Tag: Magnus Carlsen

Critical moments.

Hello to all the readers of this blog, this is a new contributor Simon. We have known each other with Greg for a while now from plenty of games at the blitz meetup at the Tea Lounge  that I organize and from the tournaments at the Marshall that he directs and I play in. It’s been one of my favorite blogs for a long time, which makes me even happier to be one of the writers of. I will follow the general formula here of “thinking out loud” on all things chess, whether it’s a super-GM tournament kibitzing, online blitz madness, chess literature reviews or reflection on hopeless positions from my own games (will try to spare you these). I hope you enjoy my writing and appreciate all the comments.

For today’s article I chose to focus on the critical game of my favorite tournament of the year, London Chess Classic, which finished last week. It’s just a wonderful event to follow online, with a streaming live video commentary of all the games. Maybe it’s a good spoken English that does it for me? Or the British humor perhaps? And the games themselves somehow are always very entertaining (with Sofia rules encouraging players to fight).  As every chess player not living under the rock knows by now, Magnus Carlsen won it yet again, and by doing so, his live rating has reached a stratospheric 2861 level, which beats Garry Kasparov’s old record.


How does he do it ? One of the factors may be what Magnus said with a smile during one of the interviews in London: “I pride myself to be an unforgiving player”. He said it with a smile on his face, but he was serious. Playing against him even the slightest inaccuracy will put a strong grandmaster in trouble. We’ll see it in our featured game. In the final tournament standings Magnus was ahead just two points (or half a point in traditional scoring) of Vladimir Kramnik, who also had a fantastic tournament, elevating his rating over 2800 again. Upon closer look, you will find that this small difference between numbers one and two in the final standings was made in their games against Michael Adams (who himself had a very good tournament, finishing in the 3rd shared place). They both had Black pieces against Adams, they both even started with 1.e4 e5, but Kramnik drew and Carlsen won. So that was  the critical game. The thing is, Carlsen was for a long time worse in that game, but he managed to capitalize on Adams’ inaccuracies and win. We start with this position:




White is up a pawn, but he gives it up by playing 29.Nf3. Instead, Nc6 would have maintained his advantage and he shouldn’t be in any danger of losing. It is impressive to observe Carlsen’s technique, how he goes from a worse position to a winning one. One may argue that these were the mistakes of his opponent which allowed him to do that, but this is where he is so efficient like no one else- over the course of the next 11 moves needed to make the time control he just “improves his pieces” (these chess cliches really mean something, just compare the position of his queen to the one from the previous diagram) and it’s White to play with 3 seconds left on the clock:




Now, it’s very easy to understand that White didn’t want to play the computer move 40.Nd2, putting himself in a pin along the second rank, but this was his best defence here. Instead, 40.e4 loses a pawn (it’s a good tactical exercise- try to visualize the sequence that follows before checking the game below). What really is amazing for me to watch here is how Carlsen has everything under control and never loosens his grip- one thing leads to another – and he achieves a winning queen and pawn endgame where one would think there generally is a high ratio of draws, but not here- he methodically advances his queen and passed e-pawn without giving White any chance for counterplay. Finally, we come to a position where Black has to decide whether the time is right to exchange queens. Serious calculation is required- he will remain up a pawn, but is it still winning. He just has to see the pawn endgame position 14 moves ahead, including the king opposition battle dance and evaluation of the pawn race. Very exact calculation, and you’re not allowed to make a mistake because there’s no way back. So, when he’s looking at the position in the diagram on the left( Black to move), he sees its outcome 14 moves later in the diagram on the right, just like that:


Carlsen’s games (especially the ones from the last two years or so, since he has been winning almost everything) are full of examples like this- him being unforgiving. They are a great material to study for everyone who wants to learn the magical winning technique.

Please check the game annotations and variations below. Before writing this post, I saw commentary from the Chess Evolution weekly newsletter, which covers this endgame in much more depth than I do here- I certainly recommend it for its high quality material sent to my inbox every week.

Carlsen Wins Tal Memorial

In the final round Carlsen caught Aronian (who he beat on tie-breaks) with a clean victory over Nakamura that looked effortless. The game Svidler v. Kramnik was extremely sharp and interesting, with Svidler finding a queen sacrifice mate to end the game. In the game, Kramnik clearly took risks to create complications, but wound up on the wrong side of them. For all of those detractors out there who call him Drawnik- you really have to hand it to him here, he took a risk… it may not have turned out well for him, but he went for complications.

Next up on the Calendar for the 2800 club is the London Classic– which is my favorite event of the year. It starts December 3rd and lasts for more than a week, so luckily for me I will have something to do on my birthday while I’m stuck in bed with this cast on. As usually, the lineup will feature some of England’s hometown heros, such as micky adams, nigel short, and luke Mcshane who put up a great performance last year. I’m not sure if they’re doing the 3-1 scoring system this year or not, but for the first two years the London Classic has awarded 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw.

The New Yorker Profiles Magnus

I have been a subscriber of The New Yorker Magazine for nearly ten years now and have been patiently waiting for an article about chess. There may have been a mention about Kasparov’s political aspirations here or there in that time (snooze…), but apart from that, I recall only a paucity of chess related material, which is surprising considering the demographic to whom the New Yorker is marketed. Perhaps not surprisingly, it took an enigmatic figure like Carlsen to entice the notoriously choosy editors to finally run a profile of a chess player. The article appeared in the March 21st edition, and has already been given ample treatment by the chess blogosphere elsewhere, such as over on Greengard’s “chess ninja.”

I was eager to see how the article would handle chess. Would it describe positions in detail or risk losing most readers by getting bogged down in the vocabulary of opening theory? Would they …gasp…include a diagram? In the first few paragraphs of the article, D.T. Max describes the game in Wijk Aan Zee where Carlsen whipped out the Chigorin against Kramnik, something which most chess players would quickly be able to decipher from the author’s awkward attempt to describe the principals of opening theory in passing to an audience who likely neither understood the ideas as presented nor appreciated how Carlsen was breaking them. In any case, this was my favorite part of the article and from there I have to say it managed to disappoint me, much as Magnus’s career has done.

A year ago, I like many people was smitten with Magnus. I had Magnus fever, a symptom of which was a certain kind of myopia that blinded me to his negative traits, such that to my eyes he basked in a glow of Caissa’s benediction and could do no wrong. It goes without saying that this is no longer the case. Notwithstanding his disappointing decision to back out of the World Championship Cycle just at the moment when it was starting to look like something most chess players have been demanding for years, Magnus has irked me lately for other reasons. His former humility has given way to an arrogance that borders on megalomania. For instance, his comment that Giri could “never be as strong as me” (which was mentioned in the New Yorker article) smacks of something a professional wrestler might scream into a camera to intimidate his opponent, but certainly not something a professional chess player should say about a quickly improving young talent. That Giri destroyed Magnus in a mere 22 moves with black only a short time later only highlights the degree of Carlsen’s misperception of his own strength.

In any case, despite the fact that there is likely nothing in the profile which you do not already know about Magnus, I have to say that it’s worth reading and as you would expect, disgustingly well-written. It will not be on the news stands much longer though, so grab a copy ASAP before the March 28th edition comes out.

London Won’t Host Because Magnus Dropped Out

As everyone in the chess world knows by now, the London based organization, Chess Promotions, recently withdrew it’s bid and proposal to host the World Chess Championship. The facts, taken as those which the two parties do not dispute are quite simple. Chess Promotions paid a 50k fee to purchase an option to form a contract to host the WCC, however, once the options expired the two parties had not agreed to specific relevant terms, and so Chess Promotions decided to no longer pursue the hosting of the event.

The interesting part of the dispute is that both parties are accusing one another of allowing the option to expire. Chess Promotions claimed:

Unfortunately agreement could not be reached in the autumn. Following more discussions in London in January, CPL asked FIDE to accept the offer by Saturday 29th January 2011. No such acceptance was forthcoming. Therefore, with regret, CPL has withdrawn its offer…

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Naka Wins!

I loved his last game too- starting out with a KID move order and then playing e6 to go for a sharp Benoni, even offering an exchange sacrifice for several moves that Hao never accepted. I was somewhat surprised at the draw agreement on move 22, but I guess that’s common for the last round of a tournament where neither party has anything to gain from playing on.

In any case, what an incredible performance for Naka, finishing +5. When was the last time an american won an elite tournament so convincingly? A good point made by mig over at chess dirt was that with Nakamura putting up such an impressive score, it will force Kramnik and similiar players to reevaluate their approach to these tournaments if they ever expect to win them again. I hope he is right.

Another impressive performance in the tournament was Giri, with his convincing victory against Carlsen and strong performance otherwise, he is a rising contender at the tender age of 16.

Dissappointingly, Shirov finished dead last. I want to go back over some of his games, in particular the Cambridge Springs games he played, and try to find where he went wrong. Not that I expected him to win the event, but finishing behind Smeets is a result I wasn’t expecting from him.

What’s next for Naka? Now he will be firmly entrenched in the top ten at number 7 in the world rankings. While I’m a huge fan of Kamsky’s, I secretly think that Naka perhaps would have a better shot in the upcomming candidates matches now after this performance in Wijk.

Maybe next cycle Naka…

Below, find all 13 games Naka played in Tata-

Naka Loses to Carlsen, Shares Lead with Anand

After a disappointing loss to Magnus today, Nakamura still shares first play with Anand, who he will face next. There is no question that the second half of Tata will be more difficult for Nakamura than the first half was, but it isn’t so easy to discount his stellar performance. The game between Nakamura and Carlsen today was a Sicilian Najdorf, where Nakamura went wrong with 25…Qa5, when white has a crushing attack which was fantastically executed by Carlsen. While I was watching the game I had an engine running that suggested 26. Nxe6 as winning, however, Carlsen’s move Rdf1 is actually even stronger.

I have to admit, despite the fact that he is arrogant and there are many reasons to dislike him personally, I am cheering for Nakamura in this tournament. He is after all America’s best shot at having an elite player with a future who may hang around in the top ten for a while. Not to discount Kamsky, who I greatly admire and will be cheering for in his appearance at Candidates, but Nakamura lately has been outperforming him considerably.

Magnus Spanked; Nakamura Leads in Wijk aan Zee

With the first few rounds of Tata (formerly Corus) behind us, there are some unexpected outcomes already in Wijk aan Zee. Love him or hate him, Nakamura is putting up an incredible performance against the world’s elite and leads after the third round with 2.5/3. Today, he managed a win against Shirov in a sharp Ruy Lopez with Bc5. The story of the day though is Anish Giri’s absolute spanking of the wunderkind Magnus. Giri produced a miniature against the world number 1 in fewer than 25 moves with the black pieces. The game was a Grunfeld, in which Carlsen deviated early as he has been doing lately, likely to avoid theory, trying the move 11.Qd2 to sidestep well known forcing lines. The result was a better position for black and the world number 1 toppling his king on move 22. It’s hard to resist the opportunity to take some kind of jab at him concerning his priorities lately, so I will hold my tongue for the moment and see how he does against the rest of the field as the tournament unfolds. An interesting question the FEB guys pondered was whether he would rather win the tournament but lose when he faces Anand, or beat Anand but lose the tournament overall. From the looks of his game today, he will have to work considerable harder to accomplish either. Below, find the three decisive games of the day.

Around The Interwebs: The Full English Breakfast And More…

This post is a hodgepodge of interesting things I’ve found on the web recently and want to bring to your attention. First of all, I want to remind everyone to make sure to check out Blue Devil Knight’s blog carnival while it is still available. There are a ton of interesting articles, and I highly recommend it. Second of all, the new Full English Breakfast show is finally here, episode number six for those of us who are keeping track. This is the greatest podcast on the interwebs- this episode covers a lot of ground with the usual wit we’ve come to expect from these guys. They’ve got an interview with Magnus in which for the first time ever to my knowledge a journalist has asked him directly about his absurd decision; a hilarious song sung by Short, and a discussion of the upcoming TATA. Also, this article is a must read. It nearly brought me to tears and I highly recommend it. While the NY Times attacked this heart warming article in an all-too-predictable way here, it left me feeling downright charitable and wondering how to get in touch with this chess church in a slum of the capital of Uganda to send them pieces and boards. If anyone else is feeling charitable as a result of reading this article and figures out where to send some chess stuff- let me know so I can pitch in.

Carlsen Wins Again in London

Not surprisingly, Carlsen managed to win his final game in London against Nigel Short to take clear first. The controversial scoring system, in which a win is awarded 3 points while a draw only 1, worked out well for Carlsen who had the most wins, but hurt Mcshane and Anand who both beat Carlsen but drew too many games. It’s also worth noting that one of the most exciting games in the tournament was Mcshane’s artful draw against Kramnik.

All other games in the final round were drawn. Below, find the Carlsen-Short game, which chessgames.com made the game of the day with the pun being “french toast.”

Carlsen Draws Kramnik in the QGD, Chigorin

Today there were four draws in London, which keeps the pressure on the top contenders to produce a win tomorrow or face tie breaks. The most noteworthy game of the day in my opinion was the Kramnik-Carlsen showdown, in which Carlsen played the QGD, Chigorin, which is an extremely uncommon opening in high level chess, Moro being the only well known exception, although even he has given it up recently in favor of the Albin counter-gambit.

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The Modern, North Sea Variation

I came across a copy of a monograph on the so-called “North Sea Variation” by Jim Bickford while rifling through Fred Wilson’s new arrivals. This variation may have received a wave of attention recently after Carlsen employed it against Adams at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. You have got to applaud Carlsen’s bravery for whipping out such an incredibly offbeat line against such a strong player as Adams, who himself was once 4th in the world. Indeed, in the following game, Adams demonstrates his keen attacking ability with a “quiet” Bishop retreat, which sets up the final tactical blow. Adams gave Carlsen the opportunity to go into an inferior ending, but the more Carlsen soldiered on in the middle game the more clear White’s advantage became.

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Today in London

The games this afternoon were not nearly as intense as they have been the last few days, but nonetheless there was still a feast of interesting chess for fans at the London Chess Classic. Short was absolutely steam-rolled by Anand’s kingside pawn storm, giving up a piece to break up the pawn-roller but not finding adequate compensation, and graciously allowing Anand to deliver mate only a few moves later. It saddens me to report that Nakamura lost to Carlsen in a tense Anglo-Dutch. Lately, Nakamura is one of the only top players to regularly whip out the Dutch Leningrad, and as a Dutch fan myself it pains me to see him ground down to a lost bishops of same color ending. Mcshane drew with Adams in a Reti, while Kramnik demonstrated a straight-foward winning plan in the Grunfeld using his passed d-pawn in his game with Howell.

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World Champion Crushes Carlsen in London

After Carlsen’s temper tantrum regarding the current world championship cycle, the chess world reacted with dismay and disappointment fearing that the young player had missed an opportunity to become the youngest world champion ever. Magnus had some leverage to negotiate considering his position as number one in the world rankings, though his demands were comically outside the realm of possibility and no other top player agreed with him. When interviewed on the subject, most players expressed confusion as to his decision.

With the uncertainty as to his participation in the upcoming candidates match looming over every game Magnus plays, his game against the current world champion today took on special significance. Once again, Magnus chose to defend the Ruy Lopez, Breyer variation. This defense has been the battle ground for the last few meetings between these two, though all of the previous games have ended in a draw. Today the wheels came off and Anand turned the screws down hard on Black’s position. Anand actually missed several clear winning lines, however, his position was so solid and black’s so unstable that he had no reason to rush. Once again, the video commentary by the full english breakfast crew was fantastic, as was the post mortem analysis which you can see here.

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London Classic News

Today at the London Classic, there was some interesting chess to say the least. I highly recommend following the games live and watching the fantastic video commentary and post-mortems here. Mcshane won again, this time winning with black in a Sicilian dragon against Nigel Short. The video commentary featured these two witty Brits going over their tactical melee, with mate threats and traps at every turn. Incredibly, Mcshane came out of the complications clearly better. Magnus bounced back today with a win in the English against Adams, while Howell found a nice fortress with the move 43.Rf4, and managed to hold Anand to a draw.

The story of the day though was Nakamura’s victory over Kramnik. Winning a piece on move 12! Kramnik did not get nearly enough compensation for the lost material, leaving us to wonder what went wrong? Unfortunately, these two have not shown up at the podium to give a live post-mortem analysis of the game. I’m so curious to know if this was simply an example of bad preparation, or did kramnik make an over the board blunder that Nakamura pounced on. I would also like to hear this story told from Nakamura’s side. Did he feel nervous taking a piece so early against Kramnik, with the black pieces? When a pgn file of the games is made available I will post them here, until then you can find them on chessbomb.

Update: Below are the games from the second round of the London Chess Classic.

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Mcshane’s Sparkling Win in London

The second annual London Chess Classic started today. The event is becoming one of my favorites, because of the top talent that shows up as well as the great coverage available in English. The fact that it’s held in a major western city also gives me hope that perhaps a similar event in NYC could become a possibility in the near future. Imagine: the “New York Times Classic,” or the”Goldman Sachs Masters.” There are certainly plenty of major corporate sponsors who would be willing and able to throw a few million dollars at such an event, if only there were some power broker in the chess world who could organize it.

In any case, last years London Classic was fantastic and this year promises to be even better. There is great commentary and live video feed here , and supposedly the Full English Breakfast crew will also be podcasting a show from this years event as well. I look forward to hearing their self-deprecating banter and commentary on the games.

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