Entering the Twenties on a high note

Philosophical questions about year 0 and 1 aside, I conveniently consider 2020 the start of the 3rd decade in the 21st century. After a successful autumn 2009 I became no 1 on the FIDE classical chess rating list for the first time 10 years ago (January 2010 list), and has held on to this position after two short stints as no 2 in 2010/11.

The computer has dominated humans in chess since early 2000’s, but apart from help in verifying and finding marginal opening improvements, I haven’t been particularly enthusiastic about computers until receiving inspiration from the Alpha Zero games released in 2018 and 2019. New profound insights are rare. I can think of the experience of working with Garry Kasparov in 2009 when discussing certain opening concepts with the originator of the ideas, and again late last decade when browsing certain Alpha Zero games.

These were particularly inspiring moments, but of course the main contributions to improving my chess understanding consists of adding small pieces of new information gradually and consistently through playing, studying, and cooperating with main coach Peter Heine Nielsen and other strong chess players.

The cooperation with Kasparov was facilitated by the cooperation with long time main sponsors Simonsen Vogt Wiig and Arctic Securities initiated late 2009.

My motivation has not been as consistent this autumn as it was in the first half of 2019, but I didn’t hide my strong ambition to do well at the Rapid & Blitz World Championship in Moscow at the end of December. As was the case with many of my competitors I was a little low on energy after a long season, but I managed to stay reasonably focused and avoid too many mistakes (and just lost one game out of 36). Hardly any of my games were memorable, but I’m really proud of winning both events through hard work at the board combined with a slightly pragmatic and efficient approach. The organizers deserve praise for hosting a great event!

Entering the new decade holding the Classical, Rapid and Blitz World Championship titles was just what I’ve dreamed of this autumn. But, more importantly I should now focus on how to maintain an edge in 2020. The first test starts tomorrow with the Tata Steel Chess Masters group in Wijk aan Zee. It’ll be my 13th participation in the A-group / Masters and I’ve won 7 times.

In all my previous tournament victories I’ve scored five wins or more (in 13 rounds), so I know what is likely to be required this time as well. The rating average might be slightly lower than in some other editions, but the field is anyhow one of the most challenging I’ve faced. More than half the players are very young, hungry, ambitious and aggressive players that will give the old guard a hard time.

Runner-up in both 2018 and 2019 was Anish Giri, and tomorrow in round 1 at 1:30pm I’m white against the very same Anish!