- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Meet the Dutch Rocky Balboa.

When countries agree to host world-class tournaments, chess etiquette holds that at least a slot or two in the field be reserved for favorite sons (or daughters) who otherwise wouldn’t make the cut. Typically, the invitees’ main role is to generate some patriotic buzz and serve as cannon fodder for the big guns.

That’s partly how 21-year-old Dutch GM Jorden Van Foreest, 66th in the world in the most recent FIDE rankings, got a slot beside world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, world No. 2 GM Fabiano Caruana, and a slew of other top players in the 83rd Tata Steel Masters tournament, held annually in the fabled chess-mad village of Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

And lo and behold — our 11th-seeded Rocky Van Foreest took on Caissa’s Ivan Dragos and Apollo Creeds to win the whole thing, even beating a fellow Dutchman, GM Anish Giri, in an Armageddon tiebreak Sunday to claim the title. Van Foreest becomes the first Dutch player to win the elite event since the great Jan Timman way back in 1985.

Van Foreest’s undefeated 8½-4½ result included a final-round victory against Swedish GM Nils Grandelius in a sharp Najdorf Sicilian, a win that vaulted him into a tie with the front-running Giri.

Black misses a chance to consolidate defensively (12…Bb7 13. 0-0 Qc7 looks sturdier) after White gambits a pawn, and Van Foreest makes him pay: 19. Rfb1 Qc8 (Rb7?! 20. c4 Nb4 21. Qb3 d5 22. cxd5 exd5 23. Bxd5 Nxd5 24. Qxb7 wins material) 20. c4 Nf6 (see diagram) 21. Nb5! — an inspired positional sacrifice based on the power of White’s rook-backed pawns.

Grandelius prudently and quickly returns the piece with 21…axb5 22. cxb5 Bxb5 23. Qxb5 Nd7 24. Bb7 Qd8 25. a6, but White thus obtains an unbreakable bind on the position. White gets a decisive material edge after 35. Bd4 Qb8 36. f3 Rxa6 37. Bxa6, and Black’s desperate final attack only hastens his own demise: 43. Kh4 Qf2+ 44. g3 g5+ 45. Kxg5! f6+ 46. Kh6 fxe5 47. Qxe5 and Black resigned facing an unstoppable mate on g7.


The sensation of the event was Carlsen’s stunning Round 8 loss to Russian GM Andrey Esipenko, who himself seemed shocked at what he had managed to do. Carlsen, who had finished first five times and second three times in his last eight Tata appearances, had not lost to a player rated below 2700 at classical time controls since 2015.

Still, the best way to deal with a bully sometimes is to throw the first punch, and Esipenko did that in this Scheveningen Sicilian. White’s 7. Be3 Be7 8. g4! is an early sign he will not be intimidated, and Carlsen’s wayward 12. Qxe3 Qh4? only amplifies the force of the White gambit.

It’s clearly not the champ’s day after 16. Kb1 (Esipenko has quickly gotten his entire army into ideal attacking positions) Nc6? (Nc5 was better, but White has the pleasant choice of pushing either his b-, e- or h-pawns, with a clear initiative) 17. Ncxb5! axb5 18. Nxc6! Bxc6 19. Qc3, with a double attack on c6 and h8 that recovers the material and leaves Black reeling.

White’s 26. Rg5!, threatening the deadly 27. Bb5, clarifies his superiority, and he handles the champ’s last attempts at a cheapo with aplomb: 32. Ra8! (Qxd7?? Rxb3+ 33. cxb3 Rxb3+ 34. Kc2 Qb2 mate) Rxa8 33. Bxa8 Qf5 34. Kb2! (Qxd7?? Rxb3+ 35. Kc1 Qxf4+ 36. Rd2 Ra3, with the winning threat of 37…Qf1+) Rb5 35. Qxd7 Rc5 36. Rc1 Qxf4 37. Qe8+ Kg7 38. d7, and there are no tricks left in a hopeless position; Carlsen resigned.


Van Foreest-Grandelius, Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2021

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Qd3 Nbd7 7. Be2 b5 8. a4 Nc5 9. Qe3 b4 10. Nd5 Ncxe4 11. a5 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 21. Nb5 axb5 22. cxb5 Bxb5 23. Qxb5 Nd7 24. Bb7 Qd8 25. a6 Bf6 26. Ba5 Qe8 27. Bc7 Bxa1 28. Rxa1 d5 29. Bd6 Qd8 30. Rc1 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 Qg1 42. Rc8 Nh1+ 43. Kh4 Qf2+ 44. g3 g5+ 45. Kxg5 f6+ 46. Kh6 fxe5 47. Qxe5 Black resigns.

Esipenko-Carlsen, Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2021

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e6 7. Be3 Be7 8. g4 b5 9. g5 Nfd7 10. a3 Bxg5 11. Qd2 Bxe3 12. Qxe3 Qh4 13. Rg1 g6 14. O-O-O Qe7 15. f4 Bb7 16. Kb1 Nc6 17. Ncxb5 axb5 18. Nxc6 Bxc6 19. Qc3 O-O 20. Qxc6 d5 21. exd5 Rfc8 22. d6 Qd8 23. Qxb5 Rcb8 24. Qc4 Rxa3 25. Qc7 Qe8 26. Rg5 Ra4 27. Ra5 Rab4 28. b3 R4b7 29. Qc3 Qd8 30. Bf3 Rb4 31. Qc7 Qf6 32. Ra8 Rxa8 33. Bxa8 Qf5 34. Kb2 Rb5 35. Qxd7 Rc5 36. Rc1 Qxf4 37. Qe8+ Kg7 38. d7 Black resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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