Halftime at Wijk
By Ian Rogers   
January 20, 2007
After seven rounds, Radjabov leads with 5.5/7. Topalov is just half a point behind. Photo Cathy Rogers

By Ian Rogers

Arguments over which tournament is the world's strongest each year always come to the same conclusion - Linares has the highest average rating (although Sofia took that crown in 2006) but the most interesting event is always the Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee.

The Corus organisers don't care about average rating - they want to see the top players in the world challenged - if not by their rivals on the rating list then by the best young players in the world. In addition, the elite of the chess world are placed in a playing hall with hundreds of other players - from other Grandmasters in the B and C groups, to amateurs playing in their one tournament for the year

Chessplayers have been coming to Wijk aan Zee or Beverwijk , neigbouring villages on the Netherlands coast, every year since the second world war. Up until the 1980s players were often housed with the local villagers. Now Wijk aan Zee boasts enough hotels to host the influx of players every January, but the locals are still very welcoming.

Facilities in Wijk aan Zee are always excellent, from the giant commentary tent in the middle of the village green (which doubles as a pub) to a canteen serving a special Dutch pea soup, to the post-game briefing on the game of the day by the winner.

At the 2007 tournament, even internet spectators could join in the Wijk aan Zee fun. A journalist with a video camera - Peter Doggers of ChessVibes.com - filmed the Wijk aan Zee press conferences and placed the videos on YouTube soon afterwards. For example, after the second round, one could see, in effect, a half hour chess lesson by Veselin Topalov, who was explaining in detail his crushing win against local hope Loek van Wely. A few days later another YouTube segment showed Vladimir Kramnik giving a masterclass about his win over Anand.

Kramnik at an aftergame press conference. Photo Cathy Rogers

Half a dozen players were tipped to have a chance to win the 2007 Corus tournament but the name Teimour Radjabov was not one of them.

The 19-year-old Azeri has an impeccable pedigree. Radjabov was born in Baku, the same city as Garry Kasparov, and his mother went to school with the retired great.
Radjabov made great strides in 2006, tying for second place in the powerful Morelia/ Linares tournament and winning a strong rapid event in Cap D'Agde.

However Radjabov's opening spurt at Wijk aan Zee still came as a great surprise. After seven rounds, Radjabov is in clear first, having defeated a number of big names.

Radjabov has yet to play the world's top three - Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik - and his final game against world number one Topalov next Sunday should be a cracker.

Apart from Radjabov's streak, however, the chess at Wijk aan Zee has not been as dramatic as usual. Most rounds in the first half have featured a couple of short draws; sometimes tailenders trying to hold their ground, sometimes Kramnik being his normal solid self with Black, sometimes Svidler struggling with a strange arthritic problem not totally dissimilar to that which hit Kramnik a couple of years ago, sometimes just because Anand seems to have lost the Eye of the Tiger.

Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the first half of the tournament came when a violent storm hit Wijk aan Zee - and the whole of northwest Europe. The day's commentary was cancelled for fear that the tent would be blown away and the sports centre where the games are played also seemed in danger of blowing away. All the signs at the front of the playing hall were blown down and the Grandmasters played their games with the sound of wind and thunder ringing in their ears and when trains throughout Holland were halted dozens were stranded in Wijk aan Zee for the night. Fortunately, the 'tienkampen' - the tournaments for amateurs which bring a thousand extra chessplayers to Wijk aan Zee - did not start until the following day; otherwise the playing hall might have become a temporary hotel on the night of the storm..

Over the board, Radjabov and the other two teenage Grandmasters in the A group - Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen - have provided the majority of the excitement . However the player who has completed the greatest number of decisive games is Mr 'Fire on Board' Alexey Shirov, enduring a nightmare tournament.

In game after game, Shirov has walked into his opponent's opening preparation and been unable to reach a playable position. In the fifth round against Van Wely, who was battling with the Spaniard for the wooden spoon, Shirov followed preparation he had done six months ago but simply could not remember why the line was playable. Van Wely followed his own preparation until move 30 and Shirov lost without a fight.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 0-0 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.g4 b5 12.g5 b4 13.Ne2 Ne8 14.f4 a5 15.f5 a4
This all seems very exciting - and it is - but it has by now been played in so many games that both players were able to reach move 20 in less than 10 minutes on the clock.
16.Nbd4 exd4 17.Nxd4 b3 18.Kb1 bxc2+ 19.Nxc2 Bb3 20.axb3 axb3 21.Na3 Ne5 22.h4 Ra4
A year earlier at Wijk aan Zee Anand had won a magnificent game against Karjakin after 22...Ra5 23.Qc3 Qa8 24.Bg2 Nc7!! 25.Qxc7 Rc8!! 26.Qxe7 Nc4! with a winning attack. Later games showed that White could have improved with 23.Qb4 so Van Wely's move has now become the main line.
Now, however, Shirov began to think, using more than an hour and a half over the next four - well known - moves. It was already clear that something was wrong, although noone at the time realised that Shirov was just desperately trying to remember some old analyses.
23.Qg2 Qa8 24.f6 Bd8 25.Bd4 Nc7 26.fxg7 Kxg7 27.h5!?
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Shirov was probably experiencing a sinking feeling as he played this move. He knew that this was the move he had prepared - and that according to his analyses it was fine for White - but he also knew that he couldn't remember why. Oh, to be able to phone a friend! Van Wely's main line ran 27.Bc4 Rxc4! with good play for Black, so 27.Bc3 may have been White's most sober choice.
25...Ne6 28.g6 Rxd4 29.Rxd4 Nxd4 30.h6+ Kf6 31.g7 Rg8 32.Qf2+
Since this loses by force, 32.Bc4 was the best chance but it does not seem promising, so the improvement hidden in Shirov's computer was probably on one of the previous four moves and will have to wait for another Shirov game to be unveiled.
32...Ndf3 33.Bg2 Qxe4+ 34.Ka1 Ke6
Van Wely's first big think of the game came on this move, returning the piece to reach a trivially winning endgame.
35.Rf1 Bg5 36.Bxf3 Qxf3 37.Qxf3 Nxf3 38.Rxf3 Bxh6 39.Rxb3 Rxg7 40.Rh3 Bf4 0-1

Lower groups in Wijk aan Zee often feature stars of the future and this year both India's Parimarjan Negi, at 13 the world's youngest Grandmaster, and Hou Yifan, the 12-year-old Chinese rising star, are performing well in the C group. The following game sees Negi demolish Holland's new hope Wouter Spoelman.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.Re1 Bc5 8.c3 0-0 9.d4 Bb6 10.Be3 exd4 11.cxd4 Na5 12.Bg5 Nxb3 13.Qxb3!
A powerful new move. Negi's compatriot Anand had previously tried [13.axb3 against Ivanchuk in 1997 but after 13...h6 14.Bh4 g5 15.Nxg5 Nxe4 16.Nxe4 Qxh4 was fine for Black.
Anand's trainer at the time of the Ivanchuk game, Elizbar Ubilava, is now Negi's second and he was able to tell Negi of an improvement he had found many years ago, a simple recapture with the queen which changes everything if Black tries to follow Ivanchuk.
13...h6 14.Bh4 g5?
Spoelman fails to realise Negi's idea and hurries along the path to ruin. Ubilava later explained that 14...d6 was playable for Black, not fearing 15.e5 in view of 15...dxe5 16.dxe5 g5! 17.Bg3 (17.Nxg5? hxg5 18.Bxg5 Bxf2+!) 17...Ne4.
15.Nxg5! Nxe4
15...hxg5 16.Bxg5 d6 17.Qg3 Nh5 18.Qg4 is awful for Black.
16.Rxe4!! Bxe4 17.Qg3! hxg5
17...Bg6 loses immediately to 18.Nxf7! Qxh4 19.Qxg6
18.Bxg5 Qe8 19.Bf6+ Bg6
Now the threat of mate on e1 slows White down, but not for too long.
20.Nc3! Qe6 21.Qh4 Bh7 22.Qg5+ Bg6 23.Nd5 Bxd4
23...Rfe8 merely delays the end - after 24.h3 White's threat of 25.Qh6 will still be a winner.
24.Bxd4 c5 25.Nf6+ Kg7 26.Ne8+ Kg8 27.Qh6 1-0

Wijk Aan Zee Corus "A"
Standings after 7 Rounds

1. T.Radjabov- 5.5
2. V.Topalov-5
3. V.Kramnik-4.5
4-8. S.Karjakin, D.Navara, V.Anand, L.Aronian- 4
9-10. R. Ponomariov and A. Motylev- 3
11-12. L.Van Wely and S.Tiviakov- 2.5
13. M. Carlsen-2
14. A. Shirov- 1