Wijk aan Zee Part I
January 19, 2011 • General
Greetings from sunny (DID I REALLY JUST SAY THAT??) Wijk aan Zee. After four tough rounds of chess, we finally reached our first rest day. What can I say about Wijk aan Zee that has not already been said. The organization and conditions continue to remain flawless despite the various name and company changes during its illustrious 73 year history. Without further ado, here is my recap of the tournament thus far! I hope everyone enjoys it!
In the 1st round, I had White against Alexander Grischuk. This match served as a grudge match after our recent encounters in the Tal Memorial and World Blitz Championship. After his escape in the classical tournament, I got too overconfident and was soundly beaten in our mini match during the World Blitz Championship. Therefore, I resolved to give it my all to try and return the favor this time. In the game itself, we played the Ragozin variation of the Queens Gambit Declined. The game seemed fairly balanced until I started attacking on the kingside with 15.f3 and 16.g4!? Alexander did not handle the complications well and prematurely sacrificed a piece 18…Bxg4. After some accurate defense, I achieved a completely winning position only to make it more complicated when I played 32.Ke2? not 32.Ke4. Nevertheless, in our time scramble, I was able to simplify into a winning endgame with a knight for three pawns. A huge win regardless of when it occurred. Although nothing will completely erase the debacle in Moscow, this game served as a bit of a consolation for that.
In the 2nd round, I had Black against current number 2 in the world, Levon Aronian. Much to the surprise of most commentators, I chose to play the Dutch because we are in Holland after all! I really cannot think of a better way to honor the Dutch people for their hospitality! The game itself was surprisingly dull as I chose a minor sideline with 7…Nc6 and 8…Na5 in the Leningrad variation. Levon was unable to achieve anything tangible and the game was drawn after 15 moves. No doubt many of my fans were disappointed that I took such a quick draw, but with Black it is hard to expect more against such a strong player.
The 3rd round featured a classic rematch with Alexei Shirov from last year here in the 7th round of the tournament. Last year, Alexei got off to a red hot start with five straight wins! Unfortunately, after his loss to me, the wheels completely came off and he failed to finish at the top. This time around, we dueled in the Arkhangel variation of the Ruy Lopez instead of the Sicilian Sveshnikov. After reaching a middlegame up a pawn and probably significantly better, I became rather lazy and allowed some completely unnecessary counterplay. Right around time control the position was close to equal until Alexei blundered with 39…Ree8 and 40…Re5. This allowed me to come up with a very nice resource in 41.Nd2! After this clever knight manoeuvre I obtained a small advantage in the endgame. Alexei probably had one last chance to salvage a draw with 52…Ra4 instead or Ra3. After this costly oversight, I converted the endgame for a second win and clear first place after three rounds!
The 4th round featured a matchup with rising Dutch star Anish Giri. In the 3rd round, Anish shocked the world when he crushed Magnus Carlsen with Black in a mere 22 moves! After a relatively bizarre set of transpositions we ended up in a Nimzo/Queens Indian hybrid. Eventually we transposed into the Aronian-Karjakin game from Moscow this past November. However, I came up with an improvement in 12…d6 and 13…Qa5. Oddly enough, I had looked at this variation recently, but I then had a complete brain freeze and miscalculated 14…Be6 and chose 14…Rd8 instead. After this one disastrous move, I suffered for the rest of the game. I suspect Anish missed something in the middlegame as I think it should have been winning at some point. We reached a classic rook and pawn ending where I had to suffer for 20 moves before salvaging a draw. This challenging draw left me on 3/4 and tied for first place with the current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand heading into the rest day.
It is hard to ask for a better start, but there are still 9 more rounds of booby traps and bombs which I must navigate before I can claim a victory. Tomorrow I have White against former Fide World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov and hopefully it will be another day of exciting if not bloody day of chess here in Wijk aan Zee!
Wijk aan Zee