Wijk aan Zee Recap Part I

February 06, 2010 • General

Hello once again to everyone out there in the blogosphere. Before I dive right into talking about Wijk, I would like to clear up a certain rumour from the online world. I am not playing in Aeroflot, nor did I ever seriously consider it. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply not true. Now that this is out of the way, onto the tournament recap!

Round 1: Smeets-Nakamura

In the first round, I had Black against Dutch GM Jan Smeets. Like quite a few other European GMs, I have seen him at several tournaments over the past few years but not had the opportunity to play. Overall, Jan seems to be a very solid player with a pretty good general knowledge of openings. In our game, he surprised me by playing the 6.Bg5 variation against the Najdorf. As fate would have it, the tournament seemed to be a referendum on whether the Bg5 variation is good for White or not. I picked a mild sideline which surprised Jan, and he played a tame variation.

The following was the position after 14.Nd5. Oddly enough, our silicon friends seem to think 14…Nxd5 was simply better for me, but I thought White had a solid positional advantage after 15.exd5 followed by eventually putting a knight on e4. When I chose to avoid this variation, the position eventually fizzled out and it was a fairly standard draw. Overall, I felt that coming off of the tournament in Turkey this was a great start to the tournament with a solid draw as Black. Onto round 2!

Round 2: Nakamura-van Wely

In the second round I had White against another Dutch man albeit it, one who is a bit older and stronger! Shockingly Loek was playing in Wijk for a 19th! straight year. The last time we played in Amsterdam, I was White in a Najdorf, but blundered in a completely winning position and he was able to escape with a draw. This time around, we played another Najdorf although I decided to play the 6.Bg5 variation against him. Unfortunately for Loek, I was very well prepared and he walked right into my preparation.

This is the position after 15.Nd5. Unlike the game against Smeets, the knight on d5 is actually an intentional piece sacrifice. Prior to the game, I had prepared this variation with Kris and we concluded that the position might be holdable for Black, but it would be extremely unpleasant for a human to play. As it turned out, our assessment was correct since Loek went wrong almost immediately and simply got blown off the board. It was after this second round game that I realized I would at least have a chance of putting together a good showing in the tournament.

Round 3: Short-Nakamura

In the third round, I faced another familiar opponent in Nigel Short. Having faced Nigel only the month before in the London Chess Classic, I had become fairly familiar with his style. During the tournament in London, Kris and I both lamented having White against Nigel and not Black as we felt Nigel was significantly more solid with Black than White. This time around, I decided to surprise everyone by playing the Classical Sicilian. Having played it in Turkey during the World Team Championship, I felt like giving it a whirl! Nigel deviated from prep very early on by choosing to play the Boleslavskij variation. At which point the following critical position arose.

This critical position occurred after 13…Bg4. Strangely enough, this was the third straight game of mine featuring a knight on d5, and it certainly wasn’t the last either! Here, Nigel went badly astray with 14.c4. This move isn’t necessarily awful, but after 14…Nxd5 15.exd5 Nb8, I had absolutely no problems as well as having an easier position to play. After the game, Nigel seemed to think 14.Nxe7 Qxe7 15.c4 gave White an advantage, but subsequent analysis shows that there is no advantage at all after 15…Nd7 due to Nc5-e6-d4 ideas later on. Although Nigel probably could have maintained the equilibrium and drawn, a few minor errors in a row doomed his position and I pounced on them to win my second game in a row. More than the great start, I was pleased by my calculation and accuracy in playing the best moves. From the first three games, I very rarely deviated from the Rybka suggestions in any given position.

Round 4: Anand-Nakamura

In the fourth round, I faced my first major test as I had Black against the current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand. Many people have asked me if I felt nervous before the game. Having played against Carlsen and Kramnik in London certainly helped me as this felt like just another game. I think that once you play against anyone who is top five, you inevitably realize that it is just a name and they are still “only human.” As such, I did not feel nervous at all and enjoyed the moment instead! Regardless of what happens, I can certainly tell my children in the future that I played a World Champion! That in itself, is more than enough!

The game itself started off as a Leningrad Dutch. Recently, I have started playing the Dutch frequently as it is an opening which is unbalanced and gives both sides chances. I also felt that as Vishy is not a native d4 player, something off the beaten path would yield me better chances. The opening was fairly tame, as I avoided several chances to go for serious complications. Eventually we reached the moment of truth.

In this position, the obvious trump for White is the better pawn structure with only one potential weakness in the pawn on a3. During the game, I actually felt mildly nervous as I had overlooked 19.Rac1 Nb5 20.Rxc6! after which White is close to winning. However, during the game I noticed the nice safety moves 19…Nf7 contending for and eventually preparing to play e5. Vishy chose a much less testing continuation in the more natural 19.Ne5 after 19…Bxe5 20.dxe5 I had the nice tactical shot in 20…Qa5! after which the position is almost completely dead equal. This led to a draw shortly there afterwards. Once again, I went in there with a goal and held my own with Black.

Round 5: Nakamura-Carlsen

In the fifth round I was White against another opponent who has become a bit too familiar. Having played Magnus so many times recently, (Norway,London) I have become extremely familiar with his style. This time around, I decided to deviate early and play the exchange Ruy Lopez. I felt this was simply a practical choice as I avoided any deep analysis by Magnus or Garry. In many ways, when I play against people such as Magnus, I try to play simple chess and just outplay them instead of playing a different game called memorization.

In the game itself, my plan worked out nearly perfectly as Magnus lashed out with the dubious 10..b5 which was a novelty. After this error I certainly had some initiative although, much to his credit, Magnus was able to alleviate the pressure and simplify into an ending where he had three pawns for a piece. During the game, I felt I did not miss any clear wins, although the following position is where many people thought I had winning chances.

In this position, I chose to play 47.Ne6. Many people seemed to be of the impression that 47.h4 was winning, but upon further analysis 47…b2 48.Nf5! g5! 49.Rxf6 Ke8 50.Rb6 gxh4 51.Kxh4 Kd7 followed by b1 leads to a simplification and a draw. After the game, I was rather disappointed that I could not win but sometimes chess is simply a draw.

Stay tuned for Part II shortly! Have a great Superbowl weekend, everyone!


Hikaru! 2.6.10


  1. Thanks, Hikaru!

  2. timhortons

    please update us of your schedule?

    where you playing next and next?

  3. A very great tournament for you! Congratulations. Thanks for the blog post! Enjoy your superbowl. Do you think you could add an ‘intention to play’ events to your blog to avoid most of the rumors about where you are and are not playing? I’m sure many fans would appreciate it!

  4. TheGreatest

    Thanks for blogging. You had a great debut in Corus and played some great chess. With just a little more experience you will learn how to beat the top 5 with your talent consistently. Kasparov took some time to learn how to beat Karpov and your time I bet will come soon. Your tie with the world champion is an an amazing result and so are your last two years of playing. It took some time, opportunities and practice playing in super tournaments for Carlsen to be number one. Hopefully you will get more super tournament invites to develop and prove your talent. As a fan I’m having fun playing over your games and using them for study and motivation to become better player too.

  5. Russianbear

    Congrats on your great performance in Wijk, Hikaru!

    Great stuff here. I think many fans appreciate the fact that you play the Leningrad against the likes of Anand and Kramnik. It is great to see that opening get played on the very top level.

  6. This is really great – thank you for commenting on the most interesting part of each game, so that you can comment on your whole event without killing yourself with lengthy analysis of each game. It is so interesting to get what it is like to play in a world class tournament – and after playing many of these players on the top circuit. And you rocked! You injected fun back into top 20 play! Thanks. And you should be proud of your performance.
    – Phil F, the bald US reporter at Corus for rds 5-7

  7. Brave and combative play throughout — Hikaru’s games shook up theory and shook up the tournament.

    He may not have won Corus, but he didn’t have to. He showed that he is unquestionably one of best chess players in the world, and also one of the most interesting and creative. Hikaru knew when to strike and when, at the last possible moment, to hold back.

    Hooray, Naka and continued success!!

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