SANDS: Wijk aan Zee presents Dutch bounty of chess action

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Like one of those busy Pieter Bruegel peasant harvest paintings that seem to be breaking out of the frame, the annual blowout Tata Steel Tournament at the Dutch coastal city of Wijk aan Zee features an almost overflowing bounty of chess. There’s a huge nine-round Swiss event for amateurs, a seven-round rapid tournament and, of course, three — count ‘em, three — 14-player invitational round-robin tournaments in which the weakest “C” tournament boasts six grandmasters and an average rating of over 2460.

Most of the focus has been on the premiere “A” section, which is understandable since this year’s field includes world champion Viswanathan Anand of India, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, the top-rated player on the planet, and such stars as American champion GM Hikaru Nakamura, Armenian super-GM Levon Aronian and Chinese former women’s world champion Hou Yifan. Unlike some other top-tier events, Tata this year has produced some real fighting chess and decisive, memorable games.

With five rounds to go before Tuesday’s Round 9, Carlsen led by a half-point over Anand at 6-2, with Nakamura and Aronian another half-point back.

And as with Bruegel, it can be hard to focus all one’s attention on one outstanding game when two superb ones are being played simultaneously. That was the case in Round 5, when rising Chinese star GM Wang Hao took a point in brilliant fashion from Dutch GM Erwin L'Ami, while just a few feet way, Indian star Pentala Harikrishna was dismantling another local hero, veteran GM Loek Van Wely, with a scintillating attack capped by a queen sacrifice.

L'Ami does well as White does well in the early stages of this Bogo-Indian, but unwisely allows Black to build up an imposing queenside phalanx after 18. Qb3 Qb6 19. c5 dxc5 20. Nc4 Qa7 21. dxe5 Ne8 22. Qe3?! (setting up a queen trade that only enhances Black’s positional advantage; 22. Qc2 b5 23. Ne3 c4 24. Qf2 was indicated) b5 23. Nd2 c4 24. Qxa7 Rxa7 25. Rfd1 Be6, and the Black pawns are ready to roll.

The power of the connected passed pawns is so great that the Chinese player is happy to jettison almost everything else he has to keep them moving: 29. Ne3 b4 30. Bf1 (White intends 31. Rd8 Kf8 32. Bb5, winning a piece, a “threat” Wang ignores) b3! 31. Rd8 g6! (Black only needs a tempo to carry out his ingenious idea) 32. Re8+ Kg7 33. Bd3 Rd7 34. Bb1 (Bc2 bxc2 35. Nxc2 Bb3 36. Na1 Rd1+ and wins) Rd1+!! 35. Nxd1 c2, and the two minor pieces are helpless against the advancing pawns. L’Ami resigned.

Simultaneously, Harikrishna was making the pieces dance in breaking down Van Wely’s Scheveningen Sicilian. Black fends off the first wave of attacks along the f-file, but runs into trouble as White’s agile knights join the fray: 26. Qh4 h5 27. Nde2 exf5 28. Nf4, when the computer contends that Black can hold the scary-looking 28fxe4! 29. Nxh5 gxh5 30. Qxh5 Kf8 31. g6! Re6!.

Instead, White breaches the defense after 28Kg7? 29. Ncd5! Bxd5 (Harikrishna: 29Qxc2 30. Ne3 Qxb2 31. Nxf5+! gxf5 32. Nxh5+ and the White pieces rush in) 30. Nxd5 Qxc2 31. exf5 Rac8 32. Nf4 Rh8 33. fxg6 fxg6 34. Ne6+, when 34Kh7 loses to 35. Be4 Qe2 36. Bxg6+! Kg8 (Kxg6 37. Nf4+ wins the queen) 37. Qf4.

With threats buzzing around the Black king, Van Wely misses a last defensive chance and goes down in spectacular sacrificial fashion: 36. Qe4 Rc1?! (Rh7 holds out longer) 37. Rhf3! Kh7 (Nxf3 38. Qxg6 mate) 38. Rf7+! (pulling the knight away from defense of g6) Nxf7 39. Qxg6+!!, and Black resigns facing an economical mate in 39Kxg6 40. Be4 mate.

Before there was Lance or Te’o, the chess world had Borislav.

We wrote here a couple of weeks ago about Borislav Ivanov, the mid-level Bulgarian master who created a sensation at an open tournament in Croatia in December by scoring 6-3 and defeating some of the best local grandmasters in the process.

Ivanov’s spectacular result — and the semi-strip search conducted by organizers to make sure he wasn’t using computers to cheat — created a sensation, with some arguing his stellar play was totally improbable given his rating and past results and others arguing that the chess world has become paranoid that a good player can’t have a great tournament within facing accusations of dishonesty.

In an interview with the Russian chess site WhyChess.com, Ivanov sounds half ticked and half amused by the controversy, while denying any illegality.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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