Tata Steel Chess 2021: A preview

by André Schulz
1/15/2021 – It all starts on Saturday in Wijk aan Zee, as the first round of the much-anticipated Tata Steel tournament kicks off at 14:00 (CET). Given the circumstances, it will not be the massive festival — with three masters tournament and a number of side activities — that we were used to enjoy at the beginning of each year. But it will be a great (over-the-board) tournament nonetheless, with Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana included in the lineup!

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Top-notch chess in a small fishing village

It was business as usual at the 2020 edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, although things were about to take a dramatic turn for the worse. Now we are entering the second year of the coronavirus crisis, which means the 2021 tournament will be organized on a smaller scale — but it will take place nonetheless!

Wijk aan ZeeWijk aan Zee is a small fishing village on the shores of the North Sea which once a year becomes the chess capital of the world, as the best players on the planet gather to fight for tournament victory, surrounded by hundreds of chess fans in the De Moriaan hall. Many chess fans attend the festival, not only because of the top-notch games, but also because it is often cold, wet and stormy outside in winter.

The tournament has existed since 1938, and originally it was played in nearby Beverwijk. Since then, it has been cancelled only once, at the end of the Second World War, in 1945. As the tournament grew, it moved from Beverwijk to Wijk aan Zee in 1968.

The sponsor of the tournament has always been the steel factory near Ijmuiden. The factory has had different owners, but all of them continued with the commitment. Now the factory belongs to the Indian Tata Group.

Just about every top player in recent history has participated in this event. Dutch stars Jan Donner, Loek van Wely, Jan Timman and Hans Ree have played the most games. Then comes Viswanathan Anand. This year, the 15th World Champion cannot be there, for obvious reasons.

The field of players competing this year in the large De Moriaan hall, which is not overcrowded this time, is phenomenal. The list is headed by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who has overtaken Anand as the player with most tournament wins, having won the event seven times.

Then follows Fabiano Caruana, number 2 in the world ranking and defending champion. France’s number 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the third seed. 

There were a few changes to the original list of participants after it became clear that the pandemic would not permit travel from some countries. Pentala Harikrishna, who lives in the Czech Republic, will play instead of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Nils Grandelius and Alexander Donchenko will replace Ian Nepomniachtchi, Nodirbek Abdusattorov and Daniil Dubov. 

The best Dutch player at the start is Anish Giri, while Jorden van Foreest will also represent the host country.

Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen

Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen during round 11 last year | Photo: Alina l’Ami


Name Country Rating Ranking
Magnus Carlsen Norway 2862 1
Fabiano Caruana United States 2823 2
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave France 2784 5
Anish Giri Netherlands 2764 11
Alireza Firouzja FIDE 2749 18
Jan-Krzysztof Duda Poland 2743 19
Pentala Hariskrishna India 2732 22
Radoslaw Wojtaszek Poland 2705 37
Andrey Esipenko Russia 2686 49
David Anton Guijarro Spain 2675 60
Jorden van Foreest Netherlands 2671 66
Alexander Donchenko Germany 2668 71
Nils Grandelius Sweden 2657 77
Aryan Tari Norway 2618 184


Games will be played with a time control of 100 minutes for 40 moves, followed by 50 minutes for the next 20 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with 30 seconds added for each move. 

In the event of a tie at the end of the tournament, a two-game blitz play-off will be played, followed by an Armageddon game in the event of another tie. If more than two players are tied, the results against each other — and if necessary Sonneborn-Berger — will decide which two players move on to the play-off.


  • Playing days: Saturday 16 January (Round 1) to Sunday 31 January (Round 13)
  • Rest days: Wednesday 20 January, Monday 25 January and Wednesday 28 January


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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