The start of the year sees the elite of the chess world divided between Wijk aan Zee in Holland and the Gibraltar Masters. In Gibraltar, from where I am writing this column, grandmasters such as Wesley So, Lev Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura cross swords with the British aspirants Michael Adams, Gawain Jones and Nigel Short. In Wijk aan Zee, the world champion Magnus Carlsen reasserted his authority with a decisive victory. Leading scores were: Carlsen 9/13; Giri 8½; Nepomniachtchi, Ding and Anand 7½.
Van Foreest-Carlsen: Wijk aan Zee 2019
(see diagram 1)
Here the Dutch grandmaster made a brave (possibly foolhardy) decision to take Carlsen on in the line of the Sicilian Defence that Carlsen used very successfully in his world championship match against Fabiano Caruana. Carlsen easily obtained a comfortable position and broke through in the middlegame as follows. 25 ... f4 26 gxf4 Rxf4 27 Rg1 Bg6 28 Ka1 Raf8 29 c5 Rxf2 30 Qc3 Qxc5 31 Qxc5 dxc5 32 d6 Kh7 33 d7 Nf3 White resigns
Carlsen won two key endgames at Wijk aan Zee, on both occasions demonstrating very deft handling of two minor pieces against a rook.
Carlsen-Mamedyarov: Wijk aan Zee 2019 (see diagram 2)
44 ... h5 This is too slow. 44 ... e3 and ... Kd4 keeps Black in the game. 45 Bxb5 g4 46 hxg4 hxg4 47 Bc4 Ra1+ 48 Kh2 f4 49 b5 f3 50 b6 Kf4 51 Nxe4 Black resigns
Carlsen-Duda:Wijk aan Zee 2019 (see diagram 3)
Black appears to be very active but Carlsen finds an ingenious regrouping that keeps the black pawns under control. 48 Re3 Kd4 49 Re1 Rh6 50 Kd2 Re5 51 Ne2+ Kc5 52 Rh1 Re8 53 Kc3 Rg8 54 Rb1 Rxh5 55 Bxe4 Re8 55 ... fxe4 56 Rb5+ wins the rook. 56 Nf4 Rg5 57 Rb5+ Kd6 58 Bxf5 Rxg3+ 59 Kd4 Rg1 60 Rb6+ Ke7 61 Ng6+ Kf7 62 Ne5+ Kg8 63 Nxc4 Ra8 64 a5 Ra1 65 Rb5 Ra7 66 Be4 Rc7 67 Rf5 Kg7 68 Bc2 Rc1 69 Kc3 Rf7 70 Rxf7+ Kxf7 71 Na3 Black resigns