Wesley So beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final round of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters to win the tournament by a full point ahead of reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen. An extraordinary finale saw first wins for Dmitry Andreikin and Loek van Wely as the chasing pack crumbled, with defeats for Levon Aronian and Wei Yi, while Magnus Carlsen squandered a chance to beat Sergey Karjakin. Gawain Jones survived by the skin of teeth against Lu Shanglei to win the Challengers and qualify for the 2018 Masters. We take a look at some winners and losers from the event.
The final round of the 2017 Tata Steel Masters took place 1.5 hours earlier than usual and seemed to catch the players off-guard, since we saw an extraordinary sequence of events. The headlines were that Sergey Karjakin blundered into an almost lost position on move 8, while Ian Nepomniachtchi was dead lost by move 9!
Rather than try and chronicle all the twists and turns of the final round let’s look at some winners and losers of the tournament as a whole:
1. Wesley So
There’s nowhere else to start! After Wesley’s victories in the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic in 2016 there were two questions remaining: 1) Could he also triumph in a supertournament involving the World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and 2) Could his almost risk-free, precise approach enable him to rack up a big enough score to win an event with a more varied field like the Tata Steel Masters?
The answer to both was a resounding yes! Wesley beat five of the bottom six players to score +5, finish a full point ahead of Carlsen (+3) and remain the only unbeaten player:
His unbeaten record of course stretches further, to a remarkable 56 classical games over more than six months:
Bilbao Masters (Round 5 onwards): 6 games, +1
Sinquefield Cup: 9 games, +2
Olympiad: 10 games, +7
Isle of Man Open: 9 games, +4
London Chess Classic: 9 games, +3
Tata Steel Masters: 13 games, +5
Total: 56 games, +22
Those results have now taken him to 2822.1 on the live rating list, the sixth highest rating ever.
He received a bonus on the final day of Tata Steel Chess, since Fabiano Caruana lost to Nigel Short in Gibraltar, conceding the no. 2 spot on the live ratings:
The defining moment of Wesley’s tournament came in Round 3 when, after drawing his first two games, it looked for all the world as though he was about to be beaten by Richard Rapport. The Hungarian went astray at the last moment, though, and Wesley got the first of three wins in a row. Then in the final round, when he admitted he’d have been happy to draw and possibly face a playoff, Ian Nepomniachtchi played one of the worst openings ever witnessed at this level. Our commentator Lawrence Trent took a look at that game:
Wesley So’s post-game interview reflected on that game and also on the people behind Wesley’s success, with both the Lord (“all the glory goes to him”) and his coach Vladimir Tukmakov getting a mention. It seems that Wesley has found the balance between solidity and wins that Tukmakov couldn’t quite achieve while working with Anish Giri.
It’s possible we’ll only next see Wesley at the US Championships in St. Louis on 27 March (see our 2017 Chess Calendar), though Shamkir Chess may be an event to add to the calendar. Wesley’s talk of taking a rest suggests he’s not going to be involved in the Sharjah FIDE Grand Prix, for which the players are yet to be announced.
The qualifier from the 2016 Challengers entered the tournament as the lowest-rated player (2653) and was expected to suffer. The first four games bore that out, as he scored two draws with the white pieces and lost to Harikrishna and Eljanov. Then he faced Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces in Round 5…
This Karjakin was a game changer for me. I was really struggling with the opening choice and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I got this inspiration from one of my friends to play this French, and then everything after that was like a fairy tale.
He crushed the World Championship challenger in only 31 moves.
After that Adhiban’s play was like a breath of fresh air, as he went on to score three more wins and five draws. It wasn’t just the results, though. His policy of playing offbeat openings against the world’s best worked to perfection, with one highlight being daring to play the King’s Gambit against none other than tournament winner Wesley So! He picked up a deserved 29 rating points and has boosted his chances of invitations to future top events. As he puts it himself:
Once you get the chance you really have to make your mark!
He did that and more. Watch his final interview after beating Richard Rapport in the last round:
3. Gawain Jones
29-year-old Englishman Gawain Jones has a chance to follow in Adhiban’s footsteps after winning the Tata Steel Challengers to qualify for next year’s Masters.
He held off ferocious competition to qualify on the first tiebreak of winning his individual encounter with Markus Ragger (a fine game):
The final round was nerve-wracking. Relatively early draws for Ragger and Xiong meant Gawain knew all he had to do to qualify was draw against Lu Shanglei, but that was anything but a foregone conclusion. Ultimately fortune favoured the brave, since Gawain went for a knight sacrifice just before the first time control: