The Tata Steel Chess Tournament stands as one of the most prestigious chess events in the world. For over 80 years, top grandmasters have traveled to Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands to battle for one of the game’s true major titles. And while organizers have diminished the spectacle this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the field is as strong as ever.
Defending Tata Steel champion Fabiano Caruana and World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen headline the 14 grandmasters set to compete beginning on Friday.
Organizers Scale Down Event During Pandemic
Typically, the Tata Steel Chess Tournament features events for players of all levels. While the top group competes in the Tata Steel Masters, an invitational Challengers section allows grandmasters and international masters to fight for a position in the next Masters event. Amateur players competed in open events alongside the world-class tournaments.
♟| The world greatest’s masterminds return to Wijk aan Zee for the #TataSteelChess Tournament! pic.twitter.com/dErRKo7Ci5
— Tata Steel Chess (@tatasteelchess) January 9, 2021
This year, organizers will only hold the Tata Steel Masters. While tournament directors had hoped to merely limit attendance in all events, that became impossible as COVID-19 cases increased in the Netherlands.
This year’s event retains its tradition of mixing the very best players on Earth with other elite grandmasters who don’t quite rise to the ranks to world championship contenders. Five players from the top 10 in the FIDE rankings are playing, and no participant ranks outside the top 200 in the world.
“For 83 years, it’s been a tradition to kick off the new year with the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, also known as the ‘Wimbledon of Chess,’” tournament chairwoman Myra Rooselaar said in a statement on the event website. “Being able to have the 14 chess grandmasters play, face-to-face, right in the heart of our community adds value to chess fans as well as to our community.”
However, organizers did have to make some concessions due to the difficulties of travel during a pandemic. Only two players reside outside of Europe: Caruana, who lives in the United States, and Pentala Harikrishna, who hails from India.
“It is clear that I had to find players living as close as possible to the Netherlands, due to travel restrictions in many countries,” tournament director Jeroen van den Berg told chess24.com. “This affected the final list a bit, but not too much. There are many strong and interesting players all over the world.”
Carlsen Looks for 8th Tata Steel Title
As usual, Carlsen enters the Tata Steel Masters as the prohibitive favorite. Unibet lists the Norwegian as a -112 pick to earn his eight title in Wijk aan Zee, expanding on his record number of wins at the event.
|Tata Steel Masters Odds (via Unibet)|
|Magnus Carlsen: -112||Fabiano Caruana: +270|
|Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: +700||Anish Giri: +1100|
|Daniil Dubov: +2000||Jan-Krzysztof Duda: +2000|
|Alireza Firouzja: +2000||Pendyala Harikrishna: +3000|
|Radoslaw Wojtaszek: +3000||David Anton Guijarro: +10000|
|Andrey Esipenko: +10000||Nils Grandelius: +10000|
|Jorden van Foreest: +25000||Aryan Tari: +50000|
Caruana also comes in as a strong contender. Last year, the American grandmaster blew away the field, winning seven games without a loss to finish with a 10/14 score, two full points ahead of Carlsen. Unibet rates Caruana as a +270 choice to win back-to-back Tata Steel crowns.
The tournament appears wide open outside of the two favorites. Oddsmakers see Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (+7000 and Anish Giri (+1100) as the most likely to make noise, but with five other players holding ratings of over 2700, there’s plenty of room for surprises in Wijk aan Zee.