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.

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