Are you not entertained? The climax of this year’s elite Tata Steel tournament was as riveting as it was vulgar. After two weeks of sublime classical chess played over-the-board in the Dutch town of Wijk aan Zee, the winner was decided by two blitz games and an armageddon playoff — crash, bang, wallop. Surprisingly, neither Carlsen nor Caruana remained in contention. Instead, it was the Netherlands’ two top players, Anish Giri and Jorden van Foreest, vying for the title. Giri is a steady world-class player who already tied for first in 2018, losing out to Carlsen in the playoff. The Dutch no. 2, van Foreest, is less experienced, but his games have always fizzed with ideas. He seems to have fused that with some extra maturity, and, like Giri, was undefeated on 8.5/13.
The playoff began with a kerfuffle, as the arbiters appeared keen to stage it while Firouzja and Wojtaszek were still at a critical stage of their final game, six hours in. Once they got started, Giri had much the better of it, but van Foreest was resourceful, so both blitz games were drawn. In the armageddon game, Giri spoiled a won position, then won a bishop by accident, only to find himself in a hopeless race with the clock which made him blunder catastrophically. As van Foreest frankly put it: ‘He played the better chess, but maybe I played the faster chess in the end.’ That makes him the first Dutch winner since Jan Timman in 1985. For Giri, it was a hideous way to lose, but during the prize-giving he was admirably unselfish in his wish that the drama of his loss in the last seconds might popularise the game a bit more.
If they come for the brawls, perhaps they will stay for the more polished forms of aggression, such as shown by van Foreest in his final round game against Grandelius, the tournament’s early leader. In the diagrammed position, van Foreest transformed the position at a stroke with 21 Nb5!! After the exchange on b5, the White pieces are perfectly placed to support the pawns. Grandelius jettisons a bishop and incarcerates his own rook to halt their advance, but even that provides just a temporary obstacle.
Jorden van Foreest–Nils Grandelius
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6 6 Qd3!? A very rare choice against Black’s Najdorf Sicilian, but Carlsen tried this in an earlier round. Nbd7 7 Be2 b5 8 a4 Nc5 9 Qe3 b4 10 Nd5 Ncxe4 11 a5!? A fascinating idea. Van Foreest avoids 11 Nxb4, pinning his hopes on a lead in development and latent queenside pressure. Nxd5 12 Qxe4 e6 13 O-O Bd7 14 Bd2 Be7 15 Bf3 O-O 16 Qd3 Qb8 17 c4 bxc3 18 bxc3 Ra7 19 Rfb1 Qc8 20 c4 Nf6 (see diagram) 21 Nb5!! axb5 22 cxb5 Bxb5 23 Qxb5 Nd7 24 Bb7 Qd8 25 a6 Bf6 26 Ba5 Here, the simpler 26 Ra2 would make White’s life easier. Qe8 27 Bc7 Bxa1 28 Rxa1 d5 Black could fight on with 28...Nc5!, e.g. 29 Qb6 Qd7 30 Bxd6 Qxb7! 29 Bd6 Qd8 30 Rc1 White is back on track, with overwhelming compensation for the exchange. g6 31 h3 Re8 32 Rc7 Nf6 33 Be5 Ne4 34 Qc6 Rf8 35 Bd4 Qb8 36 f3 Rxa6 37 Bxa6 Qb4 38 Be5 Qe1+ 39 Kh2 Nf2 40 Qc3 Qh1+ 41 Kg3 A nervous moment, I’m sure, but White’s king has little to fear. Qg1 42 Rc8 Nh1+ 43 Kh4 Qf2+ 44 g3 g5+ 45 Kxg5 f6+ 46 Kh6 fxe5 47 Qxe5 47...Qd2+ 48 f4 and Qe5-g7 mate will follow, so Black resigns