It's been the best of chess and the worst of chess at the Tata Steel Tournament, the traditional elite event held each January at the Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee.
To start with the worst, there was world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway playing like a patzer in a 22-move loss - with White, no less - to young Dutch GM Anish Giri in Round 3, followed a round later by new Russian national champion Ian Nepomniachtchi, giving away a full rook in just 10 moves to grateful Armenian star Levon Aronian.
On the positive side of the ledger, however, has been the strong early play of U.S. No. 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura, who is proving once again that he can hold his own against the world's best. He is being matched by world champion Viswanathan Anand of India, who partially atoned to spectators for his rivals' poor play with an inspired positional sacrifice in his win over Chinese GM Wang Hao at Tata.
Anand later said he prepared this Nimzo-Indian Samisch line for his successful title match against Russian Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, down to the piece sacrifice after 15. 0-0 Be6?! 16. Nd4!! exd4 17. cxd4. The Indian admitted he did not even analyze the sacrifice in depth, concluding that White's overwhelming center and two powerful bishops were more than enough compensation.
His judgment is borne out by the subsequent play as Wang struggles futilely to keep from being overwhelmed. White's advantage becomes decisive on 20. Bf2! (repositioning to capture the h2-b8 diagonal) a6 (b6 21. d5 Bxd5 22. exd5 Nxd5 23. Qc2 keeps White in control) 21. Bg3 Qc8 22. Bf1 b6 23. Rab1 (the bishop on g3 keeps Black from challenging White's control of the critical b-file) Nb3 24. Rxb3!, clarifying the position and leaving Black with no counterplay.
On 29. Bb5 Qf7 30. exf5 Qxf5 31. Qxc5, White has three pawns for the exchange and two powerful passers. Wang's resignation after 32. Qd4 Rfd8 33. a4 may seem a tad premature, but he really has no answer to his opponent's positional dominance and the advance of the a-pawn.
With five rounds to go, Anand and Nakamura share the lead at 5 1/2-2 1/2, with Aronian, Kramnik and Carlsen (helped by a recent 3 1/2- 1/2 run that included the first defeat of Nakamura) a half-point back. We'll have full coverage of the closing rounds next week.
The chess extravaganza at Wijk includes three invitational tournaments, with the winners of the B and C events moving up in subsequent years. Ukraine's Illya Nyzhnyk, at 14 the world's youngest grandmaster, may be moving up from the C event sooner rather than later, having started out the event with four points from his first five games.
Nyzhnyk kicked things off with a fine upset win over veteran Kazakh GM Murtas Kazhgaleyev in Round 1. White actually gets only equality out of the opening, allowing Black the freeing 10. Nc2 Na6 11. Be3 d5!, a temporary pawn sacrifice that allows Black easy development.
But Kazhgaleyev prematurely opens operations on the king-side with 18. Qd2 h5?!, subtly weakening his own pawn at g6. White quickly shifts to a more active plan, targeting the suddenly vulnerable king-side squares, with his isolated d-pawn now playing a critical role in the attack.
After the forceful 23. Nd4 Kh7 (Bc8 24. d6 Rxd6 25. Qxg6 Rxd4 26. Bxf7+ Kf8 27. Bxe8 Nxe8 28. Rxd4 Qxd4 29. Qxh5, and White is much better) 24. d6! Rf8 25. Rfe1 Bc8 26. Nc2 b5 27. Re5 Qb6 28. Re7 Rd7, White clearly has seized the initiative and prepares to capitalize on his advantage.
The rash h-pawn advance comes back to haunt Black on 32. Ne7 Kh8 (see diagram; Black's king move tries to sidestep 33. Bxf7 Kxf7 34. Qxg6+, but White won't be diverted) 33. Bxf7! Rxf7 34. Nxg6+ Kg8 35. Ne5, recovering at least the exchange while keeping the attack very much alive.
The young Ukrainian shows his tactical chops in the climax, forcing resignation after 39. Re7 Qf8 40. Rc7 b4 41. d7! Nxd7 (bxc3 32. d8=Q Qxd8 43. Qxg7 mate, while 41...Bxd7 loses to 42. Nd5 Qd6 43. Nxf6+ Qxf6 44. Qxf6 Bxf6 45. Rxd7) 42. Nd5! Qe8 (Bxd5 43. Qxd5+ Qf7 44. Qxd7) 43. Rc8!, and the queen is lost after 43...Qxc8 44. Ne7+.
73rd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee "A" Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2011
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8.
dxc5 Qa5 9. e4 Ne7 10. Be3 O-O 11. Qb3 Qc7 12. Bb5 Nec6 13. Ne2 Na5 14. Qb4 e5
15. O-O Be6 16. Nd4 exd4 17. cxd4 Nbc6 18. Qc3 Ne7 19. Rfd1 Rad8 20. Bf2 a6 21.
Bg3 Qc8 22. Bf1 b6 23. Rab1 Nb3 24. Rxb3 Bxb3 25. Qxb3 bxc5 26. d5 Ng6 27. Qb6
f5 28. Bxa6 Qd7 29. Bb5 Qf7 30. exf5 Qxf5 31. Qxc5 Rc8 32. Qd4 Rfd8 33. a4 1-0.
73rd Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee "C" Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2011
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Be2 O-O 6. Nf3 e5 7. O-O exd4 8. Nxd4
Re8 9. f3 c6 10. Nc2 Na6 11. Be3 d5 12. cxd5 cxd5 13. exd5 Nb4 14. Nxb4 Rxe3 15.
Nc2 Re8 16. Kh1 Qa5 17. Bc4 Bd7 18. Qd2 h5 19. Qf2 a6 20. Rad1 Rac8 21. Bb3 Qc5
22. Qg3 Rcd8 23. Nd4 Kh7 24. d6 Rf8 25. Rfe1 Bc8 26. Nc2 b5 27. Re5 Qb6 28. Re7
Rd7 29. Ne3 Qd8 30. Rxd7 Qxd7 31. Ned5 Bb7 32. Ne7 Kh8 33. Bxf7 Rxf7 34. Nxg6+
Kg8 35. Ne5 Qe6 36. Nxf7 Qxf7 37. Re1 h4 38. Qg5 Bc6 39. Re7 Qf8 40. Rc7 b4 41.
d7 Nxd7 42. Nd5 Qe8 43. Rc8 1-0.
David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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