Be warned: Magnus Carlsen has found his mojo again! The World Champion is rekindling his brilliant form of old, as he continues to set a ruthlessly early blistering pace in the 6th Altibox Norway Chess in Stavanger, this time with a very impressive revenge victory over Levon Aronian, as the second win in the tournament now further extends the Norwegian’s lead at the top to a full point after just three rounds.
The confident swagger is back for Carlsen, who is notoriously not known for getting off to a flying start in tournaments. But now turbo-charged, and firing on all cylinders – following a brace of impressive wins over Fabiano Caruana and Aronian, not to mention the better side of the draw against former title challenger Sergey Karjakin – his live rating is back up to 2851 (equalling Garry Kasparov’s all-time record), and on track to break his own personal best of 2882.
And with a TPR of 3068 after just three round(!), Carlsen is now rapidly pulling away from his US title-challenger Caruana in the ratings, ahead of their World Championship match in London in November. A year ago, Carlsen’s long-time status as numero uno seemed vulnerable, with his lead in the live ratings over Vladimir Kramnik dramatically cut to just 6.4 points. But after his inspired win over Aronian today, his lead over Caruana has now risen to 40 points.
Last year in Stavanger, Aronian’s brilliant win over Carlsen on his home-turf set the Armenian on course for a big upset victory. This year, Carlsen was out for revenge, and he confidently and very purposely strode towards the tournament confessional box after replying to Aronian’s strange 14…Bg5, with his upbeat message of: “No nonsense today, just chess. 5. Re1 in the Berlin is often considered ‘World Championship in Boredom’, but it can actually become real games.” And that’s what we got: a real game, as Carlsen preceded to tear down Aronian’s Berlin Defence.
After laying dormant at elite-level for more than a century, Vladimir Kramnik sprang the Berlin Defence as his big surprise weapon against Garry Kasparov in their World Championship Match in London in 2000. Frustrated, Kasparov kept banging his head against the Berlin endgame (after 4 0-0 Nxe4 5 d4 Nd6 5 Bxc6 dxc6 6 dxe5 Nf5 7 Qxd8+), believing he could break it down. He couldn’t, was held to eight draws, and the rest is history as they say, with Kramnik memorably going on to capture his crown.
Several leading chess journalist in various articles back then claimed first dibs on referring to it as the Berlin “Wall” – but they weren’t the first, because as a teenager, I remember reading a very entertaining article by the first chess writer to actually describe it as such, namely Jimmy Adams, in his entertaining article “Breaking down the Berlin Wall”, that appeared in the August 1979 issue of the venerable British Chess Magazine, where he specifically recommended the first World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz’s pet-line of 5.Re1…that now has the seal of approval by the current World Champion!
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 2.5/3; 2-8. S. Karjakin (Russia), Ding Liren (China), H. Nakamura (USA), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA), V. Anand (India) 1.5; 9-10. F. Caruana (USA), L. Aronian (Armenia) 1.
Rest day: Thursday 31st May. Round 4 Fri 1st Jun: Ding-Caruana, Karjakin-MVL, Aronian-Mamedyarov, Nakamura-Carlsen, Anand-So.
Photo: Can anyone stop Magnus Carlsen in this form? | © Lennart Ootes (Altibox Norway Chess)
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Levon Aronian
6th Altibox Norway Chess, (3)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 The continuation Adams showed in his aforementioned BCM article on the Berlin, was built upon (if memory serves me correctly) around an old Steinitz favourite pet-line that went 6…Nxe5 7.Rxe5+ Be7 8.Bd3 and following up with adventurous ideas of Nc3, b3, Bb2 to launch a rapid kingside attack. 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0-0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Re1 Magnus also tried 10.Re2!? followed by 11.Re1 against Sergey Karjakin in their 2016 World Championship match in New York; an original, yet subtle idea from Anish Giri, who first touted this way of playing while analysing one of his games in New in Chess magazine. 10…Nf5 11.d5 Re8 12.Rxe8+ Qxe8 13.Qd3 It doesn’t look like White has much, and he doesn’t really. However the problem for Black is trying to complete his development before White can dominate the e-file. 13…d6 14.Nd2 Bg5?! A somewhat strange move from Aronian that took everyone by surprise, including Carlsen – and a move that arguably we can associate with him going on to quickly lose this game. The bishop was well-placed on f6 – but now, with 14…Bg5?!, Aronian unwittingly compromises his position, as Carlsen quickly finds the flaw in the Armenian’s move. And in hindsight, it is easy to see now that Aronian should have simply gone for completing his development with 14…Bd7 15.c3 Qe7 16.Ne4 Re8! 17.Nxf6+ Qxf6 where White may well claim he has the long-term advantage with the bishop-pair, but with Black contesting the e-file, and the likelihood that the rooks will be traded, it is going to be one long grind to squeeze out a win here – not that Carlsen would be averse to this! 15.Nf3! In the post-game press conference for NRK, Carlsen himself said he briefly considered – just as in Steinitz’s pet-line – playing 15.b3 and playing Bb2 to avoid trading bishops. But he quickly realised that after 15.Nf3, he would, by virtue of seizing the e-file, have “a very comfortable advantage”. 15…Bxc1 16.Rxc1 Bd7 17.Re1 Qd8 18.Qc4 g6 All the little simple moves from Carlsen, such as 18.Qc4, is designed at frustrating Aronian from completing his development. Black could try 18…c6 but after 19.Bd3! Black is going to be defending a very tough endgame after 19…c5 20.Qf4! (threatening Ng5) 20…Qf6 21.c3 h6 22.Nd2! Qg5 23.Qxg5 hxg5 24.f3, where White will make an easy target of the weak d6-pawn. Rather than that, Aronian attempts to repositioning his pieces – but Carlsen doesn’t let up on the pressure. 19.h3 Ng7 20.Re3! This sublime rook lift further frustrates Aronian, who now has to be alert to the possibilities of Rc3, Rb3 or Ra3 threatening to weaken Black’s queenside pawns. Not only that, but the rook can also cause havoc down the semi-open f-file, as we will soon see. 20…a5 21.a4 Ne8 Aronian’s position is more than a little awkward right now – but he’s looking to unravel with …Qf6 possibilities. 22.Qd4! But Magnus is having none of it! He has Aronian in his grip, and he’s not letting go as …Qf6 will lose on the spot to Rxe8+! 22…Ng7 23.g4 This is all extremely unpleasant for Aronian. It is definitely not the sort of free-flowing game the Armenian is known for. He doesn’t like defending cramped positions, and under the mounting pressures on the board and now also the clock, he soon cracks. 23…c6 24.c4 Ne8 25.Qf4! Black now has to stop Qh6 and Ng5 – and there’s now a chronic weakness both on f7 and d6 to further worry about. 25…Kg7 26.Rb3 Carlsen could have cut straight to the chase with 26.Ng5 – but he has Aronian in such a vice-like grip right now, he can afford to cruelly prolong the Armenian’s agony. 26…Rb8 27.Ng5 Nf6? The relentless pressure from Carlsen forces a further mistake. As bad as it was, Aronian simply had to try 27…f6 28.Ne6+ Bxe6 29.dxe6 Nc7 30.Qe3! and the Black’ queenside will collapse to an eventual Qa7, as …c5 will be strongly met by Bg2 and Bd5 etc. 28.Rf3! [see diagram] Piling on the pressure down the f-file. Something has to give now, and when it does, Aronian’s position will quickly collapse. 28…h6 What else is there? If 28…Qe7 29.Re3 Qd8 (Worse is 29…Qf8 30.Qd4! and the unbreakable pin on the knight winning a piece.) 30.Qxd6 is easily winning. 29.Ne4 Nxe4 30.Qxf7+! Kh8 31.Qxg6 1-0 Aronian resigns, faced with the equally unpleasant prospect of 31…Qg5 32.Qxe4 Re8 33.Qd4+ Kg8 34.dxc6 Bxc6 35.Rf5! Qe7 36.Rf6 or 31…Ng5 32.Qxh6+ Kg8 33.Rf6 etc.