February 2, 2011

Dramatic moments in Wijk aan Zee

No matter how strong they are, top Grandmasters are not gods, they are still humans, they do get tired and yes, they all make mistakes. Their errors make chess even more interesting to watch, a sport where psychology plays an important role. Besides, a good physical shape is highly recommended!
Let's take a look to a few critical moments that appeared in all A, B and C groups.


There is a well known game, played in the fifth round in the A-Group:
Magnus Carlsen against Erwin l'Ami, game which ended in a win for Magnus, after more than 7 hours of tough fight. The game is full with mistakes, done by both sides. Why did they appear? This will be the topic of another article, for the moment we should realize that with an engine running next to you, things look much easier than they really are. The human brain is working in a different way than a machine, which never gets tired, which doesn't have emotions nor feelings.

I am going to illustrate just the critical moments and you can try to find yourself a better continuation than the one played in the game:

How should Black proceed?

With little time on the clock, Erwin decided to play a normal move: rook behind the advanced pawn 39...Re1 which is in fact a mistake and gives White the chance to seek for advantage.

Better is: 39...Ra2 and the king cannot go to e3 because the g2 pawn is hanging. And if 40.Kf1 Ra1 followed by perpetual check. Most probably Erwin thought that forcing the king to come forward might be dangerous and he tried to stop that by playing 39...Re1. Yes...seeing "ghosts" is part of the game:)

How should White continue?
Magnus played here 46.e6 giving Black the chance to come back in the game. White can put more problems with:
46.Nc5 and the capture of Black's a pawn is inevitable, thus giving White's good winning chances.
The game continued and the following position appeared on the board:

Can Black force a draw here?
The answer is yes, but not with the move played in the game: 50...a2, which is a decisive mistake. Instead, draw would have been secured with:
50...Ne4 and perpetual check cannot be avoided. For instance:
51.Kf3 Nxg5 52. Ke2 ( if 52.Bxg5 Rf1 53.Ke2 Re1 54.Kf2 Kxg5 =) 52...Re1 53.Kf2 Ne4+ 54.Kf3 Ng5+ with an easy draw for Black.

Is White still winning?
Even if Black tried his last chance with a beautiful stalemate idea, the position is still lost. But in a practical game, after many hours of playing and after the shock Magnus had to face when the optical illusion of a drawish position arised, such errors are highly possible to happen.

Here Magnus chose to play 72.Rh2 which allows Black to win the last pawn and enter a theoretical drawish position!
72.Rh4+ was enough for a win, followed by 73.Rd4, keeping the pawn and the point!

Tablebase says is completely draw...
Unfortunately, Erwin placed his king on the wrong square: 93...Kf3 and the game has finished with 94.Nh4+. Black resigned, he cannot save his rook.
A turning point for both players: 

  • Magnus came back in the tournament after a hesitating start, winning in the next round against Smeets, drawing his game against Anand and than, in the 8th round he won his game against the tournament's winner: Hikaru Nakamura. Afterall, Magnus had a decent result, 8 points out of 13, in a tournament which seemed to be not a great one for him.
  • Erwin lost his next game against Hikaru, after rejecting his draw offer. The position was equal and without risks for l'Ami, thus his decision to continue the game was a legitimated one. But than, things went wrong and he couldn't defend anymore a slightly worse position. Clearly the loss from the previous round had something to do with it. Maybe things would have been different, maybe Erwin would have played longer a position which looked promising, against Vachier-Lagrave. But who knows...?!

Anyway, this game will be remembered as a terrible misfortune for Erwin. If he would have managed to make a draw, we would most probably say: he was completely lost but he got lucky:) There is always a positive and a negative side in everything:)


A critical moment in the B-Group appeared in the game between Luke McShane, the final winner, and the young talent from Philippines Wesley So.

Picture from: wwww.chessvibes.com

In an incredible tactical battle, Luke managed to hold the game, to get a slightly better position and than to win a full point.
Wesley had several moments when he could have opted for better moves, but he chose for not the most accurate ones and finally lost the game.


Picture from: www.chessbase.com

The last round was the decisive game for the first place. Daniele Vocaturo had white against Ilya Nyzhnyk and a half a point ahead. He needed only a draw but the position didn't look so promising:

What should Black do? Take on d6 or on g6?
Ilya chose to capture the Knight, decision which allowed Daniele to give a perpetual check, to make a draw and win the tournament!

32...Bxd6 was followed by 33.Qh5 Nf6 34.Rxf6 Kxf6 35.Qh6+ Kf5 36.Qh7+ and Black cannot avoid the checks.

Instead, 32...Kxg6 would have promoted Ilya to the B-Group in 2012! If 33.Qe4+ Kh6 34.Nf7+ Kg7 35.Nxd8 Nf6 and Black has way too many pieces for the queen.

When we look at the position, it looks easy, right? But Ilya had little time on the clock, he had difficult decisions to take before, as Daniele was constantly puting problems for his opponent, and...just one error and it's finished. Cruel, but this is sport: you always need a bit of luck to win.

Another sample of blackout is taken from the game: Anish Giri against Viswanathan Anand.

Picture from: www.chessvibes.com
With a win over the world's number one according to rating, against Carlsen, it would have been great for Anish to win against the current world champion as well!

How should Black proceed?
Just one move was required and Black would have won!
Anish played: 49...Rd2 when after 50.Rc7 the Black king cannot hide from the white rook's checks! And a draw was agreed.
Instead, 49...Rb6 would have brought a completely different outcome of the game and of the final standings. All in all, Anish's tournament was a very good one and we all wonder: what's next?!

This position was also discussed in the very popular Dutch Tv-Show: "De Wereld Draait Door" (The World Keeps Spinning). You can see the entire interview with Anish Giri and chess analyst Hans Bohm here! 

Instead of conclusion:

"Without error there can be no brilliancy" - Emanuel Lasker


  1. Very interesting article! Can I translate into Czech? :-)

  2. Sure:) As long as you make a link to the original, I am completely fine with it. And happy you find it interesting:)

  3. You are very kind!

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