Home Page Chess Life Online 2010 January The Hare and the Tortoise: GM Rogers on Corus
|The Hare and the Tortoise: GM Rogers on Corus|
|By GM Ian Rogers|
|January 28, 2010|
Travelling along the icy country roads leading to the Dutch seaside
village of Wijk aan Zee, a feeling of déjà vu takes over.
The road bridge, halfway from the nearest city, Beverwijk, is, as usual, covered by a banner advertising the tournament. As one enters Wijk aan Zee, a giant tent appears, sharing the snow-covered village green with a dozen pale local horses.
However the most familiar feeling is one of biting cold, as the North Seas winds permeate the warmest coat. In truth this is a feeling best remembered from two decades earlier; not since the late 1980s has Wijk aan Zee felt a winter as fierce as the 2010 monster. The past decade was the world's warmest on record and Wijk aan Zee's winters had reflected this, but 2010 was literally a blast from the past.
Despite the weather, thousands have again flocked to De Moriaan to watch the world's most venerable and exciting super-tournament.
Wijk aan Zee businesses - generally dead quiet in winter - love the visitors, but local motorists are warned to watch in the evenings for absent-minded GMs (or amateurs) crossing in front of moving cars while their mind is busy with the move which would have won them that day's game.
The biggest crowds - in their thousands on weekends - assemble at the commentary tent (which doubles as a bar) and in the playing hall, a sports stadium which features more than 50 subsidiary tournaments.
A select few visitors are allowed in to the corridors of the stadium, where a rabbit warren of small rooms sees groups of organisers, press, top players holding post-mortems, and even a room full of laptops which are being used for a university study into chessplayers' decision-making.
The players' post-mortems - sadly rather rare this year in the hyper-competitive top GM group in Wijk aan Zee - are always entertaining. Even a 20 move draw between B group players Dutch GM Erwin L'Ami and Romanian Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu turns into a theatrical production when Nisipeanu realises that he was probably winning two moves before he took a perpetual check. "I missed that - what a moron!" Nisipeanu moans to himself.
However it is the world's elite that everyone has really come to see and in 2010 the fight for first place has been - and continues to be particularly enthralling, with the fast-starters gradually being overhauled by the slow-but-steady brigade.
A week ago Alexey Shirov seemed set for a record-breaking victory in Wijk aan Zee, having won his first five games in convincing style. No player in the modern era has ever failed to win a super-tournament after such a start but wise heads noted that Shirov still had a string of world-class opponents to come.
After dropping a draw to Short in round six, Shirov was stopped by another player who was quick out of the blocks, Hikaru ‘H-Bomb' Nakamura.
Shirov had been passively placed since soon after the opening but after his last inaccurate move, 36...Ka7, the US Champion had a chance to finish the game with tactics.
37.Bc6! Rd8 38.c5! dxc5 39.Bxe4 Rd6 40.Rxd6 Qxd6 41.Qxa5+ 1-0
Shirov has not been the same player after this defeat, though it was not until the Spaniard ruined a great chance to beat World Champion Viswanathan Anand in the tenth round and lost, that Shirov surrendered the lead.
Shirov had very little time left for his final two moves of the time control and, seeing that 39...Bxe6 loses to 40.Qxe4, tried the exchange sacrifice
and lost badly after
40.dxe6 Re5 41.Rxb4 Qd8 42.Qd4 f3 43.gxf3 Ng5 44.Rxe5 Nxf3+ 45.Kf2 Nxe5 46.Rb6 Bxe6 47.Be2 Qf6+ 48.Ke3 Qg5+ 49.Qf4 Qg1+ 50.Kd2 Qa1 51.Rxd6 Qxa5+ 52.Kd1 g5 53.Qd4 Kf7 54.Rd5 Bxd5 55.Qxe5 1-0
Neither he nor Anand realised at the time that Black had missed a huge tactical shot in the position above. 39...Ng3!!, planning to meet 40.Nxg5 with 40...Rxe1, finishing a piece ahead. In fact matters are not quite so simple because White can try 40.Rxb4! when only the super-calm 40...Rc8! keeps Black on top.
Meanwhile Vladimir Kramnik had been quietly accumulating points, including memorable victories over the two players who were hot on Shirov's heels, Nakamura and Carlsen.
Kramnik's win over Nakamura was critical for both players. The previous day, while Nakamura was rolling Shirov, Kramnik had barely hung onto a losing endgame against Nigel Short, so form seemed to favour the H-Bomb over the Siberian Hamster.
(As an aside, many years earlier, World Champion Garry Kasparov had crushed American World Junior Champion Tal Shaked with a great new idea in the opening and later commented that he had considered not using the opening novelty because to do so was like using an atom bomb to shoot a bird. Clearly times have changed, for most chess fans would have seen nothing wrong with an H-Bomb destroying a hamster.)
Nakamura employed the Dutch Defence, which he had already used with success against Anand and after 23 moves the following position was reached...
Black has wonderful dark square control for the pawn and after 23...fxg3 24.hxg3 Be6, the result would be anybody's guess. However Nakamura miscued with
24.Nxf4! gxf4 25.R5xd4
Kramnik safely converted his material advantage and replaced Nakamura in second place.
The two players' paths now diverged dramatically.Nakamura has barely scored since his loss to Kramnik, losing to Russian contemporary Sergey Karjakin and then hanging on to a draw against Cuba's Lenier Dominguez.
"I was completely busted," said a relieved Nakamura after the Dominguez game yesterday, "but I'll take a draw - it's better than a loss."
Nakamura's description of the game was unduly pessimistic but it was based on annoyance at a serious error soon after the opening.
Here Nakamura played
14...b5?! 15.b4 Qd8 16.cxb5 axb5 17.Bxb5
And now Nakamura explained "Now I realised I had miscalculated. I wanted to play 17...Rxc3!? 18.Qxc3 Bxa2 19.Bc6 Rc8 20.Ra1 Nd5 but I missed that he had 21.Qxg7+!! Kxg7 22.exd5 when he gets a rook and 2 bishops for the queen."
Nakamura could have tried improving this line with 19...Nxe4!? But after 20.Qe1 the passed b pawn keeps White on top.The game continued
17...Ra3 18.Nd5 Rxc1+ 19.Qxc1 Rxa2 20.Nxf6+ Bxf6 21.Bc4
"After 21.Bc6 I didn't see how I could stop the b pawn," said Nakamura but had Dominguez played this no doubt Hikaru would have found 21...d5 22.Bxd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 Qxd5 with the same sort of defensive problems which he managed to survive in the game, which was drawn on move 70.
No doubt it was little consolation, but Nakamura's half a point in the last three rounds has been matched exactly by both his US counterparts, Varuzhan Akobian and Ray Robson.
It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the World Team Championship in Turkey in the first half of January was scheduled too close to the Wijk aan Zee tournament for any player to hope for stellar results in both events.
While Nakamura was fading, Kramnik was stepping up the pace, beating Carlsen in a game, which the Russian described as one of his best ever. While the game was sweet revenge for Kramnik after their London encounter, it also moved Kramnik into a tie for first. The tortoise then overtook the hare when Shirov went down to Anand while Kramnik was drawing with Ivanchuk - a game where Ivanchuk accidentally repeated the position three times in time trouble when he could have made Kramnik suffer mightily.
With three rounds to go Kramnik is still not sure of first place. He must survive two consecutive games with the Black pieces, against Shirov and Anand, while also having Carlsen breathing down his neck; the third consecutive super-tournaments in which Kramnik and Carlsen have battled for the top prize.
Shirov could of course put his tournament back on track with a win tomorrow against Kramnik, but few believe that the hare can overturn years of tradition and retake the lead from the tortoise.
Meanwhile Anand's year-long run of outs has continued; his win over Shirov was his first in the tournament after nine consecutive draws. With Anand's world title defence against Veselin Topalov only a few months away, even the Indian's most fervent fans must be worried that the 40-year-old Anand has lost his hunger for success.
In contrast, loss of the world title seems to have freed Kramnik up to play in a new, more aggressive style and victory in Wijk aan Zee would see chess fans wondering if the two best players in the world today are not the two who are playing for the world title but in fact Kramnik and Carlsen.
Follow the action on the official website, the Internet Chess Club (Games begin at 7:30 AM EST- CLO editor Jennifer Shahade will be hosting the coverage for rounds 10-13), chessdom, chessbase, chessvibes and look for a tournament report by GM Rogers in an upcoming issue of Chess Life Magazine.