In-Depth look at Challengers in Tata Steel

by Sagar Shah
1/21/2015 – When the top group of a tournament fields a bunch of top-10 players, the Women's World Champion, rising youth and creative and bizarre players, it is sometimes easy to forget that one of the strongest tournaments of the World is happening in the steps next to them. Sagar Shah brings us a detailed report with the highlights so far of an exciting Challengers Group in Wijk aan Zee.

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The Tata Steel Chess Tournament has two main tournaments. They are played according to the 'round robin' system, whereby each competitor plays in turn against every other during the tournament. The Tata Steel Masters has 14 participants and the Tata Steel Challengers has 14 participants. Both groups start on January 10th 2015 and the last round is on January 25th. All rounds in Wijk aan Zee begin at 13.30 hours, except for the last round on January 25th, which begins at 12.00 hours. The time control is 100 minutes for 40 moves, followed by 50 minutes for 20 moves, then 15 minutes for the remaining moves with 30 seconds cumulative increment for each move starting from the first move.

Admission to the playing hall in Wijk aan Zee, Rotterdam and The Hague is free of charge

Challenger's Recap

In our past reports we have been less focused on the Challengers group to some extent. But you cannot blame us when players like Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, So, Ivanchuk and not to forget Jobava, play in the Masters category. It is natural that the entire focus is on this elite tournament. However, alongside the A category an equally interesting and intense fight for the top spot is taking place in the B group.

With an average Elo of 2561, Tata Steel Challengers is an extremely strong event

Challengers standings after nine rounds

David Navara and Wei Yi who are on 7.5/9 and 7.0/9
(respectively) are leading the tournament by a huge margin

Other players do have a chance to catch up with four rounds still to be played but there is a high probability that one out of the above two would become the champion. So it makes sense to see who their remaining opponents are. Navara has an edge in that aspect because he has to play only one 2600+ player: Potkin; meanwhile Wei Yi has to fight it out against two 2600+ players (L'Ami and Salem).

Wei Yi has been absolutely brutal with the white pieces and has scored an amazing 4.0/4 with them

Navara prefers the black magic as he has won all his five black games.

Navara-Timman, Rd 6

In the sharp line of the Bogo Indian, Navara unleashed a novelty with 11.Nb3. How good is this move remains to be seen. But it had the effect of throwing Timman completely off balance and Navara won the game in a mere 19 moves!

Chess is a young man’s game? The legendary Jan Timman is struggling in the tournament with 3.0/9

The battle between the two leaders in round five ended in a draw

Navara-Wei Yi, Rd.5

Navara pushed throughout the game with the white pieces. In the above position it is clear that White is better but whether he could win or not is quite a complicated question. Usually, when one is an exchange up and has a passed pawn it should be sufficient to win. Here, White has both these advantages but they are offset by black passed b-pawn being securely defended by the bishop and the protected passer on f4. Wei Yi managed to cling on and the game ended in a draw.

Quad-S: Super Solid Sam Shankland is unbeaten and currently in the third place with 5.5/9.

Why do I call him super solid? Because a small research in the Mega-Database shows that this guy has lost only one out of the last 68 games! But Samuel needs to start winning a few now if he has any chances of catching up with the leaders.

Robin Van Kampen- Samuel Shankland, Rd.5

Black has just played Nf4. What should White play? Hint: Find a spectacular move!

[Event "77th Tata Steel GpB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2015.01.15"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Van Kampen, Robin"] [Black "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2615"] [BlackElo "2652"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1b2r1k/ppq3pB/4pp1p/2pnP1NQ/7P/8/PPP2PP1/1K1R3R w - - 0 19"] [PlyCount "10"] [EventDate "2015.01.10"] 19. Be4 $1 {great move by Robin. Now the threat is to play Qg6 with an unstoppable mate. Black has only one move at his disposal.} Nf4 (19... fxg5 20. Qg6 Rf5 21. Qe8+ Kh7 22. hxg5 $18) 20. Qf3 $6 (20. Qf7 $3 {What a beautiful move! Though objectively Qg4 could be stronger, one cannot resist such a spectacular queen sacrifice.} Rxf7 (20... Qxf7 21. Nxf7+ Kg8 22. Nd6 fxe5 23. Rhe1 $16) 21. Rd8+ Qxd8 22. Nxf7+ Kg8 23. Nxd8 $14 {White is slightly better as he has the superior minor pieces in this endgame.}) (20. Qg4 {was also possible and maybe even stronger.} fxg5 21. Rd6 $1 {protecting the e5 pawn, cutting off the black queen.} Bd7 22. hxg5 $40) 20... fxg5 21. hxg5 Bd7 22. gxh6 g6 23. g3 $2 (23. Rd6 $1 $44 {Even though White is a piece down, he has enough compensation.}) 23... Nh3 $1 {wins on the spot immediately as Nxf2 is going to net an exchange on top of being a piece up already!} 0-1

Potkin-Gunina. Rd.3

The tactic of Qf7!! shown in Van Kampen vs Shankland was very unusual and not so easy to find but here is a position with a similar tactical motif that is much much easier to find!

Potkin finished off the game with the pretty 27.Rd8+!

The 2011 European Individual champion is on +1 with 5.0/9 and in the seventh place

Robin is definitely playing some uncompromising chess with four wins and two losses

It’s always nice when you have your back covered! Erwin L’Ami (left) with Robin Van Kampen

More is expected of this smart Dutch player but 5.0/9 is not bad

Salem (Above) who is being trained by Ivan Sokolov (Above, right) in this tournament has not impressed by scoring just -1. Recently he has had a string of excellent performances like Qatar Open where he finished seventh, which has propelled him over 2600.

In his game against Erwin L’Ami he had definite chances of winning:

Salem-L’Ami, Rd.5

Can the queen destroy Black's defenses?

[Event "77th Tata Steel GpB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2015.01.15"] [Round "5.1"] [White "Salem, A.R. Saleh"] [Black "L'Ami, Erwin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E46"] [WhiteElo "2603"] [BlackElo "2613"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "3rrn1k/3q2pp/pp1b1p2/1p1P1Q2/4pPN1/P3P1R1/1B4PP/R5K1 w - - 0 29"] [PlyCount "48"] [EventDate "2015.01.10"] {Black was slightly better from the opening but White had attacking chances. Erwin went wrong and gave Salem the chance to sacrifice his queen.} 29. Qxf6 $1 {A very nice sacrifice breaking the wall towards the black king.} gxf6 30. Nxf6 $1 {A superb move and not so easy to see.} (30. Bxf6+ $2 Qg7 $19) 30... Qg7 { The only move to avoid immediate defeat.} 31. Rxg7 Kxg7 32. Nxe8+ Kf7 33. Nf6 $6 (33. Nxd6+ Rxd6 34. Rd1 $16 {White is a simple pawn up and should win the game.}) 33... Be7 34. Nxe4 Rxd5 35. Kf2 Ne6 36. Ke2 {Salem has consolidated his advantage.} Nc5 37. Nc3 (37. Nxc5 bxc5 38. e4 $16 {would immediately get the pawns rolling.}) 37... Rh5 38. Rh1 {is too sophisticated for me to understand.} (38. h3 {was simple.}) 38... Bf6 39. Ba1 Nb3 40. Bb2 Rc5 {40 moves have been reached but White has lost most of his advantage.} 41. Kd3 Rc4 42. Ne4 {losing control and handing over the advantage to black.} Rxe4 43. Kxe4 Bxb2 44. Rd1 Nc5+ 45. Kf5 Bxa3 46. Rd6 b4 47. Rxb6 b3 48. e4 b2 49. e5 a5 50. e6+ Ke7 51. Ke5 Bb4 52. f5 Nd7+ {Quite a heartbreaking lose for the UAE player who had excellent chances of winning in the middlegame.} 0-1

Salem’s loss can be aptly shown in these two pictures:

You build a winning position with great care and concentration….

…..And just in a moment it all comes crashing down!

America's youngest grandmaster Samuel Sevian (above) started off with two losses but has come back well in the tournament with four wins over Potkin, Gunina, Haast and Klein. The youngster has been showing excellent stamina with many of his games going the distance and in two of them he played for as many as 91 moves!

GM Michiels Bart is a Belgian grandmaster and maybe one of the most educated chess players in the world. He has a rating of 2563 and is a Civil Engineer. He has a PhD from Ghent University for his thesis on parallel fast multipole methods for the simulation of extremely large electromagnetic scattering problems.

Being thoroughly prepared before a game of chess. You can expect this from a PhD holder!

Bart misplayed a rook vs bishop endgame and was mated against GM Erwin L’Ami.

[Event "77th Tata Steel GpB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2015.01.13"] [Round "4.7"] [White "L'Ami, Erwin"] [Black "Michiels, Bart"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D52"] [WhiteElo "2613"] [BlackElo "2563"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "5k2/3R4/8/5BK1/8/3p4/5r2/8 b - - 0 95"] [PlyCount "10"] [EventDate "2015.01.10"] 95... d2 $4 (95... Rb2 {was fine}) (95... Ke8 {would also have drawn.}) 96. Kf6 {And now there is nothing that can prevent a mate.} Ke8 97. Rd3 {It's zugzwang time!} Rf3 98. Rxd2 Rf1 99. Rh2 Kd8 100. Rc2 $1 {The net has been closed and it is a forced mate.} 1-0

Do you know who he is?

Meet the Dutch GM David Klein who is just 21 years of age. Apart from possessing obvious chess playing skills, Klein is also a great problem solver. In 2012 Tata Steel problem solving competition, this young lad won the contest finishing ahead of legendary problem solvers like John Nunn, Oleg Pervakov and Piotr Murdzia. Quite an achievement!

She is the number two Dutch women player behind Peng Zhaoqin…

…and she is a top Russian female player, ranked number seven in Women’s rating list.

The two girls met each other in the eighth round of the event and produced a
very interesting and exciting game in one of the romantic old lines

[Event "77th Tata Steel GpB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2015.01.18"] [Round "8.1"] [White "Haast, Anne"] [Black "Gunina, Valentina"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C56"] [WhiteElo "2352"] [BlackElo "2538"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "89"] [EventDate "2015.01.10"] {The only two womenplayers in the event met each other in the eighth round of the tournament. Gunina was on 2.5/7 and Anne on 2/7. Of course these players are far from the top finishes, it was a symbolic match to determine who is the best woman player in group B.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 $5 { Whenever I see moves like this, I start to feel that we are going to see a game of chess from the 19th century filled with sacrifices and attack.} (4. Nxd4 {leads to the Scotch.}) 4... Nf6 5. O-O (5. e5 d5 6. Bb5 Ne4 7. Nxd4 { This is the line that we see at the top level. It is sound and no actual verdict has been reached, which means there is good scope for improvement for both sides.}) 5... Nxe4 6. Re1 d5 7. Bxd5 (7. Nc3 $5 {is the other interesting move but Black has a great position after} dxc3 (7... dxc4 8. Rxe4+ Be7 9. Nxd4 $11) 8. Bxd5 Be6 9. Bxe4 Qxd1 10. Rxd1 cxb2 11. Bxb2 f6 $15) 7... Qxd5 8. Nc3 { The thing with these lines is that they are theoretically perfect for the black side but it is possible that this has not been prepared before the game and somewhere in the distant past! This gives White chances of success.} Qa5 9. Nxe4 Be6 10. Neg5 O-O-O 11. Nxe6 fxe6 12. Rxe6 h6 13. Qe2 Bd6 14. Bd2 Bb4 $2 ( 14... Qf5 $11) 15. Bf4 $6 (15. Rxc6 $1 {A very nice exchange sacrifice.} Bxd2 ( 15... bxc6 16. Qe6+ Kb7 (16... Rd7 17. Qxc6 $1 $18 (17. Bxb4 Qxb4 18. Ne5 Qd6 $11)) 17. Qb3 $1 c5 18. c3 $16) 16. Rg6 Bf4 17. Rxg7 $16 {White is a pawn up.}) 15... g5 16. Bg3 d3 17. cxd3 g4 18. Rxc6 $1 bxc6 (18... gxf3 19. Qe6+ $18) 19. Ne5 Rhe8 20. Qxg4+ Kb7 21. Rc1 Bd6 22. b4 Qd5 23. Nc4 Bxb4 24. Ne3 Qb5 25. Rb1 c5 26. Qf3+ Ka6 $2 (26... Qc6 $11 {was safe and would have lead to an equal game.} 27. a3 Qxf3 28. gxf3 a5 $11) 27. a3 $1 Rxd3 28. axb4 cxb4 29. Bxc7 { Black king is just to weak to survive this attack.} Qc5 30. Qf6+ Kb7 31. Bf4 a5 32. h4 h5 33. Nf5 Red8 34. Kh2 Qxf2 35. Qe5 Qb6 36. Rc1 Rc3 37. Rxc3 bxc3 38. Nd6+ Kc6 (38... Qxd6 39. Qxd6 Rxd6 40. Bxd6 Kc6 41. Be7 $1 $18 (41. Ba3 $4 Kd5 $11 {Because the king will win an important tempo on b3 when it attacks the a3 bishop.})) 39. Qxc3+ Kd7 40. Qg7+ Kc6 41. Qf6 Kd7 42. Qf7+ Kc6 43. Qe6 Qb4 44. Nf7+ Kb5 45. Qe5+ {An interesting game between the two women players in the event.} 1-0


Ari Dale is a 16-year-old Australian IM who has qualified to the tournament by virtue of winning the top amateur tournament in the 2014 TATA steel chess festival. He has scored four draws including a very brave double piece sacrifice against the current tournament leader Wei Yi which ended in a draw.

Replay Challengers games

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Photos by Alina l'Ami for the official website

Schedule and results - Challengers group

Round 1 - Saturday Jan. 10
Shankland, S. - Wei, Y.
Dale, A. - Haast, A.
Navara, D. - l' Ami, E.
Timman, J. - Klein, D.
Van Kampen, R. - Sevian, S.
Michiels, B. - Gunina, V.
Saleh, S. - Potkin, V.
Round 2 - Sunday Jan. 11
Wei, Y. - Potkin, V.
Gunina, V. - Saleh, S.
Sevian, S. - Michiels, B.
Klein, D. - Van Kampen, R.
l' Ami, E. - Timman, J.
Haast, A. - Navara, D.
Shankland, S. - Dale, A.
Round 3 - Monday Jan. 12
Dale, A. - Wei, Y.
Navara, D. - Shankland, S.
Timman, J. - Haast, A.
Van Kampen, R. - l' Ami, E.
Michiels, B. - Klein, D.
Saleh, S. - Sevian, S.
Potkin, V. - Gunina, V.
Round 4 - Tuesday Jan. 13
Wei, Y. - Gunina, V.
Sevian, S. - Potkin, V.
Klein, D. - Saleh, S.
l' Ami, E. - Michiels, B.
Haast, A. - Van Kampen, R.
Shankland, S. - Timman, J.
Dale, A. - Navara, D.
Round 5 - Thursday Jan. 15
Navara, D. - Wei, Y.
Timman, J. - Dale, A.
Van Kampen - Shankland, S.
Michiels, B. - Haast, A.
Saleh, S. - l' Ami, E.
Potkin, V. - Klein, D.
Gunina, V. - Sevian, S.
Round 6 - Friday Jan. 16
Wei, Y. - Sevian, S.
Klein, D. - Gunina, V.
l' Ami, E. - Potkin, V.
Haast, A. - Saleh, S.
Shankland, S. - Michiels, B.
Dale, A. - Van Kampen, R.
Navara, D. - Timman, J.
Round 7 - Saturday Jan. 17
Timman, J. - Wei, Y.
Van Kampen, R. - Navara, D.
Michiels, B. - Dale, A.
Saleh, S. - Shankland, S.
Potkin, V. - Haast, A.
Gunina, V. - l' Ami, E.
Sevian, S. - Klein, D.
Round 8 - Sunday Jan. 18
Wei, Y. - Klein, D.
l' Ami, E. - Sevian, S.
Haast, A. - Gunina, V.
Shankland, S. - Potkin, V.
Dale, A. - Saleh, S.
Navara, D. - Michiels, B.
Timman, J. - Van Kampen, R.
Round 9 - Tuesday Jan. 20
Van Kampen, R. - Wei, Y.
Michiels, B. - Timman, J.
Saleh, S. - Navara, D.
Potkin, V. - Dale, A.
Gunina, V. - Shankland, S.
Sevian, S. - Haast, A.
Klein, D. - l' Ami, E.
Round 10 - Wednesday Jan. 21
Wei, Y. - l' Ami, E.  
Haast, A. - Klein, D.  
Shankland, S. - Sevian, S.  
Dale, A. - Gunina, V.  
Navara, D. - Potkin, V.  
Timman, J. - Saleh, S.  
Van Kampen, R. - Michiels, B.  
Round 11 - Friday Jan. 23
Michiels, B. - Wei, Y.  
Saleh, S. - Van Kampen, R.  
Potkin, V. - Timman, J.  
Gunina, V. - Navara, D.  
Sevian, S. - Dale, A.  
Klein, D. - Shankland, S.  
l' Ami, E. - Haast, A.  
Round 12 - Saturday Jan. 24
Wei, Y. - Haast, A.  
Shankland, S. - l' Ami, E.  
Dale, A. - Klein, D.  
Navara, D. - Sevian, S.  
Timman, J. - Gunina, V.  
Van Kampen, R. - Potkin, V.  
Michiels, B. - Saleh, S.  
Round 13 - Sunday Jan. 25
Saleh, S. - Wei, Y.  
Potkin, V. - Michiels, B.  
Gunina, V. - Van Kampen, R.  
Sevian, S. - Timman, J.  
Klein, D. - Navara, D.  
l' Ami, E. - Dale, A.  
Haast, A. - Shankland, S.  


The tournament has a slight change this year. Most of the rounds will be played in the traditional De Moriaan Community Centre in Wijk aan Zee, but two of the rounds will be played elsewhere. Last year the tournament traveled to the National Museum in Amsterdam and the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven.

This year the fifth round will be held in De Rotterdam. De Rotterdam is a building on the Wilhelminapier in Rotterdam, designed by Rem Koolhaas in 1998.

Rotterdam is ready to host Tata Steel!

The tenth round will be played in the International Press Cnetre Niewuspoort in the Hague. Councillor Karsten Klein of The Hague had this to say: "The Hague is honored to be able to host the Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2015 at the heart of the Dutch parliamentary democracy. Our city has a long history of international chess tournaments, a tradition which is continued in this manner. "

Commentary on Playchess

This being the first major event of the year, it is clear that we will be bringing you live commentary on our server!

Day Date Round English
Wednesday January 21 Round 10 GM Simon Williams
Thursday January 22 Free  
Friday January 23 Round 11 GM Daniel King 
Saturday January 24 Round 12 GM Simon Williams
Sunday January 25 Round 13 GM Daniel King


The games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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