Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021
Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021 (earlier known as Wijk aan Zee, Corus or Hoogovens, held at Holland annually) was the most exciting chess tournament at the beginning of this year. It is often referred to as the “Chess Wimbledon” and was first started in 1938 and has been won by all the world champions except Smyslov and Fischer.
It had several firsts to its credit this time:
- First significant Over-the-board chess Super tournament since the World Chess Championship candidates in early 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic.
- A rank outsider, Jorden van Foreest won this event ahead of established elite players such as Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, P. Harikrishna, etc. He crossed 2700 ELO for the first time in his career in this Masters tournament.
- The final was won in an Armageddon game in an all-Dutch final between Foreest and Anish Giri. In fact, Foreest had a totally lost position in the final game, but Giri lost due to time default. This was a second loss for luckless Giri, who lost the 2018 Tata Steel playoff to Carlsen.
- There was an avoidable controversy when 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja was trying to win a won position in his final game against Wojtaszek after 60th move time control, when arbiters abruptly requested him to move to another board so that the final playoff matches between the co-winners could be held on his board. If Firouza had won his final game, he would have scored 8.5/13 and tied for first position but would have been 3rd overall due to inferior SB score since he had lost his first round game to Carlsen. The win would have catapulted him to #11, less than a point outside the top-10 in the ratings list, in addition to the prize money. Therefore, he had a lot to play for. However, the young prodigy lost focus after the disturbing incident and drew his game tamely. The organisers later made a lame public apology to Firouzja but the damage was already done. It is interesting to know that Carlsen as a 17-year-old had won this event tying with Aronian in 2008 with a score of 8/13. There was no playoff then and both Carlsen and Aronian had been declared co-winners. Firouzja's rise in the chess world in the last few years represents a quantum improvement in strength perhaps comparable to Bobby Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. However, winning the 8-player Candidates tournament is perhaps the only hurdle in his path. Carlsen vs Firouzja fighting for the world crown looks a distinct possibility in 2-3 years’ time.
- Young Andrey Esipenko of Russia won versus world champion Carlsen in their first ever encounter. It was Carlsen’s first loss to a player rated under 2700 ELO. Esipenko came 3rd and crossed 2700 ELO for the first time in his career in this tournament.
- Carlsen had come to the event after a fantastic 2020 with wins in 9 online tournaments, 1st prize at Stavanger (Firouzja came 2nd) until he was upset towards end of the year first by Duda, the Polish GM in round five of the Altibox Norway Chess tournament, which ended his 125-game winning streak, followed by the “deep funk” checkmate by Russia's Daniil Dubov. The lead in Tata Steel 2021 changed several times. Nils Grandelis of Sweden took early lead with 4/6; then 4.5/8 by Giri, Foreest and Firouzja; Giri scored 7.5/11 and led by ½ point over Caruana, Foreest and Firouzja (all 7/11). After round 12, the sole leader was Giri with 8/12 and Foreest, Firouza and Caruana were tied at 7.5/12. After 13th round, both Foreest and Giri were tied at 8.5/13.
- The debate will continue whether Rapid, Blitz or finally Armageddon should decide the winner of a Classical Super GM tournament.
Ten of the most interesting games are given in below with light notes by the Editor.