Chess Piece

Tata Steel Rapid
Kolkata, India
Nov. 22–24, 2019

Final Standings (Rapid portion)

1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2870, 7.5/9

2. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2741, 5.5/9

3–5. Wesley So USA 2760, Levon Aronian ARM 2772, Anish Giri NED 2776, 4.5/9

6–8. Viswanathan Anand IND 2757, Pentala Harikrishna IND 2731, Ding Liren CHN 2801, 4.0/9

9. Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2773, 3.5/9

10. Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2722, 3.0/9

Time Control: 25 minutes play-to-finish with 10 seconds time delay before your clock starts.

Tata Steel Blitz
Kolkata, India
Nov. 25–26, 2019

Final Standings (Blitz portion)

1–2. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2741, Magnus Carlsen NOR 2870, 12.0/18

3–4. Ding Liren CHN 2801, Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2773, 10.0/18

5–6. Wesley So USA 2760, Anish Giri NED 2776, 9.5/18

7. Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2722, 8.5/18

8. Viswanathan Anand IND 2757, 8.0/18

9. Penatala Harikrishna IND 2731, 6.5/18

10. Levon Aronian ARM 2772, 4.0/18

Time Control: Five minutes play-to-finish with three seconds time delay before your clock starts

Tata Steel Combined Standings
Kolkata, India
Nov. 22–26, 2019

Final Standings (Rapid is considered double)

1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2870, 27.0/36

2. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2741, 23.0/36

3-4. Anish Giri NED 2776, Wesley So USA 2760, 18.5/36

5. Ding Liren CHN 2801, 18.0/36

6. Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2773, 17.0/36

7. Viswanathan Anand IND 2757, 16.0/36

8-9. Pentala Harikrishna IND 2731, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi IND 2722, 14.5/36

10. Levon Aronian ARM 2772, 13.03/36

The Tata Steel Rapid and Chess Tournament (Kolkata, India) was the penultimate event of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. The reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen dominated this event from start to finish, scoring 2.5/3 a day in the first three days (the Rapid portion) and then 6.5/9 followed by 5.5/9 in the final two days (Blitz portion). His 27 out of 36 pts is also the best performance ever in these Rapid/Blitz events.

But you know what is even more impressive about that record? The 2nd and 3rd best performances were likewise scored by Carlsen! Here are the top 5 Rapid/blitz scores:

Kolkata 2019: 27 points by Magnus Carlsen

Abidjan (Ivory Coast) 2019: 26.5 by Carlsen

Leuven 2017: 25.5 by Carlsen

2016 Paris: 25.5 by Hikaru Nakamura

2019 St. Louis: 24.5 by Aronian

You remember the 2004 movie “Miracle” about the USA Ice Hockey team’s gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics? There is one scene there which sticks to my mind — Herb Brooks, the USA coach, had written up the names of 26 players to the team on the first day of tryouts. The assistant coach was very surprised and, upon going over the list, remarked aloud that many of the best players were missing from the team. “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the best team” was the reply. Then another name caught the asst. coach’s eye. There came this memorable exchange:

“you are putting Jim Craig behind Janaszak as goalkeeper?”

“the other way around.”

“what? People around the league are saying that Jim Craig has been off since his mom died”

“hah! But have you ever seen Craig when he is on?”

And that ended all discussion.

Two lessons there – the best team and the best players are not necessarily one and the same, and don’t base your judgement on the current form of a player, especially when the competition is still a few months away.

I was reminded about the movie by the performance of Magnus Carlsen. Here definitely we saw a Magnus Carlsen who was “on”.

Aronian, Levon (2772) — Carlsen, Magnus (2870) [B90]
Tata Steel GCT Rapid Kolkata IND (3.3), 22.11.2019

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.Be3 Nbd7 9.g4 Be7

The English Attack against the Sicilian Najdorf. This harkens back to the time of the English teams of the 1980s when they were the world no. 2 behind the Soviet Union. You have names like John Nunn, Tony Miles, Nigel Short, Jonathan Speelman, Murray Chandler, Jonathan Mestel striking fear into the hearts of their opponents with their new-fangled opening schemes and attacking ideas. This was one of them.

10.Qd2 0–0 11.0–0–0 b5 12.g5 Nh5

This move had been out of favor for several years already until Mamedyarov used it against Caruana in the 2018 Candidates Tournament. The fashionable line was 12…b4 13.Ne2 (yes the knight can go to d5 but then it allows Black to exchange knights. By retreating to e2 with the idea of relocating to g3 he forces Black to put his knight in a passive e8) 13…Ne8 14.f4 a5 15.f5 Bxb3 16.cxb3 a4 and both sides are attacking each other. Do not enter this labyrinth without a lot of advance study!

13.Kb1 Nb6 14.Na5 Rc8 15.a3

In a previous game White felt obligated to justify his offside knight on a5 with a pawn sacrifice but Black turned out to be fine: 15.Nd5 Nxd5 16.exd5 Bxd5 17.Qxd5 Qxa5 18.c4 Nf4 19.Bxf4 exf4 20.cxb5 axb5 21.h4 (there is no immediate refutation of 21.Qxb5?! but I am not sure if anybody in his right mind would play it as it opens up the b-file for Black’s rooks) 21…Rc5 22.Qb3 d5 as I pointed out earlier Black is ok. Leko,P (2679)-Giri,A (2762) Heraklio 2017 1/2 31.

15…g6 16.h4 Ng3 17.Rg1

Who says Magnus Carlsen doesn’t study openings. Here he shows his familiarity with the latest nuances in this very sharp line. In the Prague Masters held last March Navara got a big advantage after 17.Rh2 Nxf1 18.Rxf1 h5? (better is 18…Na4. Take note that this was the move Carlsen played against Aronian. He was ready) 19.Bxb6 Qxb6 20.Nd5 Bxd5 21.exd5 f5 22.gxf6 Bxf6 23.Rg2 Kh7 24.Nc6 Qc5 25.Qd3 Rg8 26.f4 e4!? 27.Qd1! (27.Qxe4?! Rce8 28.Qf3 Qe3 29.Qd1 Qe4 Black’s position is a lot better than it was 3 moves ago) 27…Kh6 28.f5 gxf5 29.Rxg8? (Too bad. 29.Rgf2! Rg6 30.Rxf5 is clearly winning for White) 29…Rxg8 30.Rxf5 Rg6 31.Qf1 Rg1 32.Rxf6+ Kh7 33.Rf7+ Kh6 34.Rf6+ Kh7 35.Rf7+ Kh6 ½–½ Navara,D (2739)-Wojtaszek,R (2722) Prague 2019.

17…Nxf1 18.Rgxf1 Na4! 19.Nxa4 bxa4 20.h5 Qd7!

A nice double-duty move. First, on the 7th rank the queen will protect the weak h7 square after hxg6 fxg6. Second, it prepares to reposition itself on b5 to attack the opposing king.

21.Rh1 Rfe8 22.Qh2 Bf8 23.Bd2!

Aronian is no slouch either. He repositions his bishop on b4 where it will block the b-file and put pressure on Black’s backward d6–pawn.


You see what Black is up to? He wants to bring his queen to b5 but first the rook protects h7. However, he had an even stronger move at his disposal. Black should have taken the chance to play 23…d5! not fearing 24.hxg6 fxg6 25.exd5 Bxd5 26.Bb4 Rc7 27.Bxf8 Kxf8 it looks like there are equal chances for both sides here.

24.Bb4 Rb8 25.Rd3 Qb5 26.Rc3

GM Dejan Bojkov in points out that White had the strong move 26.c4! here. Black has to retreat the queen because 26…Bxc4? loses after 27.Nxc4 Qxc4 (Or 27…Rxc4 28.hxg6) 28.Rc3 and the rook suffers.

Now, if after 26.c4! Black’s queen retreats then 26…Qd7 27.hxg6 fxg6 28.Rhd1 Black cannot protect the backward pawn anymore.

26…Rbc8 27.Rxc7 Rxc7 28.Rd1 Rd7 29.Rd3 Be7 30.hxg6 fxg6 31.Qd2 Qb6 32.Qc1 Bd8!

Taking the bishop out of e7 so that he can play …d6–d5.

33.c4 Qf2 34.Nc6 <D>


34…Bxg5! 35.Qxg5 Qf1+ 36.Kc2 Bxc4 37.Qe3

Not 37.Rd2?? Bb3+ 38.Kc3 Qc4#

37…Bxd3+ 38.Qxd3 Qxd3+ 39.Kxd3 h5

Carlsen has a rook against two pieces, but his passed h-pawn will win the game for him.

40.Ke3 Kf7 41.Bc3 Ke6 42.Nb4 g5 43.Kf2 Rf7 44.Kg2 g4 45.fxg4 Rg7!

Beautiful. Remember our lesson from previous columns that the rook has to cut off the king — this is a nice example of that.

46.Nd5 Rxg4+ 47.Kf3 Rg1 48.Kf2 Rg7 49.Kf3 h4 50.Be1 h3 51.Bg3 Rb7 52.Nb4 a5 53.Nd3 Rb3 54.Ke2 Kf6!

Now the king goes down the board to assist his passed h-pawn.

55.Bh2 Kg5 56.Bg3 Kg4 57.Bh2 Rxd3!

The coup de grace.

58.Kxd3 Kf3 59.Kd2

[59.Bg1 Kg2 does not work]


Not 59…Kg2? 60.Ke2 Kxh2 61.Kf2 draw. The king is stuck in the corner.

60.Ke2 d5 61.Bg3 d4 62.Bh2 Kd5 63.Kd2 e4 64.Ke2 Kc4 65.Be5 Kb3 66.Kd2 d3 67.Kd1 e3 68.Kc1 Kc4 0–1

And to think that all this brilliancy was played under rapid time controls.

We will continue our coverage of the Tata Steel Rapid/Blitz event on Thursday.


Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.