In 2015 and 2016 I won outright with 9/13 in Tata Steel Chess. This time it was enough for shared 1st with Anish Giri, and with the new play-off rules implemented in 2017, tournament victory was decided by a Blitz play-off to the joy of most spectators and the chagrin of purists taking exception to deciding classical events with Blitz (albeit slow 5+3 Blitz). Personally I’m fine with both alternatives; shared victory, or play-off. I do like play-offs despite the extra pressure, and fortunately I managed to maintain my good record, and won 1,5-0,5 to clinch the title and capture the status of having the most tournament victories ahead of Anand at 5, and Aronian (among contemporary players) and others at 4.
Against Matlakov in round 12 I took my 4th win in a row with the white pieces in another rook and opposite bishop endgame a pawn up. These endgames tend to be theoretically a draw, but are very, and sometimes extremely, difficult to hold. I had a c-pawn and we both had h-pawns. There are no obvious attempts at fortresses for black, and he had three serious challenges; stop the c-pawn, defend his h-pawn and defend his bishop. (My own bishop was much simpler defended by the c-pawn or the king.) A human is faced with finding an adequate dynamic defense for each and every single move. His king became very vulnerable on the h-file, and I looked for a way to exploit this only to decide to play safe in the end. Advancing the c-pawn should win, and he resigned when it got to c6. I needed this win to keep up with Anish Giri who also won in the penultimate round.
In the last round I drew with Karjakin as black and didn’t really have any chances to play for an advantage. (If Giri had managed to beat Wei Yi with black he would have been a deserved sole winner at +6.)
I’d like to thank the organizers for staging a great 80th edition of the tournament. For most players the combination of a long event (13 rounds in 17 days) and the seaside North sea climate is somewhat of a challenge, and it really pays tribute to Tata Steel Chess, the Wijk aan Zee village, and everyone involved in the event that the level of play was so high this time. Half the field played very good chess throughout the tournament and scored +2 or more. I played much better than in most of 2017, and combined with the World Blitz victory a month ago it makes me quite optimistic going ahead. Giri played arguably his best tournament ever and was never in serious trouble in any game. Kramnik is getting in good shape for the Candidates, and he won more games than any other player. Two losses prevented him from reaching higher than shared 3rd at 8.5. Mamedyarov had a great 2017 and the half of Tata he played great. He remained a serious contender for first throughout. As expected it would be hard for him to keep the 5.5/7 pace, and the new “mature but still aggressive” Shakhriyar is now a force to be reckoned with. While I have a good score against him with black historically, I ended up in a fairly miserable position against him in round 11. He had the bishop pair, and when he allowed Bb5 and liquidation into a drawish rook and minor piece ending, I was quite relieved. Anand was the early leader. He generally, and specifically against Caruana, played very well except against Kramnik. Amazingly +3 was only enough for shared 5th this time. Wesley So did well except for his Groningen loss to me and shared 5th with Anand. Karjakin should also be mentioned. Wins against Caruana and Kramnik made Tata Steel Chess a great dress rehearsal for the March Candidate tournament, and just too many draws prevented him from becoming a serious contender for the podium.
February 9th to 13th I’m playing Hikaru Nakamura in an (unofficial World Championship) Fischer Random match at Hovikodden art gallery outside Oslo.
Magnus Carlsen, Oslo, February 1st 2018