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.

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