“So far three veterans are doing very well in the tournament,” said 23-year-old Anish Giri after he defeated Hou Yifan to keep pace with winning starts for Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik on Day 1 of the 2018 Tata Steel Masters. Anand spoiled what was looking like a great supertournament debut for Maxim Matlakov, while Kramnik’s plan to play a quiet game against 18-year-old Wei Yi worked out better than he could have hoped for. The other games were drawn, including the clash between world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen and no. 2 Fabiano Caruana.
As the chess year 2018 begins in earnest we interrupt this report to bring you the news that Peter Svidler’s Best Games of 2017 is finally out! It would have been sooner, but a couple of the videos had technical issues that required Peter stopping by our studios on the way to Wijk aan Zee to re-film. Peter gives in-depth analysis of Donchenko vs. Giri, Volkov vs. Svidler (we insisted on one of his own games, and this is a beauty from the Russian Championship!), Aronian vs. Navara, AlphaZero vs. Stockfish 8 and Bai Jinshi vs. Ding Liren, with that final game watchable as a teaser by everyone. To watch the whole series Go Premium for only $9.99 a month (or less if you take out a 1-year+ membership):
It’s time to get back to Wijk aan Zee, though, with the following video clip giving a wonderful glimpse of the first round of the 80th edition of one of the chess world’s great tournaments:
During Round 1 of the Tata Steel Masters it looked for a while as though the “London disease” was spreading, and we were going to get all draws as we had at the start of the 2017 London Chess Classic. In the end, though, all the slow-burning games finished decisively and we had three wins out of seven games. You can play through all the encounters, and check out the pairings, using the selector below:
Let’s start with the final game to finish, Anish Giri 1-0 Hou Yifan, since Anish had some interesting thoughts on the day’s other action. He admitted in his own game he’d been “very lucky”, since the pressure he was applying against his opponent’s Petrov Defence shouldn’t have been enough. With Hou Yifan down to around a minute on her clock, though, she found herself obliged to enter a king and pawn ending, and though it was in fact drawn, all it took was one slip for Giri to take home the full point.
Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca gives a lucid explanation of why 55.Kb3 had to be met with 55…Kd6! and not 55…Kc6?:
Afterwards Anish Giri talked about that game, where he lost all his rating points after once having been world no. 2 for an afternoon, and what it meant for 42-year-old Vladimir Kramnik and 48-year-old Vishy Anand to open with wins:
They have both been rather unstable. I’ve been a stable bad player. They have been unstable and sometimes they have very good results. For these two a good start is very important – for Vishy for sure, and for Kramnik too. They are so unstable that a good start usually is a good sign for them. It means they could end very high, but of course we’ve just started. Magnus has his own plans – he’s just warming up!
Supertournament debutant Maxim Matlakov could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about, since aggressive play on the black side of a Ruy Lopez gave him every reason for optimism against former World Champion Vishy Anand. He was able to play an attractive combination to blow open the white king position…
…and on move 25 Vishy was one move away from disaster. If,
for instance, he played the tempting 25.bxc7? he’d have run into the exquisite 25…Ne2+!
26.Kh2 Qxh4+!! 27.gxh4 g3#
Vishy blitzed out the only move 25.Qd1!, though, and then thought that Matlakov “relaxed” when he went for another combination that might have seen him sacrifice the other bishop, but instead ran into the quiet move 31.Qe2!, when Anand commented, “I just get a free ride – I can press this position without any risk”. Pepe Cuenca takes us through the game and how Anand finally broke through:
Vishy was interviewed afterwards and addressed the fact that he shares a record five Wijk aan Zee victories with Magnus:
It’s a nice statistic, but all five of Magnus’ wins came after my last win… If I win now I’m winning after 12 years. It’s not like I’ve been blazing, but I’ll try for sure!
Don’t miss the smile Vishy flashes after that last comment:
In fact Vishy’s first victory came in 1989, almost 30 years ago, while his second was shared with Vladimir Kramnik in 1998, exactly 20 years ago. Kramnik said he’d been reading Alexandre Dumas’ Twenty Years After recently and would be happy to repeat that success, but when asked if that would be “to show the youngsters who's the boss”, he responded:
I’m afraid that already they know that we are not! So I don’t think they have any illusions and we also do not, but we still try to compete with the young guys and so far it’s nice to be leading together with two veterans – two grandpas. I’m not sure it will continue for too long, but still it’s a nice beginning of the tournament.
As you can see, Kramnik claimed not to have high ambitions for his game against Wei Yi:
It’s the first round, I didn’t play for two and a half months, so my plan was to play a quiet game today and just to see, to warm up, to get in to shape. That was my main intention. Of course that I managed to win this endgame is a nice bonus.
The game started with a sharp opening that had seen Kramnik win a spectacular game against Veselin Topalov in the 2016 London Chess Classic, but by the time 24.Nb3 appeared on the board all the spark seemed to have gone:
Kramnik noted that after 24…b6 Black would be “a couple of accurate moves” away from a draw, but instead Wei Yi “started to play very strangely”: 24…Bc6!? 25.Rc1 Kd7 26.Nc5+ Ke8 27.Nd3 Kd7 28.g4 Nd4 29.Rc4! Ne6 30.f5! and suddenly White had a real chance:
As with his Chinese colleague Hou Yifan, time management left Wei Yi needing to take critical decisions with very little time, and in the end Kramnik broke though.
Or in tweets:
There was intrigue in all seven games in Round 1 of the Tata Steel Masters. Even So-Mamedyarov, which fizzled out to nothing before move 30, started off in promising fashion. As Jonathan Tisdall notes, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov can mount a strong claim to be “Man of the Year” for 2017, with the year’s top rating performance propelling him above 2800 and into the Candidates Tournament. His game on Saturday may get his Candidates’ rivals thinking, since he responded to 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 with 2…Nf6, a Sicilian sideline championed recently by Nils Grandelius. It got Wesley thinking immediately, but not so long afterwards pieces began to be exchanged en masse and the tension dissipated.
Svidler-Adhiban was an early candidate for Game of the Day, as Adhiban stuck to his Tata Steel Masters 2017 approach and played a risky-looking Caro-Kann with an early g5. It seemed as though Peter might have a real chance for a full point, but in the end a draw was agreed in a tricky position with mutual trumps and weaknesses.
Gawain Jones got full marks for cunning as he went for a line of the Italian against Sergey Karjakin where he knew his opponent could force a draw with Black… but he also knew that he probably wouldn’t:
I understand I’m here as the lowest seed and everyone is looking for my blood, so I’m not just going to roll over and give it to them. I’ll force them to actually beat me.
The calculation proved correct, with Karjakin making a concession and Gawain admitting, “I started to get ambitious”, before one missed nuance saw the game end in a draw.
That leaves only what on paper was the Game of the Day, Carlsen-Caruana, with the world nos 1 and 2 meeting. They’d both prepared hard…
The opening wasn’t a thriller, though, with Magnus picking the meekest of responses to his opponent’s Petrov Defence:
Fabiano Caruana is always refreshingly honest about his games, though, and confessed:
I didn’t feel like I was under much pressure, and then I think I slowly got a bit outplayed.
As so often in such quiet games against Magnus, things got sharp just at the wrong time for Fabiano, with time trouble becoming an issue. He held things together, though, and said he was even “ambitious” after his time control move of 40…Ke5:
41.Nd1! ended those illusions, though, since with the f2-pawn defended by the knight White’s rook is free to take aim at the weak black pawns. Caruana said that “pretty much convinced me that there’s really nothing to do” and a draw was agreed:
So it’s Anand, Kramnik and Giri at the head of the pack, with Giri and Kramnik meeting in an early clash of the leaders in Round 2. Caruana-Jones and Adhiban-Carlsen are David and Goliath battles to look forward to.
The Challengers also produced three wins, with Anton Korobov impressively putting Matthias Bluebaum to the sword…
…Dmitry Gordievsky winning with a big King’s Indian attack against Olga Girya…
…and 18-year-old Jorden van Foreest spoiling the start of
his 16-year-old brother Lucas. At times it seemed Jorden was toying with his
younger brother – he turned down a mate-in-6 that prolonged the game 20 moves –
but afterwards he sympathised with his brother:
It’s not too much fun because I don’t want to win against him because he’ll be sad, but I don’t want to lose… Lucas doesn’t cope with losses very well so I think he’s not in the best mood, so the best thing is not to talk to him and leave him alone.
You can replay all the games using the selector below: