Monthly Archives: Jan 2017

Wijk aan Zee 2017 – So He Wins

And So he won. A full point ahead of Carlsen, a fact that speaks volumes of the remarkable achievement he managed to accomplish. To win a tournament where Carlsen is playing is a monumental feat; to do it a full point ahead of him, well, I can only think of Caruana doing it at his legendary 7/7 Sinquefield Cup from 2014 (he was 3 points ahead of Carlsen then).

Everything seemed to go So’s way. In the last round, when he was half a point ahead of Carlsen, Aronian and Wei Yi, the probability of at least one of them winning was pretty high, while So was playing black against Nepomniachtchi. And what happened? Nepo could resign on move 9 (!!!) and So won the tournament outright. In the meantime none of the chasers won – both Aronian and Wei Yi lost, while Carlsen squandered a wonderful position and drew against Karjakin. Having played an infinite number of last-round games, I can assure you that there is nothing sweeter thing than a quick last-round win:

It’s curious that this was a 4th time that Nepo and So met. The result after today’s game? 4-0 in So’s favour. With this win So didn’t have to wait for the other games to finish – he won the tournament and could celebrate after only a couple of hours of play. Yes, that’s how things go when everything falls into place!

Carlsen paid the price for failure to beat the “outsiders” – he even lost to Rapport. In Round 11, playing white, he was lucky not to lose against Adhiban while in Round 12 he beat Eljanov with black from a dubious position that arose from the Stonewall Dutch. The last round game against Karjakin was the cherry on the proverbial cake, only that the cake was rather bitter and definitely not sweet.

A strange game by Carlsen. The lack of clarity between moves 12 and 17 is not something we’re used to. Add to this the blunder on move 40 and you get a picture similar to the one in New York – sluggish play and lack of precision. His tournament was derailed by the missed win against Giri in Round 7 followed by his loss to Rapport in Round 8. This points to the same weakness he showed in New York – when people resist ad infinitum he loses his usual patience, makes mistakes and fails to win. This is surprising as he has made his reputation exactly by doing the opposite – never relinquishing the grip and being precise until the end, when it was his opponents that started to err because it was him who pressed ad infinitum. His class still remains above everybody else’s, who else would have finished 2nd with so many missed chances? Yet, this is something to work on and I am curious to see if he manages to overcome it.

Wei Yi spoilt his tournament in the last round, when he avoided a repetition and lost to Wojtaszek. A draw would have given him a shared second with Carlsen and would have definitely made for more headlines and invitations. Though I suspect the latter he will get anyway.

The revelation of the tournament was Adhiban, just because nobody expected him. Even though Wei Yi is considered more talented and promising, the Indian was swashbuckling and fearless and was awarded for it. He took excellent advantage of the newcomer’s mystery – nobody knew what to expect of him, so he could plan his surprises. He got into the tournament with a fine win against Karjakin with black (after Karjakin overpressed and won – a typical mistake when playing against an inspired newcomer) and won 4 games in total, 3 of them with black! He showed an admirable theoretical preparation and played both regular and not-so-regular openings (catching Nepo in the Najdorf is no easy feat; playing the French for the first time in his life against Karjakin and winning, the Vienna against Andreikin and the Scandinavian against Carlsen, not to mention the King’s Gambit against So). He finished on shared 3rd with Wei Yi and Aronian although I am not sure this will guarantee him further invitations to elite events – he lacks the charm of some of the other media darlings.

The other did more or less as expected. Perhaps the most consistent in this were the local players – Giri finished on 50% and van Wely was dead last with 3.5/13, losing 20 points. Nepo probably expected more of himself, but he was in bad form and the only player not to win a game.

So’s victories and Carlsen’s problems make the top a bit tighter place. While I still believe that Carlsen in top form is almost unbeatable, that state is difficult to obtain and even more problematic to sustain. Kasparov also used to have difficult periods, but he always managed to come back stronger. He was also Carlsen’s coach. Did he also teach him how to come back after periods of disappointment? We will find out soon.


Wijk aan Zee 2017 – So It Goes

As expected, Carlsen “wasted” his white piece and downed local boy van Wely. It was smooth sailing, but again van Wely’s opening preparation left me scratching my head. Although, in view of what I’ve already seen and written, perhaps I should have expected it.

After beating Carlsen, it seems that Rapport discovered classical chess. He successfully played solid stuff against Carlsen and probably realised that is the way to go against the best players in the world. He brushed aside opening experiments and played the rock-solid QID against both Giri and Aronian. Against Giri he drew without problems and just in case he changed the sub-variation against Aronian. But it is difficult to surprise Aronian in the opening – he played a rare opening move which seemed to confuse Rapport.

A powerful tour de force by Aronian. Coupled with his demolition of Giri, these games show the confident Aronian who was winning tournaments some years ago. Every chess player needs confidence in order to play good chess, but where do you get it from if your results are not good? It becomes a vicious circle – you need confidence to have good results, but the results are bad and you have none. Nobody has a uniform answer to this question, one of the toughest challenges a chessplayer can face. From what I have noticed, it usually takes a lucky break to set the engine running again, a good win, a successful preparation, anything that may lift the spirits. Sometimes it is completely non-chess related, like a great night out in the disco, a chat with a good friend or guessing the number on the roulette in the casino. These lucky breaks (the chess-related ones at least) need to be deserved though, so the usual advice is to keep the head down and keep on working until the bad times pass. As the saying goes, the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Speaking of bad luck, a player who doesn’t seem to get going is Nepomniachtchi. After a very successful 2016, winning the Tal Memorial and getting the ACP wild card for Wijk, it appeared that Nepo is on the way up where he (maybe) belongs. But he was demolished by Wei Yi and blundered against Giri, both in a Najdorf and he should have lost a third one after Adhiban failed to make the most of his excellent preparation. Perhaps this was a lucky break for Nepo, who must have felt miserable when he failed to capitalise on his great opening idea against Harikrishna – a mix of a Benko and a King’s Gambit!

Exciting games abound in Wijk and Eljanov has frequently been one of the contributors. Take a look at his game against Andreikin. Usually people make a lot of mistakes when there is a lot to calculate, but kudos to both players for a practically error-free display:

After calmly drawing everything that came his way So pounced on his chance to make it +4. This is almost certainly enough to win the tournament outright – he’s a full point ahead of Aronian, Carlsen, Karjakin, Eljanov and Wei Yi. In Round 10 he ground down Wojtaszek from a position that was easier to play with white.

As things stand, we are about to witness another So victory. Apart from his ever-growing unbeaten run, if it happens, it will be his first win in a tournament where Carlsen is also playing. And that means a lot.


Wijk aan Zee 2017 Heating Up

The tournament crossed its mid-point and the second half is under way. A look at the standings can already give a more or less clear picture who’s fighting for what.

So is following his tested strategy of obtaining a +3 and then drawing the rest to a first place. So far it’s working as he’s still sole first after 8 rounds. But his play leaves much to be desired, he was in trouble against Adhiban (in a King’s Gambit!) and Eljanov in Rounds 6 and 7 before steadying the ship with a short draw against Karjakin. He doesn’t have the scariest of opponents until the end and a lot has been said about his 50-game unbeaten record, but I am not so sure. But then again, it is a well-known truth in sport that if you get results while playing badly, then you will start to play well and still get results.

Second place is shared by Eljanov and Wei Yi, both on +2, or 5/8. The Ukranian didn’t seem affected by the loss to Aronian and continued confidently, although he may regret his missed chances in Rounds 7 (against So) and 8 (against Wojtaszek):

The game with Wojtaszek was crazy, as you can witness from the following position:

After losing to Carlsen Wei Yi continued with his usual calm and beat Rapport in a wild Petroff (yeah, I know how that sounds) and Mr Wijk, van Wely. The win against the latter was typical of what I wrote of in my previous post – van Wely just won’t prepare. They followed a line previously already played by Wei Yi and when the Chinese played the most natural improvement over his own game, one already played by other players (!) van Wely sunk into a 50-minute thought only to produce a losing move. Draw your own conclusions folks!

And we come to the main events of the last rounds, all produced by the World Champion. In Round 7 he seemed to be well on his way to beat Giri, and you would expect the World Champion to be able to see a mate in 3 (!!!) moves, yet strange things happened in that game. What’s more, neither player saw the mate, but if that made no difference to Giri, who was lost anyway, Carlsen must have felt pretty awful afterwards.

As if that wasn’t enough pain, in the next round Carlsen repeated the same mistake from Game 8 in New York. He abandoned his usual style and tried to win by playing against the demands of the position. The result was the same as in New York.

I think that the reason why Carlsen lost his nerve here is that his strategy for the game – to play solid and wait for Rapport to self-destruct by some wild play didn’t work. Rapport kept it solid too and the game was heading for a draw. Carlsen was obviously unhappy with that result as he expected to beat one of the outsiders in the event. So he took the risk and lost. I have noticed that players who play by position, who believe in the correctness of chess as a game, who are rule-followers in principle, shouldn’t try to play like Tal. They shouldn’t gamble, because it goes against their inner belief of what chess should be and how it should be played. Carlsen falls into this category, these last two examples clearly show that irrational play and going against himself doesn’t work for him. He’s now on 4.5/8 (together with Aronian, Karjakin and Adhiban), a full point behind So, but I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

The (mutual) blunder of the tournament (I think I can safely say that) happened in Karjakin-Aronian in Round 7. Aronian blundered a piece and Karjakin didn’t see it. It wasn’t even difficult! At least Karjakin still won the game so he wasn’t that upset.

The hero of the tournament so far is the Indian GM Adhiban. He’s on a 3.5/4 run and two of his wins were with black. He beat Karjakin with black, playing the French, dared the King’s Gambit against So and won from a lost position against Wojtaszek. Expect more decisive results from him!

After the rest day Carlsen is white against van Wely. What better way to start a comeback?!


Wijk aan Wely 2017

The start of the Wijk tournament coincided with my own playing schedule – over the last weekend I was in the UK, playing for Cheddleton in Rounds 3 and 4 of the 4NCL. We won both our matches against the closest competitiors in our Division – the 3Cs and Guildford 2. Unfortunately, in Round 4 we condeded defeat: our first in the season. From 32 games in total we have now lost 1. And it’s a pity, since Keith Arkell was completely winning, yet somehow he messed up and lost.

My own play was wobbly. I had a technically won position in Round 3 but only managed to draw, while in Round 4 I was completely lost yet I managed to win. Still, it’s better play badly and score points, so I will take comfort in the results this time.

All this meant that I couldn’t follow the Wijk tournament closely from the start. Eljanov made a great run in the first 4 rounds, scoring 3 wins and a draw, and he’s followed by Carlsen and So, half a point behind him.

However, I would like to touch upon the subject of van Wely. I’ve written before that I’ve always considered him to be extremely lucky just because he’s Dutch. This is his 25th (!) time playing in Wijk aan Zee. In the vast majority of tournaments he has been a mere cannon fodder, yet he keeps being invited. Other, much stronger players, Sergei Movsesian comes to mind, when he shared 2nd place in 2009 and reached number 10 in the world with 2751, have never been invited again in spite of their great results. Sometimes luck consists of where you have been born. No other player on the planet with van Wely’s rating and strength would have merited 25 Wijks had he not been a local player. And yesterday I was reading chess24’s report on Round 4 and I came across van Wely’s explanation that he couldn’t wait for the tournament to be over, so he could take “a dive in the North Sea, just to celebrate it’s over!” He said this after only 4 rounds! I was shocked, if he doesn’t like playing there, or if he doesn’t care anymore and doesn’t prepare (more on this below) then why does he accept these invitations? Surely there are much better, younger, more motivated players who would add much more value to the tournament if only he had the good grace to give up his place?! But of course not, he gets paid handsomely to play and he doesn’t even need to be good or show good results to merit his invitation for next year. Being Dutch must feel good.

Van Wely used to work for Kramnik and usually he’s quite good in the openings. Plus he knows years in advance that he will play in Wijk, facing the world’s strongest players. Good preparation is essential and the players try to show their best. All except van Wely, apparently. In Round 3 he played the Pirc with black against Karjakin and followed Perez Perez’s play against Fischer from 1965. Karjakin played worse than Fischer and van Wely could be fairly happy, but then he felt frisky and traded his queen for two rooks, only to miss a simple tactic that lost him a pawn. Then in Round 4, when he was white against So, van Wely ended up in an uncomfortable position after only 11 moves! With white, after So deviated from a previous van Wely game from 2016. How’s that for an opening preparation, worthy of one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world?

It is therefore not for nothing that Carlsen was disappointed to discover that he was playing white against van Wely. His comment was that it’s a pity to waste the white pieces on him!

While we’re on the topic of Dutch players, the other local phenomenon, Giri, had a great opportunity not to draw, but true to his understanding of life, Universe and everything, he passed. Is time-trouble a valid explanation for this? I’ll leave that to my readers to decide.

The World Champion seems to be enjoying life again. He destroyed Wei Yi by first cunningly avoiding the Petroff by 2 Bc4 (why would a tactically gifted and aggressive player like Wei Yi play the Petroff is another matter) and then waited for the Chinese to lose his patience.

The tournament continues today with Nepomniachtchi playing against Carlsen. This is notable because the Russian, together with Svidler, is the only player with a positive score against the World Champion. I still think that Carlsen will keep it tight though.



I personally prefer Summertime but the snow season has its perks too. Like forcing you to do heavy labour when digging up your car buried under 1 meter of snow. Fun! Soon all this fun will be a memory when I go to the UK to play the 4NCL (14 and 15 of January) and whenever a heavy labour and chess are mentioned I remember a photo of young Karpov with a long sickle over his shoulder, walking somewhere on a meadow with the caption, Toil in the field helps win chess battles. I certainly hope the same applies for the shovel and the snow.

The World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha were the last elite event of the last year and the whole buzz around them was Carlsen’s “failure.” Now, finishing on the podium both times (sharing first on both occasions) can hardly be considered a failure; it shows Carlsen’s consistency – no other player came close to that. But the public’s view of his results as a failure shows the incredibly high expectations Carlsen has set for himself after his countless triumphs. The public expects him to win everything everywhere. And from his reactions at the closing ceremonies he seems to expect the same of himself. I don’t know if this pressure helps him or not. The public will continue to relentlessly ask for wins, wins and more wins from him, but a more objective view shows that the secret to Carlsen’s wins lies in his consistency. No other player comes close to his level of consistency, that is why Carlsen is the leader in all the rating lists – classical, rapid and blitz. So his second place in the blitz and third in the rapid is just a confirmation of his superiority even though he didn’t win outright.

Next on the calendar is the Tata Steel in Wijk aan Zee. The rise of So and the presence of both Karjakin (who I expect will draw a lot again) and Carlsen, coupled with the fresh blood of Nepomniachtchi, Andreikin, Wei Yi and Rapport, plus the eternal van Wely, promise an exciting viewing. I will be watching closely, even though the first two rounds coincide with my own playing schedule at the 4NCL.

The new year is already under way. I hope it’s much better than the previous one, which turned out to be very difficult for me, especially its second part. I have always been optimistic and, curiously enough, the harder the situation, the more optimistic I have been. As they say, what hurts you today, makes you stronger tomorrow.