Bilbao has also been trying to define itself over the past few years as one of the world’s leading chess centres. Back in 2008, unlike golf or tennis, chess had no official “grand slam” of major tournaments to speak of - but the organisers of Tata Steel in Wijk aan Zee, Linares in Spain, the MTel Masters in Bulgaria, and the Pearl Spring Tournament in China formed the Grand Slam Chess Association.
The winners of each tournament met in a grand final in Bilbao. There was also an automatic spot for the world champion and a wildcard selection. But several of these tournaments no longer exist (only Wijk remains), so the Grand Slam has become defunct - now superseded by the Grand Chess Tour - though the show went on in Bilbao, albeit being downsized and downgraded, though with the grandiose title-name of “Grand Slam Masters Final” remaining.
It was good for them to back the event to keep it and - more importantly - Bilbao in the eyes of the chess world. The latest edition, a four player double round all-play-all, got underway on Monday, with a field headed by former world champion Vishy Anand of India, Anish Giri of the Netherlands, Wesley So of the US and Ding Liren of China.
And after two rounds, with six draws and only one decisive game so far, Wesley So holds the early lead after his impressive opening round win over Ding Liren
Wesley So - Ding Liren
8th Grand Slam Masters, (1)
King’s Indian Defence, Mar del Plata Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Be3 f5 11.f3 f4 12.Bf2 g5 The famed Mar del Plata set-up - first fought-out in the duel between Najdorf-Gligoric at Mar del Plata 1953 - and a fight to the death on both wings. It's all exciting stuff and wonderful to watch - however, it is more dangerous for White, because if he isn't careful and mis-times what he's doing, it can all end up in a spectacular sacrificial mating attack. 13.Rc1 Ng6 14.c5 At the 3rd Sinquefield Cup a few months back, US Champion Hikaru Nakamura finessed So to win a brilliant, sacrificial game that was annotated in-depth in a previous column 'Mate Me in St. Louis'. So had to be ready for this, but Ding Liren opted to diverge. 14...Nxc5 15.b4 Na6 16.Nd3 h5 17.Nb5 b6 18.Be1 Rf7 19.Bd2 The pawn sacrifice has momentarily thwarted Black's ideas of a crashing, sacrificial attack on the kingside. Here, he can't readily develop his pieces without returning White the c7-pawn, and with it a better game. 19...Bf6 20.Nf2 Qe8 21.Qa4! Thwarting for now ...Bd7, as the knight on a6 would be under attack. 21...Bd8 22.Qa3 A multi-faceted move: Not only getting out of the way of a possible pin with ...Bd7, but also looking at future threats, such as Nxd6, whilst at the same time giving added protection along the third rank for any possible breakthrough pawn sacrifice. But with Black so cramped and his pieces badly placed, So rightly prolongs the pressure by not being too hasty to get his pawn back. 22...g4 23.fxg4 hxg4 24.Nc3 Nxb4 Frustrated by his badly developed pieces, Ding Liren cracks and goes for broke now. But what else is there? If 24...Nb8 25.Bxg4 Bxg4 26.Nxg4 Rh7 27.Nd1! Qd7 28.Ndf2 and White stands much better. 25.Qxb4 f3 26.Bb5 Qe7 27.g3 Rh7 Going for the 'Hail Mary' attack down the h-file. 28.Qc4 Rh8 29.Qc6 Qh7 30.h3! 30.h4? was setting himself up for a problematic sacrifice on h4 after ...Rb8. This is much better, as Black's pawn makes for a wonderful defender for the White king, because now Black can't sacrifice his pieces to make a breakthrough! 30...Rb8 31.Ncd1 a6 32.Qe8+! (See Diagram) Another way to play this was 32.Bd3 Bd7 33.Qc3 and an easy grind - but So quickly sees that he can get three minor pieces for his queen, after which his game is the easier to play. 32...Kg7 33.Qxd8 Rxd8 34.Rxc7+ Bd7 35.Rxd7+ With all of White's pieces being active, ideally he would like to capture with 35.Bxd7, however after 35...Kh8! all White has succeeded in doing is self-pinning himself: 36.Nxg4 Qxh3 37.Rxf3 Nh4! and Black is winning. 35...Rxd7 36.Bxd7 gxh3 37.Kh2 The playing engines may asses this position as being "=" - but what does the cold, calculating silicon beast really know? White will have the easier game of it, as his pieces quickly find good outposts, leaving Black flapping around trying to find activity for his queen. 37...Rb7 38.Be6 Nf8 If 38...Rc7 trying to take the c-file, then 39.Ne3 and White cover all the entry squares - the game may well have lasted longer, but the end result is just the same. 39.Bf5 Qh5 40.Ng4 Nd7 If 40...Rf7 looking to sacrifice on f5, then simply 41.Nde3. 41.Bh6+ Kh8 42.Nde3 Rc7 Now if 42...Nf6 43.Rc1! and the rook coming into the game down the c-file will quickly decide matters. 43.Bxd7 Rxd7 44.Rxf3 Rf7 45.Rf5 Rxf5 46.exf5 Just look at how the White pieces have reduced the queen to being a bystander in the position. 46...Qf7 47.Bg5 b5 48.Nh6 Qf8 49.f6 Kh7 50.Nef5 Kg6 51.Bh4 e4 52.f7 e3 53.Be7 e2 54.Nh4+! Kh7 If 54...Kxh6 55.Bxf8+ Kh5 and, apart from the showboating mating nets with 56.Kxh3 , White can simply play 56.Nf3 and win. 55.Bxf8 e1Q 56.Bxd6 Qf2+ 57.Kxh3 Qf1+ 58.Kg4 Qc4+ 59.Bf4 Qe2+ 60.Nf3 1-0