The Tata Steel (formerly known as Wijk aan Zee, before being called Corus) super-tournament is underway now. The field is pretty much as good as it can get in my view. No “boring” 2700s were invited this time around. With two rounds already in the books, it’s a bit late for predictions, but I did think Anand might finally break his tournament-non-winning streak this year. For the B and C groups, I’ll go with McShane (I have to admit I was influenced by his 2/2 start) and then a tie between Bluvshtein and Vocaturo.
Anand did get off to a good start with a solid win as black against Ruslan Ponomariov. Back in Bilbao and Shanghai in late 2010, he played the Berlin every time against 1.e4. But in London, he played the Sicilian in all his black games, and he repeated his once-favorite Najdorf against Ponomariov. I remember Grischuk said something to the effect that “Ruslan doesn’t understand the Najdorf,” but I think that was mostly in regards to Pono on the black side.
The opening choice was also notable because a couple weeks ago, I had dinner with Hikaru Nakamura, Patrick Wolff (Anand’s former second), and John Donaldson. Hikaru contended that the Sicilian had been largely replaced at the top levels because it was no longer tenable for Black. Maybe Hikaru will change his mind, although I’m sure he’s focused enough on other openings. Grischuk actually said something similar about the Najdorf about a decade ago, but then he decided to make the Najdorf a central part of his Black repertoire …
Meanwhile, Hikaru got off to a good start as well, with a smooth win over Grischuk in round 1. Then, in the 2nd round, he had a pretty easy draw as black against Aronian in a Leningrad Dutch. Maybe the Dutch is better than the Najdorf?! Actually, Kramnik said last year at the same tournament that he was looking forever for an advantage against the Leningrad and was unable to find anything particularly convincing. He did beat Naka in that game, but I don’t think his treatment guarantees an advantage against the Dutch.
Well, that’s enough of the 6-degrees analysis of openings and 2700+ players. Kramnik’s preparation was amazing in today’s game against Anand:
First it was a pawn sac followed by an exchange sac, and all of it preparation to reach the above position. White’s extra exchange doesn’t seem to count for anything because of his lagging development, and with White’s kingside idling, it doesn’t look like he can hope to make use of his material advantage. Anand thus returned the material quickly with 16.e3 Nb3 17.Bc4 Nxc1 18.Bxd5. White is still on his heels, but with one or two more accurate moves, he can secure a draw, which the players soon agreed to.
That novelty was probably not conceived of by a computer, but the next one partly was:
From Smeets-Shirov in round 1, Smeets and his second Jan Gustafsson came up with 22.Bd7, largely because they didn’t look at the computer for a while. When they did glance back at the screen, they noticed this new move near the top of the evaluation (last year at the same tournament, Shirov faced 22.Qd5 and had no problems, while Leko’s 22.Rxf2 is also not threatening to the variation). Amazingly, Shirov either forgot his preparation here or he had not looked at the move, as he quickly went wrong with 22…Bc5 (the best move according to Gustafsson) 23.Na7 Ra8?? 24.Nc6 and Black is completely lost. For example, 24…Qc3 25.Ne7+ Kh8 26.Nd5 is no fun, and so after 24.Nc6, Shirov went down in a rather sad fashion.
Sometimes I get nostalgic for the old times, when you could carry around all your opening notes in a binder or a notebook …
Postscript: The Corus tournament name change isn’t the only one that happened this year. How long will this one will stick?