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Ian Rogers Blogs from Wijk Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
January 16, 2008
13-year-old Hou Yifan with trainer Yu Shaoteng. Photo Cathy Rogers

It took four days before Wijk aan Zee turned on its traditional charms for the cream of world chess, with cold winds and rain descending on the Dutch seaside village. It's ideal weather to stay indoors and play or watch chess, a view shared by the thousands of players and fans who descend on Wijk aan Zee every January.

For the Grandmasters playing in one of the world's elite Corus events inside the sports centre De Moriaan, the weather only affects them on the short walk from their hotel near the beach to the playing hall. Grandmasters arriving at 1.30pm each day for the games remove coats and scarves in the cloak/coffee room adjacent to their playing area, before entering the arena to face battalions of photographers.

Some players, such as Loek van Wely, deliberately arrive late to avoid the photographers; "We should chip in and buy Loek a watch," moans one local photographer after he was once again being restricted to a few hurried snaps of the local hero by arbiters hurrying the press out of the playing area after their allotted five minutes snapping time had expired.

Certain players are obvious press favourites, with 13-year-old Chinese star Hou Yifan attracting more attention than the former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik.

Hou Yifan, of course, had become an instant celebrity after her win over English Nigel Short in the third round. Short may not be the player he once was - in all senses of the word - but it was remarkable how many people had a glint in their eye as they reported this result; the former world title challenger comprehensively outplayed.

Hou Yifan had been destined for stardom since she moved with her mother from Jiangsu, a province near Shanghai, to the national chess training centre in Beijing as a nine year old.

Accompanied by her second Yu Shaoteng, the shy teenager later agreed to explain her win over Short for Chess Life Online readers.

Corus B 2008
White: Hou Yifan
Black: N.Short

Opening: Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Be7

Position after 5...Be7

"A surprise," said Hou. "I had never seen this before."

"She doesn't know the old games so much," said Yu. "She's a 21st century girl."

 6.Qe2 Nd6 7.Bxc6 bxc6 8.dxe5 Nb7 9.c4

Why not 9.Nc3? "I am just playing moves," said Hou.

9...0-0 10.Nc3 Re8?! 11.Rd1 Bf8

"I have no idea what he is doing," admitted Hou.

12.Bg5! f6 13.Bh4 g5

Position after 13...g5

Hou made a face when this move was replayed. "She's saying ‘Is he joking?'" explained Dutch GM Peng, a former number two woman in the world and an amused spectator to Hou's demonstration.

14.Bg3 d6 15.Ne4! Bg4 16.exf6 Bh5 17.Qe3

Position after 17.Qe3

Until now Hou had not been prepared to make an assessment of the position but now she declared "This seems OK for me," - a typical understatement since White is already winning.

18...Bh6 18.Ne5! Rxe5 19.Bxe5 Bxd1 20.Rxd1 Qe8 21.Bc3 Nd8 22.f7+ Qxf7 23.Nf6+ 1-0

The final position

 "On 23...Kf8 I was going to play 24.Re1 and I'm winning," said Hou.

After the game Short seemed in surprisingly good humour, declaring that there was nothing to do apart from go out that evening and get drunk.

The top tournament in Wijk aan Zee was expected to be dominated by the three immediate past World Champions - Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov - but so far the event has gone anything but according to plan.

Topalov languishes at the tail of the field, having dropped full points to Levon Aronian and Van Wely.

Anand could have joined him there after a loss to Teimour Radjabov and a very narrow escape against Michael Adams.

Kramnik is faring somewhat better, though his only win has been an unconvincing endgame grind against everyone's pick for the wooden spoon, Pavel Eljanov.

The leaders are two players who have been tipped as future World Champions. After each starting with 2.5/3, the leaders met in the fourth round and an exciting struggle resulted.

Leaders Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian face off. Photo Cathy Rogers


Corus A 2008
White: M.Carlsen,
Black L.Aronian

Opening: Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.a4 b4 9.Nbd2 Na5 10.Ba2 0-0 11.c3 c5!?

Position after 11.c5!?

Exchanging on c3 is more usual.

12.cxb4 cxb4 13.Nc4 Rb8 14.Re1 Nc6 15.Ne3 Be6 16.Bxe6

Aronian was highly critical of this move - "Your pieces are not well placed for this," he explained to a surprised Carlsen. "If your knight was on b3 instead of e3, it would be a different story."

16... fxe6 17.Nc4 Nd7 18.Ncd2

Carlsen, after considerable thought, has come to the same conclusion as Aronian, that the knight belongs on b3. However there is a tactical problem - not surprising given White's loss of time.

18...Nc5 19.Nb3 Nxb3 20.Qxb3 Rxf3!!

Position after 20...Rxf3!!



"I originally thought I could take on e6," admitted Carlsen ruefully.

21...Nd4 22.Qd1 Qf8

Aronian spent a long time considering 22...Bg5 but after 23.Be3 Bf4 24.Bxf4 exf4 25.Rc1, threatening 26.Rc4, decided that White had enough counterplay. "I thought this must be practically lost for White but I didn't have enough time," said Aronian.

23.Kg2 Qf6 24.Be3 Rf8 25.Bxd4 exd4 26.e5!

Position after 26.e5!

Carlsen appeared quite proud of this move only to be somewhat deflated by Aronian's comment, "The only move - otherwise you are losing slowly."

26...Qg5+ 27.Kh1 d5

"Logical," said Carlsen, " but maybe Black does not have enough time for this."

28.Rc1 Qf5

The players examined 28...Qh4 but could find nothing decisive after 29.Rg1 Bg5 30.Rc7 g6 31.Rg4 Qh6 32.h4.

29.Rc7 Bg5 30.Rg1 g6?!

"What a terrible, terrible move, so anti-positional," said Aronian, realising that his king would no longer have a safe haven.

31.f4! Qxf4 32.Qg4 Qxe5 33.Ra7 Rf5?!

Taken aback with the turn of events and very short of time, Aronian starts to lose track of the game. "Of course I had wanted to play 33...Rxf2 but then I lose a piece after 34.Qh3!," said Aronian.

"You can make a draw with 33...Rxf2," said Carlsen but Aronian disagreed, showing the variation 34.Qg3 Qe2 35.Rxe6! Rxh2+! 36.Qxh2 Qf3+ 37.Rg2 Qd1+ 38.Re1!, avoiding the perpetual. However even here Black should have enough for a draw.

34.a5! Bh6
Position after 34...Bh6

"I looked at 35...Qd6," said Aronian, " but then you can play 36.Qxd4 Bh6 37.Qb6!."

"I should be winning here," said Carlsen, who was kicking himself for not now playing 35.Rxa6. The players analysed for some time without being convinced whether or not White can claim an advantage. However it is clear that this is better than the text move, which allows an immediate draw.

35.Qg3?! Qe2! 36.Qc7, draw agreed.

Corus Chess 2008
Wijk Aan Zee, January 11-27
Section A standings after 4 rounds

Standings after Round 4

1-2   GM Magnus Carlsen NOR 2733 and GM Levon Aronian ARM 2739- 3.0
3-6-  GM Teymour Radjabov AZE 2735, GM Judit Polgar HUN 2707 and GM Vladimir Kramnik RUS 2799-2.5
 5- GM Loek van Wely NED 2681
7-9 -GM Michael Adams ENG 2726, GM Vassily Ivanchuk UKR 2751 and GM Peter Leko HUN 2753
10-11- GM Shakhryar Mamedyarov AZE 2760 and GM Viswanathan Anand IND 2799-1.5
12-14-GM Boris Gelfand ISR 2737, GM Veselin Topalov BUL 2780 and GM Pavel Eljanov UKR 2692- 1.0

For standings in all sections and further information, check out the Corus website.