Magnus Carlsen wins, but local hero makes mark at elite Tata chess tournament

January 29, 2019

It’s the central plot of any number of Hollywood feel-good classics, like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Breaking Away” and “Rocky” (I, II, III, IV etc.) underdog local hero is offered an unexpected chance to compete against the big boys, comes through with inspiring victory.

It’s long been an unwritten rule that the host country in big chess tournaments often has a slot or two reserved for a hometown favorite son, sometimes to drum up local interest and sometimes just to fill out the tournament cross table.

That’s perhaps how young Dutch GM Jorden van Foreest found himself in the main event at the 81st Tata Steel “A” tournament this month in the Netherlands, competing in a 14-player field that included world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, two former world champs, and 10 other grandmasters rated at least 80 points higher than the Dutchman’s 2,612 pre-tournament rating.

No, van Foreest did not win (this was Wijk aan Zee, not Hollywood), finishing in a tie for last with Russian ex-champ Vladimir Kramnik as Carlsen (an undefeated 9-4) notched his record seventh Tata win. But the 19-year-old GM played a major role in the tournament’s outcome with a Round 10 upset of front-runner GM Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia, which also happened to be one of the most attractive attacking games played in the event.

Nepo’s handling of the Black side of this Najdorf Sicilian is a trifle suspect (8. f4 exf4?! allows White to save a key tempo developing his dark-squared bishop), and by 12. g4 0-0 13. g5, it’s clear White’s kingside attack is coming together much faster than Black’s queenside counterplay. After 21. Nxd5 Nxd5 22. exd5 Nb6 23. Bc1!, White rightly judges his kingside initiative is promising enough to sacrifice the d-pawn.

White’s h- and g-pawn battering ram is standard stuff in the Najdorf, but the execution here is inspired: 25. h5 Bf8 26. g6! (logical, but note how White waited until the Black bishop could no longer go to the f6-square before striking) h6 (Qc4 26. gxf7+ Kxf7 27. h6 g6 28. Rhf1+, with a powerful attack) 26. Qg2! (a versatile move, hitting the knight on d5, reviving the g-file pressure, and usefully providing another guard against any Black tricks on c2) Nf6 (tougher might have been 26...Re5!? 27. gxf7+ Qxf7 28. Bxh6 Nf6 29. Bg5 and Black’s defensive prospects are a little brighter) 27. Bxh6!, when 27...gxh6? loses to 28. gxf7+ Kxf7 29. Qg6+ Ke7 30. Rhe1+ Kd7 31. Qf5+ Kd8 32. Qxf6+ Be7 33. Qxh6.

Black covers up with 27...fxg6 28. Rdf1 Qc4 29. Rxf6 Qxd4 (gxf6? 30. Qxg6+ Kh8 31. Bxf8 Rxf8 32. Qh6+ Kg8 33. Rg1+ Kf7 34. Rg7+ Ke8 35. Qe3+ Kd8 36. Qe7 mate) 30. Rxg6 Kh7 31. Bc1 Qe4 (see diagram), giving back the pawn and offering a queen trade to defang van Foreest’s attack.

Instead, White finds the inspired 32. h6!!, hanging both queen and rook but in fact leading to a forced win: 32...Qxg6 (the first point is that 32...Qxg2? fails to 33. hxg7+ Kxg6 [Qxh1 34. g8=Q mate] 34. g8=Q+ Bg7 35. Rh6+! Kf5 36. Qf7+ Ke4 37. Qf4+ Kd5 38. Rxd6+ Kc5 39. b4 mate) 33. hxg7+ Kxg7 34. Bh6+ Kf7 35. Rf1+ Qf6 36. Qd5+!! (the second point, which White had to see back on Move 32; settling for 36. Rxf6+?! Kxf6 37. Bd2 produces only a small edge for White) Ke7 (and not 36...Kg6 37. Rg1+ Kxh6 [Kh7 38. Qg8+ Kxh6 39. Rh1+] 38. Qh1+ and mate to come) 37. Bg5!, and Black gets only a rook and bishop for his lost queen.

Black struggles mightily, but van Foreest never lets his higher-rated opponent escape. In the final position, White will win more material after 61. Rxb5! Kxb5 62. Qxd5+ Bc5 63. b4, pinning and winning the bishop; Nepomniachtchi resigned.

In some late-breaking news, Kramnik announced right after the tournament ended that he was retiring from professional chess at the age of 43. The 43-year-old Russian held the world championship from 2001 to 2007 and is the only player ever to defeat Garry Kasparov in a head-to-head match.

“I would like to try doing something else one day, and since my chess player motivation has dropped significantly in recent months, it feels like the right moment for it,” Kramnik said in a statement Tuesday. “I would like to concentrate on projects which I have been developing during the last months especially in the field of chess for children and education.”

Van Foreest-Nepomniachtchi, 81st Tata Steel A Tournament, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2019

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e5 7. Nb3 Be6 8. f4 exf4 9. Bxf4 Nc6 10. Qe2 Be7 11. O-O-O Qc7 12. g4 O-O 13. g5 Nd7 14. Qe3 Rac8 15. Kb1 Rfe8 16. h4 b5 17. Qg3 Nce5 18. Nd4 Nb6 19. Bh3 Bxh3 20. Qxh3 Nec4 21. Nd5 Nxd5 22. exd5 Nb6 23. Bc1 Nxd5 24. h5 Bf8 25. g6 h6 26. Qg2 Nf6 27. Bxh6 fxg6 28. Rdf1 Qc4 29. Rxf6 Qxd4 30. Rxg6 Kh7 31. Bc1 Qe4 32. h6 Qxg6 33. hxg7+ Kxg7 34. Bh6+ Kf7 35. Rf1+ Qf6 36. Qd5+ Ke7 37. Bg5 Qxg5 38. Rf7+ Kd8 39. Qxg5+ Be7 40. Qd5 Rg8 41. a3 Rg1+ 42. Ka2 Re1 43. Qb7 Rxc2 44. Rh7 Rc7 45. Qxa6 Re5 46. Rh8+ Kd7 47. Qa8 Bf6 48. Rf8 Bg7 49. Rd8+ Ke7 50. Qb8 Rec5 51. Rg8 Ke6 52. Qe8+ Kd5 53. Qe2 Be5 54. Rb8 Kc6 55. Qe4+ Kd7 56. Qd3 Kc6 57. Qf3+ d5 58. Qh5 d4 59. Qg6+ Bd6 60. Qe4+ Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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