Aronian Dominates in Wijk aan Zee
By GM Ian Rogers   
January 30, 2012
Tata Steel Champ GM Levon Aronian, Photo Cathy Rogers
Every January, the biggest local chess tournament in the world takes place in the Dutch seaside village of Wijk aan Zee.

Whereas for most super-tournaments, an open tournament alongside is an add-on, in Wijk aan Zee it is the Grandmasters who join more than a thousand amateur players in a giant playing hall.

Expert commentary is provided in Dutch in a giant tent erected on the village green. (English language commentators had been tried in years past but the thousand plus locals who travelled for their yearly fix of seaside chess preferred the local tongue.)

At the edge of the playing hall, De Moriaan, a special area is set aside for three Grandmaster tournaments, the strongest of which also happens to be one of the strongest tournaments in the world.

Most of the hundreds of players, each in their own ten player round-robin tournament, ignore the stars until their own game is completed, though nearing the end of the round it can be hard to spot the Grandmasters through the crowds of spectators.

The star attraction at the 74th Tata Steel tournament was, as usual, Magnus Carlsen. The 20-year-old Norwegian has won just about every top tournament in recent years and opened a large gap at the top of the world rankings.

So when Levon Aronian arrived in Wijk aan Zee three weeks ago for the start of the first super-tournament of 2012, he was not optimistic.

Due to overlap with the Armenian Championship and the Gibraltar Open, none of Aronian's regular aides were available to come to the Netherlands with him, though he did have his girlfriend, Australian Olympic player Arianne Caoili, by his side.

In addition, Aronian was worried that certain holes in his opening repertoire would be exposed - holes he had not had time to fix between the end of his modest result at the London Classic in December and the start of the Tata tournament.

Yet, after 13 gruelling rounds of the 'Wimbledon of Chess' had concluded, and the players were joining hundreds of locals in the giant tent for a traditional pea soup dinner, it was Aronian, 29, who was celebrating with Caoili and members of the Armenian-Dutch community, having won twice as many games as all but three other players.

GM Hikaru Nakamura, Photo Cathy Rogers
One of those three was world number one Carlsen, who inflicted one of Aronian's two losses and chased him to the finish line. Carlsen finished tied for second, with Azeri Teimour Radjabov and Italy's Fabiano Caruana.

Just half a point further back was defending Tata Champion Hikaru Nakamura who gained enough rating points to move up to world number six position, but was barely satisfied; "Plus two [two wins more than losses IR] is not a bad result. It's hard to know how to feel. I started badly, played well in the middle, played badly again in rounds 8,9,10 and then played OK again at the finish."

Nakamura's best game came in the fifth round against Czech GM David Navara.


White is clearly positionally dominant but the finish was spectacular
25.Nxh5+!! Qxh5 26.Rxf7+ Rxf7 27.Rxf7+ Kh6 28.Qf4+ g5 29.Qf6+ Qg6 30.Qf1!!
The point behind Nakamura's sacrifice; the dual threats of 31.Rf6 and 31.Qh3+ force Black to tie himself in knots.
30...Qh5 31.Rxb7!

With a new set of threats - 32.Qxa6+ and 32.Qf6+, and this time there is no way out.
31...c4 32.Qf6+ Qg6 33.Qxd8 Qb1+ 34.Kf2 1-0

Just one rung further down the table came Gata Kamsky, securing his best-ever result at Wijk aan Zee. It had been 15 years since two US players had been invited to the Dutch super-tournament and to have both perform well was a bonus. (One could argue that there were actually three Americans in Wijk aan Zee A, since Caruana was born in Miami and learned his chess in Brooklyn.)

Kamsky, who at 37 was the second oldest player in the field, was happy enough with his performance; "I don't judge my performance by my result but by whether I am happy with my game. And if I look at my game here I can say, yes, I am satisfied."

"In my first Wijk aan Zee I scored minus four, my second time 50% and so you can say it is getting better."

Kamsky described his win over Sergey Karjakin as his best game, but it was his near-miss in the penultimate round against the world number one that kept the spectators on edge.
Photo Cathy Rogers

Wijk aan Zee 2012
White M.Carlsen
Opening: Ruy Lopez, Marshall Attack

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5 9.d4!?
An anti-Marshall system with an extremely modest reputation.

9...exd4 10.e5 Ne4 11.Nxd4 Nxe5 12.f3 c5 13.Bf4 Bf6 14.Bxe5 Bxe5 15.Nc6 Bxh2+ is the theoretical recommendation, suppsedly leading to a forced draw, but Kamsky decides not to ask Carlsen what his improvement will be.
10.Nxe5 Bb7 11.Nxc6
11.Nd2 Bd6 has been holding up well for Black of late.
11...Bxc6 12.Bg5 Nd5 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.Nd2 f5 15.f3!? e3 16.c4?

"My sense of danger is letting me down," admitted Carlsen after the game. "After 16.f4 White can still play for a small advantage."
16...Nf4! 17.cxb5+ Kh8!
A great shock for Carlsen, who began thinking seriously for the first time in the game. Now on 18.bxc6 e2! is close to winning for Black.
18.Nc4 e2! 19.Qd2 Qg5 20.Rxe2!
The only chance. "I wasn't sure if 20.g3 gave him perpetual check or whether he had more than that," said Carlsen, "but I didn't need to find out since this seemed to be more or less holding."
In fact 20.g3 walks into a storm - 20...Nh3+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+!! 22.Kxf3 Qh5+ 23.Kg2 f4! and White is helpless, e.g. 24.Ne5 f3+ 25.Nxf3 Qxf3+ 26.Kxh3 Rae8! when a Black rook will soon enter the attack with decisive effect.
20...Nxe2+ 21.Qxe2 Bxb5 22.Qe3!
Now Black cannot avoid the exchange of queens without allowing the White knight into e5.
22...f4 23.Qe5 Qh4 24.Qe1!
24.Qxc7 is impossible due to 24...Rac8 25.Qd6 Rfd8 26.Qb4 Rxd4. Now at least Black gets to eliminate the White knight, but probably he still does not have enough.
24.Qe1 Qxe1+ 25.Rxe1 Bxc4 26.Bxc4 c6 27.Re6 Rf6 28.Re4 a5 29.h4 Rd8 30.Re5 a4 31.Ra5 Rfd6 32.Rxa4 Rxd4 33.b3 g6 34.Kh2 Kg7 35.Ra6 Rd2
Black's only winning plan will be connected with doubling on the seventh rank.
36.a4 Rf2

Now, whether he goes to h6 or h8, Black will be playing without a king and a draw is within reach for Carlsen.
37...Kh8 38.Kh3 h5 39.Rf7 Rdd2 40.Rxf4 Rxg2 41.Rf7 Rh2+ 42.Kg3 Rdg2+ 43.Kf4 Rxh4+ 44.Ke5 Rg5+ 45.Kf6 Rf5+
Carlsen thought Black's last chance was 45...Rg3, but it is probably not enough for a win for Black.
46.Kxg6 Rxf7 47.Bxf7 Rf4 48.Be6 Rxf3 49.Kxh5 Re3 50.Bc4 Kg7 51.Kg5 Re5+ 52.Kf4 Kf6 53.Bd3 Rh5 54.Be4 c5 55.Bd3 Rh4+ 56.Ke3 Ke5 57.a5 Rh3+ 58.Ke2 Kd4 59.Bc4 Draw Agreed

For Carlsen, second place in any tournament is a disappointment and he has now, for the first time in three years, gone two tournaments in a row without taking first place.

With his Fischer-like attitude of trying to beat everybody, sometimes Carlsen can push too hard, but the number of dubious positions he had in the second half of the Wijk aan Zee tournament must have been worrying.

Of course life is not all bad for the 20-year-old - he is still within 20 points of breaking Garry Kasparov's rating record of 2851 - but he now has Aronian snapping at his heels.

After Wijk aan Zee, Aronian has achieved the third highest rating in history (after Kasparov and Carlsen) and if anyone is to stop the inevitable rise of the Norwegian wonderboy to the title of World Champion over the next decade, it may well be Aronian.

"Aronian used to be a guy who would win a few games in each tournament," said Nakamura, "but if he keeps playing like this he will become a very formidable opponent."

Wijk aan Zee 2012
Final scores:
1.Aronian(Arm) 9/13;
=2.Carlsen(Nor), Radjabov(Aze), Caruana(Ita) 8;
=5.Ivanchuk(Ukr), Nakamura(USA) 7½;

7.Kamsky(USA) 7;
8.Karjakin(Rus) 6½;
9.Van Wely(Ned) 5½
=10.Gashimov(Aze), Gelfand(Isr), Topalov(Bul) 5;
=13.Giri(Ned), Navara(Cze) 4½.

Find more information on the official website and see Macauley Peterson's earlier CLO report from Tata. Find out more about GM Ian Rogers' work in the judging article on his piece on Nakamura in Brazil
, which placed tenth in the 2011 "Best of CLO" competition.