The Finest Tournament in the World

The last three weeks of January saw the 79th edition of the tournament in Wijk aan Zee that under different names – Hoogoven, Corus, Tata Steel – has existed since 1938. It was only in 1945 that it could not be held. With its mixture of top chess and amateur chess for more than 2,000 players, it is the finest tournament in the world. What are the things the Dutch can be proud of, our gifts to the world? Our painters, water management and the Hoogoven Tournament.

In the jubilee book 60 jaar Hoogovens Schaaktoernooi, Alexander Münninghoff described the fireworks at the end of the 60th tournament in 1998 (I translate from the Dutch): “Hundreds of us went outside, into the cold night. The black hole of the beach was our destination and there we stood, the chesstribe. Crack, bang, fire and glow. ‘See you in 1999’ the sky radiated to us. We were flooded by a warm inner wave. Because the Tournament will go on. Its disappearance would be unimaginable. It’s as simple as that.” Every year the Dutch chess world prays that the people in charge of the organizing steel company will share Münninghoff’s noble enthusiasm till the end of time.

This year the Masters group was won by Wesley So with the fine score of 9/13, a full point ahead of Magnus Carlsen. On the live rating list, So jumped over Kramnik and Caruana to second place, but this can change any day, as Caruana is still playing in Gibraltar. I must confess that So’s game against Richard Rapport, which can be seen in the game viewer, doesn’t really do him justice, because it was the only time when he was in danger.

Third place (tied with Aronian and Wei, but with the highest tiebreak) was surprisingly taken by the Indian Baskaran Adhiban, who started the tournament with a rating of 2653 and finished with a performance rating of 2812.

It could have been even better, for as you can see in the game viewer, he had Carlsen on the ropes, but let him off. Remarkably, after the game Adhiban said that he had seen the rook sacrifice that would have given him a winning game, but had not played it as he thought that it would only lead to a perpetual. It’s really a brave young man who would avoid a perpetual against the world champion to make a draw by normal means later.

In Memory of Fischer

Every year on January 17, many chessplayers think of Bobby Fischer and some will once again play over his finest games, as this is the date on which he died nine years ago. I dreamed that Fischer played chess again in a big hall filled with eager spectators. I had an excellent view, as I had jumped like a cat on a bookcase.

Fischer was playing Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956), who, as White, had brought his king as an attacking piece already in the opening to e4. “Sublime...” I muttered admiringly.

Next to their table, Fischer had a big writing desk with chess magazines, pocket chess sets and a laptop. This was allowed because he was Fischer.

Afterwards I realized that the laptop was the most incongruous element of the dream. Even when chess engines were already quite strong, Fischer had never showed any interest in them. It doesn’t fit a mythical hero to switch on the computer to see what he must think.

In the documentary Magnus by the Norwegian director Benjamin Ree, it is stressed that in contrast to Carlsen, Anand is the man who relies on computer analyses. All the same, we see Carlsen several times behind a laptop in that film and one of his seconds says that he has studied all of Anand’s games. Certainly not without engines.

At the Museum

One of the rounds of the Masters group was played in Haarlem at the Philharmonie, a concert hall and theater. Before the round, the players visited the Frans Hals Museum and there an interesting photo was taken.

Six chessplayers are looking at a painting. At some distance apart from them stands Magnus Carlsen. He doesn’t look at the painting, he doesn’t really look at the group of his colleagues, but he stares right through them into a far distance. He doesn’t really belong.

This fits with what the film Magnus tells about his childhood, when he was pestered at school because he was different from the other children.

I went to see that film with some hesitation, because I didn’t expect much from a chess film. But I found it interesting and often moving. It may be mainly aimed at people not acquainted with chess, but that should not deter chessplayers. Like me, they may get a bit tired of the recurrent description in the film of Carlsen as the “Mozart of chess,” but that is a minor matter. Kramnik once said that he found the epithet “Rammstein of chess” for Kasparov much more enlightening.

After his win against Rapport, Levon Aronian said that one of the characters on a painting at the Frans Hals Museum had looked exactly like his first coach, Melikset Khachiyan, an intrepid attacking player. Struck by this likeness Aronian had decided that in honor of his former coach he should attack that day. How he did it, you can see in the game viewer.

Click on the games to view them with Hans’ annotations:

So-Rapport, Wijk aan Zee 2017

Aronian-Rapport, Wijk aan Zee 2017

Carlsen-Adhiban, Wijk aan Zee 2017