Tata Steel Chess: Carlsen, the Roger Federer of chess

by Macauley Peterson
1/29/2018 – Magnus Carlsen scored his record sixth Tata Steel Chess tournament win, on the same day tennis legend Roger Federer won his sixth Australian Open title. Draws from the tournament leaders in the Masters forced a playoff blitz match, which Magnus won with seeming ease. Challengers leader Vidit made a solid draw which secured him the top spot and automatic invitation to next year's Masters. And there will be a next year; at the conclusion of the round, it was announced that the tournament was guaranteed for January 11-27, 2019. Analysis and commentary by GM Daniel Fernandez | Photo: Alina l'Ami Tata Steel Chess on Facebook

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


Blitz decides

As the players started the final round in Wijk aan Zee, on the other side of the world in Melbourne, Australia, Roger Federer was making history winning his sixth Australian Open title, tying the all-time record, and his 20th Grand Slam event (a record that it's hard to see ever being broken). Chess fans in Melbourne woke up Monday morning to a new six-time Tata Steel Chess tournament winner: World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

Much as Federer's feat took a full match of five sets to accomplish, Carlsen relied on his blitz accumen to carry the day, after a pair of last round draws left the leaders Carlsen and Anish Giri tied with 9 / 13, which has been the winning tally since 2015. Carlsen was the heavy favourite, not only due to his rating edge (he ends the tournament at 2843, his highest rating since November, 2016), but also because of his unbleamished record in rapid and blitz tiebreaks, going back over a decade.

Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen

In any other year, Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen would have been "co-winners" | Photos: Alina l'Ami © 2018 Tata Steel

Unlike Federer, who won a slew of tournaments in 2017, this was Carlsen's first classical round-robin tournament win since July, 2016 in Bilbao. At the closing press conference he called that "a big deal", adding "it was a huge relief already for me before today that I actually played kind of decently here, apart from blundering a piece [referring to round eight -Ed.], I don't think I made major mistakes." That stands in contrast, Magnus noted, to recent tournaments such as the London Chess Classic and the Sinquefield Cup during which his play was much more uneven.

This was the first time that a blitz playoff was used to determine the winner in Wijk aan Zee. Carlsen said afterward that he thought it was important to settle a tournament winner over the board, via a tiebreak match, or else it's better to treat players who tie for first as "shared winners", as has been done in the past editions.

Impressions from Round 13

The start of the grand finale at the 80th Tata Steel Chess tournament | Tata Steel Chess on YouTube

The tiebreak

Carlsen had white in the first game, and went for a quick queen trade. He maintained a tiny advantage until liquidating into a winning bishop endgame. "A very clean technical win," noted live commentator GM Eric Hansen. That meant that Giri was forced to strike back in his white game.

In the second game Giri played 1.e4 and Magnus calmly finished adjusting his pieces even after his clock had begun to tick. Giri sacrificed a piece for two pawns and immediately Carlsen started grimacing. He decided to give back the piece immediately and instead play a pawn down, with a minute less on the clock to boot. Carlsen's 27...Rde8 came with sort of shrug, but Anish spent all of his time advantage and more and that really hurt him. Carlsen managed to get maximum activation for his pieces, and ensure a draw.

Replay the full tiebreak:

The first game begins at 6:34:25 | Tata Steel Chess on YouTube

Tiebreak games (annotated by GM Daniel Fernandez)

Three-time winner (the only three times he played!) Garry Kasparov congratulated Magnus:

Start of round 13

Both Giri and Carlsen had black, and the last round attracted quite a crowd | Photo: Alina l'Ami © 2018 Tata Steel

A half point back

Vladimir Kramnik's third place finish was first among the participants in the upcoming Candidates tournament. His last round win allowed him to edge past Mamedyarov on Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak score. Long gone are the days of rueful fans cracking jokes about "Drawnik" — in fact Kramnik played the most decisive games of any plus scorer in either tournament (Hou Yifan lost eight games). That, in part, helped him win the Vugar Gashimov "Fair Play Award" awarded by Sarkhan Gashimov (Vugar's older brother), who initiated the prize three years ago: Previous winners in 2017 were Baskaran Adhiban in the Masters and Canadian GM Eric Hansen in the Challengers.

"It's nice to get at least some trophy, if not the main one, but still something for my kids to play with." Kramnik hadn't played in TSC since 2011, but for no special reason. He feld some nostalgia for the tournament while watching as a spectator last year, and reached out to the organisers to see about playing once again. "For me coming to Wijk aan Zee after seven years break was like a new place. It was like a new tournament. Maybe that's also the reason why I played so many interesting and decisive games." He noted that 20 years ago he also had six wins and two losses, the one time he shared first in the tournament (with Anand).

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ended the tournament fourth, but was upbeat after his last round draw with Vishy Anand. 'Shak' noted that in his first trip to Wijk aan Zee he scored 4½ points in thirteen games. This year he had the same score after six games. He also ends the tournament solidly in posession of the number two spot on the Elo list with a career best rating of 2814. When asked if this was his last tournament before the Candidates he inadvertantly broke the news of the upcoming Tal Memorial, which has yet to be announced on the Russian Chess Federation web site. But Russian guests at TSC familiar with the planning said it will be a rapid and blitz tournament in Moscow from March 2nd to 5th. Therefore for Mamedyarov it'll be a warm-up of sorts for the Candidates tournament which starts just a few days later. Among other players (to be confirmed) expected are Hikaru Nakamura, Vishy Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler.

Final standings


Analysis and comments by GM Daniel Fernandez

Sergey Karjakin ½-½ Magnus Carlsen

In Karjakin-Carlsen, one of the tournament leaders made a relatively safe draw with Black from the Black side of a Spanish sideline. Only White ever seemed to be in any danger and indeed probably Black could have played on a bit if he'd wanted.


Carlsen: "I thought it would be reasonable to play solidly today" | Tata Steel Chess YouTube

Wei Yi ½-½ Anish Giri

Likewise in Wei-Giri, the other tournament leader navigated the move-order subtleties of a Meran-type position sufficiently well to equalise with Black. He could also have perhaps played on a few more moves at the end, just to see how White untangled, but chose not to. Interestingly, the thought process involved in his opening decisions seemed not to stick in his mind long — he could have used it during the tiebreaks...


Giri: Based on "how many tiebreaks Magnus has won, the pressure's on him." | Tata Steel Chess YouTube

Viswanathan Anand ½-½ Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Mamedyarov-Anand could have produced one more last-minute leader to join those two, but in an optically slightly better endgame White failed to find a way to set his opponent enough problems, and indeed in analysis I have the same issue, so it is hard to blame him. The opening, however, was (for the second time running for Vishy!) of tremendous historical value, and I have made a summary of the main points in the notes.


Mamedyarov: "I never win against him in my life" | Tata Steel Chess YouTube

Anand: Plus three is not a bad result but you shouldn't get too impressed either | Tata Steel Chess YouTube

Wesley So 1-0 Hou Yifan

So-Hou featured another slightly strange Black opening from the female player (Anand-Hou and Jones-Hou from a few days ago fell into this category too.)  Again, detailed analysis shows that it was probably okay, and I have indicated where the line can be patched, but the overall impression is one of under-preparation rather than mistaken preparation. White's central pawns played a nuanced role to perfection in the final attack, which manages to succeed without explicit use of any complicated tactics whatsoever.


The Catalan: A complete repertoire for White!

The Catalan is one of the most solid openings for White. It forms part of the large and strong fianchetto family in which White builds his strategy mainly around the bishop on g2. Grandmaster Victor Bologan covers all of Black’s replies to the Catalan, some of which can even transpose to other openings such as the Tarrasch System and the Queen’s Indian. Suffice it to say that the Catalan rules!

Baskaran Adhiban 0-1 Vladimir Kramnik

Adhiban-Kramnik was a great shame for the Indian player — having allowed his world champion opponent to equalise from the opening (by move 10), he then outplays Kramnik (!), and could have reached a selection of pawn-up endgames, but then loses his nerve, begins to repeat, and then, undoubtedly in time pressure, makes a totally uncharacteristic exchange sacrifice which simply doesn't work.


King's Indian Attack

The King’s Indian Attack is a unique opening system in that it offers White a dynamic and interesting game but without the need to know reams of theory. In addition to being easy to learn it has an excellent pedigree, leading exponents including great players such as Bobby Fischer, Tigran Petrosian, David Bronstein, Viktor Korchnoi, Leonid Stein and Lev Psakhis. GM Nigel Davies presents a complete repertoire for White.

Round-up show with GM Daniel King

All games


Full commentary

Commentary by GM Eric Hansen and GM Jan Smeets (and guests) | Tata Steel Chess YouTube


Vidit Gujrathi capped off a phenomenal week with a draw that secured a tie for first place with 9 / 13. He had no way of knowing how the tiebreak scores would shake out should Anton Korobov manage a win with black, but not long after his game, Korobov's position deteriorated, and Vidit could relax. Ultimately Korobov would lose, which made no difference compared to a draw for his own final position in clear second place.

Karpov watching Vidit and van Foreest

The post-mortem of Vidit and van Foreest attracted the interest of Anatoly Karpov | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Vidit Gujrathi ½-½ Jorden van Foreest (annotated by GM Daniel Fernandez)

Vidit: "I thought I should play a bit but not risk too much."

Final standings


All games


Correction 9:30 CET: This story initially noted that TSC 2018 was Carlsen's "first classical tournament win since July, 2016", however the word "round-robin" was omitted. He also won the Chess.com Isle of Man Open.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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