The playing schedule in the 14-player all-play-all event used to be 4,4,2,3. This year we started with five consecutive rounds before the first rest day, and the rest goes 3, 2 and 3 to make sure we play both Saturday and Sunday all three weekends.

It is probably a significant advantage to have played in Wijk many times before (although I did play very well in my first visit winning the C-group in 2004). It is tempting to think you are still early in the tournament in round 6-8 and disregard signs of fatigue. Playing in the dark of winter after a week and more is reminiscent of the tough second part of usual 9 or 10 round events and most players start making more mistakes at this stage. My own play has been far from flawless but fortunately I’ve avoided significant blunders so far.

Having won in the on-tour round 5 in Alkmaar against young Dutch player Jordan van Forest in my new pet line in the Sicilian, round 6 was crucial. I played white against Shakriyar Mamedyarov, the current Azerbaijan top player who as mentioned before, has had a few tremendous years. He looks slightly more shaky here in Wijk this time, or maybe our game was simply a turning point for him as well. I didn’t expect the Queens Gambit Accepted and the early middle game position is only slightly more pleasant for white (as black had weakened his b6 pawn/square with a6) in an otherwise symmetrical position. He successfully fended off my attempts to create a lasting initiative until 20.Kf1 where his response h6 and Nd5 probably is a bit inaccurate. I could have gained a lasting initiative with 29.Ndc5 but missed his active counterplay (and moved the other knight to c5). His counterplay left me with knight and bishop against his rook and extra pawn. After move 40 I spent half an hour finding a drawing line and concluded that only white could really hope for more. I’m not sure what he missed when he played h5? as e3 is fairly straight forward and leads to a perpetual checks as I cannot leave the e and f files. It was not a great game, but it was such an important win. I’m satisfied with the way I kept pushing and calculated quite well throughout the game.

Holding the pawn-down ending in round 7 was also important, and in a two against one pawn rook ending I lost with the white pieces against Aronian in 2009. 

In round 8 Rapport misplayed the Sicilian opening somewhat, and I got a lasting initiative. More on that later as I’m off to watch several fellow Norwegian (footballers) in Alkmaar-Vitesse!

Magnus Carlsen, Wijk aan Zee, January 22nd 2019