Book Review: Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, by Daniel Fernandez

Today I want to tell you about a fascinating recent book by Thinkers Publishing: Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, by Grandmaster Daniel Fernandez. It is an absolutely monumental piece of work, covering the Tata Steel supertournament in incredible detail. The book includes bulletins from each round, full page photographs, an exclusive interview with the winner, and most importantly, extremely thorough analysis of the games themselves. One thing I really liked about it, compared to the format of a typical chess book, was the opportunity to see "ordinary" super-tournament level games. We will take a game from Chapter 9, which focuses on Magnus Carlsen, as an example.

First of all, the author is a noted expert on opening theory, writing the 1.e4 section on In Carlsen-Grandelius, the World Champion essayed the unusual 6.Qd3 against the Najdorf, bringing up the following position:

Grandelius chose 6...e6, which is not the most accurate according to Fernandez. He then spends roughly four pages (!) analyzing Black's alternatives, including 6...Nc6, 6...Nbd7 (best according to the author), 6...e5?!, and 6...g6!?. To anyone interested in this line for either color, this looks like terrific stuff. Of course, you can give the opening survey as much or as little attention as you like, and there is plenty of attention paid to the game as a whole. I was particularly interested in the game from the following position, after Carlsen has played 35.Qd5:


 To give a flavor of Fernandez's annotations, I will quote him here:

"I suspect Nils knew somehow that this was essentially a '0.00' position rather than a '+1.5' where he had to grovel, but (with the clock ticking) couldn't quite find a way to make use of White's temporary lack of king safety. 35...d3! seems to be the only adequate solution, and after 36.cxd3 Qb6 White has to go through some contortions to avoid losing the second pawn straight back. 37.Qf5!? Rd8 38.Kg2 Now the key detail is that Black's queen supports the d8-square: 38...Rxd3 39.Rc8 Rd8 and once again Black should manage this quite easily."

Instead, the game continued 35...Qa1? 36.Qe5!. Fernandez observes that White's king position is no longer an issue, now that Black's rook has been forced into passivity. Now White can consolidate at leisure. I think this is an instructive example of the importance of piece activity and king safety relative to material in a heavy pieces position: With a temporary pawn sacrifice, Black could have activated his pieces and used the burst of activity to eliminate the queenside pawns. Instead, he ended up with a passive position, down a pawn, with pawns on both sides of the board, and no saving chances - not against Carlsen, anyway! After time time control, the players reached the following position:

Carlsen simplified into a winning queen ending with 46.Re8+! +-. The idea is that after 46...Rxe8 47.Qxe8+ Kh7 48.Qe4 (Carlsen could have played 48.Qg6+ right away, but follows the advice to always repeat) 48...Kh8 49.Qe8+ Kh7 50.Qg6+ Kh8


White has 51.f6, breaking up Black's kingside pawns and protecting the c2-pawn simultaneously. Carlsen went on to win by decisively entering with his king and Grandelius resigned before he could promote the g-pawn. I don't know that you would find this game in a typical chess book, but it's terrific stuff! Note that the author's annotations have something for everyone: opening theoreticians, fans of deep analysis, and anyone looking to learn from Carlsen's technique in winning positions.

Speaking of which, who is this book for? Compared to another high quality offering by Thinkers, "Modern Chess" (which I reviewed last week) this seems to be aimed at a higher level of player. This doesn't mean a non-master can't get a huge amount out of the book, of course. But by comparison with Pritchett's work, the analysis is often much deeper, there is far more focus on the opening phase of the game (as you might expect for a book about a contemporary tournament written by a Grandmaster theoretician) and there is a more critical approach taken to scrutinizing the games, with both strong and weak moves receiving the relevant punctuation, supporting analysis, and verbal explanation. I would say the following people would enjoy this book:

1) Anyone with an interest in modern opening theory, especially those interested in a wide range of openings.

2) Lovers of the game's 'current history', or fans of the classic tournament books.

3) Anybody looking for games to play in solitaire mode, with deep analysis to check their work against.

4) Collectors - this is a fantastic looking book, and it lies perfectly flat when you are studying a game with a board.

5) People looking to get the feel of 'regular' Super GM chess, since every game is well annotated.

6) Anybody looking to learn from the contemporary elite.

I hope this book finds the wide readership it deserves. I think it has the potential to become a classic of its genre, maybe even a Zurich 1953 for the modern era. Congratulations to Grandmaster Daniel Fernandez and Thinkers Publishers on a great achievement!