Reports Jan 30, 2017 | 1:05 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel 2017: Winners and Losers

Wesley So beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final round of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters to win the tournament by a full point ahead of reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen. An extraordinary finale saw first wins for Dmitry Andreikin and Loek van Wely as the chasing pack crumbled, with defeats for Levon Aronian and Wei Yi, while Carlsen squandered a chance to beat Sergey Karjakin. Gawain Jones survived by the skin of his teeth against Lu Shanglei to win the Challengers and qualify for the 2018 Masters. We take a look at some winners and losers from the event.

Wesley So started off 2017 just as he finished 2016! | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

The final round of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters took place 1.5 hours earlier than usual and seemed to catch the players off-guard, since we saw an extraordinary sequence of events. The headlines were that Sergey Karjakin blundered into an almost lost position on move 8, while Ian Nepomniachtchi was dead lost by move 9!

Rather than try and chronicle all the twists and turns of the final round let’s look at some winners and losers of the tournament as a whole:

Winners

1. Wesley So


There’s nowhere else to start! After Wesley’s victories in the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic in 2016 there were two questions remaining: 1) Could he also triumph in a supertournament involving the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and 2) Could his almost risk-free, precise approach enable him to rack up a big enough score to win an event with a more varied field like the Tata Steel Masters?

The answer to both was a resounding yes! Wesley beat five of the bottom six players to score +5, finish a full point ahead of Carlsen (+3) and remain the only unbeaten player:


His unbeaten record of course stretches further, to a remarkable 56 classical games over more than six months:

Bilbao Masters (Round 5 onwards): 6 games, +1
Sinquefield Cup: 9 games, +2
Olympiad: 10 games, +7
Isle of Man Open: 9 games, +4
London Chess Classic: 9 games, +3
Tata Steel Masters: 13 games, +5

Total: 56 games, +22

Those results have now taken him to 2822.1 on the live rating list, the sixth highest rating ever. 

The highest ever live ratings | source: 2700chess

He received a bonus on the final day of Tata Steel Chess, since Fabiano Caruana lost to Nigel Short in Gibraltar, conceding the no. 2 spot on the live ratings:

The defining moment of Wesley’s tournament came in Round 3 when, after drawing his first two games, it looked for all the world as though he was about to be beaten by Richard Rapport. The Hungarian went astray at the last moment, though, and Wesley got the first of three wins in a row. Then in the final round, when he admitted he’d have been happy to draw and possibly face a playoff, Ian Nepomniachtchi played one of the worst openings ever witnessed at this level. Our commentator Lawrence Trent took a look at that game:

Wesley So’s post-game interview reflected on that game and also on the people behind Wesley’s success, with both the Lord (“all the glory goes to him”) and his coach Vladimir Tukmakov getting a mention. It seems that Wesley has found the balance between solidity and wins that Tukmakov couldn’t quite achieve while working with Anish Giri.

It’s possible we’ll only next see Wesley at the US Championships in St. Louis on 27 March (see our 2017 Chess Calendar), though Shamkir Chess may be an event to add to the calendar. Wesley’s talk of taking a rest suggests he’s not going to be involved in the Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix, for which the players are yet to be announced.

2. Adhiban

Adhiban played Rapport-style openings but followed through with excellent results - including beating Rapport himself in the final game | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

The qualifier from the 2016 Challengers entered the tournament as the lowest-rated player (2653) and was expected to suffer. The first four games bore that out, as he scored two draws with the white pieces and lost to Harikrishna and Eljanov. Then he faced Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces in Round 5…

This Karjakin was a game changer for me. I was really struggling with the opening choice and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I got this inspiration from one of my friends to play this French, and then everything after that was like a fairy tale.

He crushed the World Championship challenger in only 31 moves.

After that Adhiban’s play was like a breath of fresh air, as he went on to score three more wins and five draws. It wasn’t just the results, though. His policy of playing offbeat openings against the world’s best worked to perfection, with one highlight being daring to play the King’s Gambit against none other than tournament winner Wesley So! He picked up a deserved 29 rating points and has boosted his chances of invitations to future top events. As he puts it himself:

Once you get the chance you really have to make your mark!

He did that and more. Watch his final interview after beating Richard Rapport in the last round:

3. Gawain Jones

29-year-old Englishman Gawain Jones has a chance to follow in Adhiban’s footsteps after winning the Tata Steel Challengers to qualify for next year’s Masters.

A career-best result for Gawain Jones | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

He held off ferocious competition to qualify on the first tiebreak of winning his individual encounter with Markus Ragger (a fine game):


The final round was nerve-wracking. Relatively early draws for Ragger and Xiong meant Gawain knew all he had to do to qualify was draw against Lu Shanglei, but that was anything but a foregone conclusion. Ultimately fortune favoured the brave, since Gawain went for a knight sacrifice just before the first time control:


38…Nxh4+!? His Chinese opponent managed to avoid a quick draw by perpetual check and came very close to consolidating his extra material, but in the end Gawain managed to hold on for a 64-move draw.

He now has a year to prepare for the daunting task of playing in the top group. As he and his fellow roughly 2650-rated colleagues know, chances to play in elite round-robins don’t come round often!

4. Wei Yi and Jeffery Xiong

After Round 11 it looked as though this might be the tournament of 17-year-old Wei Yi and 16-year-old Jeffery Xiong. It wasn’t quite to be – Wei Yi drew against So and then rejected a 3-fold repetition before losing to Radek Wojtaszek in the final round, while Xiong lost to Aryan Tari before only managing a draw against Benjamin Bok.

16-year-old Jeffery Xiong received the Professor Van Hulst Young Talent Award from the man himself - now 106 years old | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

Nevertheless, both players could look back on successful tournaments. Wei Yi was super-solid in his Wijk aan Zee debut in 2016, scoring 11 draws, 1 win and 1 loss, but in 2017 he showed he could challenge for the title, with 4 wins, including exciting games against Ian Nepomniachtchi and Richard Rapport. Even one of his draws featured as Game of the Day:

Jeffery Xiong racked up 7 wins, showed an ability to bounce straight back from losses and if he continues to improve on the same trajectory he might well earn an invitation to the Masters in any case.

Wei Yi showed his fighting spirit, although it didn't pay off against Wojtaszek | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

For now both players may need to work on their black repertoires. Xiong scored 5 wins and 1 draw (in the last round) with White, while Wei Yi’s choice to play the Petroff and other hyper-solid systems with Black was regularly noted as an anomaly by our commentary team. Peter Svidler noted that sharp open Sicilian type positions were “what Wei Yi was put on this earth to play”, so it might be worth experimenting with them with Black. In any case, Wei Yi has shown he deserves to play in elite events.

Losers

1. Magnus Carlsen

Of course it’s a luxury currently only available to Magnus Carlsen to consider it a failure when you finish in clear second place with +3 and a 2831 rating performance, but this was a strangely disjointed tournament for the World Champion. Rather than showing Wesley So who’s boss and getting back his mojo after a somewhat underwhelming performance in the World Championship match in New York, we again saw signs of vulnerability.

Another Carlsen-Karjakin showdown, another huge crowd, & Anatoly Karpov looking on | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

The most memorable moment of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters is likely to remain Carlsen missing a mate-in-3 against Anish Giri with over 40 minutes on his clock, while he got an early chance to practice his New Year’s resolution…

…when he overpressed and lost against Richard Rapport in the very next game.

He might still have made it into the tournament’s winners if not for a perplexing final game. Magnus got the chance to play an almost-winning piece sacrifice against Sergey Karjakin on move 9:


Trusting Carlsen's second may have been a mistake...

Carlsen took the pawn with 9.Nxg5! but, as in New York, failed to convert with the flawless precision we’d come to expect from the champion in previous years. In fact, he came close to overpressing again, though to be fair, it must have been tough to watch what was going on in the Nepomniachtchi-So game and stay concentrated on your own game.

We now have full analysis from Jan Gustafsson below:

The heretical opinion that Wesley So is currently the best chess player on the planet was given further fuel by the events in Wijk aan Zee, but the good news for chess fans is that Magnus Carlsen will no doubt be on a mission to reassert his authority in the remainder of 2017. The good news for Magnus is that Fabiano Caruana has struggled so far in Gibraltar, so no changing of the guard looks likely in the coming days.       

2. Ian Nepomniachtchi

Nepomniachtchi was one of the players of the second half of 2016 and had richly deserved his invitation to Wijk aan Zee. It looked like the perfect chance for him to impress in a big international supertournament and finally start to fulfil his potential. 

It wasn't Nepomniachtchi's event or day | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

Alas, he ended as the only player to fail to win in 13 games, while each of his three losses left something to regret. He ruined a great escape against Wei Yi with a losing move played almost instantly with plenty of time on his clock, allowed Anish Giri to finally win a game by blundering bishop sacs on both sides of the board, and then could have resigned by move 10 against Wesley So in the final game:


Not Nepo’s finest hour.

3. Richard Rapport

There are few players chess fans more want to succeed than Richard Rapport, since the 20-year-old Hungarian has one of the most entertaining styles of any player with aspirations for the very top. Unfortunately, though, he ended the tournament with 5 losses, 7 draws and only 1 win, dropping out of the 2700 club. He finished 2nd last, just as he had in his Tata Steel Masters debut in 2014.

The positives to take away from the event were that his one win came against none other than Magnus Carlsen in their very first game, and that he was a move or two away from defeating the tournament winner Wesley So. It looks as though he’ll have to work a little harder on his unconventional openings to make them work at the very highest level, and also rein in his impulsive play, though it might just be a question of style. Playing like Morozevich and Jobava has always demanded being at the top of your game – when such players are out of form and their calculation lets them down disastrous results are likely to follow.

Neither Nils Grandelius nor Jorden van Foreest could be satisfied with their events | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

4. Jorden van Foreest

17-year-old Jorden is a rising star of chess, but the Dutch Champion fell down to earth with a bump in the 2017 Challengers. The competition is fierce, but no-one could have predicted he’d go on to lose no less than seven games, shedding 28 rating points to fall back below 2600. It’s surely just a temporary blip, but to make it a little worse he had to watch as his younger brother Lucas won the event that serves as a qualifier for next year’s Challengers!

5. The others

It’s tempting to include all the remaining Masters players among the “losers”, since none could be entirely satisfied with their events. Levon Aronian (7.5/13) scored some beautiful wins with the white pieces, but a calamitous loss to Karjakin and a last-round loss to Andreikin spoiled his event. Sergey Karjakin (7) admitted it wasn’t his tournament…

…while Pavel Eljanov (7) couldn’t maintain his early pace:

Anish Giri (6.5) ended a sequence of 14 draws with a win, but balanced that with a loss to end as the only player on 50%. 

Giri-Eljanov was another of those games where Anish built a solid advantage but couldn't convert it into a full point | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

Harikrishna (6) entertained us with some great escapes, but finally succumbed in the last round and will have to work on his openings before his next elite event.

Andreikin repeated his trick from the 2014 Candidates Tournament of beating Aronian, but Dmitry's performance in Wijk aan Zee was still a disappointment | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

Dmitry Andreikin (6) and Radoslaw Wojtaszek (6) both ended on a high, but neither bolstered their supertournament CVs, while even a last-round win for Loek van Wely (3.5) couldn’t make his tournament result look respectable.

Anatoly Karpov definitely counts as a winner! | photo: Alina l'Ami, Tata Steel Chess

Attention will now switch to the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, where Adams, Nakamura and Anton lead with 5.5/6 with four rounds remaining. The action starts each day at 15:00 CET and can be watched here on chess24, with commentary by Jovanka Houska and Simon Williams.

See also:


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