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Tata Steels Top Chess Grandmasters

Each year after the champagne bottles have popped and the fireworks exploded in air, serious chess enthusiasts turn their attention to one of the mainstays of the annual tournament calendar: the chess festival at the Dutch coastal enclave of Wijk aan Zee.  Sponsored by the multinational steel manufacturer Tata (which bought out Corus a couple years ago), the invitees include 6 of the Top 10 in the world.

• #1 Magnus Carlsen (NOR) 2861
• #3 Levon Aronian (ARM) 2802
• #5 Fabiano Caruana (ITA) 2781
• #6 Sergey Karjakin (RUS) 2780
• #7 Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2772
• #9 Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2769

Two names headline the event: reigning world champion Anand and top ranked Carlsen.  All eyes will focus on the Norwegian wonderboy as he defends his shiny new 2861 rating--indeed, the highest chess rating in history!  He comes to Wijk full of confidence after riding high over London in December.  However, nobody should count out the ageless veteran from India, who apparently  feels rejuvenated by the wintry squalls off the North Sea more often than anyone else, 5 Wijk titles in all.  Both Carlsen and Anand  look forward to achieving rating milestones in 2013: Magnus to 2900 and Vishy back to 2800.

The defending champion at Tata is the American superstar Nakamura, who kicked off the year 2012 with an impressive +5 victory at Wijk before capturing his third US championship several months later.  For better or worse, the name Nakamura draws more emotion on the Internet Chess Club than any other chess Grandmaster, except Bobby Fischer.  If he had not dumped 31 points in September and October, he would check in at #4 in world rankings. 

Who else stands a chance against such elite competition?  Youngest among the Top 10, the 20 year old Italian Caruana rallied for 50 rating points over the past year, improving from #17 to #5..  Another junior, 18 year old Anish Giri, leads the home team and hopes to meet the expectations that contributed to his last place finish in 2012.  The Russian Karjakin and Chinese Wang Hao recently shared top honors at the FIDE Grand Prix in Uzbekistan.  Finally, any projections would be incomplete without consideration of the 2nd seed Aronian, who at 30 years old remain above the magical threshold of 2800 despite modest performances last fall in Bilbao and London.

My predictions? 

• Favorite: Carlsen. 
• Contenders: Caruana and Nakamura.
• Dark horse: Wang Hao. 
• Upset special: Giri.

In closing, please enjoy a ride back in time to the 2003 Corus tournament.  Garry Kasparov, then rated 2847, did not participate.  Nonetheless, classical world champion Kramnik headlined an amazing field with 7 of the Top 10 in the world!  Several players have since retired, most notably the aging former world champion Anatoly Karpov.. 

• #2 Vladimir Kramnik (RUS) 2809
• #3 Viswanathan Anand (IND) 2753
• #4 Veselin Topalov (BUL) 2743
• #7 Ruslan Ponomariov (UKR) 2734
• #8 Evgeny Bareev (RUS) 2729
• #9 Alexei Shirov (ESP) 2723
• #10 Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 2712

At the end of the fortnight, a steady Anand won his third title with an undefeated +4 score, merely half a point ahead of the surging Polgar.  Will history repeat itself a decade later?

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