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25 Jan

On Tour

The game’s leading chess statistician, Jeff Sonas, regards AVRO 1938 - the last major tournament before the war - in Holland to have been the strongest tournament of all time. This is mainly because all eight of the world’s top players competed (Keres, Fine, Botvinnik, Alekhine, Euwe, Reshevsky, Capablanca, Flohr), the idea being that the victor (if not champion Alekhine, who tied for fourth equal; Keres and Fine sharing first prize) would earn the right to go forward to challenge for the crown.


After 15.c4!

But by coincidence, it almost had as many venues as it had players! AVRO is an acronym for “Algemeene Vereeniging Radio Omroep,” the leading Dutch radio company of the day that sponsored this elite event. But with Holland being such a small country, the radio sponsors hit upon the novelty of moving the venues from one city to another, with the travelling circus - despite the grumbles of the players - taking the game directly to the masses for greater exposure.

And in recent years, the Tata Steel Masters has been paying homage to this great event by innovation with their own “mini AVRO”.  Rather than staying in its spiritual home of Wijk aan Zee, the fabled tournament has been reaching out to the Dutch communities by going ‘on tour’ to new locales such as the Feyenoord De Kuip Football Stadium in Rotterdam and De Philharmonie in Haarlem.

However, regardless of whether it’s Wijk, Rotterdam or Haarlem, for World Champion Magnus Carlsen it’s a tough road ahead, as he now attempts to hold on to his world No.1 ranking following a lacklustre performance. And in round 9 of the 79th Tata Steel Masters, Carlsen staged something of a fightback with a crushing victory over the six-time Dutch champion Loek Van Wely, for the only decisive game of the round.  After his setback in the previous two rounds, Carlsen has now clawed his way back to take a share of second place alongside s Pavel Eljanov and Wei Yi, half a point behind tournament leader Wesley So, who remains the only undefeated player in the field.


Carlsen v Van Wely | © Alina l'Almi

Round 9 standings:
1. Wesley So (USA) 6/9; 2-4. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Wei Yi (China) 5.5; 5-7. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Bahkran Adhiban (India), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 5; 8-9. Pentela Harikrishna (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 4.5; 10-11. Dmitry Andreikin (Russia), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (Poland) 4; 12-13. Richard Rapport (Hungary), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 3.5; 14. Loek Van Wely (Netherlands) 1.5.

GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Loek Van Wely
79th Tata Steel Masters, (9)
Sicilian Scheveningen, Keres Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.g4 The über-aggressive Keres attack is named after AVRO 1938 co-winner Paul Keres, who in 1943 played the move 6.g4! against Efim Bogoljubow. In that game his opponent did not react very well against the newly discovered 6.g4 and was crushed in 32 moves. Later, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Keres attack came to the fore by being a potent weapon for top players, most notably World Champion Anatoly Karpov - and during his reign, thanks to the Keres attack, the Scheveningen with the conventional move-order with e6 and d6 came under a dark cloud, leading players to find different avenues transposing back into the Scheveningen to avoid 6.g4. 6...h6 The main idea behind the Keres is to play 7.g5 forcing the knight to run away from the kingside, leaving black with less defenders on this area. It is also the starting move of a pawn storm on this flank. 7.Bg2 Nc6 8.h3 The Keres can be very flexible. Although g4 is a highly aggressive move, it can also be played in a positional style. White can develop his bishop to g2, play h3 and Be3, and keep things more under control. This is a more modern treatment that became popular in the 90s. 8...g5 9.Nxc6!?N More standard would be 9.Be3 - but Carlsen seizes his chance to play more aggressively with this new novelty. 9...bxc6 10.e5 And this is the point behind Carlsen's novelty - the discovered attack on c6 allows him to weaken Van Wely's pawn structure, which he'd look to exploit in the ending. 10...Nd5 Things are not so clear as they seem. Many felt that the quick answer to Black's problems could very well be 10...dxe5!? 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.Bxc6 Rb8 and White has a small advantage - though nothing Black can't easily deal with. However, Carlsen probably intended the more complex 11.h4!? rather than the simple exchange of queens, promising double-edged play - and this could very well explain Van Wely's lengthy think and ultimate choice of avoiding all the complications. 11.exd6 Qxd6 12.0-0 Ba6 13.Re1 Right now, Carlsen's opening ploy has worked, as Van Wely can't find a safe haven for his king, as both the kingside and queenside have been compromised. 13...Be7 14.Ne4 Qc7 15.c4! This is basically the beginning of the end for Van Wely, as it leaves him with a bad position and forlornly fighting for survival. 15...Nb4 If 15...Bxc4? 16.Qd4! wins on the spot. So here, with Carlsen obviously happy with his active and easy position, Van Wely has to be careful or his position could well dramatically collapse. 16.b3 Carlsen's majestic knight on e4 orchestrates the attack; and with no pawn weaknesses now to worru about, Carlsen has good options of Bb2 or even Be3 with a big positional advantage. 16...Rd8 17.Qf3 Nd3 18.Rd1 Nxc1 Van Wely has no choice - if Carlsen's bishop breaks free, he will dominate the dark-squares. 19.Raxc1 Qf4 Despite the weakening effect left in its wake, Van Wely has to play this to force the exchange of queens, otherwise he's doomed. 20.Rxd8+ Bxd8 21.Qxf4 gxf4 22.Nc5! Despite having the bishop-pair, Van Wely's position is now teetering on the brink. 22...Bc8 23.Bxc6+ Ke7 24.Bf3 Bb6 25.Nd3 Rd8 26.Nb4! The threat of Nc6+ allows Carlsen to quickly push his c-pawn up the board to force a technically won ending. 26...Bd7 27.c5 Ba5 28.Rc4 Rc8 29.c6 Bxb4 30.Rxb4 Bxc6 31.Bxc6 Rxc6 32.Rxf4 Carlsen retains his extra pawn, and now Van Wely is further burdened with three pawn islands compared to White's two - and Carlsen can easily engineer a game-winning outside passed pawn on the kingside. 32...a5 33.Kg2 Rc5 34.h4 Rd5 35.Kf3 f6 36.Ke3 h5 The only way to try to combat White's easy winning plan of Rd4 and f4. 37.f3 hxg4 Although it creates an outside passed pawn for Carlsen, in such positions the only hope of trying to save bad rook and pawn endings is to seek as many pawn exchanges as you can. 38.fxg4 Rd1 It's a tough task here, but the only hope is for the rook to find activity behind the pawns. 39.Ra4 Re1+ 40.Kf3 Re5 41.Rc4 Rd5 42.h5 Rd2 43.Ra4 Rd5 44.Ke3 Rg5 45.Rc4 Van Wely is basically in a 'holding pattern' here, as Magnus finds the right way to manoeuvre into a win. 45...Kd6 46.Kf4 Rd5 47.Rc8 Rd4+ 48.Kg3 Kd7 49.Ra8! Now the win is easy. If 49...Rd5 50.h6 wins quickly. 49...Rd3+ 50.Kg2 Rd2+ 51.Kf3 Rd3+ 52.Ke4 Rh3 53.Rxa5 e5 54.Kf5 Rf3+ 55.Kg6 e4 56.h6 e3 57.h7 Rh3 58.Ra7+ Kd6 59.Ra8 1-0

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