''…though this time there was no Anand to tell me that it was a lucky number…''
Anish' article on TATA-2012 with the comments of his games

© Frans Peeters
Just a week after a very fortunate event in Reggio, I left on another important, I can already say yearly (the 4th year!), mission in Wijk aan Zee. Running ahead, I can say I haven't entirely accomplished the mission as planned, but the valuable experience has definitely been added to my small but growing luggage.

There is not much to add to my previous articles on this tournament, as far as the organization is concerned. Everything was as it always was- perfect and smooth and the atmosphere was as warm and as 'chessy' as one can imagine.

The Tata Steel Chess Tournament has a long tradition and this year again there were three Grandmaster groups with interesting line-ups and a huge playing hall full of Dutch chess enthusiasts. Besides the chess-side of the tournament, one can't forget about another important motive, being the weather. Only when one goes through all that wind and rain to the playing hall, does one realize how much he loves chess and so we all gathered in 'De Moriaan', daily, for exciting battles on the chessboard.

© E. Surov
Lot number 13
My first round opponent was Boris Gelfand. I had black, as my lot number was 13. Same as last year, though this time there was no Anand to tell me that it was a lucky number (and you could certainly see that missing by the end of the tournament :)). Boris decided to pick a ssideline in the Slav, perhaps deciding that there is no need for theoretical battles before the upcoming WCH match. Soon we both entered unknown territory and I have the feeling Boris gave up the pawn too easily. The compensation seemed evident, but after we entered the position, I guess we both realized that Black is on the safe side already. Boris didn't manage to find the way to win the pawn back nor get substantial compensation and the game very quickly became one sided. It was never clear if the pawn would be enough to win and till the very end there was some intrigue. Eventually I mistakenly entered the rook endgame 3(!) pawns up, which however was drawn due to the seventh rank-activity by white, but it was not as clear and Boris eventually took the wrong path, recapturing one pawn, but letting me regain the seventh rank, leading to what seemed like a technically winning endgame.

I was more than happy to beat such strong player in a long fight like that, but tournament was long and soon I had to get ready to meet Teimour Radjabov.
The game turned out to be a fascinatingly complicated Saemisch. At first the pawn sacrifice seemed somewhat like desperation to me, as I thought that the opening experiment by Teimour was bound to fail. Soon however, I was shocked to discover that the position is far from clear and at the end I was happy to liquidate into a drawn endgame.

In my next round, I was eager to beat Karjakin, who lost his first two games and that probably played a role on some extravagant decisions such as 1...e6?!, followed by more objective mistakes such as a5?!, f5?! and so on. A bad game it was, especially as at some point my position was absolutely fine, and had I been in a more relaxed mood, the game may have turned out differently.

My draw against Nakamura was really the least eventful game I had, as after the opening I simply found myself unfamiliar with the line and decided to just liquidate for good. Later on I realized that I knew the critical line (which leads to a pawn ending), from an old book on endgames arising from openings , when I was about 8 years old, but my neurons in my brain failed to establish the connection on that day.

© Fred Lucas

Still perfect!
The rest day was spent in a very unremarkable way and it passed by quicker than I had expected.
As I had a whole day to think about my plans versus Carlsen, I decided to keep it simple and opt for King's Indian. He decided to go for a sideline, and it paid off, as I somehow immediately mixed up some lines, weakening my kingside too early. I however refused to think that I did anything wrong and Magnus started playing in a wrong spirit, starting with over positional Rh5. Instead of that, something more rude and direct like fxg5!? followed by e4 or even g4!? would be more appropriate.

In both cases my light squares would have had hard times and so certainly would I. In the game, however, Magnus missed Qd4!?, though then found a brilliant idea of Na4!, which made the game take a new turn. I am not sure whether I was in fact any better after the exchange sac, as the position has to be analyzed very carefully. My impression was that taking on c8 was unnecessary, but then again, it worked out, as I changed my original intention of answering Bxf5 with Rb8, as I got a bit worried about g4-g5. It seems though that that was the moment I could have gone for it. We both had failed to see that after Rb8! g4 b5 g5 Black can dare to just take on g5 with hxg5! hxg5 Qe5! and it seems that Black is clearly on top (provided he still finds a couple of brilliant moves). In any case, at the end I even managed to get on the wrong side of the draw, being the one under slight pressure.

Overall I was happy with the game, which was far from perfect, with loads of mistakes, but was nevertheless full of fight, something one can be happy with, playing with the highest ranked player in the world.

My next two games probably just took the rest of my energy, as I had again stayed in the warm playing hall all the way till the very end.
Against Kamsky I certainly got nothing out of the opening, to say the least. I had missed his strong idea of Nd4! and eventually I was lucky that after Qb5 I was getting some compensation for the pawn. When I was already thinking I was in trouble, I realized I have the strong Qa4+!. Gata quickly replied with b5, simply blundering my Qa5! that left his queen trapped. After his desperate piece sacrifice I made few careless moves, suddenly ending up in a position that required some good technique. Those that follow my chess games know that technique is definitely not something I can rely on and so I am sure there was a point in the game when everybody including me thought that Kamsky was going to leave the playing hall shaken but unhurt. Nevertheless, I always had my extra piece and very slowly and unsurely I managed to regroup. Once I got my knight on f3 I was fully optimistic again and quickly after that Kamsky collapsed.

© E. Surov

A long and tiring game again, but I was still fresh and ready for another one, with Loek, as I got back into the plus. The choice of Trompovsky by Loek didn't surprise me as much as one would think. Quite a few of our blitz games in the Dutch team training session started with that opening. As I realized that my clever opponent might have had analyzed by blitz-replies I went for c5 line that I had never played before and soon found myself in a strategically complex position. I misunderstood the things and played too slow and unenergetic and when I realized that something is going wrong it was too late. Nevertheless, my position always remained solid and by the end of time control the endgame I had was unpleasant, but perfectly defendable. My fxg4?? and exd5?? were connected with a blunder f5?, that I fortunately realized was not working. After that, the position was as disgusting as it could be, but after some short analysis it seems that I, strangely enough, always had very good drawing chances.
I definitely got lucky to be allowed to draw in a beautiful way with f5+! and Bxh4! and the tournament seemed perfect again.

'Losing Streak'
Hm, had I known I was going to lose almost (Thank you, David!) all my remaining games, I would have certainly thought more carefully when playing Vugar Gashimov. As it may have been the beginning of the end, I have decided to comment the game. It seems that my failure in preparation was exaggerated, as Black wasn't even close to be better. In fact, even after my blunder Kd2, which isn't so stupid, in fact, my position was fine. Only the over-clever and absolutely unnecessary Ra1? led to some trouble, which I then worsened with my bad play.

Giri-Gashimov (click arrows to follow the game)

A rest day would have probably been better a day before, but nevertheless it was always welcome and so I didn't mind to have an extra day to recover and come back into the tournament.

My game against Ivanchuk however, was as bad as one can possibly imagine. The opening went alright, especially after the blunder Bf3?, allowing Nd4!. I made a series of disgusting moves ending in a still equal position, though with slight initiative on my opponent's side. When the game seemed to be heading towards a draw with c6, I had managed to find the 'genius' exact Rc7??, missing that after Ne6 Rxd1 Nxc7, the intended Rb1 fails to b5!. After that my position was close to lost a few times, but I must say my opponent wasn't having his best day either and eventually I found myself in a rook endgame with what looked like some good drawing chances.

It was never clear though how to make a draw and my idea of Rb7??, that I thought was the way to save, was a blunder, as I absolutely forgot about the idea of combining two pawns to win a tempo in the pawn ending, something very typical and simple. Instead of Rb7 I would have kept good drawing chances with Ke6! and after Rh6+ Ke7 Rh7+! Kd8 Rh5, the maneuver I feared, I keep good chances thanks to my passed a-pawn. Let's say after Rd7+! Ke3 Ke7! Rxg5 Ke6 f4 Ra7!. Having said that, I believe one move earlier, instead of Rxh5, Kd5! would probably lead to a winning position as such e-pawn combined with excellent coordination between rook and the king should do the job.

My next game, one against Levon I intended to play in a solid style. Levon however took me off my course with a new but suspicious Nb6!?, which I was familiar with. Nh5!? was a surprise, as the position after Ng5!? looked good to me during my preparation. Yet Bg3 instead would have been safer with a solid position, as the extra c4 pawn can't be saved. Anyway, I had found quite a few fine moves, starting with Bf3!?, Qe4!, Bxd6!? and so on. My Qg3 however was a big mistake. I had totally misunderstood Black's concept with d5!. I had expected Levon to protect his d6 pawn, which would disharmonize his position a little. Instead of Qg3?, very strong was b3! suggested by Hans Böhm, who had commentated the game on that day. Opening the c-file followed by doubling would have secured equality as Black always has to be ready for Rxc6 counter sacrifice equalizing the game. Both me and Levon had completely missed this simple, straight and strong idea.

© Fred Lucas

On the last rest day I already couldn't stand the temptation of playing football, but as Vugar had jokingly said, it was already too late:).
Having won that football game with the Dutch team, I had slight hopes to win my chess game as well, but Fabiano played the opening in a very solid and healthy way, after being surprised with a new idea h5!?. My intended and typical Nxe5! fxe5 f6 was sufficient to equalize, but when I suddenly noticed the ugly f6?? I just got too happy. The position after f6?? Nxd7? Bxd7 would have been more than pleasant and when after f6 Fabiano started to think, I just couldn't understand what was going on. The blow Bxa5! made it clear to me and after that the position was just too ugly and bad to be saved.

The Petroff (I had another black game..not the best moment to have two black's in a row perhaps), that I have never lost with in a classical game before this one, haven't helped either and Veselin Topalov managed to win a good healthy game. My h6? was just too careless as I had thought that my central pawns would secure the equality. I was wrong and instead of h6, Bf5 would be solving all the problems right away.

© José Diaz

Anyway, I already lost the count at some point and was just hoping to finish the tournament with a fine game. Being just too insecure, I couldn't pose David Navara, my last round opponent any problems. I got slight edge out of the opening, but I just kept on playing too safe and at the end I couldn't even get a slight pressure, something I was hoping for. Nevertheless, it felt fine to stop the losing streak at least at some point, better late than never as they say.

The closing ceremony was as usually warm and cozy with the traditional Johan van Hulst speech and the pea soup. Levon Aronian won the tournament in a very convincing fashion, putting a lot of pressure on his opponents, confusing everybody in his best style and taking his chances. As for me, one can understand that I wasn't very content with my play; nevertheless I am sure that this invaluable experience will help me a lot in future.

Goodbye Wijk and as for now, the European Individual is on the horizon!