A popular term you’ll often hear within whisky distilleries is “the angels’ share”. When whisky is slowly maturing in its oak cask, a small amount evaporates through the wood and into the atmosphere. Each year, roughly 2% of the golden liquid leaves the cask this way, and the whisky industry regards this as a sacrifice to the heavens, hence the coining of the term. It seems that playing chess beside such a cask, Magnus Carlsen’s playing strength can also evaporate along with the angels’ share!
Carlsen was joined by Indian five-time former world champion Viswanathan Anand, China’s world #3 Ding Liren, and his 2016 title challenger, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, for the unique double-round Lindores Abbey Stars in Scotland, the ‘spiritual’ home of whisky – and staged at the historic Lindores Abbey distillery in Newburgh, Fife, which commemorated the event by issuing a limited edition of its Aqua Vitae spirit.
The Norwegian world champion is on a hot streak with a series of outstanding tournament performances to his name. But unlike his recent tournament outings, Carlsen’s victory in Scotland wasn’t so emphatic, more so-so, with his +1 winning score of 3½/6 being decided by just the one solitary win against five-time former champion Viswanathan Anand.
In truth, it was indeed a lacklustre performance by the world champion, as his victory was only guaranteed by a combination of Ding Liren’s penultimate round meltdown against Anand, coupled with having to dig deep himself with a brace of miraculous saves in the final two rounds against Karjakin and Ding Liren.
Nevertheless, no matter how they come, a win is a win, and this makes it a sixth straight victory in as many months for Carlsen, who now adds the Lindores Abbey Stars in Scotland to his haul of the World Blitz Championship, Tata Steel Masters, Gashimov Memorial (Shamkir Chess), Grenke Chess Classic and the Ivory Coast GCT Rapid & Blitz in Abidjan.
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 3½/6; 2-3. Ding Liren (China), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 3; 4. Viswanathan Anand (India) 2½
Photo: A key win over old foe Anand secures Carlsen a sixth straight tournament victory | © Lindores Abbey Chess Stars
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Viswanathan Anand
Lindores Abbey Stars, (3)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.cxd5 In this set-up against the Nimzo, what White wants to do is first fix the central pawn structure before determining how best to develop his g1 knight. 6…exd5 7.Nge2 A nuanced move in the Rubenstein Complex that offers White several different attacking plans, ranging from playing f2-f3 and g2-g4, to perhaps an Exchange variation minority attack set-up. 7…Re8 This is the most flexible move, keeping open several options for Black, whilst offering a retreat square for the bishop. 8.Bd2 A popular choice – pioneered by the likes of Sokolov, Milov and Alexandrov – that keeps many different options open for White. 8…b6 9.0-0 Bd6 A logical move – but the drawback is that White has the rather annoying moves Rc1 and Nb5. 10.Rc1 c5 Black can try 10…a6 first but after 11.Ng3 White’s pieces are primed and ready to strike first. 11.Nb5 Bf8 12.f3 The safer option is 12.Nf4 but after 12…Nc6 13.Nh5 Ne4! Black has an easy game. Carlsen’s choice is a little riskier, but the world champion is known to ‘mix it’ with complications to fight for the initiative. 12…Nc6 13.Kh1 A little safety-first move, just getting the king out of the way of any annoying pin or check down the b6-g1 diagonal, before he starts to push his central pawns forward. 13…Bb7 14.a3 g6 15.Bb1 Rc8 16.Ba2 a6 17.Nbc3 Bg7 18.dxc5 bxc5 Anand’s pieces are well-placed – but on the downside, he has to live with hanging pawns on c5 and d5. 19.Be1 d4? Perhaps over-worrying about the long-term dangers of the hanging pawns, unbelievably, the five-time former champion totally misses a big tactic. Had Anand seen the coming Bxf7+, he would no doubt have opted for the clearly better 19…c4! 20.Bf2 Ne5 21.Bb1 Nfd7 22.Nf4 Nc5 23.Nfxd5 Ned3 24.Bxd3 Nxd3 25.e4!? which leaves a balanced fight, with both sides having chances. In any case, certainly better for Black than what now comes. 20.Na4 Nd7?? One bad move begets another. The last chance was to try 20…dxe3!? 21.Bxf7+! Kxf7 22.Qb3+ Kf8 23.Nxc5! (Stronger than 23.Qxb7 as Black has 23…Qd3! 24.Ng3 e2 25.Rg1 Qd1! 26.Rxc5! Qxa4 27.b3 Qxa3 28.Rxc6 Rb8 29.Qa7 Qxb3 30.Bf2 which is likely now to peter out to a draw, as both sides have weaknesses.) 23…Na5! 24.Bxa5 Qxa5 25.Nxb7 Qb5! 26.Qxb5 axb5 where White stands clearly better with the extra pawn – but a lot of work will still be needed to convert the win. 21.Bxf7+! The simple tactic with the Bb7 hanging to a Qb3+ proves decisive – as I say, a quite remarkable oversight from a multi-time former world champion. 21…Kxf7 22.Qb3+ Kf8 23.Qxb7 Rxe3? Perhaps still shell shocked from missing the tactic, Anand now goes from bad to worse with this capture. Black is clearly on the back-foot but after 23…dxe3 24.Nxc5 (If 24.Bc3 Nd4!?) 24…Nxc5 25.Rxc5 Ne5 26.Rxc8 Qxc8 27.Qd5 Qe6 28.Qc5+ Kg8 29.Qxe3 Nc4 30.Qxe6+ Rxe6 31.Nf4 Rb6 Black has good practical saving chances in this ending – certainly much better than the quick demise that comes in the game! 24.Ng3 Nce5 If it wasn’t for the fact that Anand’s rook now finds itself cut-off, then Black’s position wouldn’t be so bad – just picture this position with the rook on e8 rather than on e3. 25.Bd2 Rd3 26.Ne4 [see diagram] And herein comes the moment of truth – the Ne4 not only protects the Bd2, but it also threatens Bg5 and c5 falling. 26…Rb8 27.Qd5! Rxd2 Anand decides now that he’s going to hang for a sheep rather than the lamb, as 27…Rdb3 28.Bg5 Qc7 29.Naxc5 Nxc5 30.Nxc5 Qf7 31.Ne6+ Kg8 32.Rc7! didn’t even bear thinking about. 28.Nxd2 Nd3 29.Rc2 Qe7 30.Ne4 Nf4 31.Qc4 1-0 Anand throws the towel in now, not wishing to see on the board 31…d3 32.Nexc5! Bh6 33.Nxd3 easily winning.