Wednesday, January 18

Wijk aan Zee Tournament

(World #1 Carlsen plays white against #2 Aronian. Photo by Chessbase.)

The beginning of each new year brings two of the most prestigious chess events: Wijk aan Zee in January and Linares in March. Both tournaments attract star players--this time 7 of the World's top 10. Chess enthusiasts from around the globe analyze every single game, hoping to understand the brilliant ideas behind the moves. Masters watch for the latest opening innovations while amateurs try to pick up a few tricks to use in their own games. Only the World Championship, Olympiad and World Cup can match this level of excitement.

More than a thousand serious fans brave the snow, cold and ocean breeze on the coast of the Netherlands to participate in a chess festival that began in 1938. Amateurs play in the same hall as the super-Grandmasters, and might even rub elbows with them. For over a decade, the steel company Corus funded the tournament. When Tata bought Corus two years ago, they assumed fiscal responsibility for continuing a tradition. Unfortunately, next year (2013) might bring the end; Tata has not indicated that it will continue the generous financial support.

Who are the players in Tata 2012? The all-star lineup in Group A includes the top 2 rated and 7 of the top 10 on the January FIDE Rating List. The bottom half of the field includes two (and a half) Americans. All but one player is rated over 2700--the unofficial threshold for super-GM. The average rating is a mind-boggling 2755!
  • #1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR 2835) -- chasing record rating of 2851 set by Kasparov
  • #2 Levon Aronian (ARM 2805) -- 2011 was best year of his chess career
  • #5 Teimour Radjabov (AZE 2773)
  • #6 Veselin Topalov (BUL 2770)
  • #7 Sergey Karjakin (RUS 2769)
  • #8 Vassily Ivanchuk (UKR 2766)
  • #10 Vugar Gashimov (AZE 2761)
  • #12 Hikaru Nakamura (USA 2759) -- top rated American
  • #16 Boris Gelfand (ISR 2739) -- challenger to World Champion Anand in May 2012
  • #17 Fabiano Caruana (ITA 2736) -- born in USA but moved to Italy at age 12
  • #20 Gata Kamsky (USA 2732) -- second American and reigning US Champion
  • #28 Anish Giri (NED 2714) -- youngest player at age 17, but top rated Dutchman
  • #30 David Navara (CZE 2712)
  • #54 Loek Van Wely (NED 2692) -- frequently plays Open tournaments in USA
Unfortunately, a pair of big names are missing from this list: #3 Vladimir Kramnik (RUS 2801) and reigning World Champion #4 Viswanathan Anand (IND 2799). Kramnik will probably play in Linares. Anand is taking an extended break to prepare for his title defense in May.

The traditional format is a 14-player round-robin, meaning all-play-all. The entire tournament lasts over two weeks--13 rounds interspersed by 3 rest days. Four rounds are now in the books, and the two 2800s share the lead at 3.0/4. They squared off in round 3, with Carlsen pulling out a victory in a wild endgame. On the other hand, Aronian won each of his other three games, including a middlegame win as black against Karjakin and a fighting game against Nakamura's Leningrad Dutch (see adjacent photo). Radjabov and the rising junior Caruana stand in third place, half a point behind the leaders.
I strongly encourage all of the advanced kids reading this article to play through the games of Group A. You may choose to select a couple of top players to follow throughout the year. Over time, you will learn the style of these Grandmasters and see what you need to do to improve. Although not my primary goal, you should also pick up some new opening theory. Any junior rated over 2000 should already be analyzing GM games on his/her own. I think most 1800s are strong enough as well. Now get to work! :-)

While browsing the Official Website, make sure to check out the B and C groups. Group B is an impressive Grandmaster tournament in its own right, with an average rating over 2600. The third invitational, Group C, seems somewhat weaker; still there are six Grandmasters, including two rated around 2650. One small detail: the winner of Group C earns a spot in Group B next year, while the champion of Group B plays with the big boys.

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