THERE IS STILL TIME TO START A SPRING PROGRAM!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

In many respects, the old year past of 2019 was a vintage one for Magnus Carlsen with very few mishaps and many memorable winning performances – and he ended the year on a high by dominating his rivals to capture the World Rapid and Blitz titles in Moscow in late December. And with it, the Norwegian once again holds the ‘triple crown’ of all three main world chess championship titles.

Despite a spirited challenge by US speed maven Hikaru Nakamura, Carlsen set the pace throughout the two year-ending speed competitions, losing just one game out of 38 (to Russia’s Dmitry Andreikin in the rapid). After cruising to victory in the rapid, Nakamura proved to be Carlsen’s only serious rival in the blitz as both players finished tied for first place on 16½/21, with Carlsen going on to win the title playoff. This was the second time in his career that the 29-year-old Norwegian superstar has held all three titles, a feat he first achieved in 2014.

Ironically, along with the triple crown, there was also a triple ‘wobble’ in an otherwise stellar year for Carlsen: He lost a playoff to potential Chinese world championship challenger Ding Liren for the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, was crushed by US #2 Wesley So in the first official World Fischer Random Championship in Oslo, and he missed out on the Grand Chess Tour title with a semi-final loss to Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at the London Chess Classic.

But Carlsen’s 10 elite tournament victories throughout 2019 was the single defining performance of the year – and there’s still some ‘unfinished’ business he’ll carry forward into the title-defence year of 2020. The first major of the year, the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands starts on 11 January, and Carlsen is only a few games shy now of breaking Sergei Tiviakov’s record of 110 classical games unbeaten.

World Rapid Championship:
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 11½/15; 2-4. Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Vladislav Artemiev (Russia) 10½.

World Blitz Championship:
1-2. Magnus Carlsen* (Norway), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 16½/21; 3. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 15; 4-5. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 14.

Photo: A happy Magnus Carlsen ends 2019 on a high – now for 2020 and a title defence! | © Lennart Ootes / World Rapid & Blitz Ch.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
FIDE World Rapid Championship, (13)
Queen’s Gambit, Exchange Variation
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.e3 c6 8.Qc2 This is what is characterised as the ‘Carlsbad pawn structure’, so-called after it was popularised during the Carlsbad International in Czechoslovakia in 1923, where Alekhine, Bogoljubov and Maroczy all shared first place. 8…0-0 9.Bd3 Re8 10.Bf4 Nf8 11.h3 Bd6 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.0-0 Ng6 14.Rab1 This is by far the most popular plan in the Carlsbad, the ‘minority attack’, where White rapidly advances his queenside pawns to create weaknesses in Black’s queenside pawn structure. 14…Bd7 15.b4 Rac8 16.Rfc1 Qe7 17.b5 cxb5 18.Bxb5 Bxb5 19.Rxb5 Ne4?! All day long, Carlsen will, of course, happily python-like squeeze an opponent in the simplest of simple positions – and often fearing this, many of Carlsen’s opponents simply crack fearing the relentless pressure, and they rashly lash out, such as Mamedyarov unwisely does here. Instead, the Azeri had to play 19…Rc7! 20.Qb2 Rec8 21.Ne2 where White’s edge is very minimal, though slightly uncomfortable for Black – but definitely the sort of position will happily grind away all day at. 20.Qb2! One very accurately move, and Carlsen, with little or no effort, has made a big target of the isloated d-pawn that now can’t be protected. 20…Nd6 There’s no relief with trading pieces with 20…Nxc3 21.Rxc3 Rxc3 22.Qxc3 as 22…Qd7 23.Qb3! and either the b- or d-pawn falls. 21.Nxd5 Rxc1+ 22.Qxc1 Qe6 23.Rc5! [see diagram] Carlsen is just ruthless with an advantage as he has here, as he will always find the most accurate way to win, showing no mercy whatsoever en route to victory. 23…Rd8 Necessary, as 23…b6 24.Nc7! Qd7 25.Nxe8 bxc5 26.Nxd6 Qxd6 27.Qxc5 was easily winning. 24.Nc3 It’s just a matter of technique now for Carlsen, who makes the win against a top-10 player look relatively easy. 24…h6 25.Qa3 a6 26.Qa5 Qe8 27.Qb6 Kh7 28.Rd5 Rc8 29.Rxd6 Rxc3 30.Qxb7 Rc1+ 31.Kh2 Rc2 32.Rd7 Carlsen ruthlessly closes down any slim hopes Mamedyarov might have had of generating some counterplay. 32…Kg8 33.Rc7! 1-0 Mamedyarov resigns, faced with 33…Rxc7 (Unfortunately for Black, 33…Rxf2? loses on the spot to 34.Rc8) 34.Qxc7 Qa4 35.d5 Qxa2 36.Qc8+ Kh7 (There’s no hope. If 36…Nf8 37.d6 Qd5 38.Qxa6 wins easily.) 37.d6 Qd5 38.d7 Qd6+ 39.Kh1 Ne7 40.Qe8! Nc6 41.Qe4+ Qg6 42.Qxc6! not only winning apiece, but also winning the game.

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