Norwegian ace Magnus Carlsen is easily the biggest heavyweight not to be playing at the 43rd Batumi Olympiad in Georgia – and missing-in-action as the biennial team event clashed either end of training camps he’d scheduled ahead of his upcoming World Championship match in London against American title-challenger Fabiano Caruana. But the biggest name in the game just couldn’t stay away from the Olympiad action, as he made an unexpected input today via Skype!
The World Champion took everyone by surprise as he joined the chess24.com Spanish Olympiad broadcast and spent 90 minutes discussing all the Round 7 action. He also touched on topics such as his preparation for the World Championship match, and even revelled in the fact that he now has serious competition in the world rankings, with it now getting tight at the top due to the current stellar form of Caruana (and also now Shakh Mamedyarov!).
Asked by chess24.com Spanish commentator, GM Pepe Cuenca, whether he feels the pressure from Caruana closing in on his coveted No. spot, Carlsen commented: “I would like to give you some boring, politically correct answer, but the truth is, yeah, it does bother me! I’ve been the number one in the rankings every single day for about seven years and it is unpleasant to have him and, I suppose, Shakhriyar [Mamedyarov] as well, breathing down my neck. So well, I’m hoping he’s not going to catch me, that’s for sure! It doesn’t look like he’s going to win today, but who knows.”
For the record, on top board in Batumi, for the USA and Azerbaijan respectively, Caruana is unbeaten on 3.5/6, and Mamedyarov likewise unbeaten on 3.5/6 – and both closing in fast now on Carlsen’s No.1 spot on the unofficial live ratings: 1. Carlsen 2839; 2. Caruana 2829.6; 3. Mamedyarov 2825.1.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Carlsen, he also freely and honestly discussed many other things beside the World Championship match and his increasingly endangered No.1 spot, and kudos to chess24.com for making Magnus’ full 90min segment during the chess24.com live broadcast from Batumi freely available for all to listen to, which you can catch by clicking here.
It’s not only tight at the top of the world rankings, but it’s also tight at the top in the race for gold and the Hamilton-Russell Cup in Batumi, as we begin to enter the long home stretch. With frontrunners Azerbaijan and Poland drawing 2-2 in Round 7, Team USA, with two decisive wins in the last two rounds – in Round 6, beating Bosnia & Herzegovina 3.5-0.5, and today, in Round 7, a 3-1 victory over Croatia – has now caught up with the leaders, and there’s now a three-way tie at the top between Azerbaijan, USA and Poland.
But Caruana isn’t the one crunching up the points for the USA – that would be Wesley So, who is unbeaten on 5/6, and in serious contention now for an individual gold medal with his board 2 performance. The plaudits, though, for the most entertaining game in the USA match went to US Champion Sam Shankland, who celebrated his 27th birthday today in style by outplaying his Croatian opponent.
1-3. Azerbaijan, USA, Poland 13/14; 4. Armenia 12; 5-14. Netherlands, Spain, France, India, Israel, China, Germany, Czech Republic, England, Ukraine 11.
1. Armenia 13/14; 2-5. Ukraine, China, Romania, Georgia 1 12; 6-12. India, Azerbaijan, Georgia 2, Kazakhstan, Hungary, USA, Italy 11.
Photo: Sam Shankland knows how to celebrate a birthday! | © David Lada / Batumi Chess Olympiad
GM Sam Shankland – GM Ante Brkic
43rd Batumi Chess Olympiad, (7)
Sicilian Defense, Moscow Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ The Canal-Sokolsky – or Moscow, if you will – Attack. The idea is just simple and solid development, and avoid your opponent’s well-honed, favourite pet mainline Sicilian, such as the Najdorf or the Dragon. 3…Nd7 This is the more challenging way to meet the check – the other two options of 3…Bd7 and 3…Nc6 seems to pose less of a problem for White. 4.d4 Ngf6 5.Nc3 cxd4 6.Qxd4 We are no back in the realms of a mainline Sicilian – but the difference is that if 6.Nxd4 a6 then Black has basically gained a move in the Sicilian Najdorf, as the bishop needs to retreat. But with 6.Qxd4, all the emphasis and pressure now turns on Black’s backward d6-pawn. 6…e5 7.Qd3 h6 Black needs to prevent Bg5 at all costs here, as this indirectly hits the backward d6-pawn with a …Be7 being met with Bxf6 etc. 8.a4 a6 9.Bc4 Nc5 10.Qe2 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5 12.0-0 Be7 Chess is all about nuances, and here this is a little inaccurate, as more usual is delaying the development of the bishop by first playing 12…Rc8 to indirectly put pressure down the c-file. And we will soon see the reason for delaying the development of the bishop. 13.g4! Bg6 14.Nh4 Bh7 There are no ‘big tactic’ on e4. If 14…Bxe4 15.b4!; but more crucially, also if 14…Ncxe4 15.Nxg6 Nxc3 there’s the little matter of 16.Bxf7+! Kxf7 17.Nxh8+ Kg8 18.bxc3 Kxh8 19.f4 with a big material advantage and a winning attack. 15.Nf5 Black is in a little quandary now, as the only way to protect the g7 pawn is to retreat the bishop again or castle kingside – but that involves castling into a potential storm. 15…0-0 16.Rd1 Rc8 17.a5 Just stopping Black gaining some space on the queenside with …b5. 17…Ne6 18.Be3 Bxf5 The menacing knight was just too intimidating on f5. 19.gxf5 Nf4 It’s a difficult position, but better first was 19…Qc7 20.Bb3 Nf4 21.Bxf4 exf4 as after 22.Qf3 there’s the shot 22…d5!? 23.Nxd5 Nxd5 24.Bxd5 Bf6 25.c3 Be5 with excellent saving chances due to the opposite-coloured bishops and Black having a major dark-square influence in the game. 20.Bxf4 exf4 21.e5! This cuts right across any plans Black might have had with the …Qc7 and …d5 possibility. 21…f3 22.Qf1 Ne8 The alternative 22…Nh5 faired no better after 23.f6! gxf6 24.exd6 Bxd6 25.Ne4 Rc6 26.Bd5 and White close to winning. 23.Bd5 Rc5 24.Ne4 Again, 24.f6! was more clinical, as now if 24…gxf6 25.exd6 Nxd6 26.Bxb7 Rg5+ 27.Kh1 White is easily going to be picking off pawns on f3 and – more importantly – a6 with an overwhelming position. 24…Rxa5 25.f6 gxf6 26.exd6 Nxd6?! Black had to realise he was drinking at the Last Chance Saloon with this. He simply had to play 26…Bxd6! 27.Rxa5 Qxa5 28.Qd3 Be5! where the bishop acts as a good anchor, and, with …f5 and …Nd6-e4 possible follow-ups, Black looks to be over the worst of it. That means White will have to resort to 29.Qxf3 Qc7! with ideas such as …Kh8 and …Rg8+ and Black is doing more than OK here. 27.Rxa5 Qxa5 28.Nxd6 Bxd6 29.Qd3! [see diagram] 29…Kg7 Shankland keeps the momentum for his attack, as it looks like Black has missed that if 29…Be5?? 30.Qg6+! and Black will soon be mated. 30.Qxf3 Re8 Black is a pawn up – but his kingside is shattered and his pieces are all disjointed and unable to coordinate a defence or a possible counter-attack. 31.Qg4+ Kf8 32.Qh5 Qc7 33.Qxh6+ Ke7 34.Qh7 Kd8 35.Bxb7 Qxb7 Lingering on a little longer was 35…Re5 but after 36.Bd5 Black won’t be able to avoid an inevitable loss with the king caught in the crossfire. 36.Rxd6+ Ke7 37.Rd3 Qc6 38.Re3+ Kd8 39.Qd3+! Stretching Black to the limits, as now Shankland wins another pawn and can trade down to an easily winning ending. 39…Kc7 40.Rxe8 Qxe8 41.Qxa6 1-0 Black resigns. After 41…Qe1+ 42.Qf1 Qb4 43.b3 there’s no perpetual, as White will centralise his queen and then push his queenside pawns up the board.