The first great tournament of the new year kicked off Saturday with the 75th Tata Steel Tournament in the fabled Dutch chess town of Wijk aan Zee, with an all-star field in the premiere event capped by world No. 1 seed Magnus Carlsen of Norway, Armenian star Levon Aronian and U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura. Former women’s world champion GM Hou Yifan of China is a newcomer to this year’s field, but she got off to a rough start with a first-round loss to Russian GM Sergey Karjakin.
We’ll have updates and action from Wijk in the coming weeks.
Speaking of fabled chess towns, the English coastal city of Hastings is best known — aside from the 1066 thing — for its year-end tournament dating back to the famous 1895 edition won by American upstart Harry Nelson Pillsbury. It’s altogether fitting that this year’s champ boasts a classic English surname. GM Gawain Jones captured the 88th Hastings Masters with a 7½-2½ score, a half-point ahead of eight pursuers.
His best game was a Round 5 victory over fellow English GM Keith Arkell, in which White’s mounting pressure on the kingside produces a winning mating attack.
In a Classical King’s Indian, Jones as White decides to take on Black’s usual kingside play head on with a push of his own on the same flank, leaving king in the center of the board under Move 23. In the sharp battle that ensues, Black seems to get into trouble on 18. Bg4 Nf5?! (very intriguing is 18 … Nexd5!? 19. Bxc8 [exd5 Qxg5] Nxc3, when a highly unclear position ensues on 20. Bxb7 Nce2 21. Rg4 Rb8 22. Bd5) 19. exf5 Qxg5 20. Ne4 Qh6 21. fxg6 Qxg6 22. f3, and Arkell’s position is very loose.
After first prudently tucking his king away on a2, White commences the decisive operation with 30. a5 b5 31. cxb5 Rxh3 (on 31 … Re7, White can try 32. Bxc5! dxc5 (Rc7 33. b6 axb6 34. axb6 Rxc5 35. b7) 32. Rxh3 Qxh3 33. Ng5 Qh5 34. Qf5! (Black’s creaky defense can’t hold; his main problem is that his queen is overloaded guarding h7 and e8, and a nice deflection sacrifice from Jones wraps things up) Re7 (see diagram) 35. Bxf4 exf4 36. Rh1!
One nice subtlety here is that with White’s king on a2, capturing the rook is no longer check. Black resigned, in light of 36 … Re5 (Qxh1 37. Qc8+ Re8 38. Qxe8+ Bf8 39. Qxf8 mate; 36 … Qe8 37. Qxh7 mate) 37. Qxe5 Qxh1 38. Qe8+ and mate to come.
The strength of the college chess game has shot up in recent years, as programs across the country have fielded teams with more and more titled players. So it’s even more impressive that the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has been able to hold on to its status as one of the elite college chess teams. As we noted here earlier this month, the Retrievers qualified for April’s college chess “Final Four” in Herndon on the strength of the team’s first-place tie at last month’s Pan American Championships in Princeton.
UMBC NM Adithya Balasubramanian contributed to the cause with a nice win over University of Washington Class A player Joshua Dubin in their Round 5 match.
Despite a substantial ratings deficit, Dubin puts up a very credible fight in this Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian and might have claimed a slight positional edge if he had closed up the center with 18. e4 Nh5 (exd4 19. cxd4 Rac8 20. dxc5 Nxc5 31. Nd3 Nfd7 32. a5 and White’s bishops have excellent scope) 19. d5! — instead of the game’s 19. Nd3 — Qg6 20. Nd3 Nf4 21. Qd2.
Balasubramanian claws his way back to equality with the alert 23. Qf1 Rf6 24. Bxa6 Bxe4! 25. Bb5 (fxe4? Nh3+) Bf5, with a double-edged open position, and breaks on top when White misses a tactical shot: 29. fxe4 Rxe4 30. Bxd7? (the piece, as soon becomes clear, can’t be taken; White is still in the bout on 30. Nd5! Nxd5 31. Rxd5 Ne5 32. Kh1 Be6 33. Rd8+ Kh7 34. Rd4) Bxd7 31. Rxd7 (there’s no turning back — 31. Nc2 Bh3! 32. Ne1 Qe6 33. Nf3 Bxg2 34. Rxg2 Nxg2 35. Kxg2 Qa2+ picks off a piece) Re1!, a kill-shot as 32. Qxe1 Qxg2 is mate.
The rest is a mop-up operation: 32. Rd8+ Kh7 33. g3 Nh3+ 34. Kg2 Qe4+ 35. Qf3 Re2+ 36. Kxh3 Qxf3 37. Rd5, and Dubin resigns before Black can deliver the denouement with 37 … Qg2+ 38. Kg4 Re4+ 39. Kf5 (Kh5 Qh3 mate) Qf3 mate.