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    « Informant 134: A Short Review | Main | Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 12: Carlsen and Giri Lead Entering the Last Round »
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    Jan292018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Final Round and Playoff: Carlsen Defeats Giri To Win the Tournament

    The exciting and closely contested 2018 edition of the Tata Steel Masters, held mostly in its traditional site in Wijk aan Zee, concluded in a two-game blitz playoff between Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri. Both played very well in the tournament, and Giri probably played the better chess overall. (Certainly his level was more consistently excellent throughout the tournament, and he can also boast of having beaten the players who tied for third-fourth, half a point behind him and Carlsen.) He can take pride in that, but ultimately moral victories matter less than real ones. Carlsen won their first playoff game very smoothly, and while Giri had some chances in the second game Carlsen's defense was more than up to the task. As a result, Carlsen won his sixth Wijk aan Zee crown, and also, scarily, maintained an unbeaten streak in tiebreaks going back to 2007.

    For Carlsen, it was his first victory in a Classical round-robin event in quite some time, and for Giri it marked a clear return to the world's elite. He gained a whopping 25 rating points, and was very close to becoming the first Dutch player since Jan Timman back in 1985 to win the Wijk aan Zee supertournament.

    Let's go back to round 13. Carlsen had Black against Sergey Karjakin, and was apparently perfectly prepared for Karjakin's novelty in an anti-Marshall, drawing easily. Anish Giri also had Black, against Wei Yi, and he too drew in comfort.

    This gave Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the chance to catch them in a tie for first, if he could beat Viswanathan Anand. Unlike Carlsen and Giri, Mamedyarov had White, and he gave it a good try. Anand defended very well though, and his slight inaccuracy on move 35 wasn't enough to cost him the game. It was a great tournament for Mamedyarov, but not good enough to get him into a playoff.

    Joining Mamedyarov in a tie for third, half a point behind the leaders, was Vladimir Kramnik. He defeated Baskaran Adhiban with Black, though not smoothly. He was in serious trouble, but was bailed out and then some when Adhiban came up with the bad idea of sacrificing the exchange. Instead of a big advantage after 33.Nxb7, Adhiban was just about lost after 33.Rb1? Rc7 34.Rb5 b6 35.Rxa5? bxa5. Kramnik's result was good, he gained rating points (his new rating will be rounded up to 2800), and notched up more wins - 6 - than anyone else in the tournament. Overall though, his play was inconsistent and sometimes shaky, and it will have to be better if he hopes to win the Candidates in March.

    Another half a point back were Anand and Wesley So. So defeated Hou Yifan to finish a successful tournament, while for Hou she finished tied for the worst score in the history of 13-round Wijk aan Zee events. (Ironically, that too was a record of Jan Timman's.)

    The other games were drawn: Caruana-Svidler and Matlakov-Jones. All the games, including the tiebreaks, are here, with my comments to all but Matlakov-Jones.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 9 (and 1.5-.5 in the playoff vs. Giri)
    • 2. Giri 9
    • 3-4. Kramnik, Mamedyarov 8.5
    • 5-6. Anand, So 8
    • 7. Karjakin 7.5
    • 8. Svidler 6
    • 9. Wei Yi 5.5
    • 10-12. Jones, Caruana, Matlakov 5
    • 13. Adhiban 3.5
    • 14. Hou Yifan 2.5

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    Reader Comments (3)

    "This gave Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the chance to catch them in a tie for first, if he could beat Viswanathan Anand."

    Btw, even if Mamedyarov won it wouldn't have been good enough to get him to the playoff - there were only two places there (https://twitter.com/TarjeiJS/status/957262437580931073), and in case of a tie between more than two players the fist tiebreak would have been the internal score - and among the three Mamedyarov's was the worst because of his loss to Giri. Which means that without Carlsen or Giri losing he had no chance to get to the playoff - something which emphasizes even more what a bad decision he made in the previous round in his game vs. Jones.

    Mamedyarov raised the level of his play and has been showing some great chess for the last year, and he's likely going to be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming Candidates. There have always been serious question marks about his mental toughness, though, and this fail of nerve (I don't know how else to explain it) in the penultimate round, combined with the childish whining about Jones in his post-game interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mpTPzCJy6o), somehow don't strike me as a good sign in this context.

    [DM: You might be right about his mental toughness - while I've followed his chess for a long time I haven't looked at his performances in critical situations. But I'm not sure you're right about the interview - there is something a bit...hmm. "Unseemly" is too strong a word, and "unappealing" perhaps too weak. Maybe "untoward"? Whatever term one wants to use - and people will differ about how unobjectionable, if at all, they find it, most players will find going straight for a draw with White some sort of competitive failure, even a rejection of the whole competitive ideal. (Unless one is winning a tournament, or a big prize, or making a norm of something of the sort.) I remember Garry Kasparov criticizing that sort of behavior as well, and I don't think anyone would accuse him of lacking mental toughness. I also remember Tal writing with shame about a time when he played the Exchange French against Korchnoi, against whom he had a horrible score, and he vowed never again to play so spinelessly for a draw with the white pieces. (He didn't use the term "spinelessly", but he did use a strong term. It's not my comment, but an attempt to relay his own emphasis.) In sum, I'm sympathetic to Mamedyarov on this one.

    It's also a clever investment in the future. Perhaps after losing several games Jones was psychologically justified in stopping the bleeding, even at the cost of wasting the White pieces against the Petroff. But now he and other comparatively-lower rated players might feel obliged to play more combatively against Mamedyarov, which plays not only to his superior strength but his style of play.

    Finally, I'm not sure what else Mamedyarov could have said to the interviewer. He had no choice but to take the draw at the end, while Jones didn't have to force the repetition. Since there was no chess-based justification for Jones's decision, anything relevant Mamedyarov could have said that was honest would have been at least somewhat critical of Jones.]

    January 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEyal

    Seems like the tournament could have benefited from having stronger players in the bottom half. Do they choose (relatively) weak players in order to spur the top seeds to make powerful attacking games?

    [DM: I don't know what the exact algorithm is, though someone - maybe Thomas - does. Most of the players are elites, obviously, and one player (generally near the bottom of the pile, but not always) is the winner of the previous year's Challengers tournament. (This year's winner was Vidit, who is already very strong and is still improving, so by next year he might pass for a "regular" invitee.) Anyway, besides Jones, who was the qualifier from last year's Challengers event, there were only two relatively weak players: Hou Yifan and Adhiban. Adhiban won the Challengers in 2016, and finished third in the Masters last year - so he earned his spot, at least "morally" if not officially. I don't think Hou Yifan qualified by rating, the Challengers, or by past performance, but she's an attractive wildcard for the sponsors, both because she's the strongest female player in the world (by far) and because she attracts a large audience, most notably from China - the most populous country in the world. As such, it needs lots and lots and lots of steel. It's the world's largest steel producer, but it's also the world's third-largest importer of steel. Since the tournament sponsor is a global steel supplier and manufacturer, it may be good advertising for them.]

    January 29, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJB

    I don't think there is a (mathematical) "algorithm", but there is a general philosophy to have a 'mixed' field rather than aiming for a Chess Tour - alike event. This year the gap to the bottom four (not really "bottom half") was bigger because they made special (financial) efforts to have a strong top for the 80th edition - Anand, Kramnik and also Svidler hadn't played Wijk aan Zee in many years.
    Not mentioned by Dennis: Matlakov ("semi-weak?") was the ACP Tour qualifier, best result of all ACP premium members rated sub-2750 in January 2017. The race was between him and Jobava - last year this spot went to Nepomniachtchi who crossed 2750 in the course of 2016 and thus could count as "regular invitee".
    Hou Yifan gets plenty of invitations inconsistent with her rating also at other supertournaments. Dennis' take on Adhiban is also the official version, along with "With his open mind, attractive style and positive approach to everybody (fans, colleagues, organizers, journalists) he gained many new fans" last year - also my (reporter) impression this year, while he probably won't be invited again for 2019.
    Organizers can't "control" who wins the Challenger Group. Now it's again a "rising star" - the future will tell whether Vidit can reach or approach the level of some predecessors: Carlsen, Caruana, Karjakin, Giri (and most recently Wei Yi) all played their first Wijk aan Zee A after winning the B group the year before. Last year rather than Jones it could have been Ragger (top seed, 2700ish at the time but he couldn't keep this level). If he was 2700ish now, he might have been invited for the A group - he had shared first place with Jones (losing the direct encounter), two from the B group were often invited in the past if the "tiebreak loser" also fits into the field by Elo. Or it could have been Jeffery Xiong (half a point behind Jones and Ragger) or Jorden van Foreest - both might still have 2700+ potential but made little to no Elo progress recently.
    [In 2009, FM Giri from Russia was 11th seed in the C group to finish shared second and score his final GM norm. In 2011, GM Giri from the Netherlands was 12th seed in the B group to win ahead of e.g. Naiditsch and So - again TPR almost 200 points higher than his official rating]

    February 8, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

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