Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 13

As expected Carlsen won the tournament, but not without excitement! In my view, this Wijk was one of the most exciting in recent history – a lot of decisive games, winning streaks, incredible losses and, of course, Jobava.

I am not sure Carlsen was with a clear mind what he wanted of today’s game against Saric. He started off with a certain dose of caution, but then became aggressive, only to end up worse. His usual resilience kept him out of danger and assured the draw that was enough to win the tournament.

This was because Giri already drew with Wojtaszek before Carlsen’s game was over. Giri tried the Grunfeld against the Pole, but Wojtaszek was Anand’s second in Sochi and we know that Carlsen played the Grunfeld in Sochi, so he was prepared very well. Giri managed to improve upon Petrosian-Botvinnik, game 15 of their match in 1963, but was never in danger of winning. In any case, shared 2nd is a great result for the new Max Euwe (read below for more on this).

Hou Yifan and Ivanchuk played a normal Giuoco Piano that ended in a draw. Worth noting is Ivanchuk’s move in the following position:

18…Bb8!!

Jobava and Radjabov played a KID that soon got into Benko Gambit territory. It was balanced throughout but in the endgame white suddenly got winning chances. What he did with them you can see here:

50 Nb2?!? Bb2 which should have been a draw. Why not 50 Nd2?

This peculiar new habit of giving away pieces cost Jobava quite some points in Wijk (just remember the game against Hou Yifan two days ago when he left the bishop en prise to a double-check). But luck finally decided to award the fearless Jobava – very soon Radjabov blundered and allowed Jobava to end the tournament with a win.

Aronian had a horrible end to a horrible tournament. With white in a KID against Ding Liren he was practically lost by move 17. But this meant a great result for the Chinese, shared second is no small feat!

So destroyed van Wely in a Benoni, as if pissed off after yesterday’s loss. The shared second is a fantastic result for So, establishing himself firmly as the number 1 American player (sorry, Nakamura) and a Top 10 player. It’s curious why van Wely committed a cardinal sin in the Benoni by relinquishing control over e5:

16…Ndf6? 17 Nd3 and after the imminent e5 black was busted

The topsy-turvy tournament Caruana had ended with a knock. He lost with white to Vachier in a 6 h3 Najdorf where black executed the typical …d5 pawn break, sacrificing a pawn for black-square blockade.

An excellent result for Vachier, shared second in Wijk is surely his greatest achievent so far.

The final standings show a change of guard in the world of chess. Leading the field we have the World Champion and after him we have a cohort of young and ambitious players, all belonging to the Carlsen generation – Giri, So, Ding Liren and Vachier. These will definitely try to challenge Carlsen’s supremacy, although I don’t see any of them developing such a domination over the competition like Carlsen. Of these four Giri and So look more promising to me, So as an American and younger than Carlsen, and Giri (also younger than Carlsen) as the next Euwe.

Euwe became a World Champion because he was the right man at the right time from a right country. As the country’s only serious hope he got the whole support and managed to play the match with Alekhine in a period when the latter was feeling over-confident and negligent of his physical shape. Giri already has the support of the country, an awful lot has already been invested in him and this will continue. But in order to repeat Euwe’s feat he will first have to qualify and then win the Candidates. Only then he will have to beat Carlsen, who although at times shows signs of over-confidence, does not seem very negligent of his physical shape, quite the contrary. (Another example of over-confidence and bad physical shape was the return match Tal-Botvinnik). But of these two factors, the over-confidence bug is the more dangerous one. This is the only chink in Carlsen’s armour at the moment.

Ivanchuk had a good result, he quickly switched to making draws after his inexplicable loss to So. His best times are in the past, but he can still play well and a good sign for him that he only had one bad moment in a long tournament like this one.

What to say about Aronian? His decline after last year’s Candidates reached the lowest point. Minus 2 in his favourite tournament which he won 4 times is definitely a moment where good thinking is required (which I’m sure he’s doing for quite some time now). These mediocre results brought him down to number 9 in the world and already he’s not considered a favourite in the upcoming World Championship cycle. I think this is his big chance, without the burden of being the favourite he can return to his trademark style and finally score big when it matters.

The similar problem of raised expectations is taking its toll on Caruana. After his 7/7 every result of his is measured against it and that only adds to the already existing pressure. His last round loss spoiled his tournament, otherwise it would have been acceptable. I said that he’s consistent, but he will definitely have to forget about the 7/7 and go back to playing his excellent chess.

The World Champion again showed why he’s number one without a shadow of a doubt. What I find most impressive is that he manages to win all these games and tournaments without being at his best. He had bad games, he was outplayed at times, he blundered and yet he won rather convincingly. This shows the potential of the current World Champion, he can still improve and avoid these setbacks, imagine where that would take him. Unless, of course, he gets overwhelmed by the over-confidence bug and decides he can do whatever he pleases on the chessboard, in which case he will have the fate of Alekhine against Euwe and no amount of body-building will save him.

Elite chess continues very soon in February in Baden-Baden (Carlsen, Caruana, Anand, Aronian, Adams, Bacrot, Naiditsch, Baramidze) and Zurich (Kramnik, Anand, Nakamura, Karjakin, Aronian and Caruana). Stay tuned!

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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2 Comments
  • Jan 26,2015 at 12:00 am

    Wei Yi 🙂

  • Anonymous
    Jan 25,2015 at 9:53 pm

    It might be a bit to early to conclude that a change of guard has taken place in Wijk. But already at the end of February (looking back at Gibraltar, Baden-Baden, Zurich, GP in Tiblissi) we will at least have a clearer picture if Caruana is still to be considered No 2 (the opinion of Carlsen), the fall of Aronian will continue and if Giri/MVL/Grishuk/Svidler will remain in the race for the candidates. Interesting weeks ahead.

    And once again – Thank you for your always interesting to read reviews!

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