Magnus Carlsen grabs eighth title in Wijk aan Zee

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
1/30/2022 – Magnus Carlsen beat Fabiano Caruana to claim his eighth tournament title in Wijk aan Zee with a round to spare. The world champion will not even need to show up for Sunday’s final round, as the organizers of the tournament confirmed that Daniil Dubov will not be playing despite testing negative to a second Covid-19 PCR test. Meanwhile, Arjun Erigaisi clinched the title in the Challengers, thus getting an invitation to next year’s main event. | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

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A fine win

Magnus CarlsenMuch was talked about the new tiebreak system put in place by the organizers of the Tata Steel Tournament after last year’s controversy. However, in the end, there was not even close to a repeat of the 2021 incidents, as Magnus Carlsen claimed his eighth title in Wijk aan Zee after beating Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces in Saturday’s twelfth round.

Just looking at the standings table, a hypothetical chess enthusiast — who was probably living under a rock the last couple of weeks — would point out that Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Richard Rapport can still catch the leader in the final round, as they trail the world champion by a single point. What they do not know is that Carlsen will not play on Sunday, as he is paired up against Daniil Dubov, who had to leave the event after testing positive for Covid-19.

The organizers shared the following message on Twitter:

Daniil Dubov tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. A second test requested by Dubov himself showed a negative result. The Dutch health authorities stipulate that in these circumstances the positive test result stands and supersedes the negative outcome.

As the statement above shows, Dubov requested a second test and got a negative result, but that will not change the previous decision regarding his withdrawal. However, it was important for the Russian to get tested again, as he will be playing in the upcoming first leg of the FIDE Grand Prix which kicks off in less than a week in Berlin.

Leaving Dubov’s status aside, Carlsen’s victory was yet another remarkable achievement for the world champion. The Norwegian will finish the event with 9½ out of 13 points to his name, a score rarely reached by the winner of the A tournament — usually 8½ or 9 points are enough to claim the title, with the two major exceptions being the 2020 edition, when Caruana finished with 10 points, and the 2013 edition, when Carlsen himself collected 10 points.

The eight-time winner in Wijk even missed some opportunities in the first half of the event, but in rounds 6 to 12 he collected four wins and three draws to secure overall victory. Moreover, in three out of his five wins, he defeated players who are in good form in this tournament — i.e. Anish Giri, Richard Rapport and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. And beating Caruana with black is, of course, never easy.

Thanks to his great performance, Carlsen is now more than 60 points ahead of Alireza Firouzja in the live ratings list, but would still need over 30 points to attain his incredibly ambitious goal of reaching 2900.

Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana

The contenders of the 2018 World Championship match, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

In the most anticipated game of the round, Caruana grabbed space with the white pieces, but in order to do so conceded his opponent the bishop pair. The American’s 26th move allowed the world champion to give up an exchange and get a better position.

 

Caruana’s 26.f3 gave way to 27...Rxd4 28.Bxd4 Qxd2. Evidently, the American was in for a fight, and Carlsen was not going to let this chance slip away. The world champion explained:

A draw was very good for me, but I guess I was feeling a bit bolder than normal. I kind of wanted to play, he clearly wanted to play as well, so we got a good fight. [...] I think he went for the wrong plan with Nd2 and f3, and I felt that the exchange sac was screaming to be played.

Despite being down material, Carlsen happily exchanged queens a few moves later — there followed 29.Rd1 Qf4 30.Qb4 e6 31.Bc3

 

After 31...Qxb4 32.Bxb4 Bxe5 the world champion considered this endgame to be “winning pretty much from the get go” for Black. The bishops are simply too strong.

Caruana defended stubbornly, but he nonetheless was forced to throw in the towel in the following position.

 

It was a brilliant win against a top-notch opponent for the world champion. But how does he assess his overall performance in the tournament? Carlsen:

There have been a lot of very good moments here in this tournament. I think I’ve had nine winning positions, and I converted five of them, which is probably one or two too little, considering what I had.

But there are a lot of positives, especially compared to the last couple of years, when I didn’t play well, and frankly didn’t get many chances. So the huge amount of chances I got is of course partly due to my opponents playing a bit weaker than usual, but I think I also managed to create more of them than normal.

 

Fabiano Caruana, Magnus Carlsen

Still going | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

Shankland beats Karjakin in style

Friday’s eleventh round saw Sam Shankland signing a quick draw with black against Polish star Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The American, known for being a fierce competitor, later apologized on Twitter for having played such a short game:

Curiously, his game against Sergey Karjakin in round 12 lasted less than two hours, except that this time around the former US champion left the playing hall with a full point to his name in the standings table. Shankland played the sharp 4.f3 variation against the Nimzo-Indian, and the critical mistake by Karjakin came on move 17.

 

Protecting against a potential Qxc4 with 17...Bd4 was called for here, while looking for counterplay with 17...Qb7 (attacking b2) was duly punished by White.

Shankland could have immediately gone for 18.Qxc4 which, among other things, prevents Black from castling, but he chose to safer — and also correct — 18.0-0 instead. Karjakin continued with his plan and responded with 18...Qxb2, and there followed 19.Qxc4 Bxf2

 

Of course, grabbing the bishop with the rook loses the other rook on a1, so White needs to agree to play a piece down with 20.Kh1. Black was up material and immediately offered a queen swap with 20...Qb3, which prompted Shankland to spend a bit less than 20 minutes on his next decision — should he place his queen on c6 or c7 to keep up the pressure?

 

The only winning move here is 21.Qc7, which was played in the game. Black has nothing better than 21...Qb6, which can be responded by 22.Qxe5+ Kf7 23.Nd5 Nxd5 24.Qxd5+

 

White has grabbed two pawns and, more importantly, has a more active and better coordinated position. Once the queenside white rook joined the action, Karjakin decided it was time to resign — 24...Ke7 25.Qe5+ Kf7 26.Rac1 and 1-0

 

Sam Shankland

Sam Shankland | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 12 results

 

Standings after round 12

 

All games - Round 12

 

Replay all the Masters’ games at Live.ChessBase.com

Arjun gets the coveted ticket to the Masters

Much like in the Masters, the winner of the Challengers tournament was decided with a round to spare. Arjun Erigaisi drew Thai Dai Van Nguyen with the white pieces to secure tournament victory and claim a ticket to next year’s main event. The 18-year-old currently has an astounding 9½ out of 12 score, and will face Marc’Andria Maurizzi in the final round.

Arjun later confessed:

I think I got a bit lucky in the start. I was completely lost against Lucas [van Foreest] in the very first round, and then with Warmerdam it was fortunate that he ran into my prep. And after that I just picked up the pace and everything started going well.

The second half of the tournament saw the Indian avoiding risks, showcasing great control to stay out of trouble. 

In the penultimate round, three players scored full points in the Challengers — Rinat Jumabayev, Lucas van Foreest and Erwin l’Ami.

Round 12 results

 

Standings after round 12

 

All games - Round 12

 

Replay all the Challengers’ games at Live.ChessBase.com

Links


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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