Wijk aan Zee rest day – slumming it

1/22/2009 – It is one of the strongest super-tournaments in the world, but Wijk is also a chess festival with almost 2000 participants competing in all kinds of events. The B and C Groups are GM tournaments which could be the main attraction in many other chess festivals. We use the rest day to "slum it" a bit and take a look at the great chess and players from these groups. With pictures by Fred Lucas.

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Slumming it

Rest day summary by Steve Giddins

The Wijk aan Zee festival may be headlined by the biggest and most powerful super-tournament in the annual calendar, but it is much more than just one tournament. The overall festival includes a whole host of amateur events, plus side-shows such as occasional chess variants competitions, chess composition, etc. This year, an endgame study solving competition will be held on 31 January, which is expected to attract some of the strongest solvers in the world, headed by John Nunn, a double world champion in the problem-solving field. Overall, up to 2,000 players are expected to participate in one or other of the events, during the 17 days of the festival.

On the grandmaster side, Wijk includes two additional 14-player all-play-all groups, both of which would be the main attraction in many other chess festivals. Since Wednesday is a rest day, we are going to "slum it" a bit, and take a look at some of the great chess that has already been played in these two sections.


Henrique Mecking

This year the B Group boasts an average FIDE rating of 2641, putting it in category 16. The top seed is Krishnan Sasikiran, whilst other notable names include the former FIDE knockout champion Kazimdzhanov, and Britain's ex-world championship challenger Nigel Short. The oldest player in the field (he will turn 57 on Friday) is the legendary Brazilian, Henrique Mecking, winner of back-to-back Interzonal tournaments in the 1970s. As is well known, he was stricken with a supposedly incurable blood disease in the late 1970s, but survived, and returned to the game subsequently, attributing his cure to the power of religion. At the other end of the age gap, there is the 14-year Chinese girl sensation, Hou Yifan, already playing in the B Group for the second successive year.

Participants of Grandmaster Group B

Title Player Nat.
Rating
GM Krishnan Sasikiran IND
2711
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons ESP
2702
GM Zahar Efimenko UKR
2688
GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov UZB
2687
GM Alexander Motylev RUS
2676
GM Andrei Volokitin UKR
2671
GM Nigel Short ENG
2663
GM Fabiano Caruana ITA
2646
GM David Navara CZE
2638
GM Jan Werle NED
2607
GM Erwin l'Ami NED
2603
GM Hou Yifan CHN
2571
GM Henrique Mecking BRA
2567
GM Dimitri Reinderman NED
2549
Average rating: 2641 – Category: 16

Last year, Nigel Short's participation in the B Group provided one of the biggest stories of the whole event, after his pre-game handshake was refused by Cheparinov. But this incident somewhat overshadowed one of Short's best tournament performances in years, as he scored +4, to finish equal second behind tournament winner Movsesian. Thus far in 2009, Wijk has again been a happy hunting ground for Nigel. In round two, he wielded his QGD in characteristic fashion, to score a fine win as Black against Vallejo, and then in round three, produced the following demolition of an ultra-solid member of the young Dutch GM generation.


Erwin l'Ami

Short,N (2663) - L'Ami,E (2603) [C48]
Corus B Wijk aan Zee NED (3), 19.01.2009

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6. Erwin usually defends the Spanish, often using the Berlin Wall, but in last year's Wijk aan Zee B Group, Short crushed him with the Evans' Gambit. L'Ami therefore heads for a Petroff, but is soon surprised by another 19th century weapon. 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Bb5. Short was the first contemporary GM to revive the Four Knights, during the early 1990s. 4...Nd4. Rubinstein's Defence, which was largely responsible for killing off the Four Knights in the early 20th century. However, it soon becomes apparent that L'Ami is not too familiar with its finer points. 5.Nxe5!? The least popular choice for White in this position. The 1990s revival of the Four Knights concentrated on the moves 5.Ba4, 5.Bc4 and 5.0–0.

5...Nxb5?! Already a perceptible inaccuracy. Theory recommends 5...Qe7 6.f4 Nxb5 7.Nxb5 d6 8.Nf3 Qxe4+ with equality. Speaking to reporters after the game, Short made a very interesting point about the cause of Black's defeat in this game. As he explained, many players nowadays, especially young players, are so used to rattling out huge amounts of pre-game opening preparation, that they are simply not used to thinking at a very early stage of the game. Here, after barely five minutes' play, L'Ami was already out of his book knowledge, and needed to start thinking deeply about the position. Instead, he played a couple of plausible-looking moves rather quickly, but they proved to be errors. In addition, the position is rather more critical than it appears, and by the time L'Ami started really thinking about the position, it was too late – he was already practically lost. 6.Nxb5 c6. Black already has problems regaining his pawn, since 6...Nxe4? 7.Qe2 is obviously terrible. 7.Nc3 Qe7 8.Nf3 Nxe4 9.0–0 Nxc3 10.dxc3 d5 11.Bg5. The position is already a disaster for Black. As Bobby Fischer pointed out, annotating his game against Celle in My Sixty Memorable Games, "A mistake is usually much more serious in these open games". Short goes on to dispose of his opponent in thoroughly convincing style, but it must be admitted that his task was not especially difficult, as White's position almost plays itself. 11...Qd6 12.Re1+ Be6 13.Nd4

13...c5. Played after long thought, but the position is already gone. The main point is that the natural 13...Be7 walks into the cruncher 14.Nf5! eg. 14...Bxf5 15.Rxe7+ Kf8 16.Rxb7 with an extra pawn and an overwhelming position. 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.Qh5+ g6 16.Qg4 Kf7. 16...e5 17.Rad1 Bg7 18.Qf3 is equally hopeless. 17.c4 d4 18.Qf3+ Kg8 19.Bf6 1–0. L'Ami had had enough punishment for one day. After the game, Short revealed that he had drawn extra motivation for this game, from the discovery that, during the Sofia tournament in 2008, his opponent had worked as Ivan Cheparinov's second! [Click to replay]


Nigel Short

Name: Nigel Short
Date of birth: 01-06-1965
Country: England
Rating: 2663

Nigel is one of the more seasoned participants in the GM B group, a former wunderkind whose illustrious career spans over three decades. Among his many achievements are being a candidate for the world championship several times, including runner up to Kasparov in 1993. He won countless open and closed tournaments since the early 1980’s, including twice in Corus (where he played many times) in 1986 and 1987. Grandmaster since age 19, the youngest to get the title at the time, Short is a multi time British and English champion, and British Commonwealth champion.

He is an author and a columnist, and has worked as a coach to several of the most contemporary talents around, including Harikrishna, Negi and Karjakin. In appreciation of his many accomplishments, he was appointed a Member of the British Empire in 1999. Currently Nigel is at an all time low rating wise, 70 ELO points down from his 2712 peak several years ago, but continuously keep showing he hasn’t lost the ability to sting. Last year in Corus he tied for second with a very good 8.5/13, and more points will be coming: a tie for second at the European Union Championships (7.5/10), his clear first place finish at the Commonwealth championship (a dominating 9.5/11) and a fantastic 7/10 in the Olympiad.

After this win, Short played out a fairly careful draw with Hou Yifan in round four, to go into the rest day in joint first place, on 3/4. Hou had inflicted on Short his only defeat in last year's Wijk tournament, and this time Nigel was suitably careful. He later admitted that, when Hou repeated the position, he had considered deviating, but then "I realised how painfully long the free day would be if I lost to a 14-year-old...".


Hou Yifan

Name: Yifan Hou
Date of birth: 27-02-1994
Country: China
Rating: 2571


The youngest participant in Group B (all GM groups for that matter!) is now a household name in the chess circles. Despite her young age, Yifan already has an impressive resume of achievements and record-breakings. She is one of the world’s youngest to ever achieve the GM title at 14.5 years (she got it this year, not much after she got her IM title), and the youngest finalist to the women’s world championship (she is the sub-champion, having lost to Kosteniuk in the finals). Prior to that she was the first Chinese women’s champion to do it at age 13.

What started at age three as a kid’s visual fascination for glass chess pieces she saw at a local library quickly became a lot more than that. As soon as she started playing the game, no one in her family was a challenge, and recognizing her amazing talent she was soon under the care of strong professionals. After winning the world youth girls under 10 section in 2003, she decided to play in the boys/open section of that event from the next year on, winning the bronze on her first try in 2004.

Soon invitations started coming, and the young Chinese girl started playing extensively in women’s events, strong opens, and GM invitationals, increasing her results from event to event. Her first time in Corus in 2007 was a good one, finishing in fifth place in the C group and collecting her WGM title afterwards. Last year in group B she scored –1. Hou’s rating skyrocketed over 400 points in about 3-4 years, and she is closing in on 2600. Maybe Corus 2009 would put her over?

The other leaders are Kazimdzhanov and Caruana. The former has made most of his points as Black, defeating Hou Yifan and Sasikiran.


Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Name: Rustam Kasimdzhanov
Date of birth: 05-12-1979
Country: Uzbekistan
Rating: 2687

The closing years of the previous decade were also the blooming years for the talented Grandmaster from Tashkent: He almost won the world junior championship (ended second), and did win the Asian continental championship. After that he became active on the European opens circuit, leaving his mark by winning some of them – a few by a noticeable margin. He won an individual bronze medal on top board at the 2000 Olympiad, with a fantastic score of 9.5/12.

Rustam’s real claims to fame came in the grueling elimination competitions: in 2002 he made it all the way to the finals of the world cup, where it took no less than Vishy Anand to stop him. In 2004 he proved really unstoppable at the Tripoli FIDE world championship, where he advanced round by round and eliminating stars such as Ivanchuk, Topalov, Grischuk, and Adams (in the finals) to win it. In 2005 at the San Luis FIDE world championship tournament he tied for 6th place, and in 2007 was eliminated at the Mexico Candidates tournament in round one.

In 2008 Kasim wasn’t very active, playing in several leagues and again holding top board for his country at the Olympiad (6.5/9). He was one of the seconds of Vishy Anand in his match with Kramnik. He played twice before in Corus, in 1999 and 2002 – scoring only 5/13 and 4.5/13 respectively.

Sasikiran,K (2711) - Kasimdzhanov,R (2687) [D11]
Corus B Wijk aan Zee NED (3), 19.01.2009

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qc2 dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bg4 6.Nc3 Nbd7 7.Ng5 e6 8.f3 Bh5 9.e4 e5 10.Be3 Nb6 11.Qd3 Nfd7 12.d5 Bb4 13.dxc6 bxc6 14.h4 h6 15.Nh3 f6 16.Nf2 Bf7 17.Qc2 Qe7 18.Nd3 Nc4 19.Bf2 Ba5 20.0–0–0 Bb6 21.Re1 0–0 22.g3 Rfd8 23.Rh2 Rab8 24.f4 Nf8 25.Na4 Bd4

26.Nxe5 Nxe5 27.fxe5 Qxe5 28.Bc4 Bxc4 29.Qxc4+ Kh8 30.Qc2 Ne6 31.Rf1 Rb4 32.Be1 Qb5 33.Rf5 Qxa4 34.Bxb4 Qxb4 35.Rf1 Bxb2+ 0–1. [Click to replay]

Sasikiran, by contrast, has been sadly out of form, and is languishing in second-last place, on just one point. The only player below him, sad to relate, is Mecking, who has only managed one draw in his first four games. Most worryingly, he has been getting ground down in relatively long endings, a problem which logically should only get worse as the tournament proceeds.

GM Group B standings after four rounds


Participants of Grandmaster Group C

Title Player Nat.
Rating
GM Wesley So PHI
2627
GM David Howell ENG
2622
GM Tiger Hillarp Persson SWE
2586
GM Abhijeet Gupta IND
2569
GM Friso Nijboer NED
2560
GM Manuel Leon Hoyos MEX
2542
GM Oleg Romanishin UKR
2533
GM Eduardo Iturrizaga VEN
2528
GM Frank Holzke GER
2524
WGM Dronavalli Harika IND
2473
FM Anish Giri RUS
2469
IM Roeland Pruijssers NED
2444
IM Manuel Bosboom NED
2418
FM Ali Bitalzadeh NED
2400
Average rating: 2521 – Category: 11

The C Group is also a highly respectable GM event, a category 11 tournament, with an average rating of 2521. The two top seeds are young guns Wesley So and David Howell, whilst the "legend" role is fulfilled by the ever-creative Oleg Romanishin.


Oleg Romanishin

Thus far, however, most attention has been grabbed by the second-lowest rated player in the event, Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom. Those readers who have followed my reports from the Hastings tournament over recent years will know that we have a "Mr Entertainment" in English chess, name of Simon Williams. Win, lose or draw, Simon's games are hardly ever dull. Manuel Bosboom is certainly Holland's answer to Simon, a restlessly creative and endlessly enterprising player, whose games are always great value. Within The Netherlands, he is most well-known as a blitz specialist, and back on 1999, when Garry Kasparov was ruling the Wijk aan Zee roost, Manuel was even allowed into the rest day blitz event, in which all the A Group players participated. Kasparov dominated that event too, but his sole defeat was against Bosboom! This year in Wijk aan Zee, Manuel has led from day one, when he used his trademark creativity to defeat David Howell with he black pieces.


Manuel Bosboom

Howell,D (2622) - Bosboom,M (2418) [B01]
Corus C Wijk aan Zee NED (1), 17.01.2009

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6. Already a typical Bosboom choice. Rattling out 20 moves of theory is not Manuel's style, and he prefers to have his opponents thinking from as early a stage as does Nigel Short. 4.d4 Nf6 5.Bd3 a6 6.Nge2 Bg4 7.f3 Bh5 8.Bf4 Qb6. 8...Qd7 9.d5 Bg6 10.Qd2 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 g6 12.0–0–0 Bg7 13.Qc4 c6 14.d6 left White virtually winning in Kasparov-Rogers, Rapid 2001. 9.g4 Bg6 10.g5 Nh5 11.Be3 e6 12.Ne4!? 12.Qd2 looks more natural. 12...Nc6 13.Qd2 Nb4 14.Bc4 Qc6 15.Bb3 a5 16.a3 Nd5 17.Bf2 a4 18.Ba2 Nb6 19.Qd3 Be7 20.h4 h6 21.Rg1?! White's position is already feeling a little over-stretched, and after this, this deteriorate further. Probably 21.Be3 was better. 21...hxg5 22.hxg5 Ra5 23.0–0–0 Rxg5 24.Rh1 Rg2 25.Be3

25...Rh7!!? A typical creative Bosboom move. The computer also likes it, but I am not sure many other human players would have played such a move. 26.Rdg1 Rxg1+ 27.Rxg1 Bf5 28.c4 Nf6 29.N2c3 Rh3 30.Qf1 Kf8 31.Ng5? 31.Ng3 keeps the position unclear. 31...Rh2 32.Bd2 Qd7. Suddenly White's d4-pawn is dropping, and his position with it. 33.Rh1 Rxd2! Decisive. 34.Rh8+. Or 34.Kxd2 Qxd4+ 35.Ke1 Qe3+ 36.Qe2 Qxg5 winning. 34...Ng8 35.Bb1 Bxg5 0–1. Typical Bosboom – whatever the objective merits of his position, he manages to keep enough complications alive to bamboozle even so strong an opponent as Howell. [Click to replay]


Tiger Hillarp Persson

The other co-leader after four rounds is the popular Swedish GM, Tiger Hillarp Persson, who owes his joint fist place to some excellent endgame grinding against Howell and Romanishin. One surprise at this early stage is the appalling start by the experienced Dutch GM Friso Nijboer, who has just half a point so far.

And with that, I leave you until tomorrow, when our attention will once again be on the A Group. The star match-up is Ivanchuk-Carlsen, who believe it or not, have a combined score of –1 between them. The laws of arithmetic decree that this cannot change tomorrow, whatever the result of the game, but I am sure a fascinating battle is in prospect. "Do zavtra!", as they say in Moscow.

All photographs with permission of Fred Lucas – biographies from the official web site.

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