Magnus Carlsen aims for strong showing at 'Wimbledon of chess' event
The world champion had a disappointing 2017 in classical elite tournaments but has a chance to turn things around in Wijk aan Zee
Magnus Carlsen, the world champion, attempts to break an alarming sequence of setbacks in classical elite tournaments when the 14 grandmasters at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee push their first pawns on Saturday afternoon (12.30pm start, live and free for internet viewers). The annual event in the windswept Dutch North Sea village is the Wimbledon of chess, the most illustrious annual contest on the calendar.
The top first-round pairing is Carlsen v Fabiano Caruana – the world No1 against the world No2. Gawain Jones, the British champion, plays Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 world title challenger.
Carlsen’s current drought seemed unlikely back in 2016 when he won Wijk, Stavanger and Bilbao in the first seven months of the year. But in 2017, although he was supreme in speed chess, he failed to capture first prize at classical all-play-alls in Wijk, Stuttgart, Stavanger, St Louis or London. He was only ninth of 10 on home ground in Stavanger.
At 27 the Norwegian should be at the height of his powers and he will be conscious that a poor 2017 has tarnished his historic legend in comparison with Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. Victory at Wijk, where six of the global top 11 are competing, would be a boost.
It will be interesting to see if Hou Yifan, the No1 woman, can continue her steady improvement in elite events. The 23-year-old from Beijing aims to reach a new playing peak this year before she starts her Rhodes scholarship education degree at Oxford in October.
Jones, 30, is another for whom Wijk could be a make-or-break event. He has faced elite GMs before in the London Classic but 13 rounds where he is the lowest rated competitor is something else and Carlsen & Co will regard their game against him as a must-win. Jones, for his part, has prepared in depth and sees Wijk as the opportunity of his life.
When Carlsen defeated Hikaru Nakamura 18-9 in their chess.com speed final, the significant statistic was that the No1 won 7.5-2.5, including a run of five straight wins, at one-minute bullet, a niche where the American has been regarded as invincible. Carlsen did it in style, too, as this game shows:
Magnus Carlsen vs Hikaru Nakamura, chess.com bullet
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Bd7 4 Bxd7+ Nxd7 5 O-O Ngf6 6 d3 e6 7 Ng5 Be7 8 f4 O-O 9 c4 Nb8 10 Nc3 Nc6 11 Be3 d5 12 Bf2 h6 13 Nf3 dxe4 14 dxe4 e5 15 f5 Re8 16Re1 Nd4 17 Nxe5 Bd6 18 Nf3 Ng4 19 h3 Nxf2 20 Kxf2 Qb6 21 b3 Nxf3 22 Qxf3 Be5 23 Nd5 Qa5 24 Rad1 Qxa2+ 25 Re2 Qa5 26 f6 Re6 27 fxg7 Rae8 28 Kg1 Rg6 29Rf1 Rxg7 30 Kh1 Qd8 31 Qe3 Qd6 32 Rf5 Qg6 33 Qf3 Re6 34 Rd2 Kh7 35 Rxe5! 1-0
Source: The Guardian