John Henderson
By John Henderson

World Champion Magnus Carlsen literally turned in a ‘tour de force’ performance at the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), as the very much in-form Norwegian ace left the opposition in his wake by easily winning the final Grand Chess Tour leg of the 2019 regular season – and in doing so, he also now has set a new Tour winning score.

Dominating from start to finish, Carlsen comfortably won the rapid to carry over what was virtually an unassailable four-point lead to the blitz tournament – and there was no catching the runaway leader by this stage, as he went on to amass an impressive overall score of 27/36 for an emphatic victory, with his nearest rival, Hikaru Nakamura, finishing four-points behind in second place.

Overall, Carlsen lost just two games – both in the blitz, to potential title rival Ding Liren – to take the top prize of $37,500, with his winning score surpassing his previous record of 26.5 points set at the Cote D’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz earlier this year. “It’s a big deal for me to have a good performance here,” said a jubilant Carlsen. “I haven’t played so well in rapid and blitz lately, and I think with this result, I showed I’m still the man to beat.”

Even before the start of the Tata Steel Indian Rapid & Blitz, Carlsen had already qualified into the GCT Final, the marquee event of next week’s London Chess Classic – but there was still a battle to decide the final two spots. China’s Ding Liren joins Carlsen in London by finishing in second place in the Tour standings – and despite finishing in last place in Kolkata and gaining only a solitary Tour point, this was more than enough for Levon Aronian to book his ticket also to London.

But there was no such luck for ex-world champion Vishy Anand. Despite being regarded as a hero in his homeland, and being cheered on by his patriotic fans, the Indian living-legend found himself being squeezed out of the final. He needed to finish in 6th place to qualify, but he missed a crucial win against Carlsen on the final day of the blitz, could only finish in 7th place, and that was enough for Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – who wasn’t playing in Kolkata – to clinch the final spot.

The GCT Finals run from Monday, December 2 through Sunday, December 8. All the action can be followed with live commentary from GMs Peter Svidler, Alejandro Ramirez, Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

Final standings:
1. M.Carlsen, 27/36; 2. H. Nakamura, 23; 3-4. A. Giri & W. So, 18½; 5. Ding Liren, 18; 6. I. Nepomniachtchi, 17; 7. V. Anand, 16; 8-9. P. Harikrishna & S. Vidit, 14½; 10. L. Aronian, 13.

Tour standings:
1. Carlsen, 67.5 ($242,500); 2. Ding Liren, 43.8 ($144,833); 3. Aronian, 37.5 ($121,250); 4. Vachier-Lagrave, 36.8 ($100,00) – GCT Finalists; 5. Karjakin, 36.5 ($99,250); 6. Anand, 36 ($97,500); 7. So, 33.5 ($110,00); 8. Nepomniachtchi, 29.5 ($68,583); 9. Nakamura, 27.5 ($75,000); 10. Caruana, 26.5 ($76,250); 11. Giri, 26.5 ($67,333); 12. Mamedyarov, 16 ($48,750).

Photo: Still the man to beat: Tata Steel Chess India victor Magnus Carlsen! | © Lennart Ootes/GCT

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Vishy Anand
Tata Steel Chess India Rapid, (7)
QGD, Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 d5 Something very akin to the Nimzo-Indian (which we have just transposed from), 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 with the 2011 release of the New in Chess publication of The Ragozin Complex by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.cxd5 Another good alternative is the immediate 5.Bg5 and keeping the tension in the center for a few more moves. 5…exd5 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 0-0 8.e3 Bf5 9.Nd2 White has to keep control over the e4 square, and not allow a Black knight to be established there. 9…g5 10.Bg3 c5 11.a3 Bxc3 12.bxc3 c4 13.h4 This is the main problem with Black’s set-up – the weakened kingside makes for a tempting target. 13…g4 Anand isn’t as adventurous/foolhardy as Carlsen friend/teammate/trainer Jon Ludvig Hammer, who last year was brave enough to try 13…Nbd7 14.Be2 Kg7. 14.h5 Nbd7 15.Bf4 Qa5 16.Qc1 Nb6!?! More prudent was 16…Kh7 17.Be2 (It’s too risky to play 17.Bxh6?! Kxh6 18.e4 as the simple 18…Kh7! 19.exf5 Rae8+ 20.Be2 Re7 and Black has a big advantage.) 17…Bd3 18.Qb2! Rfe8 19.Qb4 and a more equal struggle ahead. But with 16…Nb6!?!, Anand opts to roll the dice by abandoning any semblance of kingside security, hoping he can generate counterplay with his queenside pawns – and the game between these two title combantants soon turns into a veritable slugfest. 17.Bxh6 Na4 18.Bxf8 Rxf8 19.f3! Carlsen gets to the nub of the position, as he looks to rip open as many lines to Anand’s exposed king as he can. 19…Re8?! Far too slow. Things get more than just a little “interesting” after 19…g3!? as White has to strike quickly with 20.e4! Re8 21.e5! (Tempting is 21.Bxc4?! dxc4 22.Nxc4 but after 22…Nxe4! it’s the White king that is now in danger! The only try is 23.0-0 where now 23…Qd8!! 24.fxe4 Qh4 25.Rxf5 Qh2+ 26.Kf1 Qh1+ 27.Ke2 Qxg2+ and, despite being a rook ahead, and all the engines telling us that the assessment is easy-peasy “0.00” equality, the White king looks decidedly dodgy and could easily fall into a mating attack.) 21…Nd7 22.f4 Nf6! 23.h6 and a double-edged position where any three results is possible for either side! 20.Kf2 b5 It could well be that Anand considered 20…Nxc3 and couldn’t quite fathom out all the complications in this slufest, especially when you begin to see “fantasy” variations like 21.e4 Bxe4!? 22.fxe4 Nb5! 23.Rh4 Nxd4 with a very complex tussle. On reflection though, this was surely better than what he plays in the game, as now Carlsen quickly consolidates his material advantage with a subtle tactic. 21.e4 dxe4 22.Nxc4! [see diagram] The whole point to Carlsen’s play – the sudden threat of Qg5+ added to the mix compromises the Black’s king. 22…bxc4 23.Qg5+ Kh7? A shame really, because as unlikely as it looks, better was 23…Kf8!? 24.Qxf6 e3+ 25.Kg1 Re6 26.Qh8+ Ke7 and the game is still too “murky” for White to claim with any conviction that he’s winning. 24.Qxf6 e3+ 25.Kg1 The difference here and the above note is that Qxf7+ is a big problem that has to be defended, and this just takes any sting and momentum out of Black’s possible chances of saving the game. 25…Be6 26.d5 In a slugfest, things could go wrong very quickly, but far better for White was 26.fxg4!? Rg8 27.Rh3! (hard to spot without the trusty engine, admittedly!) 27…Nxc3 28.g5!! Qxg5 (Forced, as 28…Bxh3? 29.Qh6#!) 29.Qxg5 Rxg5 30.Rxe3 and with the queens traded, White is safe and emerges with a big material advantage. 26…Qxd5 27.Re1 Again 27.fxg4 was superior, but you can understand Carlsen’s desire just to get his pieces better co-ordinated in case there are any tricks lurking. 27…Qd2 28.Re2 Qc1 There was the tricky option of 28…Nxc3!? that may well have worked in blitz – but in rapid, with more time plus the increment, Carlsen would have figured out that there’s no need to panic and 29.Rxd2 exd2 30.h6! forces Black into 30…Rg8 31.Be2 Nxe2+ 32.Kf2 Nc1 33.f4 Rg6 34.Qc3 Nb3 35.f5 Bxf5 36.Qxc4 Be6 37.Qc2 and White should easily clear up now. 29.Qd4 gxf3 30.Qxe3 Understandable yet again from Carlsen that he simply wants to consolidate with still something of a “mess” on the board, but quicker was 30.Qe4+ f5 31.Qb7+ Kh6 32.Qxf3 Nxc3 33.Rxe3 and Black is lost. 30…Qxc3 31.gxf3 Rg8+ 32.Kf2 Qg7 33.Qe4+ Kh6 34.Qf4+ Kh7 35.Qe5 Qh6 36.Rg1 With the g-file now safe, Anand is just lost. 36…Rc8 37.Qe4+ Kh8 38.Qd4+ Winning on the spot, as the …Rc8 is going to be hanging to a …Qd7+ with the final tactic. 38…Kh7 39.Rxe6! 1-0


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