In the end, it proved to be a fitting, fighting finale. Magnus Carlsen tried for 99 moves to break the resolve of Ding Liren in a rook and bishop vs rook ending, only for the game to finish in a ‘mutual’ stalemate - but the result proved more than enough for Carlsen to capture the 78th Tata Steel Masters title in Wijk aan Zee on Sunday, after nearest rival Fabiano Caruana's bravado attempt to play for a win landed him in the soup, as he lost to tail-ender Evgeny Tomashevsky.
Carlsen, unstoppable, with his unbeaten +5 score of 9/13, now joins Vishy Anand to equal the record of five Tata Steel titles - but the World Champion is far from resting on his laurels! His immediate reaction after winning, was to declare: “The last 3 times I've played [Wijk], I have won it. Obviously I want to take that record.” And indeed, in this sort of form (and with age on his side), I can see Carlsen going on to capture easily another five titles.
After a dip in Carlsen’s play during the first half of last year, he now seem to be back to his dominant self, with Wijk - along with the London Chess Classic and Qatar Masters Open - completing a remarkable hat-trick of top tournament victories over the past couple of months. In a recent interview in his homeland, on the eve of leaving for Wijk, he said he was trying for a correct balance in his game between risk-taking and sound play - it looks as if his strategy is succeeding.
Carlsen could now be on the verge of dominating in much the same way as Garry Kasparov once used to in his pomp. And in capturing his third successive tournament victory, he’s also now gone 35 games without a loss. And for those checking the records, Carlsen’s won six of his last eight tournaments, making a grand total of 22 victories (out of a total of 32) since January 2010, when he won his first Wijk title.
This tournament wouldn’t be complete, however, without mentioning the pea soup being served at the end-of-tournament banquet - a wonderful tradition that pays homage to the pain and privations the Dutch people suffered during the war; specifically the “Hunger winter” of 1944, when the occupying German army severely restricted what little food supply there was in the Netherlands.
The famine lasted for the best part of a year. And in early 1946, the Hoogovens Tournament (the forerunner of the current Tata Steel tournament) was one of the first European international tournaments to be held after the war. Food shortages was still a problem, so the local steel mill organisers came up with the novel solution of serving up to all the players (and spectators) ‘erwtensoep’ - pea soup; an inexpensive fare of the common people - at the post-tournament banquet.
And over the long and storied history of this great Dutch tournament, winners such as world champions Mikhail Botvinnik, Tigran Petrosian, Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, and now Magnus Carlsen have all been pictured being served pea soup - a sure a sign as any that we’ve now reached the end of the tournament.
Mamedyarov draw Karjakin
Van Wely draw Wei
Tomashevsky 1-0 Caruana
Eljanov 1-0 Navara
Carlsen draw Ding
Adams draw So
Giri draw Hou
Final Standings: 1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 9/13; 2-3. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ding Liren (China) 8; 4-6. Wesley So (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine) 7; 7-8. Wei Yi (China), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 6.5; 9. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 6; 10-11. David Navara (Czech Rep.), Evgenny Tomashevsky (Russia) 5.5; 12-14. Hou Yifan (China), Michael Adams (England), Loek Van Wely (Netherlands) 5.
GM Evgeny Tomashevsky - GM Fabiano Caruana
78th Tata Steel Masters, (13)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Rubinstein Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 b6 5.Nge2 c5 As we speculated yesterday, Caruana decides to go for broke by keeping the game as complicated as possible - and this line against the Rubinstein certainly shows fighting spirit. 6.a3 Ba5 When you play ...Ba5 in this line of the Nimzo-Indian, you always have to be wary of landing in the soup with the bishop getting trapped - and this has happened to many titled players. On the plus side for Caruana, these variations are always double-edged, and that's what he needs to play for the win with Black to keep in touch with Carlsen. 7.Rb1 Na6 8.Ng3 Bb7 9.f3 0-0 10.Bd3 d5 11.0-0 cxd4 12.Nb5 Now the trap on the Ba5 is being set - Black now has to keep his wits about him to survive. 12...dxc4 13.Bxc4 Rc8 14.Qe2 Bd5 15.Bxd5 Qxd5 16.e4 Tomashevsky is playing to trap the bishop - but the simple recapture with 16.exd4 regaining the pawn, keeping the treat on the Ba5, attacking a7 and depriving the Black knight from c5 looked to give him a very comfortable edge. 16…Qa2!?! Bravery, as Caruana's best option of salvaging something here saw queens and pieces coming off the board, with: 16...d3 17.exd5 dxe2 18.Nxe2 Nxd5 19.b4 Naxb4 20.axb4 Bxb4 21.Nxa7 Bc5+ 22.Kh1 Ra8 23.Nb5 Rfd8 and Black is worse, but still in the game - however the draw is all he can hope for. 17.Bg5 Rc4?! It's all getting very messy, very quickly, as again Caruana throws more confusion into the position - and it nearly pays off. 18.Rbd1? White was easily winning after the simple 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.f4! and there's no stopping Qg4+ followed by b4 with a winning advantage. 18...d3 In poker parlance, Caruana is "pot committed" now: he knows he's losing material, so just has to make the best job of it. 19.Qxd3 Rc5 20.Be3? Another strange follow-up from Tomashevsky, as after 20.Bxf6! gxf6 21.Nxa7 Black is not far from the resignation moment, with a heavy loss of material and nothing now to show for it. 20...Qxb2 21.Bxc5 Nxc5 22.Qe2 Qxe2 23.Nxe2 Caruana is on the morphine drip; but thanks to his oppnent's play, he's somehow still in the game and removed the threat to his bishop - and all for the mere bagatelle of the exchange. 23...a6 24.Nd6 b5 25.Nd4 Bb6 26.Kh1 g5! Again, the only thing to do in such situations: Make matters as confusing as you can for your opponent, and not sit back waiting to be steam-rolled into submission. 27.Nc6 Kg7 28.g3 h5 The only logical follow-up after ...g5; one begets the other. 29.Rfe1 Na4 30.Rd3 Nc5 31.Rd2 Nb3 32.Rc2 Nc5 33.Kg2 Na4 34.Rd1 Very carefully, Tomashevsky is getting his pieces on their best square before going for a breakthrough. 34...g4 35.Rd3 White can't be too hasty and play 35.f4?! Bc5! and suddenly Black's back in the game and can seriously think of salvaging this. 35...Nc5 36.Rd1 The rook moves is not a sign Tomashevsky doesn't know what to do - it's just wasting a few moves to get him closer to the time control. 36...Na4 37.h3! gxf3+ 38.Kxf3 Nh7 39.e5 Bc5 40.Rd3 f6 Caruana is doing his level best to to try to salvage something from the wreckage, but falls short. 41.Kg2 Bb6 42.exf6+ Nxf6 43.Nd4 This forces the issue, as Caruana has to exchange his bishop to prevent a possible rook infiltration on c6 with tempo. 43...Bxd4 44.Rxd4 Nd5 45.Re4! The immediate 45.Rc6? falls into the trap of 45...Ne3+ 46.Kg1 Rf1+ 47.Kh2 Rf2+ and a saving perpetual. 45...Rd8 46.Nb7 And another little trap to be avoided was 46.Rxe6? Rxd6! 47.Rxd6 Ne3+ and the tables have been turned. 46...Rd7 47.Na5 Tomashevsky is looking to secure c6 for his rook, as more forced exchanges brings with it Caruana's resignation. 47...Rd6 48.Rc6 Rxc6 49.Nxc6 Nc5 The knights do look impressive and imposing in the centre of the board - but Black's pawn weaknesses will see White winning soon. 50.Re5! Nd3 If 50...Kg6 51.Nb4 is winning. So instead, we have a little knight subterfuge with a possible fork on f4 to indirectly defend h5 - but it won't last long. 51.Rg5+ Kh6 52.Rg8 Left to its own devices, the rook will simply pick-off the queenside pawns. 52...Ne3+ 53.Kf3 Nc4 54.Nb4 Nde5+ 55.Ke2 a5 56.Nc2 Nd7 57.Rc8 Kg6 58.Rc7 Nf6 59.Rc6 Kf7 60.a4! Nd5 61.axb5 Ne5 62.Ra6 Nc3+ 63.Kf1 1-0 You can't play 63...Nxb5 as 64.Rxa5 will win one of the knights. Regardless of the finish, Caruana showed wonderful fighting spirit in trying for the win. At least he was rewarded by taking second place on tiebreak ahead of Ding Liren.