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There will be a certain amount of relief for die-hard Magnus Carlsen fans today, as the World champion shrugged off all the faltering performances during the past fourteen months or so with an almost flawless, vintage performance to capture the chess.com Isle of Man International at the weekend. With his unbeaten score of 7.5/9, Carlsen took the Manx title and £50,000 ($66,000) first prize to finally end his drought of classical tournament victories that stretches back to Bilbao in the summer of 2016.

After a series of spluttering performances that culminated in the disappointment of his early exit from the Fide World Cup recently, this was a more relaxed and reassured Carlsen display on show, as the world #1 cruised almost effortlessly to the title. But to secure the title, he first faced potentially a challenge to his authority with his two final round opponents being the top American duo of Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura.

However, when Caruana lost his way in their big penultimate round clash, Carlsen turned in a true masterclass to easily crush his rating rival for a very convincing win. And in the final round, with a half point lead over nearest rival Nakamura, Carlsen methodically got the job done by easily defusing any complications to force his opponent into a repetition after only 34 minutes of play and before the butter was on the popcorn, with the draw securing outright victory.

Carlsen proved to be ‘the Man’ in the Isle of Man, and his victory will come as a much-welcomed boost to his confidence. The Norwegian ace achieved an outstanding 2903 TPR as he added a further 11.4 points to his unofficial live rating, to turn what was recently a precarious gap between him and his closest pursuers, as he jumps 36.4 points ahead now of world #2 Levon Aronian.

Boosted by his victory, Carlsen can now look forward with reassured confidence to his final major of the year, at the London Chess Classic in early December, in what will be the final leg of the year-long 2017 Grand Chess Tour, where he’s involved in a three-horse race with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian for the title.

chess.com Isle of Man Masters, Prizegiving, 1 October 2017 (Nikon)

Final standings
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 7.5/9; 2-3. Vishy Anand (India), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 7; 4-12. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Michael Adams (England), Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Santosh G. Vidit (India), Emil Sutovsky (Israel), Richard Rapport (Hungary), Alexei Shirov (Latvia), Dhopade S. Swapnil (India) 6.5. Women’s prize: Hou Yifan (China) 6/9.

(Photo) Carlsen collects his prize from Manx sponsor Isai Sheinberg | © John Saunders (Official site)

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
chess.com IoM Masters, (8)
Ruy Lopez, Archangel variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 The Archangelsk – westernised to Archangel – proper with 6…Bb7 was fun back in the days of yore BC (before computers) and led to fascinating positions – but computers beat them to a pulp. But the new approach with 6…Bc5 has proved more reliable – and with it, Carlsen also throws down a psychological challenge to Caruana, as he’d faced this line in the previous round, when he beat England’s Gawain Jones. 7.c3 d6 8.a4 Rb8 9.d4 Bb6 10.a5 Ba7 11.h3 0-0 12.Be3 Ra8 13.Re1 h6 14.Nbd2 Re8 As Carlsen readily admitted in his postmortem of the game, this is much safer than 14…exd4 that was seen in the aforementioned Caruana IoM game against Jones, where after 15.cxd4 Nb4 16.e5 Nfd5 17.Ne4 Nxe3 18.Rxe3 Bb7 19.e6! and Black has problems, going on to soon lose. 15.g4N A new move, as previously seen here has been 15.Nf1 exd4 16.cxd4 Rxe4 17.Ng3 Re7 18.Qd2 Qf8 19.Rec1 in Karjakin-Caruana, Loos 2013 that soon ended in a draw. But such was the shock and daring of 15.g4, Carlsen commented: “I did not feel safe after this…it is extremely dangerous [for Black]”. It is perhaps dangerous for Black – but, long-term, the drawback for White is that 15.g4 could well prove to weaken his kingside. 15…Qe7! After a reasonable timeout to reassess the position after Caruana shock novelty, Carlsen finds the correct plan of delaying for now the development of his white-squared bishop, which could now become a key piece simply by staying on the c8-h3 diagonal. But the rationale behind 15.g4 can quickly be seen if Black continues in automatic-pilot with 15…Bb7 16.g5! hxg5 17.Nxg5 Re7 18.Ndf3 and White is building up serious momentum with his attack. 16.Nf1 Now, if 16.g5 hxg5 17.Nxg5 Black has 17…Nd8! defending the weakness on f7, and will soon follow-up with …c5 and …c4 to remove White’s bishop from the attack on the b3-f7 diagonal, after which, White’s kingside weakness could well become a serious issue. 16…Nd8 As Carlsen correctly assessed, regrouping his knight on d8 not only protect f7 but also prepares the ground for …c5 and …c4 and is the best plan of counter-attack. 17.Ng3 c5 18.Qd2 The threat of Bxh6 is indeed a strong plan. But Carlsen carefully counters Caruana’s plans. 18…c4 19.Bc2 Nh7!? Not so much stopping a possible Bxh6, but, in fact, a very effective counter to White’s threat of pushing on with g5, which will be strongly met with …hxg5, …Nxg5 and …f6 leaving White’s h3-pawn hanging. 20.b4 Another idea was the prophylactic approach with 20.Kg2 protecting both f3 and h3. 20…cxb3 The correct way to go! Carlsen doesn’t want to close the queenside, as then all the action will swiftly move to his kingside. 21.Bxb3 Be6 22.Bc2 Caruana is now beginning to lose the thread of the game, and according to Carlsen, Black’s next moves are logical and obvious, and claims Caruana “must have missed a lot of things.” And on reflection, perhaps Caruana should have continued instead with 22.Bd5!? as now capturing on d5 only opens the e-file and a discovered attack on the Black queen, as well as gifting White the wonderful outpost for his knight on f5. 22…Rc8 23.Bd3 Nb7! It is not often we see the fianchetto of a knight seen as good plan – but here it works, as Carlsen highlights just how weak Caruana’s position really is, as the a5 pawn becomes vulnerable. 24.Rec1?! The pawns on a5 and c3 are indeed vulnerable – but this looks to be too passive. Instead, perhaps Caruana should have gone on the offensive with 24.Nf5 Qc7 25.Bxh6!? Bxf5 (Accepting the sacrifice is too dangerous: 25…gxh6 26.Qxh6 f6 27.N3h4 Qf7 28.Bxb5!? axb5 29.a6 with a very unclear and murky position.) 26.gxf5 Qxc3 27.dxe5 dxe5 28.Rec1 Qxd2 29.Bxd2 Black still emerges with the advantage – but this is saveable, and much more preferable than what now transpires at the board for Caruana. 24…Qd8 The pressure is building on a5 – and there’s nothing Caruana can do about it. 25.Qb2 It’s too late now for 25.Nf5 as Black has 25…Nxa5 26.Bxh6 Nb3! with a heavy win of material. 25…Nxa5 It’s fair to say Caruana didn’t get the most out of his opening: The attack is gone, his kingside weakened and Magnus has simply just taken the loose pawn on a5. 26.Nd2 d5! Caruana must have been completely demoralised by now, as not only has Carlsen won the a5 pawn, he also now opens the game for his attacking pieces. 27.Re1 What else is there when the alternative is 27.dxe5 Bxe3 28.fxe3 and a simply horrific position for White? 27…Bb8! (see diagram) If you ever want to write an article about what ‘coordination’ means in chess, then Magnus is about to give you a masterclass on it! With this move, he not only removes the bishop from any possible threat of being attacked after a potential Bxb5, but now threatening to blow the centre open for Black’s actively-placed pieces to mount a decisive attack on White’s king. 28.exd5 Bxd5 29.Bf5 Rc6 30.Qa3 Nb7 31.Rad1 exd4 32.Bxd4 Ng5 It is amazing that how, in the space of just a few moves, Carlsen’s pieces have dramatically sprung to life and he’s now ready to pounce on Caruana’s weak king. 33.c4 Rxe1+ 34.Rxe1 Be6 35.Qe3 Losing on the spot, but White is doomed anyway here. 35…Bf4! 0-1 Having outplayed his opponent, Carlsen concludes the game with more than just a touch of élan, as now 36.Qxf4 Nxh3+ forks the king and queen, and 36.Qd3 Bxd2 37.Qxd2 Qxd4! also wins a piece due to the fork with …Nf3+ – but in my experience, such dramatic moves can come more like a blessing forcing instant resignation, rather than having to suffer for much longer at the board.

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