If you follow my column, you will notice that I have not often been covering the most recent games from top-level tournaments. I don’t really want to annotate the same game that other commentators (and their computers) have already picked apart. But this time I am making an exception and covering a game that was just played (at the time of writing) in Wijk aan Zee, although in the B-group. It was a very nice game by the 61 year old Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman.
Timman was a member of the world elite for most of his life, even playing a “world championship” match against Karpov in 1993 after Kasparov and Short created the PCA and organized their own match. When chess players get older they tend to get more inconsistent, rather than simply beginning to play worse. Thus a strong player who is no longer so young can be a dangerous opponent, because you never know when he will suddenly play like he did in his youth. In this game, Timman plays beautifully against his younger opponent, GM Sipke Ernst, showing his natural talent. On the surface he plays with a devil-may-care attitude, pushing pawns and sacrificing. Of course, this belies the real calculation behind his play. The game flows so smoothly because of the sound positional basis.
The theme here is the positional sacrifice. Early in the opening he sacrifices a pawn, despite the exchange of queens. To the untrained eye the compensation looks almost invisible, but it turns out that Black can hardly utilize his extra pawn or shake off the pressure. A vigorous advance in the center bottles up the black pieces. Finally there is a breakthrough with a temporary knight sacrifice which looks almost like a middlegame method. Finally a positional exchange sacrifice allows the black pieces to be incarcerated and the activity of the white pieces to reach the extreme.
It is hard to see where exactly Black made his mistake in this game. Probably instead of 17...Bd5, 17...0-0-0 should have been preferred; however, I prefer White anyway there. 20...g6 led to big problems, but Black is definitely in trouble by that point anyway. Looking at this game, you get the sense that White's play never depended on any one specific variation; rather, it was based on true positional elements. It looked like Black was really facing a tidal wave in this game!