Magnus Carlsen sailed to victory in the Masters Section of the 2022 Tata Steel Chess Tournament, played in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. The tournament concluded this weekend.
Dubbed the “Wimbledon of Chess,” Tata Steel is a gruelling thirteen-round round robin among fourteen of the top players in the world. In the Challengers Section, another fourteen up-and-coming titled players battled for the right to compete in the Masters Section next year.
Due to Covid restrictions, the massive open tournament that usually complements the top section did not happen this year, but there were a number of online events open to the public.
Carlsen competed against a very strong field, including Fabiano Caruana, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Richard Rapport, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Nils Grandelius, Fabiano Caruana and Sam Shankland from the US, hometown favourites Jorden Van Foreest and Anish Giri (last year’s winner and runner-up), India’s Santosh Vidit and sixteen year old phenomenon R. Praggnanandhaa, and the Russian trio of Andrey Esipenko, Daniil Dubov and Sergey Karjakin.
Carlsen performed admirably, winning or drawing against the entire field, and ending with a score of 9.5/13, a clear 1.5 points ahead of Mamedyarov in second and Rapport in third. However, Carlsen’s stated goal of breaking the 2900 rating ceiling
In fact, the only games with outcomes that genuinely surprised were Nils Grandelius’ masterful draw against Carlsen in round five, and Sam Shankland’s eighth round thriller, which showed that fighting to a draw can still be one heck of a fight!
COVID reared its ugly head once again, striking young Russian GM Daniil Dubov. After one member of his team tested positive for COVID, Dubov was asked, as per tournament rules, to wear a mask during his round seven game against Anish Giri. He refused, and therefore forfeit the game.
Things got worse for Dubov the following week. He seemed a bit off his game, losing in round ten to the struggling Nils Grandelius (this was Grandelius’ only victory in the tournament.) The following day Dubov himself tested positive for COVID, and the organizers made the best choice possible out of a series of bad ones: Dubov would forfeit his games in the final three rounds of the tournament, granting a free tournament point to Richard Rapport, Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen.
Dubov himself was composed and sanguine about having to withdraw from the tournament, and was extensively interviewed during the live coverage of round eleven. Still, this must have been a great disappointment to him, and of some concern to the other players, who were evidently closely interacting with a COVID-positive individual for several days.
It is unclear how this might affect Dubov’s expected appearance in the FIDE Grand Prix, which starts in just a few days and will determine the final two competitors in the next Candidates Tournament.
While Carlsen dominated with the Catalan Defence, one of the most employed openings in the Masters Section was the Nimzo-Indian Defence, which gave the tournament two of its most exciting games, van Foreest’s brilliant victory over Anish Giri in round eleven, and Sam Shankland’s shocking takedown of Sergey Karjakin (in just 26 moves!) in round twelve.
Perhaps the most important story is the dramatic rise of prominent Indian players. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa’s first appearance in the Masters is quite an accomplishment, especially considering Pragg’s youth: he is only sixteen years old!
But in the Challengers Section, Arjun Erigaisi was absolutely dominant, with a score of 10.5/13, winning with a round to spare as Carlsen did in the Masters. Erigaisi didn’t lose a single game, and won seven of his last eight rounds. Even Magnus Carlsen was impressed by Erigaisi’s strong attacking play. He represented India in the Challengers Section along with Surya Shekhar Ganguly, but next year will take his rightful place in the Masters.
It should be noted that two women competed in the Challengers Section as well: Russia’s Polina Shuvalova and Jiner Zhu, the sole competitor from China. While neither finished very strongly, being rated towards the bottom of the field, both managed to score two victories along with a number of draws. They faced each other in round one, with Shuvalova winning.