World class performance of the unbeaten candidate
On 6 April 2016, the Dutch top player and current champion Anish Giri paid a visit to Brussels in the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the European Union, which holds the Presidency of the Council in the 1st half of 2016. The Head of Cabinet of the Commission’s First Vice-President Timmermans, Ben Smulders, welcomed the current No. 4 of the world as the ‘pop-star’ of chess, referring to a recent article of the Swiss newspaper ‘Neue Züricher Zeitung’ on his career. Smulders underlined that the 21-year old Giri is a polyglot who made the Netherlands to his home. As Ambassador for the Wijk aan Zee tournaments (sponsored by Tata Steel Europe) Giri was now a great asset for his country and the EU was very honoured and pleased that he came to the European capital on the invitation of Europchess, the chess club of the European institutions. Smulders also felt that cChess and Europe have a couple of traits in common. For example, chess was invented in India around 600 AD as a war game. Apparently, some Indian rulers preferred to ‘combat’ on a wooden board instead. Probably they wished to save lives of soldiers and keep peace. So, paradoxically, although chess is a ‘war game’ it can also be seen as an intellectual effort bringing peace. Just like the EU. Chess is also played under the same rules for everybody.
No privileges for players from big or small countries. If you want to succeed, only good moves count. Just like in the EU. Chess is finally integrative. It can be played with very little investment. No need to buy an expensive boat like in sailing. No need to be pay a high admission fee like when entering a gulf club. Just study a bit. A chess team is thus composed of many people of completely different background. Just like in the EU.
After some additional words of welcome from the representatives of the Dutch Presidency and Tata Steel, Anish presented to the audience his game against Nakamura from Round 11 of the Candidates’ Tournament in Moscow, March 2016. He explained that the calm line 1. e4 e4 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. 0-0 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 a6 7. a4 0-0 8. Re1 Ba7 9. h3 h6 10. Nbd2 was not so easy to equalise for Black. Nakamura went for 10…Ne7 11. Nf1 Ng6 12. Ng3 c6 13. Ba2 and then stood at a crossroads. The push 13…d5 could be met by 14. exd5 Nxd5 (14…cxd5? 15. Nxe5 drops a pawn) 15. d4! (not 15. Nxe5? Nxe5 16. Rxe5 Bxf2+ 17. Kxf2 Qf6+ losing the exchange). After 15…. exd4 16. Nxd4 White is better because he controls the e-file. So Nakamura chose 13…Be6, which gave White a good game according to Giri. 14. Bxe6 fxe6 15. d4 exd4 16. cxd4 d5 17. exd5 exd5 18. Qd3 Ne7 19. Bd2 Bb8 20. Bb4 Bd6 21. Bxd6 Qxd6 showed this very clearly. White’s knight will occupy the stronghold e5 from where it cannot be chased away, giving him a long-term advantage. White then continued with a lot of manoeuvring, slowly increasing his grip
on the position. 22. Re3 Rae8 23. Ne5 Qc7 24. b4 Nc8 25. Rc1 Qd8 26. b5 axb5 27. axb5 cxb5 28. Qxb5 Nd6 29. Qb3 b5 30. Rce1 Qa5 31. Qb1 Qb6 32. Qg6 Qb7 33. Qd3 Re6 34. Ne2 Rfe8 35. Nf4 R6e7 36. Nfg6 Rf6 37. Qb1 Qb7 38. Qb4 Nf5 39. Rf3 Ne7 40. Nf4 Nc6 41. Qb2 R6e7 42. Rfe3 Na7 – according to Giri, this move showed that Black is running short of good moves. Instead 42…Qb6 Nfg6 43. Nxc6! Qxc6 44. Rxe6 Rxe6 45. Ne7+ loses the exchange. 43. Qb3 Nc8 44. Qb4 Nd7 45. h4! The idea behind this move is to push the pawn to h5, where it supports the knight for some mating ideas based on Nfg6 later on. 45….Nxe5 46. dxe5 Rf7 47. Nh5 Qe7 48. Qd4 (48. Qxb5 was also a possibility, but Giri explained that he wished to play for a king’s attack here) 48…Ref8 49. e6 Rf5 50. Nxg7? Qxg7 51. Rg3 Rg5! (this tactical excuse saved Nakamura the half point – 52. hxg5 Qxd4 proves impossible). 52. Rxg5 hxg5 53. Qxd5 gxh4 54. Qxb5 Ne7 55. Qh5 Qh7 56. Qxh7+ Kxh7 57. g3 and a draw was agreed.
In the following question and answer session Giri first shared his view on the often-heard question what to do to achieve more wins rather than draws at the highest level. He explained that the results were not due to a lack of risk-taking. Rather, he had worked out a couple of good positions in his games, but failed to convert the opportunities. So, it appears that he intends to work more on this issue rather than changing style. Asked whether it made a difference to have been the youngest participant in the
candidate tournament, Giri jokingly said that this was not at all the case. Rather, he might have the chance to play more of such events, whereas the pressure on some older entrants, was much higher. For example, Aronian had been very nervous as Moscow might have been his last big chance to qualify as challenger. Also Topalov was not in good form. Giri then recalled important steps in his chess career thus far. He had grown up in Japan, where his father had worked as a hydrologist. In that phase he played a lot on the internet in his uncle’s place. Having moved to St. Petersburg with its strong chess culture, he developed his skills, but it was only in Holland where he made a real jump upwards. In this country, where such greats as Euwe and Timman had led the nation, he was given the opportunity to play in Wijk aan Zee regularly. This allowed him to play against strong grandmasters, which was very beneficial for his education. His first win against a grandmaster actually occurred in the Wijk aan Zee tournament. When prompted what Dutch football could learn from Dutch chess players, Giri opined that they should ‘take it easy’. If they work on the next opportunity to prove their strength would surely come.
With respect to his opening preparation, he said the computer help is useful but they could not explain the ideas. In particular in tournaments, it was also important to ‘shut off’ the brain and not to get lost in long computer lines. Some preparation and memorisation before a round should do it. He also was of the view that the current format of playing 12 games in the world championship was sufficient to find out who is the stronger player. He saw Carlsen as the favourite but Karjakin proved very strong in ‘must-win situations’. Therefore, he expected a very tense match in November between the two. Asked about his own future and whether he could be the next Dutch world champion after Euwe, he felt a bit flattered. He would hope that one day he could play in a world championship match as best as he could. In any case, there was no reason to panic, Giri concluded with another smile.
After this highly instructive lecture, the sympathetic young candidate then performed a simultaneous exhibition against 25 players opened by the President of Europchess, Frank Hoffmeister. The club board had distributed 22 lots among the club members, two boards for the Dutch Representation and the sponsor, plus one free board to FM Luc Henris (Namur) who had come to the event.
Giri played on all boards 1. e4. During the session the spectators were witnessing a high number of hard fights, which triggered a wealth of interesting positions. Giri swept away many players with strong king attacks (Barta, Hoffmeister, Hannesson, Bonne, Wegman, Rand, Krastev), tactical tricks (Petrov, Zaimis) or outplayed them strategically (Ramos Florido, Bertram). In some cases, he had to show his superior ending skills to convert a material advantage (Tomov, Henris, Czuczai) or a better position (Boe, Abrahamsen). So, astonishingly he won 24 games and conceded only one draw against Matija Suskovic! Our Croatian 1st team player even had winning chances, but was satisfied with a perpetual check. Here are the games, which players have shared with us.
Clearly, this was a world class performance, given that at least three opponents had master level and many other participants can be considered as strong amateurs. Even those who lost were very happy, as it might have well been a game against the future world champion!