78th Tata Steel Challengers Group

1/16/2016 – The top players are there, in the Masters at Wijk. But it is worthwhile taking a look at the Challengers, where traditionally plenty of exciting chess battles take place. Of the 14 players in this group, five are from the host nation, while Russia and Azerbaijan have two players each, and USA, Germany, Georgia, India and China one player. Three women will be seen in action. Here's an overview.

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The 78th Tata Steel Chess Tournament takes place from January 15 to 31, 2016, in the coastal village of Wijk aan Zee, North Holland. It is one of the most prestigious events in the international chess calendar. The "Wimbledon of Chess" attracts the very best chess grandmasters in the world, along with thousands of amateur players, live event visitors and online visitors from around the world.

The tournament has two main player groups, each with 14 players. They are known as the Tata Steel Masters and the Tata Steel Challengers. The event attracts the very best chess grandmasters in the world. Visitors to the tournament have witnessed the domination of the biggest names in the chess world including Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov.

Year after year great chess battles take place in the B section at Wijk aan Zee, and 2016 will probably continue the tradition. There are many top-notch players, with a few names that might be unfamiliar. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Challengers landscape this year.

The Players in Tata Steel Challengers 2016

Title Name
Country
Rating
Age
GM Nisipeanu, Liviu-Dieter
GER
2679
39
GM Baskaran, Adhiban
IND
2653
23
GM Safarli, Eltaj
AZE
2653
23
GM Dreev, Alexey
RUS
2644
46
GM l'Ami, Erwin
NED
2627
30
GM Bok, Benjamin
NED
2607
21
GM Sevian, Samuel
USA
2578
15
GM Antipov, Mikhail
RUS
2567
19
GM Abasov, Nijat
AZE
2556
20
WG Ju, Wenjun
CHN
2548
24
IM van Foreest, Jorden
NED
2541
25
IM Batsiashvili, Nino
GEO
2485
29
IM Admiraal, Miguoel
NED
2441
21
WG Haast, Anne
NED
2391
22
Average rating: 2569 – Category: 13

Of the 14 players, five are from Netherlands, the host nation. Russia and Azerbaijan have two each; USA, Germany, Georgia, India and China each have one player. Three women will be seen in action. If we look at the ages of the players, the two sections are quite comparable: the average age in the Challengers section is just under 25 years, while in the Masters it is just above 26. The ratings, however, tell a different story: The average rating for the Masters is an amazing 2750, while the Challengers notches up a modest 2580! Among all of last year’s challengers, only three players: Sam Sevian, Erwin L’Ami and Anne Haast, are showing up again in 2016.

The experienced campaigners

Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, Alexey Dreev. Erwin l’Ami

Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, originally from Romania, now plays for Germany. He is the highest rated player in the Challengers group. In the past he has beaten the likes of Shirov and Topalov, and in the 2015 European Championships he even drew with World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Nisipeanu played in Corus Group B in 2010, and one of his losses was to Erwin l’Ami. The two will meet again this year. The smart move would be to pick Liviu-Dieter as the favourite to win this year’s Challengers section.

Being a Dutch GM means that you have a fair shot at playing in one of the groups at the Tata Steel. Erwin l’Ami played in the Masters section in 2013, but he didn’t fare well: losing five games and winning none. Last year, he played in Tata Chess Group B and had a mediocre performance with three wins, three losses and seven draws. L’Ami followed that up by winning the Reykjavik Open in March 2015, crushing his opponents, including a nice win against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. As an experienced Tata Chess player, he will be looking to deliver his best-ever performance at this year’s edition.

Alexey Dreev is the real veteran of the group. He is the only player in this list who has played in both the predecessors of Tata Steel: Hoogoven (Wijk Aan Zee), as well as when it was later renamed to Corus. Way back in 1995, Dreev actually won the Wijk Aan Zee Group A! He also played in 1996, finishing with an impressive 7.0/13. An interesting side note: five of the players in Group B who are challenging GM Dreev were not even born when he won Group A! He’s back now, making an appearance 21 years after his first trip. GM Dreev has been rated over 2700 a number of times, including as recently as October 2015. If he is able to find his form he could be a real contender for the title.

Fast and furious

Eltaj Safarli and B. Adhiban

Eltaj Safarli plays for the Azerbaijan team, along with his better known teammates Radjabov and Mamadyarov. Back in 2002 he won the U-10 World Youth Championship. He qualified for both the recent World Cups (2013 and 2015), though he was eliminated early. Way back in 2010 his rating crossed 2600 and has stayed right around 2650 after that. One interesting match-up would be when Safarli plays Adhiban: both the players are right around the top 100 in the world and have very comparable ratings. In their two head-to-head matchups Safarli has one win and one draw.

India’s Adhiban Baskaran, 23 years old, has been a solid 2600+ player for over two years now. When it comes to tactics he is right up there with the best of them. In last year’s Tradewise Gibraltar Adhiban had an amazing seven wins (which was equal to tournament winner Nakamura’s victories), only problem being that he lost two games, including one against Nakamura. A lot of eyes will be on India’s only representative in this year’s Tata Chess.

Young blood

Jorden van Foreest, Samuel Sevian and Mikhail Antipov

Dutch IM Jorden van Foreest is only 16 years old, making him the second youngest player in Group B, after Sam Sevian. In the 2015 World Junior Championship he finished strong, scoring +3 (+5 –2 =6) He still has a few more years of Junior Championships left! His current rating is around 2550, and has always been going up steadily. So he might still be far from his peak rating. Of special interest should be his match up against 15-year-old Samuel Sevian.

Sam is the youngest player in his section. He has quite a number of “youngest-ever” distinctions to his credit: youngest American GM and also the youngest GM in the world. But his age is not the only noteworthy aspect. He made his international debut in Tata Steel Group B last year, finishing with a very impressive 7.5/15 (+5 –3 =5). In 2015, at the US Championships he managed to defeat Wesley So and to hold Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky to draws. Then, in the Baku Chess World Cup 2015, he drew both his games against Taimour Radjabov, but went down in the rapid games. He is developing into a fine player.

19-year-old Russian Mikhail Antipov is the current World Junior Champion. He won that title in Khanty-Mansiysk this September. (Another interesting side note, the World Junior champion is ranked 55th among active players in his home country, which gives us an idea of how strong the Russians are!) Check out this Chessbase interview after Mikhail Antipov won the World Juniors, including his game against van Foreest, which he calls “the best game I’ve played in my life.”

No longer in their teens!

Benjamin Bok, Nijat Abasov and Miguoel Admiral

GM Benjamin Bok will be celebrating his 21st birthday during this year’s Tata Chess tournament. His current rating, 2600, is close to his highest ever, and for someone his age it could mean that he hasn’t yet achieved his peak. Benjamin has been making frequent appearances in many famous tournaments: Tradewise Gibraltar, Qatar Open, European Championships, World Blitz, etc. He has also played in previous editions of Tata Steel Chess: Group B (2014) and Group C (2010). So he knows what to expect in Wijk Aan Zee. He has been a top finisher in the last two World Junior Championships, where he’s played Antipov and van Foreest, who are both playing here. Recently Benjamin won the FIDE Open of the London Chess Classic.

20-year old Azeri Nijat Abasov achieved his GM title before he turned 15. He crossed 2500 a few weeks before his 14th birthday, but his rating has stayed around the same for the last six years. In the last two World Junior Championships (2014 and 2015) he battled with the other “juniors” in Group B (Antipov, van Foreest) and did well. This is his first Tata Chess appearance.

Miguoel Admiral might be a new name to many fans. This 21-year-old Dutch player is an FM, and has not played in a lot of high profile tournaments. His current rating (2438) is close to his highest ever, and he’s been improving every year. Two years ago he did play in Tata Chess (Group C), where his performance was –4 (+1 –5 =7). Miguoel has been invited back and promoted to Group B. He will be looking to pick up a norm in Tata Chess this year.

Women Power!

Nino Batsiashvili, Anne Haast and Ju Wenjun

Georgian IM Nino Batsiashvili (rating 2500) is 29 years old and has represented Georgia in many team events and women’s tournaments. Last month, she caused a stir when, in the very first round of Qatar Masters 2015, playing with the black pieces, she held World Champion Magnus Carlsen to a draw.

When it comes to women’s chess in the Netherlands, WGM Haast has won it all: 2014 classical champion and 2015 women’s rapid champion. And she’s only 22 years old. Again, being Dutch, she’s had a few invitations to Wijk Aan Zee. Back in 2012 she played in Group C and lost eight of her 13 games. She got stronger (rated around 2400) and played in Group B in 2015. She lost seven games but did manage to win against the veteran Jan Timman. She’s back this year, and will be hoping for a few more wins.

Shanghai based Chinese GM Ju Wenjun is the sole representative from China in Group B. (There are three Chinese players in Group A: Ding Liren, Hou Yifan, and Wei Yi.) Wenjun’s rating has been around 2550. Back in 2014, she won the Women’s Grand Prix in Sharjah, ahead of Hou Yifan on tie-break. Here’s a Chessbase article after that win, including a game against Harika Dronavalli that she’s annotated herself. Ju Wenjun will turn 25 on the last day of Tata Chess this year.

So there you have it. The three veterans, Nisipeanu, Dreev and L’Ami,will be gunning for the top spot. Then there is the group of three, all in their early 20s and very evenly matched: Adhiban Baskaran, Ju Wenjun and Eltaj Safarli. Mikhail Antipov, Jorden van Foreest, Nijat Abasov and Benjamin Bok will be eager to show that they can play against the best. And then there is young Sam Sevian who definitely has the potential to be the “Wei Yi” of the Challengers this year.

2016WijkChallengers

 

Pictures of Adhiban, Safarli, van Foreest, Batsiashvili, Bok by Amruta Mokal
Pictures of L’Ami, Sevian, Haast by Alina L’Ami
Picture of Abasov by Ahmed Muktar, of Antipov by Ruchess.ru and of Admiral by Frans Peteers

 

 

Ram Prasad (Twitter: @ramnarasimhan) is a San Francisco based software engineer, originally from India. He is fascinated by high quality chess tournaments and follows them avidly. His interests include all aspects of chess improvement. He’s written a few articles for ChessBase, this overview of the Challengers specifically for:

Check out the ChessBase India website at www.chessbase.in.
Visit and "like" the ChessBase India Facebook page

Playing schedule + Playchess commentary

The two main tournaments are round robins. Both groups start on the 16th of January 2016 in Wijk aan Zee. The Masters move to Amsterdam on January 21, and to Utrecht on January 27. All rounds in Wijk aan Zee begin at 1.30 p.m., except for the last round on 31 January 2016, which begins at 12.00 p.m. Round five will take place in the Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam, and round ten in the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht. Both these external rounds start at 2.00 p.m.

Round
Date English commentary German commentary
1
Saturday, 16 Jan GM Daniel King GM Klaus Bischoff
2
Sunday, 17 Jan GM Simon Williams GM Klaus Bischoff
3
Monday, 18 Jan GM Simon Williams GM Klaus Bischoff
4
Tuesday, 19 Jan GM Simon Williams GM Klaus Bischoff
Free
Wednesday, 20 Jan    
5
Thursday, 21 Jan GM Daniel King GM Sebastian Siebrecht
6
Friday, 22 Jan GM Yannick Pelletier GM Sebastian Siebrecht
7
Saturday, 23 Jan GM Daniel King GM Klaus Bischoff
8
Sunday, 24 Jan GM Yannick Pelletier GM Klaus Bischoff
Free
Monday, 25 Jan    
9
Tuesday, 26 Jan GM Daniel King GM Klaus Bischoff
10
Wednesday, 27 Jan GM Yannick Pelletier GM Sebastian Siebrecht
Free
Thursday, 28 Jan    
11
Friday, 29 Jan GM Adrian Mikhalchishin GM Sebastian Siebrecht
12
Saturday, 30 Jan GM Karsten Müller GM Klaus Bischoff
13
Sunday, 31 Jan GM Karsten Müller GM Klaus Bischoff

Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.
 

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ff2017 ff2017 1/16/2016 05:30
Good to see Ju Wenjun get her spot in an invitational tournament that she craved during an interview in the Tromso Olympiad. I predict Ju Wenjun +4.
Queenslander Queenslander 1/16/2016 12:51
Wenjun Ju is 24, not 16 (see table)
1