Who is Magnus Carlsen’s favourite player? Himself, of course! The World Champion made light of his indifferent form during the eighteen months leading up to his title match last year in London against Fabiano Caruana when he was asked, during a press conference, by the media to name his favourite player from the past. He quickly quipped “…myself, three or four years ago” that brought the house down.
And while everyone laughed, there was a serious side to Carlsen’s answer, as he wanted to rekindle that form that made him one of the world’s most fearsome players. After successfully defending his title against Caruana, the World Champion was determined to make a concerted effort in 2019 to repair his game, to once again be the dominant force in chess.
Carlsen went a long way in doing this by winning the first major of the year, the Tata Steel Masters – and now he’s reaching ‘maximum Carlsen’ with a sensational takedown of Anish Giri to take the sole lead once again in the Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir – and with a stylish game that some pundits and commentators are already dubbing to be the ‘Game of the Year’?!
Carlsen leads unbeaten with his +3 score of 5/7 that’s very reminiscent of some of his dominating performances of 3/4 years ago ago – and, as Norwegian chess journalist and leading ‘Carlsen watcher’ Tarjei J. Svensen notes, the World Champion’s 2019 performance, after 20 games, now gives him a TPR of 2903 (+8 =12 -0), extending his unbeaten streak now to 48 games, and standing in his way is his nearest rival and old title foe, Sergey Karjakin, whom he meets in the penultimate round in Shamkir.
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 5/7; 2. S. Karjakin (Russia) 4½; 3-8. V. Anand (India), D. Navara (Czech Rep.), Ding Liren (China), A. Grischuk (Russia), V. Topalov (Bulgaria), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 3½; 9. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 2½; 10. A. Giri (Netherlands) 2
Photo: Guess who’s back, back again? No, not Eminem – Magnus Carlsen! | © Shamkir Chess
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
Gashimov Memorial, (7)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 German master Carl Carls’ (1888-1958) system against the English Opening, the Bremen – named after his hometown of Bremen – is just a Reversed Sicilian Dragon – but the crucial difference is that, with the colours reversed, White has the extra move, so there’s no need to fear the sharpest lines in the Yugoslav Attack. 6…Bc5 7.0-0 0-0 8.d3 h6 It is always difficult playing an opponent who has just come off of a world title bout, as invariably their openings are always finely-honed. And here, last November, Caruana twice opted for the less-committal move of 8…Re8 that doesn’t alter the dynamics of the kingside pawn structure. And with Giri’s slightly weakening pawn move on the kingside, Carlsen and his team may well cooked-up what comes now. 9.Nxd5 Qxd5 10.a3 a5 11.Bd2 Qe6 12.Rc1 Qe7 13.Bc3 Nd4 14.e3 Nxf3+ 15.Qxf3 Bd6 16.Qh5 c6 17.f4!? It’s a typical flank counter-attack in the English, attempting to breakdown Black’s center pawn(s) – and with it, the game now takes a very interesting twist. This is basically the only way for Magnus to complicate matters, as after 17.d4 e4 18.d5 c5 Black is nice and solid with no worries. That’s not what Magnus wants, and he’s prepared to play with an element of risk to fight for a psychological advantage – and this leads me to believe some of this could indeed have been residue from his title match with Caruana. 17…exf4 18.gxf4!?! A move that certainly puts the cat amongst the pigeons that must have come just as much as a surprise to Giri as everyone else, as the online commentators and pundits were more expecting 18.exf4 and a drawish position. But Magnus adds an edge to the position with his risky recapture that unbalances the game – and with it, it seems to create a big element of psychological doubt now for Giri. 18…Qxe3+? This walks right into the eye of the storm, and is very un-Giri-like, as Carlsen’s pieces come into the game with an unstoppable and obvious attack. The last couple of moves saw Giri eating up the time on his clock as the position becomes more and more complex – and he can only come up with a blunder. But you can feel for Giri here, as it takes nerves of steel coming up against a rampant Carlsen, and playing the correct 18…Kh7! that allows for …g6 to shift the annoying queens. Now, after 19.e4 g6! 20.Qf3 Be6 once again we have a balanced position. Easy to see with the reassuring support of a playing engine churning away in the background – but faced with the possibility of Carlsen hitting you with a tsunami over the board, then, yes, 18…Kh7! would have cast doubts in your mind. 19.Kh1 Part of the reason of why snatching the e3 pawn with check is bad, is that Carlsen really wants to vacate the g-file so that his rook can attack down the open g-file – and this just gives him a free tempo to do that. 19…Rd8 Of course, being too greedy with 19…Qxd3?? loses a piece to 20.Rcd1 Qf5 21.Qxf5 Bxf5 22.Rxd6 and White is easily winning. 20.Rce1 The bad news for Giri, is that the next few moves are easy and natural moves for Carlsen to find in this position – and with it, the attack more or less now plays itself. 20…Qc5 The only move – but with it, all that Giri can do is to try and mitigate how he’s going to go down in flames. And note also that snatching the pawn now with 20…Qxd3?? quickly goes down in those mythical flames to 21.f5! f6 22.Bxf6!! with a crushing attack. 21.f5 Bf8 22.Be4 Rd5 23.Rf3! Carlsen is not interested in Giri’s rook – he wants the head of his king! The threat now is Rg1 (very handy, especially as Giri helped in the attack by making it all possible!) and take your pick of the wins. 23…b5 24.Rg1 Ra7 Giri is doing all he can to hang on by his fingertips – but to no avail. But as the Norway-based veteran US GM Jonathan Tisdall noted as he was watching this game unfold: “Sometimes having so many crushing moves can be completely disorientating…” And that is precisely what happens now, as Carlsen, amidst the many ways to win, continually misses the quick kill. 25.Bf6 Of course, Giri was probably praying for 25.Qxh6?? that backfires spectacularly to 25…Qxg1+!! and Black’s winning. We can all dream, but, in reality, he was probably half-expecting Carlsen to move in for the quick kill with 25.Rfg3! f6 26.Qxh6 Rf7 27.Bxf6! and Black can resign. 25…g6 26.Qh3 Again, 26.Rxg6+!! was sensationally crashing through – the end coming with 26…fxg6 27.Qxg6+ Rg7 28.Bxg7 Qc1+ (There’s no defence and no hope. If 28…Bxg7 29.Rg3 Qf8 30.Bxd5+ cxd5 31.f6 h5 32.Qxg7+ Qxg7 33.Rxg7+ Kf8 34.Kg2 Black is hopelessly lost.) 29.Kg2 Qg5+ 30.Qxg5 hxg5 31.Bxf8 Kxf8 32.Bxd5 cxd5 33.b4 with an elementary win. 26…Rd6 27.Qh4 Carlsen may well be kicking himself for not concluding the game with a touch of élan with the flourishing finish of 27.d4! Rxd4 28.fxg6!! Bxh3 29.gxf7+ Kxf7 30.Bxd4+ Ke8 31.Bxc5 Bxc5 32.Rg8+ Ke7 33.Rxh3 and Black can resign. It would indeed have been a noteworthy, crunching win, but Giri is far from safe, as Carlsen instead takes the game into a “merely” better endgame win. 27…Rxf6 28.Qxf6 Be7 29.Qxc6 Qxc6 30.Bxc6 Kg7 31.fxg6 fxg6 32.d4 Not only is Carlsen material ahead, but he’s also now got a running d-pawn that can’t be stopped! 32…a4 33.d5 b4 34.Be8! [see diagram] And the running d-pawn serves another purpose, as it now stops Giri’s only saving chance of Carlsen missing …Bb7 skewering rook and king – but with the skewer now covered, the end is nigh, as the street-sign soothsayers would say. 34…Bg5 There’s no time for 34…g5 as 35.Rf7+ Kg8 36.Re1 bxa3 37.bxa3 Bc5 38.Rxa7 Bxa7 39.Bh5! wins one of the bishops to Re8 or Re7. 35.h4 Bxh4 36.Rxg6+ Kh7 37.Rc6 Bg4 38.Rf4 Now Carlsen liquidates down to totally won ending. 38…Rg7 1-0 Giri’s flag falls as he makes this move, but he’s bust anyway. The game will finish with 39.Bg6+ Rxg6 40.Rxg6 Kxg6 41.Rxg4+ Bg5 42.Rxb4 etc.