Pavel Eljanov is the very early leader of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters after scoring the only win of Round 1 when Richard Rapport’s inventive chess backfired. The most anticipated clash saw Magnus Carlsen demonstrate some left-over World Championship preparation to score an easy draw with Black against Wesley So, while only Adhiban came close to a win as he tortured Loek van Wely in the longest game of the day. The Challengers was more fun, with top seed Ragger beating no. 2 Xiong, two more decisive games and some very near misses.
Tata Steel Masters Round 1 (click on a game to replay it with computer analysis)
It may not quite have been the explosive start we’d hoped for, but Tata Steel Chess is always a celebration for chess fans, as the organiser's video captures:
Let’s get straight to the game of the round, where Pavel Eljanov won his fourth game in a row against Richard Rapport. Eljanov joked afterwards that he played 1.Nf3 to avoid Rapport playing 1…g5, but if so, it only delayed the inevitable by three moves! Peter Svidler takes us through a game where Rapport’s opening wasn't the problem, since he found himself strategically outplayed in the middlegame:
The draws weren’t all identical, but moments of drama were few and far between. Jan Gustafsson mentioned during commentary that he couldn’t say too much about Magnus Carlsen’s Slav Opening against Wesley So, since he knew too much from working with Magnus for the World Championship match.
Indeed, there were echoes of New York as Magnus’ preparation with Black once again proved to be both sharp and rock solid. Up to his 13…e6 they were still following Kovalenko-Andreikin from last year’s Poikovsky tournament.
Wesley’s 14.Qc4, played after 18 minutes’ thought, was essentially a draw offer. Queens were exchanged and a draw fixed on move 33, meaning So is now unbeaten in 44 classical games and almost seven months since he lost to Carlsen on 16 July 2016. Magnus was asked about the game by Anna Rudolf:
It was not so much to talk about. He didn’t play the most critical way and then it only takes a couple of decent moves to secure the draw.
Do you think he was aiming for a draw?
This is the type of player he is. When he plays against strong opposition he doesn’t take many chances, and that’s also why it’s very hard to beat him. He’s pragmatic and that’s his approach and it’s gotten him far.
Watch the interview in full for a nice jibe at Loek van Wely!
The 2nd most highly rated encounter saw Anish Giri yet again play the Najdorf, with Sergey Karjakin puzzling our commentators early on:
Both players knew what they were doing, though, with Harikrishna having played this against both MVL and Giri himself, in the 2016 Norway Chess blitz tournament. Hari lost both those games, but it probably wasn’t because of that move. In the end Giri had a slight edge, then had to switch to the defensive and then things ended with the inevitable…
Giri gave an enjoyable interview afterwards in which he talked about his family’s adventures with the Najdorf. His son Daniel is “already three months but he still doesn’t really have a good understanding of the Sicilian, so we’re working on that!”
The most demonstrably well prepared player of the day was Levon Aronian, who only spent more than a minute on a single one of his first 29 moves – 21…Bf5, which came after Harikrishna had finally deviated from the draw Adams-Aronian in the Tromso Olympiad.
It was heavy Marshall theory and although Hari held on to the extra pawn it was never going to be enough:
Radek Wojtaszek was given the honour of being selected by Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson as the player they’d choose to play the first 20 moves of a game of chess for them (then a certain Magnus would take over, though Karjakin might be brought in for move 40+!). He certainly knew what he was doing against Ian Nepomniachtchi, but Nepo responded well and a draw never looked in doubt.
The same went for Andreikin-Wei Yi, with Peter expressing regret that a player as spectacularly tactically gifted as Wei Yi was playing as dry an opening as the Petroff with Black. If he was doing that at 17, Jan wondered what the Chinese star would be playing at 30.
That leaves Adhiban-Van Wely, and a battle between two players we classed as “fighters” in our preview. They didn’t disappoint, with Adhiban early on looking likely to land a huge win as he began the toughest test of his career. Loek hit back, though, and had a draw in his grasp as the time control approached.
Simply 39…Rxc2 40.Rxc2 Nd4! and we could all go home, but 39…Re5?! 40.Nc7! condemned everyone to another two hours and 20 moves of winning attempts before the draw was finally agreed.
As usual, the Challengers, packed with young and ambitious players, provided a lot of drama:
The draws were anything but dull, with Grandelius forcing a perpetual with a bishop sacrifice, Smirin and Dobrov both missing wins, while Tari kept trying to sacrifice material which Hansen stubbornly refused to accept. Then there was Guramishvili-Lu Shanglei, in which Giri noted that his wife Sopiko came somewhat closer than Karjakin to refuting the Najdorf!
In fact, when the Chinese player gave up his queen for three minor pieces the computer was claiming Black was completely busted, but as Svidler noted, such positions are always very tricky to play.
The urge to simplify is strong, but when Sopiko went for 32.Rxc5?! Rxc5 33.e5, hitting the g2-rook as well as the knight, she must have missed or underestimated 33…Rcc2! One more slight inaccuracy and the Chinese player was able to escape with a perpetual.
The wins were all for players with the white pieces, with Jorden van Foreest continuing his reign of terror against fellow Dutch players. As well as winning the Dutch Championship he scored 3.5/4 against them in last year’s Wijk aan Zee Challengers. For a second year in a row he beat Erwin l’Ami, seizing an initiative early on and never relenting for a moment.
Benjamin Bok managed to weave a mating net against Lei Tingjie, while Markus Ragger justified his position as no. 1 seed by outplaying 16-year-old World Junior Champion Jeffery Xiong in a Najdorf.
Time is on Jeffery’s side, though, with our commentary team tipping him as the most likely Top 100 player to put on a 50-point spurt this year.
You can replay the whole of Peter and Jan’s commentary on Round 1 below:
In Round 2 Magnus Carlsen has White against Radek Wojtaszek and there’s every reason to hope for fireworks – all four of their games so far have been decisive, with Magnus winning both where he had the white pieces (Radek got a win with the white pieces in Wijk aan Zee 2015). Aronian-Wei Yi, Giri-So and Rapport-Karjakin are some of the other games to watch.
Tune in for all the action from Wijk aan Zee on Sunday at 13:30 CET! You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: