General Jan 10, 2019 | 10:00 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel Chess 2019 Preview

Magnus Carlsen plays in Wijk aan Zee for a 15th time as he looks to win the Tata Steel Masters title for a 7th time, but it’s not going to be easy. Fabiano Caruana and MVL are the only players missing from the world’s Top 8, with the 14-man field also featuring debuts for the likes of Duda, Shankland, Fedoseev and Vidit. The Challengers is jam-packed with young stars such as Praggnanandhaa and Maghsoodloo, with Vincent Keymer hunting a final GM norm. Here at chess24 the dream team of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson is reunited for commentary.

The 2019 Tata Steel Masters players at the Opening Ceremony | photo: official website 

The small Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee is going to be the centre of the chess world for two and a half weeks as the annual “Wimbledon of Chess” starts this Saturday. 

There are once again 13 rounds in both the Masters and Challengers, with the action starting at 13:30 each day (New York 07:30, London 12:30), except for the two “on tour” days in Alkmaar and Leiden, when the Masters games start half an hour later:

Sat 12th January | Round 1
Sun 13th January | Round 2
Mon 14th January | Round 3
Tue 15th January | Round 4
Wed 16th January | Round 5 (Alkmaar)

Thu 17th January | Rest Day

Fri 18th January | Round 6
Sat 19th January | Round 7
Sun 20th January | Round 8

Mon 21st January | Rest Day

Tue 22nd January | Round 9 (also Gibraltar R1)
Wed 23rd January | Round 10 (Leiden)

Thu 24th January | Rest Day

Fri 25th January | Round 11
Sat 26th January | Round 12
Sun 27th January | Round 13

The tournament will be broadcast live on the official website, while if you’re a chess24 Premium Member you can watch what we missed during the World Championship match – 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler and Carlsen-second Jan Gustafsson reunited in the commentary booth! 


If you’re not yet Premium now’s a great chance to take the leap, since if you enter the voucher code TATA2019 you’ll get 30% off i.e. a month’s Premium for only $6.99, while you could save over $70 if you go for 3-year Premium (paying under $5 a month). Choose your membership here.

Let’s take a look at the line-ups, starting, of course, with the Tata Steel Masters.

The survivors (and Ding Liren)

Tata Steel is the last remaining major supertournament to have as many as 14 players in its line-ups, and the organisers take full advantage of that size to invite a wide variety of players. What’s remarkable in 2019 is that only five players remain from 2018. As you can see, they happen to be the players that finished in the top five places!


Between them they’ve played in the event over 50 times, with 49-year-old former World Champion Vishy Anand leading the way with 18 appearances. The Indian has won it five times and is always capable of adding to that tally, but the current champion Magnus Carlsen is now out in the sole lead with six wins after victory in 2018. He of course starts as the favourite, and it’ll be fascinating to see how he does after the World Championship match. Will the left-over opening preparation from the match give him a boost, or will fatigue be a factor? He also, of course, played in the World Rapid and Blitz in St. Petersburg. Magnus is usually a slow-starter in Wijk aan Zee (and in general), and if that repeats this year his world no. 1 spot may yet again be in danger. Fabiano Caruana isn’t playing this month, but he’s just 7 points behind on the rating list.

Magnus Carlsen beat Anish Giri in a playoff in 2018 to take the title | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

World no. 3 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov could also potentially end the tournament as the world no. 1, and he’ll be looking to continue the form he’s shown in the last two years. After a marathon of big events last year (included a stunning victory in Biel, where he beat Magnus) he made an emotional outburst on Facebook about how finances forced him to play too much, but since then he’s had a quiet couple of months to unwind and enjoy life as a new father. He led with 5.5/7 last year before winning just one of the last six games, and will hope to have learned from that experience.      

Since Shak settled down and dialed down his all-out aggressive style he's become a consistent 2800 player | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

Local hero Anish Giri came even closer to the title, being denied only by the tournament introducing a playoff in case of a tie for first place. He became yet another Magnus tiebreak victim, but he’ll be looking for a repeat of that impressive performance – and will as always be the one to watch on social media.

Vladimir Kramnik finished half a point off the pace last year with 6 wins, 2 losses and just 5 draws, and chess fans will be hoping the Russian former World Champion once again adopts the ultra-aggressive style he’s taken to playing in the later years of his career. Age may still be a factor, since at 43 he faces the disadvantage, like Vishy, of taking on a young line-up in a gruelling 13-round event. Ten of his opponents are aged 28 or under.

Kramnik's risk taking nowadays means some tough days at the office are guaranteed... | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

The one player in the current Top 5 who was missing last year was Ding Liren, who we can assume was deep in preparation for the Candidates Tournament. This year let’s hope the Chinese no. 1 is intent on starting to win some of the biggest events – now that his unbeaten streak was ended on 100 games he can afford to take a few more risks. Magnus set out the challenge facing Ding in his recent conversation with Jan Gustafsson:    

I like Ding, he’s a great player, but then on the other hand I had some fun in our little match in St. Louis, and his streak and his results recently speak for themselves, he’s doing great, but I think he himself would admit that he hasn’t really proven it in the very top tournaments yet. I think he’s eager to get the chance and prove his worth. In the last Candidates he showed that he could fight on equal terms with everybody, but he didn’t really show anything more, and I think he’s certainly eager to do that. Whether he will – I remain sceptical until I’m proven otherwise.


The debutants: Duda (20), Shankland (27), Fedoseev (23), Vidit (24), Van Foreest (19)

The full line-up is as follows:


Of those players, no less than five are making their debut in the Masters in 2019, but perhaps only 19-year-old Jorden van Foreest is a clear outsider. He’s rated 83-223 points below his rivals, failed to qualify through the Challengers and will no doubt be targeted by the big guns, but the erratic Dutch youngster has great potential, as he showed in winning the 2016 Dutch Championship as a 17-year-old.

3 days before the tournament the Dutch players Giri and Jorden van Foreest tried out the Theater de Vest venue in Alkmaar 

The other players have more experience at the top level. Vidit qualified with an unbeaten 9/13 in the 2018 Challengers and the Indian no. 3 will be looking to return to the 2700 club where he belongs. Vladimir Fedoseev is the only player making a debut not only in the Masters but in Wijk aan Zee in general - he never played the Challengers. He’s shown since his breakout year in 2017 that despite a hugely aggressive style of play he can hold his own in elite company, but 2018 was a relatively quiet year for him. He’ll be hoping to make more headlines in 2019.

Sam Shankland was invited on the back of a stunning 2018. The US player proved that you don’t have to hit the top by your 20th birthday as last year he suddenly switched on Hulk mode to win the US Championship despite the presence of Caruana, Nakamura and So. He proved it was no fluke as he went on to win the Capablanca Memorial and the American Continental Championship, but this will be his first chance to play against the very best in an international round-robin. He’s looking forward to it!

Sam is already getting star treatment | image: Willum Morsch, Twitter

That leaves Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the man of the hour! The 20-year-old Polish grandmaster had already impressed in 2018, winning the Polish Championship and taking over the Polish no. 1 spot from Radek Wojtaszek. His Olympiad performance was underwhelming in terms of rating, but turned into a super-tournament on board 1: he faced Karjakin, MVL, Ivanchuk, Mamedyarov, Aronian, Caruana, Ding Liren and Anand in consecutive rounds and held his own, beating Ivanchuk and losing to MVL and Ding. The draw against Levon Aronian featured one of the year’s most amazing combinations. Magnus commented on Duda:

I think he still has a long way to go when it comes to experience and understanding, but he makes up for a lot of it by being very energetic and extremely optimistic as well. It’s always interesting to watch his games because he always goes for it – he never plays for a draw.

Then the year ended with a spectacular blitz show from the young star:


His 7.5/9 for the final day left him a full 2 points ahead of Hikaru Nakamura in 3rd place, but was only enough to push Magnus all the way to the very end. 

Duda couldn't quite snatch gold, but when you're in a 2-horse race with Carlsen you haven't had a bad tournament... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Still, Duda considered it the greatest achievement of his career so far, and combined with his rapid performance it meant a $68,333 payday for a player who’d earlier in the year mentioned that he still relies on financial support from his mum and can’t pay all the chess expenses he requires to reach the top. He was congratulated by the Polish Prime Minister and gave numerous interviews. What are his ambitions?

Now I’m already 19th in the world. I plan to get into the Top 10 and, some fine day, become the World Champion, in classical chess.

He noted he probably has 10 years in which to do that, since the level of play tends to drop a little after the age of 30. Still a 2nd year student in Krakow’s University School of Physical Education, Duda is keeping his feet on the ground for his debut in the Tata Steel Masters:

I’m the 9th seed in the event. I don’t assume anything. I’m going there simply to practice, to play against the best. I don’t assume I’ll be first. I don’t assume I’ll be last. I’m going there to see where I stand, how I look among the world’s best players. Above all I’m glad that thanks to an invitation from the organisers I’ve got the chance. After all, it’s very difficult to get into that tournament.


Dark horses: Nepomniachtchi, Radjabov, Rapport

We then come to players for whom it’s hard to know what to expect. Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi is one who on a good day could definitely win the event – in 2018 he won Dortmund to add to a previous supertournament victory in the Tal Memorial. Since then his only classical chess was a disappointing performance in the Russian Championship, while he didn’t make a big impact on the World Rapid and Blitz in St. Petersburg.

Teimour Radjabov, meanwhile, remains something of a mystery. A child prodigy who exploded onto the chess scene, he now, at the age of 31, barely plays, with his individual chess events in 2018 seeming to consist of just one tournament – 9 draws in Shamkir Chess. He then played for Azerbaijan in the Olympiad, however, scoring an unbeaten +4 with a win over Wesley So, and his 2757 rating still makes him the world no. 14. He also seems to be working on his chess, as instead of playing in St. Petersburg he held a training camp with Anish Giri and Fabiano Caruana’s former coach Vladimir Chuchelov (no-one quite does exciting Instagram posts like Teimour...):

On the way to Chuchelov’s house,training session time! #chess

A post shared by Teymur Rajabov (@teymur.rajabov) on

22-year-old Richard Rapport is a fan favourite for his bold and original style of play. He notably beat Magnus Carlsen in his last appearance in Wijk in 2017, but that proved only a consolation as he ended the tournament in 2nd last place.

Tata Steel Chess is also, of course, a huge chess festival for amateur players | photo: Alina l'Ami, official website

We’ll have the pairings below when they’re announced:

Tata Steel Challengers – the kids are coming!

If you talk about favourites for the Challengers you have to start with Anton Korobov (who began the 2018 edition with 5.5/6 before finishing 2nd) and 2018 Aeroflot Open winner Vladislav Kovalev, but all eyes are going to be on the kids!


Those are Praggnanandha (13), Vincent Keymer (14), Andrey Esipenko (16), Lucas van Foreest (17), Parham Maghsoodloo (18) and Benjamin Gledura (19), all of whom will be very familiar to chess fans who’ve watched their rise over the last few years. Of particular interest may be seeing if Germany’s Vincent Keymer can get his final grandmaster norm (all the others are already grandmasters), and whether reigning World Junior Chess Champion Parham Maghsoodloo can become the youngest player in the 2700 club (that’s currently Wei Yi). If Parham manages he’s sure to be in the fight for first place and an automatic spot in the Masters in 2020.

14-year-old Vincent Keymer is clearly already grandmaster strength, but he's fallen just short of his final norm a few times e.g. here on the Isle of Man he beat Boris Gelfand in the penultimate round only to lose to Emil Sutovsky in the last | photo: John Saunders, official website

We’ll have the pairings here when they’re announced later today:

All that remains to say is don’t miss Jan and Peter’s live commentary that begins at 13:30 CET on Saturday: Tata Steel Masters | Challengers

See also:


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