Wijk aan Zee 2016 Starts

The main chess event in January is the Wijk aan Zee traditional tournament. Three players, Giri, Caruana and Karjakin have their minds set on the Candidates in March, so their play will be aimed at concealing their best novelties and varying their approach.

The main sensation of the tournament already happened in the first round. Giri lost! How could that happen? It took a So and a non-standard English structure to disrupt Giri’s well-patterned decision-making process.

The other American, Caruana, also started the tournament with a win. A determined 1 e4 player with a heavily theoretical opening repertoire, he opened with 1 Nf3 against Eljanov and played a topical line in the rarely-played Vienna. Ever since he qualified for the Candidates Caruana has been experimenting with closed openings, so expect him to use them in the Candidates in March.

The World Champion used an interesting strategy against Navara – he played a solid opening, the QGD, but then spiced things up with a move like …g5. The solidity of the QGD made sure he wasn’t running unnecessary risks, and with the audacity of a move like …g5 he tried to play for a win. Before the tournament Carlsen spoke of the necessity to find the balance between trying to play for a win and running unnecessary risks. This game perhaps shows his solution – play solid openings and spice them up with sharper moves.

Round 2 saw all games drawn, with the main attention drawn to the derby Carlsen-Caruana. The first move of the game 1 g3 (read the related Botvinnik story in the comments) was definitely surprising and the character of the game reminded me of the wonderful game Carlsen won in Zurich in 2014 against the same opponent. Things could have been the same, but Carlsen wasn’t very precise when Caruana committed some inaccuracies.

The surprise of the round was van Wely’s use of the Dragon to draw with Karjakin. It doesn’t bode well for Karjakin to draw in 20 moves against the Dutchman, whom he has beaten numerous times. I have always envied the Dutch chess players. Ever since Euwe the Dutch have developed a strong chess culture and have done everything they could to support their players. First Timman (whom Dolmatov called “an amateur” in his recent interview, indicating that only because of the constant practice against the world’s best did Timman maintain his high ranking), then van Wely, now Giri and other youngsters. They got (and are getting) so many opportunities to play with the world’s best, that it’s really surprising that they achieve so little. Take van Wely for example – the first time he played in Wijk was in 1992, he has played Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and everybody else so many times for the last 20+ years and yet his best was to barely cross 2700 (2714 in 2001 and 2701 in 2013) and his results against the mentioned three players are better not mentioned (almost 50 losses in all formats and only 7 wins, none against Kasparov). Perhaps Giri will repeat Euwe’s feat? They do share the same number of letters of the surname…

Worth noting was also Mamedyarov’s use of the following opening to easily get a good position:

Tomorrow’s round sees the game Wei Yi-Carlsen. Many predict this may be one of the future matches for the crown. Let’s see what the Chinese prodigy is made of.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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