Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2015 TATA Steel Chess

  The 2015 international chess season kicked off on Saturday with the TATA Steel tournament in Wijk Ann Zee, Netherlands. World Champion Magnus Carlsen headlines the 14 player A section that contains four of the top 10 ranked players in the world. This is Carlsen’s first tournament since retaining his title against Viswanathan Anand in November and this year will be his first year of competition since 2012 without the specter of a World Championship match. I predicted that Ding Liren would stun the chess world by winning the tournament but I’m more interested in the prospects of Wesley So’s first international tournament since trading his Philippine allegiance to play for the United States. So is ranked #10 in the world but his recent increase in rating has come by playing in 2 game a day Swiss tournaments that were held in Las Vegas (the Millionaire Open and the North American Open) and not the one game a day super GM tournaments that the rest of the top 10 seem to exclusively play in. The other player I’m keeping an eye on is Hou Yifan. Yifan is rated 12th of the 14 player but is only two rating points behind overtaking the retired Judit Polgar to on top of the Women’s list.

Yasser Seirawan's grandmasterly commentary of round 3 of the TATA Steel Chess tournament

  This tournament used to be called the Corus tournament after the Corus Steel company but the name was changed after being sold to Tata Steel, an Indian multinational company which also owns the IT Tata Consultancy Services company. Tata Consultancy recently laid off thousands of workers. I wonder if it’s possible that this tournament will need a new sponsor in a few years.

  After four rounds So has proven he belongs among the world’s elite with a win against top 10 player Levon Aronian and draws against Carlsen and Caruana with Black. The world champion started with two draws while world #2 Fabiano Caruana started with two wins. Carlsen then overpressed in round three against Radoslaw Wojtaszek and lost. Perhaps Carlsen is feeling the footsteps of Caruana closing in on him not only on the live rating lists but also as the favorite of the world’s chess fans.

  My predicted winner Ding Liren lost to Caruana in the first round but rebounded nicely with three straight wins to share second place with Caruana a half point behind the veteran Vasilly Ivanchuk with his round three win over Jabova being especially crushing. Hou Yifan has two draws in her first four games and now finds herself 10 rating points behind Judit Polgar for the ‘title’ of the top ranked women player in the world.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

The 2015 TATA Steel tournament has been full of fighting chess. Check out Ding Liren's round 3 crush of Baadur Jobava!

  Unlike most major sports, chess has not been able to find a way to maintain control over its broadcast rights. The tournament games can be viewed live on the tournament web site or can be viewed with live commentary on the Internet Chess Club,, or the Livestream broadcast sponsored by Normally I would listen in to the Internet Chess Club broadcast but for this tournament I’ve been drawn to the Livestream broadcast because the commentator is former US champion Yasser Seirawan.

  Seirawan is commentating solo with an occasional interview with the winner of a game and on Tuesday interviewed 1972 world checker champion Ton Sijbrands. Sijbrands holds the blindfold simultaneous draughts record and is also a keen chess fan. There is very little in the way of silly jokes or banter – Seirawan pretty much sticks to the chess and talks about what is happening on the board without the aid of any computer analysis. Sometimes he suggests a move that immediately loses but admits to his mistakes with a good humor when corrected on Twitter by computer armed non-grandmasters. What I like most about Seirawan’s commentary is that if he finds a game particularly interesting he will focus on it with his complete attention for a half hour or more. I can hardly pay attention to a game for more than a minute but it is fascinating to watch Seirawan construct and deconstruct the possibilities as he decides what course the game will take and when he does take this time he is rarely wrong.

  Ivanchuk is the leader heading into the first rest day. At 45 he is the oldest competitor (and one of only three over the age of 30) and I doubt he will be able to maintain his pace. Before the tournament I predicted Ling would win but if I had to make a bet now I might put my money on So, who has played the top three seeds and has a +1 score and could be primed to go on a long winning streak.

If live commentary isn't your thing, the tata steel website provides coverage of the games complete with computer analysis and live video.

   Speaking of placing bets, I was both lucky and unlucky in last weekend’s games on the way to my 2-2 record. If the Dez Bryant catch had been allowed to stand the Cowboys would have likely scored a touchdown to put that game over 53 points and make me a loser. Luckily the officials called it a non-catch and instead of losing my mythical bet I got to see the Cowboys lose in heartbreaking fashion which made this abdominally cold winter just a little warmer. My unlucky break came when it was revealed that the Broncos had covered up quarterback Peyton Manning’s torn quadriceps muscle for a month. I thought Manning had a tired arm but if I had known he was seriously injured I wouldn’t have picked the Broncos to cover the seven point spread. So with three games left in the playoffs I find myself down 50 mythical dollars heading into this weekend championship games and I intend to go big or go home on this week’s picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only.

Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks
The Packers were crushed in Seattle 36-16 in the opening game of the season. Since then, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been hobbled by a calf strain but the team will have running back Eddie Lacy (who missed the first Seattle game) available. I think this game will be closer than the week 1 encounter but I just can’t see Seattle losing so I will bet $600 to win $200 on the money line and pick Seattle to just win this game.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
When these teams met in November the Patriots broke open a close game in the fourth quarter in a 42-20 win in Indianapolis but I think the Colts have come of age and won’t fold as easily even though this game is in New England. The Ravens’Joe Flacco shredded the Patriots last week and Andrew Luck is every bit as good even if he doesn’t have as good a supporting cast as Flacco. I will bet $110 that the Colts will stay close enough to cover the 6.5 point spread and pocket $100 if they manage to.