27 Jan

Haarlem Shuffle

You move it to the left, and then the right…yeah, even if it takes all night, so sang Mick Jagger.  But as the 79th Tata Steel Masters went ‘on tour’ for round 10, it was not so much the Harlem Shuffle but the Haarlem Shuffle, as American Wesley So somewhat majestically continued his long unbeaten streak in classical chess, whilst at the same time he’s increased his lead at the top to a full point over the chasing pack.

After 25.Bxb7!

The Dutch concert hall ‘De Philharmonie’ in Haarlem has probably witnessed many masterclasses over the years, but this time it was to be a chess masterclass as Wesley So turned in a classic performance to beat Radoslaw Wojtaszek for his fourth win of the tournament - and the victory was all the more remarkable, as it came with an endgame study-like win in just 34 moves.  

So has been methodically moving up the world rankings since he won the Millionaire Open a couple of years ago.  Now he’s blasted his way through the 2800-barrier, climbed to 3rd place in the world rankings - and could possibly overthrow countryman Fabiano Caruana soon as the world No.2 - and looking like a true pretender to Magnus Carlsen’s crown. The American is on a ‘chess high’ right now, having  gone 54 classical games undefeated, won the Sinquefield Cup, London Chess Classic and Grand Chess Tour all in the last five months - and the 79th Tata Steel Masters title could well be next on his hit-list.

What could possibly be the secret to his success?  Well, in a major interview with Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam just published in the latest New in Chess magazine (2017/1), So revealed that for the past six months he’s been working with Vladimir Tukmakov, the legendary ‘no-nonsense’ Soviet-era trainer.

The six-page interview is very revealing, and adds to So’s cache as being perceived as the ‘coming man’, the player most likely to worry Carlsen in a future title-challenge.  And according to Wesley, ‘If you play Magnus, you have to think you are better than him.’ And his performance over the las six months shows he’s on par with Magnus.

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

GM Wesley So - GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek
79th Tata Steel Masters, (10)
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 d5 4.d4 Be7 5.Bg2 In the past year or so, Wesley has become one of the game's recognised experts on the Catalan - and in his hands, its become a very potent weapon indeed. 5...0-0 6.Qc2 This is a central theme to the Catalan: the d-file is quickly vacated by the queen for White's rook; and this is where all the dynamic, central complications originate from. 6...c5 Challenging the centre head-on is the principled thing to do in the Catalan. Also popular and solid is 6...c6 - but White has the better of it with the simple plan of 0-0, Nc3, Rd1 and playing for a quick e4. 7.0-0 Nc6 8.dxc5 d4 9.a3 a5 10.Rd1 e5 Black's hoping that his central pawns will be the key advantage, and he can recoup his pawn later and therefore have a promising position - but Wesley expertly plays around all of Black's plans. 11.Nc3 Bxc5 12.Nd5! Black has to be careful of ideas such as Bg5 and/or e3 hitting Black's pawn on d4. If the d-file is opened now, White's rook and active piece-play will be problematic to deal with. 12...h6 The problems Black faces can be seen from bad choices here, such as 12...Nxd5? 13.cxd5 Qxd5 14.Ng5! and the 'sudden' mating attack on h7 is a common winning theme in the Catalan. 13.Bd2 Now White's idea is to chip, chip away at Black's position by threatening b4. 13...a4 14.Bb4 Nxb4 Black would dearly love to bolster his bishop on c5, but unfortunately there's a major snafu: 14...b6? 15.Nxe5! and suddenly the Catalan bishop is uncovered for a winning material advantage. And if 14...Bd6 15.Bxd6 Qxd6 16.Nb6 Ra5 17.Ne1! and Black has problems defending a4, leading to a very complex position. So rather than this, Wojtaszek looks for relief by exchanging some pieces. 15.axb4 Nxd5 16.bxc5 Nb4 17.Qd2 Nc6 18.b4! It's suddenly becoming very complicated indeed for Black, as White has the constructive plan of Ra3, Qb2 followed by Rda1 and Black's a-pawn falls. 18...Qe7 19.Qb2 Bg4 There's no time for 19...Be6? 20.b5 Na5 21.Nxe5 Qxc5 22.Nd3! Qxc4 23.Rdc1 Qb3 24.Qxd4 a3 25.Rcb1 Qc2 26.Qc5! and again, the a-pawn falls with White retaining both a material and positional advantage. 20.Re1 Rfd8 21.Nd2 Be6 If 21...d3 looking to make use of the d4 outpost, White can simply ignore it by playing around it, with 22.e3 Bf5 23.Ra3 where yet again the a-pawn is doomed. 22.b5 Nb8 23.Qb4! Powerhouse chess at it's very best! By now, Wesley had to be in his element here, as he successfully defends his menacing pawn cluster, whilst at the same time picking off the weak a-pawn. 23...f5 24.Nb3 Nd7 25.Bxb7! It leads to a winning tactic - but remarkably, it also leads to an endgame study-like win in just over 30 moves! 25...Rab8 26.Rxa4 Rxb7 27.c6! Qxb4 28.Rxb4 Rc7 29.cxd7 Rxc4 30.Rxc4 Bxc4 31.Rc1! Be6 The point being that if 31...Bxb3 32.Rc8 and Black loses the rook quickly followed by resignation here. 32.Rc8 Rxc8 33.dxc8Q+ Bxc8 34.b6 1-0  Wojtaszek resigns, as there's no way to stop Nc5 and b7 winning. A wonderful Wesley masterclass!

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