Tata Steel Tournament 2024

12:43pm Friday, February 16th, 2024

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"...you were reminded that chess had taken over."

Once again John Brezina brings us a terrific report on the outstanding Tata Steel chess tournament held annually in the town of Wijk Aan Zee, on the coast of the Netherlands. This great tournament features the best in the world players, their upcoming challengers, and amateur players from all over the world. 

John Brezina, press badge and all :-)

Quoting John Brezina: "For 86 years now, the new year has started off with "the Wimbledon of chess" tournament in Wijk Aan Zee. A long and storied tradition that began back in 1938 and continues today, attracting the best players and fans from around the world. This has become an annual "chess-vacation" for me, and I was fortunate to receive access to the stage once again to photograph this incredible event. My brother and his wife joined me this year on a flight to Amsterdam and then a short drive to Wijk Aan Zee. The experience of the organizers and staff excels as this tournament is professionally and well run. And once again the beautiful and large De Moorian playing hall hosted the event."

A player in the Amateur section in a typical chess player pose.

"Tata Steel is divided into three groups of players: The masters, challengers, and amateurs. Fourteen top players are invited to the masters each year and this year was special for having world champion Ding Liren and women's world champion Ju Wenjun participate. The fourteen challengers are also by special invitation and the winner of this group receives an automatic entry into next year's masters. The large amateur section also has the unique opportunity for the winner to get invited into next year's challenger group. The amateur section registrations fill up fast and always have more applicants than openings, a testament to the quality of the tournament and popularity of chess in the Netherlands. I learned of a particular amateur player on his 56th time playing in this prestigious event in what must be a record! Imagine his stories."

 Flying over Manhattan, New York as seen from Mr. Brezina's United Airlines plane, on the way to Wijk Aan Zee.

"The tournament is long as thirteen classical games are played over several weeks while the amateurs face off for a still grueling nine rounds. I have to be selective and chose to attend the final three rounds which tend to be the most exciting, especially this year. Wijk Aan Zee is a quiet and quaint village about 30 minutes from Amsterdam on the coast of the north sea. Despite being near the sea, the weather and temperatures can be rather comfortable for winter and fortunately was for my stay. The mornings were great for exploring and walking the beach as the games started in the afternoon. Everywhere around the village and every cafe visited, you were reminded that chess had taken over, a chess player's dream."

Hans Niemann recording his move

"Not only were both world chess champions playing but also five of the eight candidates qualifiers: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alireza Firouzja, Praggnanandhaa R, Vidit Gujrathi, and Gukesh D. Absent this year was Magnus Carlsen, a perennial favorite who has won Tata more than any other player. The only US player represented this year was the highest rated in the challenger group, Hans Niemann. 

Alireza Firouzja vs. R. Praggnanandhaa. Both are possible future world champions. 

Of note in the challengers group was the young 16 year old French player Marc'Andria Maurizzi. The youngest ever French player to receive the grandmaster title at 14 years old which I had the fortune to photograph back in 2018 during the Paris GCT when he was only eleven. It was during a special event where he was paired with Garry Kasparov in a team tournament and later made headlines as a partner in Kasparov's first ever bughouse game. I enjoyed sharing some photos and stories of the event with the young Maurizzi."

 Nodirbek Abdusattorov making a move.

"Going into the eleventh round, Gukesh and Abdusattorov were tied for first with 6.5 points while six other players were within a point. Firouzja faced off with Gukesh trying to catch up to the leaders at just a point behind while Ju Wenjun faced off against Nodirbek Abdusattorov. Gukesh failed to capitalize against the resilient Firouzja and drew their game. Eyes then turned to Nodirbek and Ju Wenjun to determine the leader. With a big time advantage and attacking position, Nodirbek took the full point and sole tournament lead. Vidit and Wei Yi both won their games to stay just behind the leaders while the remaining games drew."

 Marc'Andria Maurizzi is ready for the game to begin. 

"In the challengers group two players were on top, Leon Luke Mendonca trailed a point behind the young Frenchman Marc'Andria Maurizzi. Round eleven was a battle royal with only one draw in this section between the Ukrainian Anton Korobov and Jaime Santos. The American Hans Niemann won a beautiful game against Stefan Beukema but remained two points behind the leaders. Both Mendonca and Maurizzi won their games with the white pieces and the Frenchman remained in the lead after his fourth consecutive win."

Anna-Maja Kazarian with her autografted chessboard.

"It was enjoyable watching the post game interviews in the back room where Fiona Steil-Antoni did a fantastic job getting the players to open up a bit after their games. Players would also sit down occasionally for some post-game analysis. After round eleven, Saleh Salem and Harika Dronavalli analyzed for some time after his victory. And after a quick draw, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri sat down and discussed their game in Russian."

"While all this action was happening there were plenty of amateur games to watch too. I walked the field and captured photos while looking for interesting games and faces. Next to the playing hall was a lounge where anxious parents waited for their kids' game to end. Others followed games or played with old friends enjoying the chess atmosphere. I spotted Luke McShane in the crowd at one time and Alireza Firouzja's brother playing blitz another time." 

A full house Cafe de Zon

"Next door in Cafe de Zon, live commentary was taking place in a large back room where special guests would take the stage. Many others sat and played chess while sharing stories and a pint."

"The final weekend of the tournament and the crowds began to swell. Fans were allowed into the playing hall half an hour before the round and they lined up quickly near the front to see their favorite players. The penultimate round saw a leader shake up in both fields. First in the masters, Abdusattorov fell to candidate qualifier Vidit Gujrathi after 77 moves, allowing four other players to catch up to the lead as well. The challenger leader Maurizzi lost his game to Daniel Dardha yet was gracious in sitting down in the back room for quite a lengthy analysis. Mendonca now had his chance to catch the leader. His game against Saleh Salem became a struggle with just minutes each before time control. Salem sacrificed a knight to open his opponent's king but failed to convert and eventually resigned after 55 moves. Both players sat down and analyzed afterwards. Ding Liren won his game against Max Warmerdam and was in good spirits afterwards. On his way out that evening, fans who knew where to wait, had lined up to catch a photo and autograph from the world champion where he kindly obliged."

World Champion Ding Liren arrives for his game against World Champion Ju Wenjun

"The final round started earlier at noon on Sunday and first place was wide open in the masters while two players contended in the challengers. Extra special for the final day was the pairing up of the two current world champions, Ding Liren and Ju Wenjun. The last time this happened was in 2016 between Magnus Carlsen and Hou Yifan. The masters were playing to win and four players did just that to end up in a four-way tie-break. Wei Yi defeated leader Vidit in a heartbreak loss after a fantastic tournament for the Indian GM. He was joined by Giri, Gukesh, and Abdusattorov who would all play a blitz tie-break match after all the other games finished."

Spectators can get up close to the Master section games. 

"Veteran Dutch GM Erwin L'Ami faced off against co-leader Marc'Andria Maurizzi while IM Divya Deshmukh faced her fellow Indian compatriot co-leader Leon Luke Mendonca. Maurizzi failed to make any headway against L'Ami and their game settled into a draw, whereafter both players analyzed their game in the back room awaiting the other result. Soon afterwards word came through that Divya resigned and Mendonca became champion and qualified for a spot in next year's masters group. After his victory interview with Fiona, many congratulated him including second place finisher Maurizzi."

A stylish Anish Giri standing on the right.

"After the last game to finish, a long marathon struggle between Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa that ended in a draw, two boards were set for the tie-breaks. Board one had Wei Yi face Nodirbek while last year's winner Anish Giri faced Gukesh. Yi took the second game after drawing the first, earning a seat in the final. Giri took game one with the black pieces and Gukesh came back and did the same in game two setting up armageddon games until there was a win. That came quickly as Gukesh took the first win after Giri fell low on time and had to resign. Shortly after Wei Yi and Gukesh faced off in the final battle. The first game ended in a 47 move draw. Then in game two, Yi slowly outplayed Gukesh and after a bishop fork on move 59 losing a rook, Gukesh resigned."

Everybody who is anybody has played in this great tournament.

"A fantastic finish to a great tournament. One player in each group finished without a loss, Praggnanandhaa in the masters and Daniel Dardha who took second place in the challengers. And in the large amateur group, the qualifiers winner was Dutch IM Arthur Pijpers who now gets a seat in next year's challengers field. I look forward to returning once again to this special place where chess is king. A grateful thanks to the organizers and staff who do a remarkable job running such an enormous and prestigious tournament. See you in 2025..." 

"Regards, John Brezina."

As always, it is my pleasure to select and caption John's excellent photography. We'll close with a few of Mr, Brezina's black and white pictures from this great tournament. 

I'm not sure if I like this position.

Yeah, I'm old but I can beat you playing chess.

Yikes, I didn't see that move coming.

What you going to do about this move?

See all of Mr. Brezina's photos in addition to YouTube videos.

Round 11: https://photos.app.goo.gl/bSqoW9rLuz4cShE17  - 

Round 12: https://photos.app.goo.gl/LvSpwQceYjYoediY7  - 

Round 13: https://photos.app.goo.gl/gJsxHSH44aWXSTbV7

Thank you kindly, Mr. Brezina. I'm sure everyone who reads these reports is looking forward to the next international chess tournament you attend.

Thanks again,

J.C. MacNeil 

Last Modified: 2/16/2024 at 9:29pm Views: 284