Cover photo – Levon Aronian.
by Ian Rogers
For the first three days of the elite Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands, it seemed that Magnus Carlsen was suffering an extended hangover from his successful world title defence in November.
In his first tournament outing since retaining the World Championship title, Carlsen, 24, was sitting near the foot of the 14 player field, with just two draws and a loss to his name.
The defeat was particularly painful; an insipid effort against one of world title challenger Viswanathan Anand’s seconds, Radoslaw Wojtaszek.
Then the Magnus that chess fans have come to know and admire returned.
The Norwegian began winning and winning. By the time he had reached five consecutive victories Carlsen had taken the outright lead in the tournament for the first time. However after one more win Carlsen slowed down and coasted to the finish line.
Carlsen’s victims included two of his traditional rivals, world number two Fabiano Caruana, and former number two Levon Aronian, against whom Carlsen’s score is becoming extremely lop-sided.
Though a chasing pack stayed on his heels, Carlsen picked up his fourth Wijk aan Zee title, just one short of Anand’s record.
Magnus Carlsen finished half a point ahead of a group of four, in the 77th edition of the traditional Dutch super-tournament, but the World Champion was only a month younger than the oldest of the four, French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
Ding Liren, Wesley So and Anish Giri, the other three second place-getters, are two, three and four years younger than Carlsen respectively. (“No Country for Old Men!” declared Garry Kasparov.)
Carlsen did not have too many complaints about his victory, which included a personal record of consecutive wins and raised the Norwegian’s already stellar world ranking.
Nonetheless Carlsen will be aware that his margin of victory was only half a point and the chasing pack all achieved scores which could have won the event in years past.
In striking contrast to Carlsen’s return to form, 32-year-old Aronian continued his drop down the world rankings and the Armenian is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time in almost a decade.
Aronian’s slide began in the first round of the World Championship Candidates tournament in Russia last March when he missed a promising opening idea and went down to eventual winner Anand.
Aronian’s Candidates seconds were reportedly sacked for missing the key idea, which soon became common knowledge among Grandmasters.
However apparently noone had informed Ukrainian veteran Vasily Ivanchuk, who in the eighth round of the Tata tournament blindly followed Anand’s play – not knowing that Aronian could have improved – and fell heavily to defeat against 21-year-old Filipino ‘defector’ Wesley So.
Prior to that game, Ivanchuk, 45, had been unexpectedly leading and had hopes to repeat his lone 1996 triumph in Wijk aan Zee. Afterwards, the tournament became Carlsen’s to lose.
Wijk aan Zee 2015
White: V. Ivanchuk
Opening: Ruy Lopez
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3!?
One of many attempts to avoid the dreaded Marshall Gambit which arises after 8.c3 d5.
8…Bb7 9.d3 d5 10.exd5 Nxd5 11.Nbd2 Qd7 12.Nxe5 Nxe5 13.Rxe5 Nf4!
In the original game, Aronian had quietly played 13…Nf6 against Anand and struggled to equalise. The ambitious text move only works because of the coming sacrifice.
14.Nf3 Nxg2!! 15.Kxg2 a5!
The key move – on the ‘wrong’ side of the board – planning both 16…a4 and 16…Ra6-g6.
Already a serious error. After 16.a4! Ra6! 17.Qe2! Rg6+ 18.Kh2! White has a thin path to a draw.
16…Qxe7 17.c3 Ra6 18.d4 Rf6?!
18…Rg6+! 19.Kf1 Qd7 was immediately curtains.
19.d5 a4 20.Bc2 Rd8 21.Qe1 Qd7 22.Ng5?
The final error. White can stay alive with 22.Qe4!.
22…h6! 23.Ne4 Rg6+ 24.Kh2 f5! 25.Ng3 Qxd5 26.Qg1 Qf3! 0-1