Chess tournaments can be decided by a very small margin, and that certainly happened in the final two rounds last weekend at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, the “Wimbledon chess.” World champion Magnus Carlsen missed a likely chance to win in the penultimate round, while local Dutch favorite Anish Giri received a bonus point in his last game.
Nodirbek Abdusattorov, the 18-year-old from Uzbekistan who had led all the way since the first round, chose a conservative drawing strategy in the second half of the event and rid himself of the unconventional ideas of Giri’s compatriot Jorden van Foreest. Abdusattorov still made a breakthrough, reaching the world top 20 with a controlled approach that contrasts with his rival Alireza Firouzja, whose career has become uncertain.
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Giri had finished second five previous times in Wijk, which has a long tradition of Dutch victories dating back to Max Euwe in 1940. He now has his sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Candidates and a new shot at the world championship, which has suddenly become a more accessible target after Carlsen’s abdication.
The final round decider, which gave Giri an easy point against Richard Rapport, was resolved with a one-move error when Black 34…Kg6?? (Kg8 is level) allowed the cheap 35 Rxd6 when Qxd6 36 Qxf5 is mate.
Questioned about 22 Nxf7 by Norwegian journalists in a post-game interview, Carlsen said: “That’s crazy! I completely forgot.” He went on to describe his marathon draw with the Indian as a “bump in the back” and had not fully recovered by the time of his post-tournament interview the next day.
Objectively, Carlsen’s shared second prize was profoundly impressive in the context of his overall performances in Wijk where, since 2010, he has won seven times, finished second five times, and failed only when sixth in 2021. That’s better than even Novak Djokovic in the real Wimbledon, where since 2010 they have won seven titles but been eliminated before the final five times.
Carlsen also said that after Wijk he will now take a break from classical tournaments for a while. His next scheduled appearance isn’t until his home event in Stavanger in May. The world number 1 has expressed his interest in expanding his career as a streamer and, of course, within days of pushing his last Wijk pawn, he was able to see it live on Twitch.
Chinese Ding Liren came to Wijk for a warm-up before his €2 million world title match against Ian Nepomniachtchi in April in Astana, Kazakhstan. The result was a near disaster, as Ding went down after a promising start, running a total of just 5.5/13. His Fide rating dropped below the super elite 2800 level, and he dropped from second to third in the rankings behind Nepomniachtchi.
The Russian will attempt his own warm-up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where the WR Masters, a top-class 10-player tournament, kicks off on February 15. As in Wijk, the opposition is a mix of the established world top 20 and the new generation z teenagers.
There was a trio of American players in Wijk, and they all had subdued performances. Levon Aronian, at 40, the oldest in the tournament, was virtually anonymous with a series of uneventful draws. Wesley So finished fourth behind Giri, Carlsen and Abdusattorov, and had opportunities for a higher place, but lacked ambition.
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So’s colleague, United States champion Fabiano Caruana, explained the lackluster performance as lack of incentives. Wesley, he said, would have had to put in a lot of effort (travel, long days, hours of prep) for a starting fee of $25-30k in Wijk, while he could earn $50k with the Internet Champions Tour, which starts next week. week with Airthings Masters, without leaving your living room. Caruana concluded that “classical chess is slowly dying.”
There are some difficulties with that argument. He is also in Düsseldorf, after being one of the only two seeds (Carlsen is the other) in the Airthings Masters. The native Filipino surely knows that the world crown is suddenly a realistic goal again, with Nepomniachtchi and Ding seen as beatable in the next match to be held in 2025. There’s a small window of opportunity here, the short period before the teens of generation z mature. the peak years of their mid-20s.
3853: 1 Bd5+! Kxd5 2 exd7 g2 3 d8=N! g1=Q 4 c4 mate.