Catching Carlsen - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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World Champion Magnus Carlsen seems to go from one massacre to another these days at speed events. The Norwegian won the Paris and Leuven Grand Chess Tour rapid and blitz tournaments, and memorably he recently demolished Ding Liren in the marquee match-up at the Champions Showdown in Saint Louis. And not content on beating up on one candidate for his title, the ‘Carlsen carnage’ of another continued on Saturday, as he totally destroyed U.S. champion Wesley So in the last quarterfinal matchup of the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship.

Carlsen was again very much ‘in the speed zone’, as he turned in an incredible performance to demolish So by a score of 27.5-9.5 in what proved to be a very one-sided match. And now, Carlsen could be set to meet yet another possible candidate for his title, with his semifinal match against Russia’s Alexander Grischuk taking place on Tuesday, Nov. 21st at 10 a.m. PT.

Currently, six players are already into next year’s Berlin Candidates Tournament: Sergey Karjakin (Defeated title-challenger), Levon Aronian (World Cup winner), Ding Liren (World Cup runner-up), Fabiano Caruana (Rating), Wesley So (Rating) and Vladimir Kramnik (Wildcard). A further two spots will also be determined later this week with the FIDE Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix in Spain soon drawing to a conclusion.

Levon Aronian would be the opponent most fans, commentators and top players would like to see playing Carlsen for the title. The amiable Armenian is similarly having a stellar 2017, winning just about everything he’s played this year – and after demolishing Anish Giri in round 4, he majestically moved into the sole lead in the Palma de Mallorca GP. However, with Aronian already in the Candidates, the big race is not necessarily for first place, but rather who is going to grab the final two GP spots in the year-long race?

And Sunday’s ‘bloody round’ also witnessed Hikaru Nakamura throwing old foe Grischuk what could well be a vital lifeline, with his very clever win over Teimour Radjabov severally denting the Azeri’s chances of now making it to the Candidates. With rounds running out fast now, as the scores in Palma de Mallorca presently stand, the clubhouse GP leaders are Shakh Mamedyarov 340 and Grischuk 336 (both having played their allotted tournaments in the GP), followed by [Ding Liren 331], Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 302, and Teimour Radjabov 271.

Palma de Mallorca Leaderboard
1. L. Aronian (Armenia) 3.5/5; 2-7. M Vachier-Lagrave (France), H. Nakamura (USA), Ding Liren (China), P. Svidler (Russia), P. Harikrishna (India), D. Jakovenko (Russia) 2.5; 8-12. A. Giri (Netherlands), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), E. Tomashevsky (Russia), R. Rapport (Hungary), A. Riazantsev 2.5; 13-16. Li Chao(China), P. Eljanov (Ukraine), F. Vallejo Pons (Spain), E. Inarkiev 2; 17-18. B. Gelfand (Israel), J-L. Hammer (Norway) 1.5

Photo: © Valerij Belobeev (Official site)

GM Levon Aronian – GM Anish Giri
Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix, (4)
English/Grünfeld
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.d3 I rate Levon Aronian as one of the game’s most skilled Anti-Grünfeld predator – he has a long list of stunning wins with several different systems, and now Giri becomes his latest ‘victim’. 5…Bg7 6.Bd2 0-0 7.g3 Normally the English Opening is quiet and reserved – but not in Aronian’s hands! 7…c5 Hindsight is always 20/20, but Giri walks right into Aronian’s plans. Instead, a safer option is 7…Bd7 and 8…Qc8 looking to play …Bh3 and exchanging off the bishops and holding back what about to come. But then again, Giri doesn’t realize what he’s about to fall into. 8.h4!N As unlikely as it seems in this day and age, this is a novelty – but it falls into many of Aronian’s other Anti-Grünfeld lines that rely on an early h4. And now – and arguably against one of the game’s toughest opponents to beat – Aronian makes it all looks so easy as he takes a leaf out of Bobby Fischer’s strategy against the Sicilian Dragon: open the h-file, sac, sac and mate! 8…Nc6 Giri is, as they would say in poker, ‘pot-committed’ and opts to develop as quickly as he can, as stopping the advance of the h-pawn comes at a price. If 8…h5 the surrender of the g5-square is to White’s advantage 9.Bg2 Nc6 10.Ng5 and already White has the prospects of an easy game. And no better is 8…h6 9.Qc1! Kh7 10.h5 g5 11.Bg2 and not only are the lines all opening to Black’s king, but in addition to that, just how will he defend the c-pawn now with the Qc1 and Bg2? 9.h5 Nxc3 In view of what comes, perhaps safer was 9…Bg4!? 10.hxg6 fxg6!? Looking to meet 11.Ng5 with (And if 11.Bg2 Ndb4!? with the big threat on the board of 12…Nxd3!?) 11…Nd4!? with dynamic chances for both sides. 10.bxc3 c4! A bold strategy from Giri – but, unfortunately, the Dutch No.1 fails to follow up as energetically as he could have.  And with it, Aronian quickly unleashes the mating threats. 11.hxg6 hxg6 12.Qa4 Aronian answers creativity with creativity, as after 12.d4 e5! offers Black easy equality with typical Grünfeld piece-play activity. 12…Na5? Sadly, Giri falls hook, line and sinker into Aronian’s devilish plans, thinking he’d thwarted and ideas of the queen quickly getting over to the h-file. But as dangerous as it looks, Black has to meet fire with fire with 12…cxd3!? 13.Qh4 f6! 14.Qc4+ Rf7 15.exd3 g5!? and the position is double-edged, with chances for both sides – but, crucially, no matter what, White has no easy mating plans down the h-file, and Black will soon be playing …Bf5 and …Rc8. 13.d4! With the knight offside on a5 and away from the center, …e5 is no longer a threat. 13…b6 14.Bg2 Bb7 15.Qc2 Here, Black would have a good Grünfeld-type position, had he not moved his c5-pawn! But now with no central counter-play, and the knight stranded over on a5, Black has no activity, and finds it difficult to stop the mating attacks down the h-file – and all Aronian has to do, is bludgeon a path through for his queen to Giri’s king. 15…Qd5 16.Nh4 Qd7 17.e4 e5 18.d5 Bc8 19.f4! Qe7 If 19…Nb7 20.Be3! is good for White. 20.f5! Aronian’s attack is now relentless. 20…g5 21.Qd1!! [see diagram] There’s just no stopping the queen getting to the h-file! 21…gxh4 22.Rxh4 Rd8 23.Qh5 Kf8 24.Rg4?! The only misstep in the whole game from Aronian. It looks counter-intuitive to take the queen off the h-file, especially after it has just got there, but the clinical win was to be found in 24.Qg4! Bf6 25.Rh7 Ke8 26.Bh6 Nb7 27.Qg8+ Kd7 28.Qxf7 Qxf7 29.Rxf7+ Be7 30.f6 etc. 24…Bf6? Luckily for Aronian, Giri, no doubt worried about the attack – and can you blame him? – fails to spot that he is not without resources here, failing to find the correct way to offer more resistance with 24…Qd6! as the sacrifice now is not as potent after 25.Rxg7 Kxg7 26.Qg5+ Kf8 27.Kf2 Ke8 28.Qg7 and, yes, White’s attack still looks dangerous – but this is a much better scenario for Black than what happens in the game. 25.Bh6+ Ke8 26.Rg8+ Kd7 27.d6! 1-0 Giri resigns, as his queen is trapped. If 27…Qxd6 28.Rxd8+ Kxd8 29.Rd1 wins easily.

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