The world champion is back on form. After winning the overall laurels in last year’s Grand Tour, and taking first prizes on tie break at both London and Qatar in December, Carlsen secured a convincing and outright triumph at the Tata Steel elite tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, last month. His margin of victory was clear and he remained unbeaten throughout. Leading scores out of 13 possible were as follows: Carlsen 9/13; Caruana and Ding Liren both 8. Wesley So, formerly of the Philippines but now, like Caruana, representing USA, scored 7, but was the only other unbeaten player. Britain’s Micky Adams gained a disappointing 5 points, which left him sharing last place.
This week, some samples of play from this important competition, one which leaves the world champion freshly dominant after a stretch of mediocre performances in 2015.
Carlsen-Tomashevsky: Wijk aan Zee 2016
The champion has used one of his favourite non-standard openings to create a tense and unusual middle game, where storm clouds are hovering around the black king. In fact the defender here was down to a couple of minutes to complete all his moves by the time control at move 40. Precise defence is needed and 19 … fxe3 fails to 20 Rxf6 exd2 (20 … gxf6 21 Ng4 Rfe8 22 Qh6) 21 Rxd2 gxf6 22 Rd3 Rfe8 23 Qh6 winning. 19 … Qd8 20 Rxf4 Ne4 This leads to a hopeless endgame. Black had to preface this with 20 … cxd4. 21 Nxe4 Qxh4 22 Rxh4 dxe4 23 dxc5 bxc5 24 Rd7 Rab8 25 b3 a5 26 Rc7 a4 27 bxa4 Ba8 28 a5 Rb7 29 Rxc5 Ra7 30 Nc4 Black resigns
The following game was a critical struggle between the two Grandmasters who shared second prize.
Caruana-Ding Liren: Wijk aan Zee 2016
20 Qg4 This wins a key pawn and ultimately the game, after a protracted struggle and fierce resistance by the Chinese co silver medallist. 20 … Rb5 Ding’s move gives up his exposed c-pawn without a fight. However, Black had doubtless overlooked in his advance calculations, that the seemingly adequate defence 20 … Rc8 fails to the splendidly geometric 21 f6! Nxf6 (there is no choice), and now 22 Qxc8 Qxc8 and then the coup de grace 23 Ne7+ 21 Qxc4 Nb6 22 Nxb6 Qxb6 23 b4 and White went on to win in 83 moves.
Next week I shall devote coverage to the success of the American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura at the annual Tradewise tournament in Gibraltar. I had the pleasure of being invited this year, along with the English Chess Federation president, Dominic Lawson, to assist in presenting the prizes.