“Roll out those lazy-hazy-crazy days of summer,” as the late great Nat King Cole would say. But there’s not much chance to sit back and relax with the soda, pretzels or even the beer during this time of the year in the chess world, as events tend to move fast and furious with many top chess festivals mixing with holiday-oriented tournaments to serious elite-level chess – and all following hard on the heels of each other.
And this past weekend marked an intensification of the summer chess activity, with the decisive rounds of the Dortmund “Sparkassen Chess Meeting” in Germany, the U.S. Junior Championship at the Saint Louis Chess Club, and now also Magnus Carlsen back in action, as the World Champion featured prominently in the opening rounds of the 51st Biel Chess Festival that’s now underway in Switzerland!
In Saint Louis, GM Awonder Liang and WFM Carissa Yip qualified to the 2019 national main event(s) by winning their respective categories, the U.S. Junior Championship and U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship. For Liang, who dominated the latter stages to secure his second title with his undefeated score of 6.5/9, it was back-to-back victories and once again reinforces the 15-year-old’s credentials as the leading top U.S. junior prospect.
And in Dortmund, it wasn’t to be the eleventh title for record-breaking Vladimir Kramnik, who collapsed going down the home stretch scoring only 0.5/3 – but there was some conciliation for the ex-world champion, with one of his fellow Russians, Ian Nepomniachtchi, putting on a somewhat stylish performance to win the title outright with his unbeaten score of 5/7, a full point ahead of his nearest rivals.
Now all the attention has turned to the Biel where Carlsen heads the field in this long-standing summer tradition, the marquee event being the ACCENTUS Masters, a small six-player double round-robin that also includes Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Peter Svidler (Russia), David Navara (Czech Republic), and the local Swiss hope Nico Georgiadis.
And already, it is turning into “The Carlsen Show” with the world champion back to his dominating very best with an impressive flying start. In the opening two rounds, Carlsen turned in a brace of trademark grinding wins over Navara and Vachier-Lagrave respectively, to not only lead on a perfect 2/2 but also get off to his best start to a tournament in over four years.
Photo: Carlsen ‘in the mood’ in Biel | © Lennart Ootes (Biel Chess Festival)
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM David Navara
51st Biel ACCENTUS Masters, (1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.Bg5 Bb4+ The Ragozin variation – named after the leading Soviet player and opening theorists of his day, Vlacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) – is a very flexible, solid and a reliable system against the QGD, that found a new lease of life following the release of the 2016 New in Chess publication, The Ragozin Complex by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.Nc3 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.e3 0-0 8.Rc1 dxc4 9.Bxc4 c5 10.dxc5 Nd7 11.0-0 Nxc5 12.Nb5 a6 13.Nbd4 b5 14.Be2 e5 15.Nc2!? Correct was 15.a3 exd4 16.Nxd4! but after 16…Rd8 17.Bf3 Rb8 18.axb4 Ne6 I imagine that Magnus was fearing there perhaps wasn’t enough ‘bite’ left in the position for him to try to win with. Faced with that scenario, we get a typical piece of Magnus ‘let’s mix it all up’ with a speculative queen sacrifice, that aims to keep the position more dynamic. 15…Rd8 16.Nxb4 Rxd1 17.Rfxd1 With accurate play, Navara should really have nothing to fear here. But then again, the position is a lot tougher for Black than it is for White – and you are facing the World Champion! 17…a5 The alternative of 17…Nd7 looks very complex – and this is probably the reason why Magnus opted for the speculative queen sacrifice in the first place, especially after you see the continuation: 18.Rc6!? Qe7 19.Nd5 Qf8 20.Rc7 Here, the unbeating heart of the playing engine suggests that Black is better here – but the human instinct would be fearful of this position, as White’s pieces all look to be active and threatening to make a breakthrough. 18.Nd5 Qd6 19.Nxe5 Also a consideration had to be 19.b4!? axb4 20.Nxb4 Qb6 21.Rd5 Nd7 22.Nc6 and once again, the playing engine believes the position to be “0.00”, but again, it looks difficult for Black with White’s pieces all active and loitering with intent. 19…Bb7! Navara holds his nerve and finds the right continuation in what must have been a difficult position for him. 20.Bf3 Rc8 21.Ng4 With the not-too-subtle threat of Ndf6+ winning on the spot. Regardless of what transpires, Magnus has to be applauded for his speculative queen sacrifice that has lead to this dynamic position – and Navara also, as he holds his nerve amidst all the ensuing difficulties. 21…Qf8 22.h4 Nd7 This is the right call; Navara has to seek trades to lessen the impact of White’s active pieces. 23.Rxc8 Bxc8 24.a3 h5 Stronger and better was 24…f5!? 25.Nh2 Ne5 as here, Black saves a vital tempo by not having to defend h5, where now 26.Nc3 Ba6! 27.Rd4 b4 28.axb4 axb4 29.Na2 Qc5! 30.Bd5+ Kh7 31.Nf3 Nxf3+ 32.Bxf3 Bc4 33.Nc1 it’s the Black pieces that are active, and White looking to hold the draw. 25.Nh2 g6 Having to defend h5 gives Magnus just enough time to regroup his pieces. 26.Be2 Ne5?! Navara really had to try 26…b4!? 27.axb4 axb4 28.Rd4 b3 29.Nf3 Nc5 30.Nc3 and take the fight from here. I suppose he feared that, in the long-term, the b-pawn would eventually be rounded up, so he opts instead to give up a pawn on his own terms, by seeking to unravel his pieces. 27.Bxb5 Bb7 28.Nc3 Qe7 29.Rd4 Qe6 30.Nf1 Qb3! This is the sort of position Navara had to have envisioned when he sacrificed the b-pawn, with his actively placed queen hitting b2 and also possible back-rank threats. 31.Rd2 Nc4 32.Rd7 Nxb2 33.Rxb7 Qxc3 If White can consolidate this position and keep his bishop on the board, then he stands a good chance of winning. If the bishop gets traded off, Black should hold the position. 34.Be8 Kf8! Very clever, and very accurate – the bishop now has to be traded. 35.Bxf7 Qc6 36.Rxb2 Forced. If 36.Ra7? Nd3! suddenly Black’s queen and knight are combining with strong threats on f2 that’s hard to defend against. 36…Kxf7 37.Rd2 Qa4 38.Rd3 Qxh4 39.Rd7+ Kg8 You would think coming up the board had to be right, but there was a snafu. After 39…Kf6 40.Rd4 Qg5 41.Nd2! the threat of the knight fork on e4 allows White to get his pieces on the right squares with tempo. 40.Rd4 Qe7 41.a4 Carlsen now has a fortress-like setup where he certainly has the easier time of it in this position – but does he have enough to win? 41…Qa3 42.g3 Qa1 43.Kg2 g5 Watching this game live, I felt Navara had the right idea here by pushing his pawn to g4 to weaken White’s f2 pawn. But on reflection, perhaps better and easier was 43…Qc1!? and let White prove his win. Certainly, the position is a lot easier for White to try to win than Black draw, but now it just a little more complex now. 44.Nd2 g4 This is the whole rationale of Navara’s play – the idea being to play for a perpetual with …Qc6+ and …Qc1+. 45.Ne4 Qc1 46.Nf6+ Kf7 47.Nxh5 Qc6+ 48.Kg1 Qc1+ 49.Kh2 Kg6 50.Nf4+ The g4 pawn stymies White from being able to make any progress, as ultimately, to go for the g4 pawn makes the f2 pawn weak. 50…Kf6 51.Ng2 Kg5 52.Rf4 Qd1 53.Nh4 Qc2 It’s not the easiest move for a human to find, but the playing engines all agree that best was the rather unusual looking 53…Kh6! 54.Nf5+ Kh7 the logic behind it being the Black king moving as far away from the White pieces giving a further check, thus again making it difficult for White to make progress with the knight, due to the hit on the a4 pawn. 54.Nf5 Qd3? A critical blunder from Navara. Having a knight, rook and 2 pawns for the queen is a fair trade – however, you still need to play accurately, and here Navara begins to crumble under the relentless pressure from the World Champion, who is rewarded for his perseverance. The Czech No.1 had to be kicking himself for missing the key saving move of 54…Qc6! where, with best play from Black, it is not so easy for White to win this. After 55.Nd4 Qc3 56.Ne6+ Kh5 57.Nd8 Qc7 58.Nf7 Kg6 59.e4 Qe7 it is difficult to see how White can make the necessary progress to win. 55.e4! [see diagram] Not only threatening to push the pawn up the board, but also there’s the little threat of Ne3xg4 to worry about. 55…Qd7 If the king attempts to track back to stop the e-pawn with 55…Kf6 then White easily wins with 56.Ne3+ Ke5 57.Nxg4+ Ke6 58.e5 etc. 56.e5! Qh7+ 57.Kg1 Qg6 58.Nd6 Qe6 There’s no hope left. If 58…Qb1+ 59.Kg2 Qb3 60.Ne4+ Kh6 61.Nf6 Qb7+ 62.Kh2 Qb3 63.Nxg4+ Kg7 64.Ne3 White will easily win. 59.Rf5+! Carlsen nicely liquidates down to an easily won king and pawn ending. 59…Qxf5 60.Nxf5 Kxf5 61.f4! gxf3 62.Kf2 Kxe5 63.Kxf3 Kf5 64.Ke3 1-0 Navara resigns, as White’s g-pawn will act as the decoy while his king crosses over to the queenside to win the a-pawn and control the opposition to the queening a8 square.