Magnus Carlsen is on the brink of victory this weekend at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee. Norway’s world champion, 24, began the Dutch elite tournament slowly but then hit a purple patch of six consecutive wins which shot him into the overall lead with three games to go.
After 10 of the 13 rounds the leaders were Carlsen 7.5, Wesley So (US) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 6.5, then four players on 6. You can follow the final rounds live and free online at http://www.tatasteelchess.com starting 12.30pm on Saturday and 11am on Sunday. The screening includes move-by-move human and computer commentaries, live videos and interviews and is a highly recommended way of enjoying top chess.
Carlsen’s six-game surge was a cameo of the kind which the legends Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Alexander Alekhine performed in their peak years. His rating has jumped to 2870, only 19 points shy of his all-time record achieved in April 2014. Most of his Wijk wins were scored by his special style of a small advantage used to pose a continual series of awkward problems to his opponent ending in a decisive error. His win over Italy’s Fabiano Caruana was more direct and brutal, revenge for St Louis 2014 where he was one of the victims when the world No2 won his first seven games.
With Caruana inconsistent since St Louis, Levon Aronian dropping down the ratings and Vishy Anand and Vlad Kramnik now veterans, Carlsen suddenly has clear water between himself and almost all potential challengers.
The significant exception is So. When the ex-Filipino, now American, jumped to No10 in the ratings, most critics believed he had cracked it by high percentages in weak events and that he would be found out in a tough all-play-all like Wijk. Some, including members of his own family, doubted So’s decision to abandon his Webster University course and become a full-time professional player.
So, at 21, has proved them wrong at Wijk by an impressively mature performance which included solid draws with Carlsen and Caruana and a well-prepared openings bomb against the then tournament leader Vassily Ivanchuk. He jumped to No7 in the rankings and moved ahead of the long-time United States No1, Hikaru Nakamura.
Suddenly a huge opportunity may be opening up for So. America’s chess Maecenas, the billionaire Rex Sinquefield, has made his home city, St Louis, into a global chess centre with its club rooms open every day. He already backs the annual Sinquefield Cup where Carlsen and Caruana battled in 2014, and would like St Louis to host the world title candidates tournament, then the championship match itself.
The problem has been that the career of Nakamura, Sinquefield’s potential challenger for Carlsen, has slowed due to his dreadful personal head-to-head against the Norwegian of no wins,16 draws and 11 defeats. In contrast, So easily drew with his debut game against Carlsen at Wijk, looking completely calm throughout.
Thus, if So can continue his fine start at Wijk and build on it in future 2015 events, he could suddenly become the real deal, the American with a chance of regaining the crown once held by Fischer. And the modest and likable young man has one big asset when it comes to the media. A surname of only two letters is every headline writer’s dream.
Below, Black’s odd opening without the normal d7-d6 is refuted by 17 Ra3! and 20 Nh5! with a decisive attack.
At the end if Rh8 25 Rxe5! dxe5 26 Bxg6! wins.
Levon Aronian v Baadur Jobava
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 g6 4 Nc3 Bg7 5 e4 0-0 6 Bd3 e6 7 h3 exd5 8 exd5 a6 9 a4 a5? 10 Nge2 Na6 11 Bg5 Nb4 12 Bb1 b6 13 0-0 Ba6 14 Nb5 h6 15 Bc1! Bxb5 16 axb5 Ne8 17 Ra3! Nd6 18 Rg3 Nc4 19 Nf4 Ne5 20 Nh5! Qh4 21 Nxg7 Kxg7 22 Re1 d6 23 Re4 Qd8 24 Qh5 1-0
3374 1 Rg8+! Rxg8 2 Qe5+ Rg7 3 Qxg7 mate.