Wijk aan Zee Rd11: Carlsen plays like Tal to beat Topalov

by ChessBase
1/27/2012 – Six wins in seven games in both groups A and B, but the highlight was Carlsen's game against Topalov in which he went for broke with a Tal-like attack, and turned a lead position into gold. Leader Aronian lost to Navara but so did Ivanchuk, after committing suicide against Gelfand. Radjabov beat Gashimov and joins Carlsen tied for second. Illustrated report with annotations by GM Alejandro Ramirez.

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The 74th Tata Steel Chess Tournament will take place from January 13 to 29, 2012 in the sports hall Moriaan in Wijk aan Zee. There are three grandmaster tournaments with fourteen players each playing thirteen rounds at 100 minutes for 40 moves, then 50 minutes for 20 moves and finally 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30 seconds/move increment starting with the first move of the game. Rest days are on January 18, 23, and 26.

Tata Steel Tournament 2012

A beautiful day on the North Sea shore

For those up early enough, it was a welcome sunrise that day

Round eleven

Group A: Round 11 - Fri. Jan. 27th
Magnus Carlsen - Veselin Topalov
Gata Kamsky - Hikaru Nakamura
Loek van Wely - Sergey Karjakin
Vugar Gashimov - Teimour Radjabov
Vassily Ivanchuk - Boris Gelfand
Levon Aronian - David Navara
Fabiano Caruana - Anish Giri

The flag lineup for Group A

If one were to try to describe round ten in one word, the word would be brawl. It was an incredibly combative round in which six of seven games ended in decisive results, in both the A and B groups, and the surprises just poured in.

David Navara scored his 'redemption' win over the tournament leader Levon Aronian

The first surprise was Levon Aronian’s loss to David Navara, since not only had Aronian been in the hottest streak of his career, but Navara had been in his worst. It is possibly for this very reason that the leader lowered his guard slightly, and this was all that the Czech needed, as he steadily buyilt up his slight advantage into a winning position. Aronian put up as stiff a resistance as possible, but by then it was too late, and Navara’s technique was up to the task.

A stare down by the two youngest players before their game

Fabiano Caruana beat Anish Giri in a game that soon became very lopsided. Caruana explained that the piece sacrifice for the pawns should not have been missed by Anish, and that this oversight simply cost him the game. GM commentary online agreed with this, and nerves or fatigue must be behind it.

Loek Van Wely, who had managed to draw all the players until now, played a weak game in round eleven, and Sergey Karjakin pounced on him to continue his nearly drawless tournament for which even he has no explanation. Just one of those flukes.

Vassily Ivanchuk who had moved into sole second by virtue of his wins, and the see-saw results of the others, lost control of his nerves against Boris Gelfand. They had played a very balanced game, which led to an equally balanced endgame, and a draw was to be the logical result. Instead, the Ukrainian sacrificed a pawn for no reason that any could see, and lost.

Although he has not been high on the radar, Radjabov has moved into clear second
with Carlsen.

Teimour Radjabov moved into second with a solid win over his compatriot Vugar Gashimov, a half-point behind Aronian.

Vladimir Kramnik was caught visiting and gave his impressions, promising to be there for the 75th
anniversary jubilee (courtesy of the Tata Steel Facebook page)

The game of the day was nevertheless the extremely complicated, absurdly exciting game by Magnus Carlsen versus Vesselin Topalov. The comments throughout were all comparisons on one level or another to Tal. They were quite justified, even if afterwards, Carlsen claimed he had ‘blundered’.  Carlsen embarked on a sacrificial attack that had to have shocked his opponent somewhat. In fact, much like Tal, whose speculative attacks were as much bluff as dangerous, it seemed like a dubious gamble against a player like Topalov.

Everyone was caught up in the Carlsen-Topalov game. John Nunn (seated) could
not take his eyes off the game...

...nor could visiting Vladimir Kramnik.

In his heyday, Tal had serious trouble against players like Korchnoi, who were able to calculate precisely and avoid the traps, or Botvinnik, who won back his title in 1961 after realizing that he had to accept Tal’s sacrifices and not shy away from them. Topalov is a player who relishes complications, so one would think this was the worst type of player to try this against, but things are not so simple. Consider their personal score in classical games, a biased 8-3 (not including draws) in the Norwegian’s favor. In any case, it worked, and the Bulgarian did go astray, though it is hard to blame him, and Magnus got enough play for his material. It should still have not led to a win, and Topalov survived the worst to a balanced endgame.

Blunder or inspiration, it was a wonderfully exciting game

Topalov was still not recovered it seemed, and this brought to mind an article by Boris Gulko many years ago in Inside Chess magazine, in which he described a loss to Tal. He explained that he too had survived a long and complicated onslaught by the Latvian genius, and just when he had the draw within reach, his nerves failed him and he blundered and lost. Perhaps this is the explanation for Vesselin’s weak play in the end, leading to a win for Magnus and renewed chances for first. For Topalov, this also means that for the first time since the end of December 1995, he is faced with being evicted from the world Top Ten. Still, even if this should happen, we know he will be back.

Magnus Carlsen was all smiles after his win

GM Alejandro Ramirez annotates:

The official video report of round eleven (courtesy of the Tata Steel Facebook page) 

Group A standings after eleven rounds

Group B: Round 11 - Fri. Jan. 27th
Erwin L'Ami - Alexander Motylev
Jan Timman - Viktorija Cmilyte
Vladimir Potkin - Harika Dronavalli
Sergey Tiviakov - Kateryna Lahno
Ilya Nyzhnik - Lazaro Bruzon
Daniele Vocatura - Dimitri Reinderman
Sipke Ernst - Pentala Harikrishna

Timman in a picture of the blue, white, and red. No, we did not Photoshop this.

The B group was similarly fought, and only one draw was recorded. Also like ther A group, the leader recorded a loss that did not lose the leadership, it just kept it a fight. Pentala Harikrishna showed he was human after all, and went down to Sipke Ernst. Erwin L’Ami drew against Alexander Motylev who remain tied for second, while Lazaro Bruzon lost to the Ukrainian prodigy, Ilya Nyzhnyk, and saw his chances for first dashed for good.

Group B standings after eleven rounds

Group C: Round 11 - Fri. Jan. 27th
Etienne Goudriaan - Pieter Hopman
Elina Danielian - Baskaran Adhiban
Maxim Turov - Daan Brandenburg
Lisa Schut - Elizabeth Paehtz
Anne Haast - Tania Sachdev
Lars Ootes - Matthew Sadler
Hans Tikkanen - Sahaj Grover

After her friend Tania Sachdev, Elizabeth Paetz also beat the new WGM Lisa Schut

Autograph signing is also requested of all the players

Group C standings after eleven rounds

All pictures by Joachim Schulze


There will be full broadcast of all games on the official site and on the Playchess server, which will provide live audio commentary of the most interesting games (free for Premium members) starting at 15:00h for each round, 14:00h for the final round.

Date Round Day Commentator
28.01.2012 Round 12 Saturday Trent
29.01.2012 Round 13 Sunday King

Commentary begins at approx. 3 PM and lasts 2-2.5 hours with breaks in between. A round up show is provided at 8 PM server time.


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client and get immediate access. Or you can get our latest Fritz 13 program, which includes six months free premium membership to Playchess.

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