As chess tournaments go, Tata Steel Chess has run pretty much forever – it’s been held annually since 1938 with only one year missed. At that time, it became one of the strongest chess leagues in the world.
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It also became one of the most photographed tournaments. Why? Well, in addition to its longevity and strength, the Wijk aan Zee tournament has been of interest to the Dutch press for almost as long as it has existed, and the photos they took (1948-89) are freely available on Wikipedia.
Presents, with some commentary, various depictions of Tata Steel Chess over the years under its different but consistent iterations.
From National To International: Beverwijk Hoogovens (1938-67)
The first field, in 1938, was entirely Dutch. Ten years later, the tournament had become international, but there were still six of the ten players representing host country the Netherlands.
One of the five, IM Lodewijk Prins, won the main tournament. Another decade later, only four out of ten players were of Dutch descent. But 1958 was still a good year for host country players.
Two of the four were co-champions that year: GM’s Max Euwe and Jan Hein Donner. They braked their individual match in 28 moves.
Together they won or shared first in Beverwijk (where the tournament was held until 1967) a total of seven times: Euwe in 1940, ’42, ’52 and ’58 and Donner in 1950, ’58 and ’63.
However, at the Beverwijk tournament in 1960, just two years later, it was clear that the tide was turning towards a much more dramatic international flair.
Some of the greatest players in world history showed up in 1960, not just local hero Euwe: GMs Bent Larsen, Tigran Petrosian and Salo Flohr all played in 1960. Larsen and Petrosian finished first after Petrosian won their individual match in the event. last round. Meanwhile, Flohr finished fourth with Donner.
It was Larsen’s second time in the tournament and the first time for Petrosian and Flohr, who were also the first Soviet representatives in the tournament’s history. Larsen is also responsible for one of the Tata organizers favorite quotes: “Normal people have to see Naples before they die… but a chess grandmaster has to win Wijk aan Zee first.”
In 1960 the tournament was of course not yet in Wijk aan Zee. That would come eight years later.
Wijk aan Zee
In 1968 the tournament moved about five kilometers to the west, from Beverwijk to Wijk aan Zee, to get closer to the sea. Hoogovens remained the sponsor. GM Viktor Korchnoi won, just like in 1971, ’84 and ’87.
From 1964-71, 10 of the 11 champions and co-champions in the tournament were Soviets; the one exception, GM Lajos Portisch in 1965, shared that year for the first time with Soviet GM Efim Geller. In just five years, the USSR had gone from overshooting Hoogovens to dominating, presumably all part of their plan to own world chess. Of course, 1972 would end their hegemony in more ways than one: Portisch won outright in Wijk while GM Bobby Fischer (who never played in Wijk, if you’re wondering) claimed the world championship.
The Soviets took Wijk back the following year when GM Mikhail Tal won 10.5/15 (six wins and nine draws) in 1973. It wasn’t even part of his astonishing 95-game undefeated streak that started later in the year, but it was a precursor to it. The streak was a record that would last 43 years.
The West closed the gap at Wijk for the rest of the 1970s and 1980s. United States GM Walter Browne won in 1974 and 1980 and was joined by a familiar face in the final year.
Just as the Netherlands’ two best players won in 1958, America’s top two players at the time, GMs Yasser Seirawan and Browne, were co-winners in 1980. It was Yasser’s last norm to become a grandmaster, just eight years after learning the rules. .
Past is GM Jan Timman, who won the following year together with compatriot GM Genna Sosonko (also co-winner of 1977 with Geller).
Timman won the tournament again, this time outright, with an undefeated 9/13. No Dutch player would lay claim to the tournament for another 36 years.
Meanwhile, the tournament continued to attract a large crowd.
Fifty years after the first photo in this retrospective exhibition, interest in the tournament is growing. In 1998, it was won by two future world champions: GM’s Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. The incumbent Classic World Champion of the time, GM Garry Kasparov, won his first of three the following year.
1999 was also the last Hoogovens tournament; the company would merge with British Steel and become Corus. Fortunately for chess, the sponsorship was still deemed worthwhile and the tournament continued in 2000 under the new name, which Kasparov also won. He also won the following year, when all the top nine players in the world competed. Of course, he had lost his title to Kramnik in the meantime.
The top Dutch player at Corus 2005 was GM Loek van Wely, who won the Dutch Chess Championship for the sixth time in a row later that year. At Wijk, he scored 50% while beating GM Nigel Short in their game. The tournament was won by GM Peter Leko.
During the 11 years that Corus was from 2000-10, three players together were tournament champions or co-champions seven times. They were also world champions: Kasparov, Anand and of course… GM Magnus Carlsen.
2011 was the first year of the tournament as Tata Steel, as the company was rebranded. Which may seem a bit boring, but it was still a landmark year with the tournament finally reaching its current branding.
Another milestone was GM Hikaru Nakamura, then 23, became the first American to win in Wijk aan Zee since 1980.
Newer chess fans may not realize that in 2011, with GM Bobby Fischer, long-retired (1972/92) and recently (2008), the United States was nowhere near the chess powerhouse it is today; only three of their players – Nakamura, GM Gata Kamsky and GM Alexander Onischuk – were in the top 100 in the world. And so Nakamura’s win was a big deal even in the pre-streaming days.
The time of the tournament as Tata Steel Chess was dominated by Magnus, who won titles 3-7 in 2013, ’15, ’16, ’18 and ’19. Amazingly, while several world champions have also been Tata champions, Carlsen’s 2015 win made him the first reigning, undisputed world champion in Wijk. Another interesting win for Carlsen followed in 2018.
Wijk did not break ties for a long time. If several people finished first, they were co-winners. That changed in 2018.
GM Anish Giri, who started representing the Netherlands in 2009 at the age of 14, was looking for the tournament’s first Dutch champion since 1985. Naturally, he ran into Carlsen who did the Magnus thing and won the blitz tiebreak.
The biggest news of the following year, other than Magnus winning for the second year in a row and seventh overall, was Kramnik’s retirement from the tournament.
GM Fabiano Caruana won his first Wijk tournament in 2020, paving the way for the return of the Wijk aan Zee championship to the host country. The first Dutch winner since 1985 was a guaranteed fact by the end of 13 rounds in 2021, it was just unknown who it would be until GM Jorden van Foreest finally defeated Giri at Armageddon.
We hope you enjoyed this photographic look back at the longest running annual strongman tournament in chess history. Did we miss one of your favorite years? Let us know in the comments.
Be sure to check out the exciting conclusion of Tata Steel Chess 2022 on Chess.com!