important tournament like the Candidates is no excuse for playing poorly. I think you can hide some openings, and certainly some openings were hidden here, but it’s still possible to play very well even if you cannot play all your main stuff. I think people like Anish and Sergey Karjakin will not be very happy with their play here. Certainly they didn’t play all their main openings, but they didn’t play so well either.

What matters, though, is still what happens in March.

Hou Yifan, 5/13, joint 12th

This is the first time Hou Yifan has finished joint last in Wijk aan Zee. In 2013 she scored 5.5 points, more than Caruana, L’Ami and Sokolov, while in 2015 she had the same result as this year — 1 win and 4 losses — but finished above Saric, Van Wely and Jobava. 

Hou Yifan came very close to ending the tournament by doing what Magnus can't and beating Anish Giri | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Despite the outcome, though, her performance won’t have given Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk any comfort for their upcoming match. Hou Yifan could easily have scored more points, gaining a close to winning position against both Karjakin and So in her first two games, losing a position even Magnus didn’t think he could win in Round 11 and then failing to beat Anish Giri in the final round by a whisker. She looked at home in elite company and breaking into the 2700-club should remain a more important goal than regaining or holding the Women’s World Championship title.

3. The new generation: So and Ding Liren

As we mentioned in our preview, with key rivals focussed on the Candidates this was a chance for these two players to shine. Ding Liren did, finishing second for a second year in a row and showing signs of maturing as a player. Rather than his incredible 7 wins and 3 losses in 2015 he scored 4 wins and a single loss to Caruana, moving up into the Top 10.

Another rock-solid game for Wesley So, the forgotten man of the 2016 Tata Steel Masters | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Wesley So, meanwhile, won in Round 1 but then drew his next 12 games, with almost nothing to catch the eye. +1 is never a terrible result in a supertournament as strong as this one, but it’s hard to look on it as anything but a missed opportunity.

4. Experience: Eljanov, Mamedyarov, Adams, Navara, Tomashevsky, Van Wely

The tournament outcome of these six players was roughly what we could expect. None of them was stable enough to challenge for the top places (all but Shakhriyar Mamedyarov suffered three or more losses), but they could also all look back on some bright moments, with even Mickey Adams and Evgeny Tomashevsky getting wins in the end. Evgeny commented after his win over Caruana:

I need to think what’s going wrong with my play in the last tournaments, because I really played much worse than I can, I think, and lost a lot of Elo points.

Mamedyarov lost two games and might have finished in sole fourth except for the blunder of the tournament, if not the year:


38.c5???? Qxb1 That turnaround helped Pavel Eljanov, who lost to the Top 3 but scored +4 against the rest. He summed it up:

I think yes, the result is very decent, but I can’t say I’m satisfied with my quality of play. Some of the games I played very badly – for instance, yesterday (a loss to Ding Liren). Anyway, it was a lot of fighting chess and I think I’m the player with the most decisive games in the tournament. Overall I would say that I’m satisfied.

David Navara’s three losses and one win was very little reward for featuring in so much of the enthralling chess in the tournament, which made it fitting that he did receive a reward — the Vugar Gashimov fair play prize. He confirmed the reason he won the prize, by saying he didn’t deserve it

Vugar Gashimov's brother Sarkhan distributes the prizes to David Navara and Jorden van Foreest | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess Facebook

5. Wei Yi

And finally, Wei Yi. The 16-year-old Chinese prodigy didn’t set the world on fire in Wijk aan Zee, but he defended tenaciously, including against the World Champion, and lost only a single game to Caruana. When you consider Magnus Carlsen had lost four games and won none in Wijk aan Zee at the same age, Wei Yi’s 50% score for joint 7th place begins to look even more impressive. 

Wei Yi wasn't overawed in his first international supertournament | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

He also added one more attacking masterpiece to his burgeoning portfolio:

The 79th edition of the Tata Steel Chess Festival has already been confirmed for next year, when the dates will be 13-29 January. That’s good news for India’s Baskaran Adhiban, who won the Challengers to qualify for the Masters. He finished tied for first on 9/13 after surviving two desperate positions in Rounds 11 and 12.

You can’t argue that the win was anything but deserved, though. As well as starting like a steamroller with 5 wins in 7 games he managed to beat both of the players he tied for first with: Aleksey Dreev and Eltaj Safarli. Adhiban should prove a welcome addition to the top event on account of his love of sharp chess.

23-year-old Adhiban has a year to prepare to face the likes of Magnus Carlsen! | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

So Tata Steel Chess 2016 is over.

There's still plenty of chess going on elsewhere, though. The Tradewise Gibraltar Masters has four more rounds to go with the games live here on chess24, while you can also check out the very strong Moscow Open. Perhaps the highlight there will be to see how the prodigies do. Russia’s biggest hopes, 17-year-old Artemiev and 9-year-old Makoveev, are playing, as is the world’s no. 1 prodigy at this moment in time, 2430-rated 11-year-old Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan.

See also:


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