The real start to the chess year is the first round of Tata Steel Chess, and the wait is over to usher in 2017! World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger Sergey Karjakin are both playing the 14-player Masters that gets underway in Wijk aan Zee on Saturday. So, Aronian and Giri are among the others to watch, while young stars Wei Yi and Rapport will get a chance to shine. World Junior Champion Xiong can join them a year from now if he wins the Challengers. We’ll have live commentary here on chess24 with Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent.
Let’s get the practical details out of the way first. The drawing of lots took place this afternoon and gave us the following pairings for the Tata Steel Masters:
The schedule is given below, including live commentary here on chess24 by Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent. Note games start at 13:30 CET in Wijk aan Zee unless stated otherwise:
Saturday 14: Round 1
– Peter & Jan
Sunday 15: Round 2 – Peter & Jan
Monday 16: Round 3 – Peter & Lawrence
Tuesday 17: Round 4 – Peter & Jan
Wednesday 18: REST DAY
Thursday 19: Round 5 (14:00 in Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam) – Peter & Jan
Friday 20: Round 6 – Peter & Jan
Saturday 21: Round 7 – Peter & Jan
Sunday 22: Round 8 – Jan & Lawrence
Monday 23: REST DAY
Tuesday 24: Round 9
– Jan & Lawrence
Wednesday 25: Round 10 (14:00 in De Philharmonie, Haarlem) - Jan & Lawrence
Thursday 26: REST DAY
Friday 27: Round 11
– Jan & Lawrence
Saturday 28: Round 12 – Jan & Lawrence
Sunday 29: Round 13 (12:00) – Jan & Lawrence
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lights and Jan’s ties. You can of course follow all the moves with computer
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all, and if you need an alternative live broadcast you can head to the official website, where Yasser
Seirawan will be the master of ceremonies.
So let’s get back to the chess tournament that’s about to start, and go through the line-up roughly in order of rating.
Magnus and Sergey must be getting a little tired of their meetings. As if 12 classical games and four rapid in New York weren’t enough they then met in the World Blitz Championship in Doha, with Karjakin finally provoking a losing blunder and – with some adventures – taking the gold medal. Karjakin won clear first in Wijk aan Zee in 2009 (Magnus was 5th) and must have a lot of unused preparation up his sleeves, but it’s unlikely he’s hugely motivated to post the big score needed to win the year’s longest supertournament round-robin.
The Russian hashtag means roughly "Go, Karjakin!"
In an interview yesterday with Sport-Express his focus was on 2018:
I hope I’ll play normally in the Netherlands, and then I’ll plan how to organise my preparation up to the Candidates Tournament.
For Magnus, meanwhile, there is something to prove, at least to himself. The World Championship victory was dicey and tying the classical part of the match meant he shed rating points to find himself on 2840, a “mere” 13 points clear of Fabiano Caruana on 2827. Magnus would no doubt like to have increased that gap before Round 9, when Caruana will start playing in the Gibraltar Masters.
So Carlsen has got more reason than usual to want to post a good score, not that his will to win has ever been in doubt. He has five victories in the top event in Wijk aan Zee to date, and winning in 2017 would be his third triumph in a row. Only a brave man would bet against him.
Magnus reflects on life... in Wijk aan Zee
Wesley has developed ninja skills at doing well in or winning tournaments without drawing much attention to himself, but he’s going to be in the limelight in Wijk aan Zee. His stunning second half of 2016 – unbeaten since July, cruising to Grand Chess Tour victory and crossing 2800 – means chess fans will be watching how he handles his new status.
The one glaring absentee in his biggest successes in 2016 was Magnus Carlsen, who didn’t play the Sinquefield Cup or London Chess Classic but still managed 4th place on the Tour. Their head-to-head encounter in Round 1 will be one to watch, while if Wesley aspires to being Magnus’ equal he’ll have to show he can rack up a big score in a varied field like the Tata Steel Masters rather than "just" drawing and taking his chances in events with no underdogs.
2016 was a year to forget for these star players, at least in chess terms, with both failing to qualify for the 2017 Grand Chess Tour (Levon still has a chance if someone drops out). That can all change quickly, though. Anish made an early New Year’s resolution:
And frankly it now seems he can't fail!
Levon, meanwhile, has a love affair with Wijk aan Zee,
having won the top event four times - with Carlsen and Karjakin we’ve
already covered every previous winner in the field. Levon missed the 2016 event
but still has every potential to be a real rival for Magnus in 2017.
Tata Steel Chess has sometimes been accused of showing a preference for non-Russian players, but this year there are no less than three in the top event, including these two fantastically talented players from the famous Class of 1990.
Neither has quite fulfilled their potential, and both have been starved of supertournament appearances. Ian Nepomniachtchi was on fire in 2016 and commented after winning the Tal Memorial:
It’s not just that I don’t win tournaments like this so often, I don’t play them so often!
That's going to change in 2017 as Nepomniachtchi plays the Grand Chess Tour, while Andreikin has had to content himself with winning opens and events like the European Blitz Championship. Perhaps no other player of his class is willing to go through a year playing so few classical games, but Dmitry is also hoping for more:
After the New Year holidays there’s Wijk aan Zee. It’s a long and tough tournament, from 14-29 January. Depending on how that goes I’ll put together a plan for opens. In the upcoming months that might be Aeroflot, Dubai, Reykjavik. Of course I still haven’t given up hope of getting into the FIDE Grand Prix series, but nothing to do with that depends on me.
Dmitry is another player not lacking in support!
Ratings don’t lie, and although these players have reached 30 while never quite achieving top star status, it would be foolish to underestimate them. Harikrishna became a supertournament regular in 2016 and threatened to overtake Anand, Pavel Eljanov's win in the Isle of Man Open took him back to Elo heights that saw him hit world no. 6 in 2010, while Radek Wojtaszek beat both Carlsen and Caruana in his last outing in Wijk aan Zee in 2015. He just turned 30 and faces Black vs. Magnus in Round 2 this year.
This final four might not quite go together in terms of chess experience, since Loek van Wely is playing his 25th Wijk aan Zee while the others, at 17, 20 and 24, haven’t yet lived that long. What they have in common, though, is fighting spirit and chess that thrills the fans. The focus will be on the youngsters - Wei Yi is one of the most feared tacticians since Tal, while Rapport has the creativity of a young Keres.
They played a match recently in China which Rapport finally took on Armageddon, but it’s Wei Yi who has started his Wijk career the best. He lost only one game in 2016 on the way to 50% and 7th place, while Rapport lost six games in 2014 and finished in joint last place. It’ll be fascinating to see if either is ready to make a real mark in a supertournament with the top players involved.
Loek needs no introduction, while Adhiban battled his way into the top group by winning the 2016 Challengers, with five wins in his first seven games. He’s going to be up against it in a field where everyone will be looking to beat him, but he’s certainly capable of landing some counterpunches!
Wijk aan Zee hands down wins the prize for the year’s most varied supertournament, and the Challengers event in particular gives a chance to grandmasters we don’t get to see so often in strong round-robins. It’s enough to note that of the 14 players in 2016 only the three Dutch players - Van Foreest, Bok and L’Ami – have returned this year!
It’s a fascinating field, but the most interest will perhaps focus on 16-year-old Jeffery Xiong. He’s already the World Junior Champion, has been tipped for great things by Garry Kasparov and hasn’t looked out of place against top opposition, as for instance in last year’s US Championship. Can he take another step up and qualify for next year’s Masters? After all, this is the tournament that marked Carlsen’s rise to the top... No pressure!
Sopiko Guramishvili, meanwhile, faces a huge challenge with a 100-point gap to her closest rival. Her support network should be pretty good, though!
Tune in for all the action from Wijk aan Zee on Saturday at 13:30 CET!