The annual Tata Steel Tournament in Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands is not only one of the world’s very strongest events but also one of the best loved. On a technical level, the tournament is always impeccably run by Jeroen van den Berg and his very experienced organising team, with excellent playing conditions inside the Moriaan - and there is a real camaraderie inside the playing hall, born out of a huge mass of chess players all fighting together under the one roof.
For in contrast to many of its rivals, Wijk bucks the trend by not just comprising of a single A-list cast “super-grandmaster” tournament, but a whole raft of other events under the one roof, going down to sections for club players but touching the top group in the “Challengers”, a very strong international tournament in its own right, from which the winner gets an automatic invitation to the following year’s extravaganza of the “Masters” tournament.
This is in part a showcase for tomorrow’s stars, and at the same time truly egalitarian, because we have to remember that this year’s five-time winner, World Champion Magnus Carlsen, came through the ranks by winning the ‘C’ group in 2004. Therefore there’s the added lure of promotion to the Masters and playing alongside Carlsen et al that always makes for a tough battle - and again this year, the Challengers produced an enthralling fight right to the finish.
When he was at his peak in 1995, Russia’s Alexander Dreev won the main event at Wijk. He was back again as a previous winner, this time though as one of the veterans in the Challengers. He got off to an impressive flying start of 5/6; but his unbeaten run ended in round seven, as he went down in flames to India’s Baskaran Adhiban. That win proved decisive for Adhiban, as he went on to tie for first place on 9/13 alongside Dreev and Eltaj Safarli, and took the Masters qualifying spot on tiebreak.
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GM Baskaran Adhiban - GM Alexander Dreev
78th Tata Steel Challengers, (7)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 The Semi-Slav is a tough nut to crack at the best of times - but what makes it harder is that Dreev is a lifelong expert in it, and indeed has written several authoritative books on it. 6.Qc2 b6 7.Bd3 Bb7 8.0-0 Be7 9.b3 dxc4 10.bxc4 c5 11.d5 Any liquidation of the centre with 11.dxc5 will only favour Black, after 11...Bxf3 12.gxf3 Nxc5. Therefore the only continuation to 'muddy the waters' is for White to open lines to try to catch Black's king and queen in the middle of the board, which is what now happens. 11...exd5 12.cxd5 Nxd5 13.Nxd5 Bxd5 14.Rd1! Bf6 Dreev could also have gone for 14...Bxf3 15.gxf3 and then 15...Bf6 - but after 16.Rb1 Qc7 17.Bb5 Rd8 18.Qe4+ Kf8 19.Rb3 despite Black having an extra pawn and his pawn structure being much better, White has a lot of pressure and possibilities. 15.e4 The gauntlet is now being well and truly thrown down. 15...c4 16.Be2 Bxa1 17.Rxd5 Qc7 Also a solid continuation was 17...Rc8 18.Qa4 Qc7 19.Ba3 Qc6 and Black retains possibilities with the c-pawn being a potential danger. 18.Ba3! The logical choice, as it keeps Dreev's king firmly in the middle of the board - and Adhiban's strategy of throwing the gauntlet down works, as Dreev cracks. 18...Bf6 19.Bxc4 Be7? The constant pressure now tells, as Dreev makes the fatal error of missing Adhiban's next move. Instead, he should have gone for 19...a6!? and Adhiban said he would likely have taken the draw here after 20.Bb5 (White could try to keep the pressure up with 20.Qa4!? but we again get into the realms of a 'messy' repetition scenario after 20...Ra7 21.Bxa6 (21.Bd6 b5!) 21...Qb7! 22.Ra5! Qa8 23.Rd5 Qb7 24.Ra5 etc.) 20...Rc8 (20...Qxc2? 21.Bxd7+ Kd8 22.Ba4+ wins) 21.Rxd7 Qxc2 22.Re7+ Kd8 23.Rd7+ Ke8 24.Re7+ with a perpetual. 20.Qa4! (See Diagram) Now the pin on d7 becomes lethal for Black; there's just no good way to escape from it. 20...Bxa3 21.Rxd7 Qxd7 22.Bb5 Qxb5 If 22...Rd8 23.Bxd7+ Rxd7 White doesn't make the mistake of taking on a3, but instead wins quickly with 24.Ne5. 23.Qxb5+ The body count is, numerically, equal - and on a good day this would likely be a draw. But the big difference here is Black has no coordination of his pieces, and with his king still stuck in the middle of the board and his rooks still on their starting squares, White will swiftly gain a big material advantage. 23...Kf8 24.Qb3! Simple but deadly - Now there's no defence to saving the bishop and the twin mating threats of Ne5 or Ng5 that Dreev resigns. 1-0