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    Entries in Magnus Carlsen (289)

    Saturday
    Mar312018

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 1: Caruana Ekes Out a Draw, Vitiugov Wins a Brilliancy

    The much, but not long-awaited game between Magnus Carlsen and his latest challenger, Fabiano Caruana, took place in round 1, and it did not disappoint. At least it didn't disappoint fans looking for a hard-fought game; partisans of each player will have something to regret - but also to celebrate. Carlsen proved better in the middlegame, while Caruana demonstrated his defensive prowess and showed that Carlsen's vaunted technique isn't perfect.

    The opening was unusual and full of little surprises: Caruana played 1.d4 and then chose a rather passive Anti-King's Indian/Anti-Gruenfeld with 4.e3. Carlsen turned the game into an oddball King's Indian, and outplayed his opponent in the non-standard middlegame that ensued. He eventually obtained a winning double-rook ending, but Caruana defended stoutly, and at a certain point in the second time control Carlsen was forced to find a difficult (but not impossible) winning move. He didn't manage to clear that last hurdle, and from there the draw wasn't too hard for Caruana to secure.

    Four of the five games were drawn, and most of the drawn games had some adventures. Viswanathan Anand had White against Hou Yifan and played a risky, experimental opening, sacrificing a pawn and later an exchange. (Though by that time, he was a pawn up, so he had a pawn for the exchange.) Slightly reminiscent of the Karjakin-Caruana game from the Candidates - Caruana's only loss - Anand's compensation for the exchange was a brilliant bishop on d5. Hou's position was difficult, but she defended resourcefully and saved the game.

    Arkadij Naiditsch's game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was a real barn-burner. Both players love extreme complications and handle them very well. This time around, Naiditsch handled them better for a good portion of the middlegame, but MVL managed to keep things wild and managed enough counterplay to draw.

    Georg Meier's game with Levon Aronian was the dullest game of the round; not exactly a shock given Meier's 5.Re1 against the Berlin. There are exceptions in Meier's repertoire, but for the most part he plays risk-averse chess, trying to obtain small advantages and then grind away with his excellent technical skills. It's unlikely to prove successful against the top players in the field, but then again he won't lose to them in such situations, either.

    Finally, the one decisive game was a keeper, a minor brilliancy sure to make the rounds. The first 19 moves of Matthias Bluebaum-Nikita Vitiugov looked likely to result in a draw, but then Bluebaum fell into a very deep trap. Vitiugov's 21...Rxf2! was the start of a combination running a dozen or so moves in the main line, requiring a number of precise, subtle, beautiful moves to work. I've annotated this game, along with Caruana-Carlsen, and all five games can be replayed here.

    The round 2 pairings are Carlsen - Hou Yifan, Vachier-Lagrave - Anand, Aronian - Naiditsch, Vitiugov - Meier, and Caruana - Bluebaum. The higher-rated player has the white pieces in every game, and it's a significant rating difference in all of them but MVL-Anand.

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    Grenke Chess Classic 

    The lead-up to the 2018 World Chess Championship begins this weekend with the Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden, Germany. Both Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana will be playing, together with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand, Nikita Vitiugov, Arkadij Naiditsch, Hou Yifan, Georg Meier, and Matthias Bluebaum.

    The pairings haven't yet been decided, and the first round is at 3 p.m. local time (= 9 a.m. ET). Who will get the upper hand in the psychological duel between Carlsen and Caruana? Stay tuned.

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    Caruana Interview

    Not a bad interview, despite the misleading clickbait title. Fabiano Caruana gives a very general sense of his understanding about where he stands vis-a-vis Magnus Carlsen.

    HT: Brian Karen

    Wednesday
    Mar282018

    538 With Early Match Odds

    Here's a short piece on Fabiano Caruana from the stats-nerds at FiveThirtyEight.com. The links add to its value, and they offer some early odds, for what it's worth, giving Caruana around a 30% chance of winning his coming world championship match against Magnus Carlsen.

    Friday
    Mar092018

    Candidates Odds & Ends

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who very, very nearly qualified for the Candidates (by several different means) has written up his own preview of the event, singling out Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian as his favorites. (He's not alone in this, as he acknowledges; many others - and I'd include myself here - are of the same opinion.) He also offers some very high praise of Vladimir Kramnik:

    In my opinion, Vlad is probably the player in the world who best understands chess. You can show him whatever position, his instincts will seldom let him down. He will always find what the evaluation of the position is and which plan to adopt.

    A well-known Norwegian didn't care for this very much, expressing his disapproval on Twitter, and in Kramnik's and MVL's defense came Anish Giri. Giri has two dogs in the fight: first, he and Magnus Carlsen have been exchanging barbed tweets for years now; second, Giri is one of Kramnik's helpers for the Candidates. You can read more about how their little feud progressed at the preceding link; perhaps it has continued on their Twitter feeds in the meantime.

    Returning to more buttoned-up preview material, Jan Gustafsson has a preview series of videos on Chess24, and Chess24 also has a series of articles on the Candidates. In order from the most to the least recent:

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Wesley So, and Sergei Karjakin.

    Happy reading and viewing!

    Wednesday
    Feb142018

    Carlsen Wins Fischerrandom Match vs. Nakamura, 14-10

    Considering how dominant Magnus Carlsen has been in rapid & blitz chess against even his peers, Hikaru Nakamura did well to lose by only a 14-10 margin. Still, it's clear that Carlsen was the stronger player in the match, and barring the bizarre end to the last of the slower games the final margin could have been less flattering to the American. Let's recap the last day's action, which comprised eight 10'+5" games. As before, the players would both get a shot with White at the same starting position, and the player who had White in the first game of one pair would have Black in the first game of the next pair. Carlsen entered the last day with a 9-7 lead, and here's how it went:

    Carlsen had White first, and got on the scoreboard with a quick win. Nakamura was generally a little worse but very much in the fight for equality until move 22. Nakamura should have defended his e-pawn with 22...Rd6 instead of 22...Re7, as the rook would also safeguard the knight on c6. After 23.e4! dxe4? 24.Qxg5 Kb7? 25.d5! exd5 26.Rxc6! White had won a piece, and Black resigned a few moves later.

    Nakamura had trouble in the slower games with the white pieces, and didn't get off to a good start in the faster games. His 10th move was a serious error that left him clearly worse, and Carlsen soon reached a position where only he could win. His advantage increased and was winning until he played 45...Bxe5+?? He must have thought it didn't matter very much how he won White's h-pawn, but it did. (Or putting it differently, it mattered that he wound up with a pair of h-pawns rather than a g-pawn and an h-pawn, as it gave White the ability to play for a bishop and wrong-colored rook pawn draw.) A narrow, slightly lucky escape for Nakamura.

    In the third game it was Carlsen's turn to play Houdini (referring metaphorically to the person, not the engine). After 59 moves Nakamura, with White, had a queen against Black's rook, d- and a-pawns, and the d-pawn perished on move 68. At that point it was a theoretical win, though not an easy one. That was still the case until move 85 (which doesn't mean that either player's technique was perfect), when 85.Kc4 rather than 85.Qe2+ rendered a tablebase draw. Carlsen didn't reply with the tablebase-approved move, but two moves later Nakamura's 87.Qd2+ made it a tablebase draw again. From here through the end of the game on move 138, Carlsen made no mistakes, and the game was drawn. To be fair, there weren't too many tricks he had to dodge, but even so it's hard to play so many correct moves in a row without goofing up somewhere.

    Game four was also drawn. Nakamura sacrificed an exchange in the opening for no pawns and dubious compensation, but Carlsen's 12.e5 and 14.Nd4 surrendered a pawn and the advantage. Very strange. Nakamura even had the advantage at one moment, and it went back and forth before petering out to a drawn ending.

    The string of draws came to an end in game five, another convincing and short victory by Carlsen. Nakamura got into some trouble in the early middlegame, but if he had found 23...a5 with the idea of ...Ba6 not all would be lost. After 23...e6?? 24.Ra3 all was lost. Black had to give up a bunch of material, and then the game - and with it, the match, as Carlsen led 12.5-8.5 with three games to go.

    Carlsen won game six as well. It helped having a big headstart, as he was clearly better - with Black - after just five moves. Then again, the position was equal a couple of moves later, which just goes to show how reliant even the world's greatest chess players are on pattern recognition. We may think that all the beloved opening patterns and principles we've discovered over the centuries are obvious, natural, and intuitive. In fact they're not; they've been earned by the sweat of our collective brows, the inheritance of many generations of deep thought and hard work. This is also true of our tactical skill: Carlsen missed a nice opportunity on move 29, when 29...Re2+! won straight away. White would either give up the queen for the rook, or get mated after 30.Nxe2 Qd2+ 31.Kb1 Be4#. Although I'd normally expect Carlsen to spot that even in Chess960 without all that much time on the clock, the unusual position probably made it more difficult for Carlsen to sense that there could be a tactical opportunity. Back to the game summary: Nakamura overextended in the center, and this left a slew of weak light squares on the kingside. Carlsen took advantage and was soon winning everywhere, until he missed the opportunity mentioned above. Nakamura somehow scrambled back to equality, then got outplayed again, and yet had one last opportunity to save the game that also went by the wayside.

    Nakamura did have the pleasure of winning the last decisive game, however. In the day's seventh game, he went for broke, sacrificing a couple of pawns in the opening for attacking chances. It was unsound, but Carlsen's strange decision to play 10...Kc8, forsaking the right to castle, immediately justified Nakamura's concept. (Also on castling: Nakamura castled kingside on move 20, but here the expression that's synonymous in normal chess - "castling short" - was wildly inapplicable, as his king went from b1 to g1! Another funny Chess960 castling moment came in game 3, the marathon draw mentioned above. The kings were on the f-file and the king's rooks were on the g-file, and the game began 1.0-0 0-0.) There were some further ups and downs over the next several moves, but soon it was clear that Nakamura had a serious attack and no risk, and that at a minimum he would recoup his sacrificed material. Nakamura obtained a completely winning position, but Carlsen being Carlsen, he managed to fight his way all the way back to a drawn rook ending. But not an easily drawn ending, even with time to think. (And had both players had more time, Nakamura almost certainly wouldn't have let his advantage slip.) Anyway, Nakamura dominated most of the game, so the result was fitting rather than accidental.

    Finally, the last game was well played by both sides on the way to the draw, but there was a brief moment where Carlsen may have been winning. Nakamura should have taken on c4 when Carlsen played 39.c4. After 39...Kc7 40.cxd5 cxd5 White could have won a pawn, and apparently the game, by setting up a nice zugzwang: 41.b4!, and now as an example let's say 41...a5 42.b5 Kd6 43.Bh7 Ke7 44.Bg8 Kd6 45.a4, and if the king retreats White wins the d-pawn and brings his king to e4, while if the knight moves then 46.Kf3 will quickly win the f-pawn. Carlsen missed this subtle idea (it's a 10'+5" game, after all, and the 16th game over a five-day period) and the game quickly worked out to a draw. (To replay the games, scroll down from the home page of the official site.)

    Magnus Carlsen is thus the unofficial king of Chess960/Fischerrandom as well as the official world champion at blitz and classical chess, and if this helps boost the variant's popularity it's possible that he'll have the chance to become the official Fischerrandom world champion someday.

    Tuesday
    Feb132018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Fischerrandom Match: Carlsen Leads 9-7 After the "Slow Rapid" Games

    Add "slow rapid" to the list of putative oxymorons that includes "jumbo shrimp", "act naturally", and "living dead". It's a funny phrase, but as the paradigmatic rapid time control is 25'+10", the 45-minute games Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have contested the past four days count as slow rapids.

    Whatever you want to call it, the score in this Fischerrandom (aka Chess960) match is in Carlsen's favor, 9-7, though it would have been 10-6 had he not lost his marbles in the final game. First, a quick summary of the rules and scoring, and then a recap of the scoring on a day-by-day basis. Each day they play a pair of games with each color from the same starting position, chosen at random 15 minutes before the start of play. On days 1 and 3 Carlsen had white in the first game, and on days 2 and 4 it went the other way around. The slow rapid games are scored on a 2-1-0 basis, as opposed to the eight quick rapid games (10'+5") they'll play tomorrow (Tuesday). Those will be scored on the traditional 1-.5-0 system.

    On day 1, both games were drawn. Game 1 was very clean and roughly equal throughout, but in game 2 first Nakamura and then Carlsen enjoyed a serious (but not winning) advantage before peace was declared.

    On day 2, the first game was drawn. It was a bit like game 2: Nakamura had White in both games, and in both cases first Nakamura and then Carlsen had the advantage. In game 3, however, Nakamura's advantage wasn't so big, while Carlsen's was enough to win. Nevertheless, it too finished in a draw - the last one of all the slow rapid games! Carlsen won game 4 with white - the last white win of the slow rapid games. He was pressing throughout, but after 50.Qb6? Nakamura should have escaped with a draw. It wasn't automatic though, and 67...Kg6?? lost the game straightaway. After 68.Qg8+ Black cannot avoid getting mated (68...Kh6 69.g5#) or losing the queen (68...Kf6 69.Qh8+), so that was that. Carlsen thus led 5-3.

    On day 3 the parade of black wins began. Nakamura won in good style in game 5 to equalize the scores, but overextended with white in game 6. His pawn sac with 13.d5 followed by 14.d4 was too optimistic; Carlsen grabbed White's h-pawn and wound up with both the material and the attack. Had Nakamura played 13.dxc4 Nxc4 14.f5 instead, he'd have had a pleasant edge, and then who knows how the match would have continued. Carlsen led 7-5.

    On day 4 Carlsen won once again with the black pieces, this time without any trouble after Nakamura's laggardly development allowed Carlsen to take over the center. He now led 9-5 and it seemed that the rout would be on, especially when he obtained a huge opening advantage in game 8. His decision to liquidate everything to win the b7-pawn was questionable, but it was still a two-result position: either Carlsen would win or Nakamura would eke out a draw. With gritty defense Nakamura managed to reach an ending with rook vs. rook and bishop. This is a theoretical draw, as most of you know, but it's also possible to lose it - again, as most of you know. Of course, when we say that, we mean that the side facing the rook and bishop can lose it. We don't mean that about the player with the extra piece! But here's the issue: Carlsen was down to 77 seconds left at the start of that ending, on move 69, and they were playing without an increment.

    But here's the thing: Carlsen had four opportunities to trade the rook immediately, and once to force the trade; in either case with an instant draw. Even more to the point, he could have claimed the draw at any moment. (I don't like that rule at all, but that's irrelevant; what counts is that it is the rule, and he could and should have taken advantage of it.) Ironically, Carlsen had still a third way to get the draw; namely, by claiming the 50-move rule at the last instant before his flag fell after Nakamura's 119th move.

    Instead, he kept on playing, and by the end he was willing to let Nakamura trade the rooks; Nakamura, absolutely rightly, refused all such offers. If Carlsen wants to play forever for a win, that's fine, but then when he's out of time there's absolutely no reason why Nakamura should give him amnesty. I've never been in that situation in a tournament game, but I find it hilarious in online blitz when someone tries to win a drawn - sometimes dead drawn - ending against me and then begs for a draw when his efforts have failed and he's about to lose on time. To be clear, Carlsen did not do that. He didn't ask for a draw, and he didn't protest or criticize anyone after the game. That's fair: he tried hard to win and overstepped; that happens to all of us. My only criticism of Carlsen is that he should have known, or realized, that he could have claimed the draw; he didn't have to hope he could somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat at the board. Rather, I'm defending Nakamura's choice to go for the win when Carlsen waited too long to call off the dogs.

    So kudos to Nakamura for his fine defense, which earned one point on the board and another point on the clock; his two-point deficit is much more manageable than the four-point hole he should have faced or the catastrophic six-point deficit that seemed very possible much of the way. Of course he'll be an underdog tomorrow, but who knows? Maybe the psychological impact of the last game will give Nakamura some extra wind in his sails. We'll see!

    I wanted to post the games, but apparently ChessBase's publication tool can't handle Chess960 games - or maybe I just don't know how to tweak it so it can. So here's the Live Games page on the tournament website; scroll down to access previous games.

    Wednesday
    Feb072018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Chess960 Match

    Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura will play a 16-game rapid and blitz match in Chess960 (or Fischerrandom, if you prefer) from the 9th (this Friday) through the 13th (next Tuesday), in Bearum, Norway. They'll play a pair of rapid games each of the first four days, and then eight blitz games the last day.

    Is this Nakamura's chance to break Carlsen's stranglehold over him, or will Sauron win again?

    Monday
    Jan292018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Final Round and Playoff: Carlsen Defeats Giri To Win the Tournament

    The exciting and closely contested 2018 edition of the Tata Steel Masters, held mostly in its traditional site in Wijk aan Zee, concluded in a two-game blitz playoff between Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri. Both played very well in the tournament, and Giri probably played the better chess overall. (Certainly his level was more consistently excellent throughout the tournament, and he can also boast of having beaten the players who tied for third-fourth, half a point behind him and Carlsen.) He can take pride in that, but ultimately moral victories matter less than real ones. Carlsen won their first playoff game very smoothly, and while Giri had some chances in the second game Carlsen's defense was more than up to the task. As a result, Carlsen won his sixth Wijk aan Zee crown, and also, scarily, maintained an unbeaten streak in tiebreaks going back to 2007.

    For Carlsen, it was his first victory in a Classical round-robin event in quite some time, and for Giri it marked a clear return to the world's elite. He gained a whopping 25 rating points, and was very close to becoming the first Dutch player since Jan Timman back in 1985 to win the Wijk aan Zee supertournament.

    Let's go back to round 13. Carlsen had Black against Sergey Karjakin, and was apparently perfectly prepared for Karjakin's novelty in an anti-Marshall, drawing easily. Anish Giri also had Black, against Wei Yi, and he too drew in comfort.

    This gave Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the chance to catch them in a tie for first, if he could beat Viswanathan Anand. Unlike Carlsen and Giri, Mamedyarov had White, and he gave it a good try. Anand defended very well though, and his slight inaccuracy on move 35 wasn't enough to cost him the game. It was a great tournament for Mamedyarov, but not good enough to get him into a playoff.

    Joining Mamedyarov in a tie for third, half a point behind the leaders, was Vladimir Kramnik. He defeated Baskaran Adhiban with Black, though not smoothly. He was in serious trouble, but was bailed out and then some when Adhiban came up with the bad idea of sacrificing the exchange. Instead of a big advantage after 33.Nxb7, Adhiban was just about lost after 33.Rb1? Rc7 34.Rb5 b6 35.Rxa5? bxa5. Kramnik's result was good, he gained rating points (his new rating will be rounded up to 2800), and notched up more wins - 6 - than anyone else in the tournament. Overall though, his play was inconsistent and sometimes shaky, and it will have to be better if he hopes to win the Candidates in March.

    Another half a point back were Anand and Wesley So. So defeated Hou Yifan to finish a successful tournament, while for Hou she finished tied for the worst score in the history of 13-round Wijk aan Zee events. (Ironically, that too was a record of Jan Timman's.)

    The other games were drawn: Caruana-Svidler and Matlakov-Jones. All the games, including the tiebreaks, are here, with my comments to all but Matlakov-Jones.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 9 (and 1.5-.5 in the playoff vs. Giri)
    • 2. Giri 9
    • 3-4. Kramnik, Mamedyarov 8.5
    • 5-6. Anand, So 8
    • 7. Karjakin 7.5
    • 8. Svidler 6
    • 9. Wei Yi 5.5
    • 10-12. Jones, Caruana, Matlakov 5
    • 13. Adhiban 3.5
    • 14. Hou Yifan 2.5

    Sunday
    Jan282018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 12: Carlsen and Giri Lead Entering the Last Round

    The penultimate round of this year's Tata Steel Masters event was a fighting one...mostly. The game between Gawain Jones and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was a bit of a shocker, though. Not from Jones's side of the board: as the underdog in every game, and having lost three of his last four games, it's not surprising that he'd be happy to get a quick draw, even with White. But for Mamedyarov it's really odd. He was a significant favorite by rating and in good form, yet he played the Petroff and stumbled into a draw by repetition after just 12 moves. Maybe he assumed that Jones would play more ambitiously with White? Whatever the story, it was a terrible result for Mamedyarov, as both his main rivals won.

    The first of the two to win was Anish Giri, who dispatched Baskaran Adhiban with relative ease. After 17...Qb6(?) 18.Be3 Giri had a nice edge - maybe Adhiban missed that after 18...Ng4 19.Qe4! Black couldn't take on e3 as the bind following 20.Qe8+ Bf8 21.fxe3 would be fatal. So he had to give up a pawn several moves later, and Giri managed to convert his advantage. Amusingly, the secret was to return the pawn some moves later to establish a new bind, and this one wound up costing Adhiban a piece and the game.

    For Magnus Carlsen, the win took a lot longer, and was yet another demonstration of his unmatched endgame prowess. The game went straight from the opening to the ending, and after 23 moves the players were down to a rook apiece and opposite-colored bishops, with three pawns apiece on the kingside and Carlsen enjoying an extra pawn on the queenside. The pawn looked worthless though: he had an a-pawn and doubled c-pawns against Black's a- and b-pawns. A draw, surely? For most of us, yet; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see even some titled players call it a day at that point. Carlsen's 24.Rd1 did keep a slight edge though, and while Matlakov's response was understandable it may not have been the best idea, as it gave Carlsen additional targets. Still, a draw was much likelier than a win for White, but the game went on and on, and Carlsen is Carlsen.

    Thus Giri and Carlsen lead Mamedyarov by half a point entering the final round. If Viswanathan Anand had won against Wesley So, he would have caught up with Mamedyarov. To his misfortune, he had nothing special prepared for So's Open Ruy Lopez. In a very well-known line they followed an Adams-Giri game from last March for 27 moves. In that game, Adams played 28.Ra8 and a draw was agreed after White's 31st move. In this game, Anand played 28.Rd1, and a draw was agreed after Black's 32nd move.

    Anand is therefore in fourth place, where he was caught by Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik bounced back from his loss to Sergey Karjakin in the previous round by defeating Fabiano Caruana - an impressive comeback. Kramnik could have won the queen ending sooner than he did, but despite an excess of caution he never let the win slip.

    The other games were drawn: Peter Svidler split the point with Karjakin in 32 moves, while Hou Yifan-Wei Yi drew in 45.

    The games (unannotated today, sorry) are here, and these are the pairings for the last round:

    • So (7) - Hou Yifan (2.5)
    • Mamedyarov (8) - Anand (7.5)
    • Matlakov (4.5) - Jones (4.5)
    • Karjakin (7) - Carlsen (8.5)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Svidler (5.5)
    • Adhiban (3.5) - Kramnik (7.5)
    • Wei Yi (5.5) - Giri (8.5)

    No fewer than five players still have a shot at first, but on paper Giri probably has the best chances to win the event. In case of a tie, there will be a two-game playoff - a pair of 5'+3" games - followed by an Armageddon game, if necessary. (I'm not sure what happens in case of a three-way [or even four-way] tie. Maybe the top two by tiebreak play the two-game match, and the third place finisher is out?)

    Finally, a quick check-in on the Challengers group. Vidit Gujrathi and Anton Korobov had been tied for a while, but in round 12 Vidit won and Korobov drew, so the former leads by a half point entering the last round. (Recall that the winner is promoted to next year's Masters tournament.) The players have approximately equally strong opponents in the last round - Vidit faces Jorden Van Foreest, while Korobov gets Dmitry Gordievsky. (Both JVF and DG are 2620-something.) But Vidit has White and Korobov Black, so it looks good for Vidit to join the top players next year.