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?!

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