As the old saying goes, you wait for ages for a bus and then two come along at once! And that could well be what Magnus Carlsen has to be thinking to himself, as after a long, long record-breaking wait of 21 games to end his remarkable drawing streak, the hex over the world champion now seems to be well and truly exorcised, as he now wins a second successive game at the 81st Tata Steel Masters in the little Dutch coastal chess hamlet of Wijk aan Zee.
Carlsen won again in the sixth round, as a stroke of good fortune saw the Norwegian beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – ironically, the last person to beat Carlsen in a classical game, at Biel back in the late summer of 2018 – in a complicated ending. And with it, the swagger is back, as record-breaking six-time Wijk champion Carlsen ominously now moves into a four-way tie at the top – and he’s creeping out of the danger zone of being replaced as world #1 by Fabiano Caruana on the live rating list.
Also joining Carlsen in the leaders’ group is his rival Anish Giri, one of the players – alongside Ding Liren – to formerly hold the previously unwanted infamous record of 20 successive drawn games. The Dutchman crushed Jan-Krzysztof Duda with the black pieces – and for Giri, it is a case of “Black is the new White,” as he’s now gone an even more remarkable 3-0 with Black, and more than made up for the lost ground after his horrific first-round loss with the white pieces.
The other two leaders are early pace-setters Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren. Nepo drew quickly with Black (22 moves) against Viswanathan Anand, while Ding Liren tried for a long time (75) moves to defeat Teimour Radjabov with the white pieces before admitting the draw.
The round’s only other winner was Masters debutant Jorden Van Foreest, who staged a remarkable comeback from a totally lost position against Vladimir Fedoseev. The Russian failed to catch his bus with a series of mistakes and then was left stunned, as the young local star found a dazzle winning move from nowhere that gave the home fans much to cheer about, as the Dutch players once again scored a sweep.
1-4. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), M. Carlsen (Norway), Ding Liren (China), A. Giri (Netherlands) 4/6; 5-6. V. Anand (India), G. Vidit (India) 3½; 7. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 3; 8-11. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), S. Shankland (USA), R. Rapport (Hungary) J-K. Duda (Poland) 2½; 12-14. V. Fedoseev (Russia), V. Kramnik (Russia), J. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 2.
Video opposite: The old swagger is definitely back for an elated Magnus Carlsen! | © Tata Steel Chess
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Tata Steel Masters, (6)
Queen’s Gambit Accepted
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 Carlsen offer’s up the chance for Mamedyarov to play into favourite Grünfeld with 3…g6 – though with a catch, as White hasn’t as yet committed to playing Nc3. And perhaps fearing a worked-out nuance from the world champion, Mamedyarov instead heads for another very reliable and solid defence, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. 3…dxc4 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.b3 The main lines are 7.Bb3, 7.a4 or even 7.dxc5 – but typically Carlsen opts for a harmless little-played sideline. 7…b6 8.dxc5 Qxd1 9.Rxd1 Bxc5 10.Bb2 A quick check of the databases will tell you the simple truth here: 19 out of 24 games from this position ended in relatively tame draws. 10…Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Be2 The strategic retreat vacates the c4 for the knight, which in turn will be well placed on c4 than the bishop that was biting into granite. 12…0-0 13.Nc4 Rfd8 14.Ne1 There’s really nothing in this position, and most games with the early trade of queens in the QGA tend to end in uneventful draws – but both players are not, for now, interested in the draw, and go about their own strategic re-routing of their pieces. 14…Bd5 15.Rac1 Rac8 16.Nd3 Be7 17.Nce5 The e5 and c4 outpost squares are the only little advantage Carlsen has here – but even for him, it would be asking too much for him to squeeze blood from this stone. 17…Bb7 18.Nc4 Bd5 19.Nd2 Bb7 Nothing much is going on. Everything is tight on both sides, and the board is primed for a massed trade of pieces and a likely draw. 20.Kf1 h6 21.Bf3 Nd5 22.Nc4 b5 23.Na5 Ba8 The little concession of playing b5 allowing Na5 is nothing – there really isn’t much for either side to bite on, and all the commentators had already written this game off as a draw. 24.a3 g5 25.h3 f5 26.b4 Kf7 27.Nb3 Bf6 28.Bxf6 Kxf6 29.Nbc5 It’s swings and roundabouts: Carlsen may well have the c5 outpost – but to get it, he also has to cede control of the c4 square. 29…N5b6 30.Be2 Taking the a-pawn gets White nowhere very fast: 30.Nxa6 Bxf3! 31.gxf3 Nc4 32.Nb2 Nxb2 33.Rxc8 Rxc8 34.Rxd7 Rc1+ 35.Kg2 (Alternatively, 35.Ke2 Rc2+ 36.Kf1 Rc1+ is just a draw by repetition.) 35…Nc4 and a3 will fall. 30…Nc4 31.a4 Ndb6!? This turns the game a bit more “interesting” – and perhaps easier would have been 31…Nxc5 32.Nxc5 Bd5! 33.Bxc4 (Dangerous is 33.Nxa6?! bxa4! 34.Ra1 a3 35.Nc5 a2! and suddenly White is under a lot of pressure with the strong a2-pawn, and Black will soon by consolidating his advantage with …Nb6 and …Ra8 etc.) 33…Bxc4+ 34.Ke1 Ke7 35.a5 Rc6 and Black should have no problems defending this position. 32.a5 Nd5 33.Nxa6 Ndxe3+! Thanks to a tactical point, Mamedyarov is assured of equality – but care still has to be taken, as we now enter a very tricky position with the material imbalance now on the board. 34.fxe3 Nxe3+ 35.Kg1 Nxd1 36.Rxd1 Rc2! The only way to stay competitive is to activate the rook and to get behind the b4-pawn. 37.Bf3 Be4 38.Nac5 Bxd3 39.Rxd3 Rxd3 40.Nxd3 e5 41.Bb7 e4 Both sides have pawns running up the board – and while it all looks very dangerous and complicated, all that both passed pawns do is cancel each other’s advantage out. And even here, the commentators expected this game to quickly end in a draw – but they didn’t take into account the ability for human error to overlook something! 42.Nc5 Ke5 43.a6 Ra2 44.Bc6 h5?? Just when you think the game is ending in a draw, with neither side able to make anything with their passed pawns, Mamedyarov has what can only be politely best described as a “brain freeze”. The mistake is not so obvious, as it looks as if Black is just pushing forward his mass of pawns to threaten the White king – but there is a subtle difference. The correct continuation was 44…e3! 45.Bxb5 Kd4 46.Kf1 (46.Na4 Ra1+ 47.Kh2 e2 48.Bxe2 Rxa4 49.b5 Kc5! 50.Kg3 Ra3+ 51.Kf2 f4) 46…f4 47.Ba4 Ra1+ 48.Ke2 Ra2+ 49.Kf1 Ra1+ and a draw. And now we see what the difference between …h5 and …e3 turns out to be. 45.Bxb5 g4 The difference is that allowing White Bc4 and Nb3-a5 turns the games from a draw to a win! If 45…e3 46.Bc4! Ra1+ 47.Kh2 Kd6 48.Nb3! the knight coming to a5 makes the a-pawn a big game-winner! And there’s no way to stop the pawn now: If 48…Ra4 49.Na5 Kc7 50.a7 and the pawn queens. 46.hxg4 hxg4 47.Bc4 Ra1+ 48.Kh2 f4 Realising that the threat of Nb3-a5 is now a game-winner, Mamedyarov tries to make his own pawns look more threatening than they really are – but Carlsen has it all safely worked out now. 49.b5! [see diagram] Despite the pawns looking dangerous in this almost study-like position on the board, Carlsen finds the most efficient way to victory, and avoids the potentially awkward 49.Nb3 Rb1 50.Nc5 (White can’t rush it with 50.a7? as Black has the saving resource of 50…g3+ 51.Kh3 Kf5! and to avoid the mate on h1, White has to keep checking the king with 52.Nd4+ Kg5 53.Ne6+ Kf5 54.Nd4+ Kg5 55.Ne6+ Kf5 56.Nd4+ and a draw.) 50…Kf5 51.g3 Rb2+ 52.Kg1 Rb1+ 53.Kg2 Rb2+ 54.Kf1 Rb1+ 55.Ke2 Rb2+ 56.Ke1 Rb1+ 57.Kd2 fxg3 58.Bd5 Rb2+ 59.Kc3 g2 60.Bxe4+ Kf6 61.Bxg2 Rxg2 62.b5 with White still winning, but that was more work needed than Carlsen’s way to a clear and efficient win. 49…f3 Now the mating trick on h1 doesn’t save the game anymore. If 49…g3+ 50.Kh3 Kf5 51.Be6+! Kg5 52.Nxe4+ Kh5 53.Bf7+ Kh6 54.Kg4 with an easy win. 50.b6 Kf4 51.Nxe4! 1-0 Mamedyarov resigns, as now 51…Kxe4 52.b7! and …Kf4 returning for the saving …Rh1 resource is stopped by the little fact that the pawn queens with a check! And with it, there’s no salvation, and those White pawns are simply too far up the board to be stopped.