The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen is back on terra firma after playing the first three rounds of the Legends of Chess from his summer vacation Mediterranean cruise, but he’s still leaving his opponent’s all at sea with a fourth straight match victory to majestically move into the sole lead at the top of the preliminaries of the $150,000 online super-tournament hosted on Chess24.com.
After narrowly beating former world title challenger Peter Leko in round three in a close match-up, Carlsen reverted to ‘beast mode’ with a very brutal and convincing 3-0 victory over Boris Gelfand, the Israeli No.1 and 2012 defeated world championship challenger, to be the only player now left in the ten-player field on a perfect score of 12/12 – and he’s still undefeated with an even more impressive personal score of +7 =8 -0.
The fourth straight match-win all but books Carlsen his berth into the ‘business end’ of the final four. And when it came to the media interview after beating Gelfand, somewhat ominously for whoever goes forward with him into the next phase of the tournament, a confident Carlsen said: “I am not so concerned about who I will be facing in the final. I will have a good chance to win anyway.”
While it’s the ‘Carlsen show’ at the top, the clue to the big highlight for the fans for the final leg of the Norwegian’s $1m signature online tour can be found in the title ‘Legends of Chess’ – especially with some age-defying performances so far by legends Peter Svidler, Boris Gelfand and Vasily Ivanchuk.
But best of all was the epic opening game clash of round three between two rivalling title-titans from the Garry Kasparov era, Vladimir Kramnik and Vishy Anand, the 14th and 15th world champions respectively, and Carlsen’s immediate predecessors – a game that was indeed the ‘stuff of legends’, with a memorable and mind-blowing slugfest that totally captivated and gripped both the Chess24 commentary team and the large online audience.
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 12/12; 2. Ian Nepominiachtchi (Russia) 11; 3. Peter Svidler (Russia) 9; 4. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 7; 5. Boris Gelfand (Israel) 6; 6. Anish Giri (Netherland) 5; 7. Vasily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 4; 8. Ding Liren (China) 3; 9. Peter Leko (Hungary) 2; 10. Vishy Anand (India) 1.
GM Vishy Anand – GM Vladimir Kramnik
Legends of Chess | Prelims, (3.1)
French Defence, Boleslavsky variation
1.e4 e6 A surprise already, as Kramnik has not been known to play the French Defence – and indeed, more famous for playing 1…e5, one Chess24 commentator speculated that this might have been a mouse-slip. But not the case, as all of Kramnik’s opening replies, now came without hesitation and he’d prepared the line for Anand, knowing exactly what variation he would play. 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 This has been a long-time favourite for Anand – and the speed in which Kramnik was making his replies confirmed he was ready for this and 1…e6 was no mouse-slip. 5…c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 Be7 8.Qd2 a6 9.Bd3 Deliberately provoking Black into playing …c4, which will at least fix the pawn structure. 9…b5 10.a3 c4 11.Be2 Nb6 12.0-0 Bd7 13.Bd1!N Now things start to get ‘interesting’, as Anand, a long-time player of this line for White, uncorks his novelty, his big idea being to regroup his pieces with Nc3-e2-g3 or even Qd2-f2-g3 and primarily allow him also to play c2-c3 to put his light-squared bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal to attack the Black king. 13…g6 14.h3 Qc7 Wisely, Kramnik isn’t going to play ball with kingside castling, as he now intends heading to the queenside – but that doesn’t deter Anand from making his big move on the kingside! 15.Bf2 h6 16.Ne2 a5 17.c3 0-0-0 18.Bh4 It’s a more useful trade of bishops for Anand, as later heading into any late middlegame/early endgame scenario, a pawn push with …b4 might well be a danger. 18…Bxh4 19.Nxh4 Kb7 The obvious 19…g5 backfires to 20.Nf3! gxf4 21.Qxf4 and Black will get tied up in a knot trying to defend f7, and White will also have the added regrouping of Nd2 and Qh4. 20.Nf3 Ra8 21.Bc2 Qd8 22.g4 Anand just wants to ‘get on with it’, but he may well have been more prudent preparing things first before pushing his kingside pawns. 22…Qe7! Now Kramnik has regrouped his queen to a better square for his own queenside counter-play with …b4 – and with it, it is engrossing stuff as both sides now go ‘all-in’ with rivalling attacks on opposite wings. 23.Ng3 b4 24.axb4 axb4 25.Rxa8 Rxa8 26.f5 Perhaps first 26.Bb1!? would have been a more prudent approach? 26…gxf5 27.gxf5 Ra2 28.Qc1 bxc3 29.bxc3 Qa3! Suddenly Anand has discovered that Kramnik’s queenside is going to be faster than his kingside assault. 30.Bb1 Qxc1 Also possible was 30…Rb2 or even 30…Ra1 – but Kramnik is not going to be seduced, as he goes for the most direct option. 31.Rxc1 Rb2 32.f6! And suddenly there lurks the danger, as Anand sees the power of the potential passer being a winner. 32…Na4 33.Bh7 Na5 34.Bg6 Nb3 35.Re1 Be8 36.Nf5!! fxg6 The whole point of Anand’s piece sacrifice is that 36…exf5? 37.e6!! and White wins, e.g. 37…Nxc3 (Or even 37…fxg6 38.f7 Bxf7 39.exf7) 38.exf7 Bxf7 39.Bxf7 Nc1 40.Bxd5+! Nxd5 41.f7 Nd3 42.f8Q Nxe1 43.Nxe1 Rb1 44.Kf1 and White’s queen will soon clean-up. 37.Nd6+ Kc7 38.Nxe8+ Kd7 Kramnik’s king nips across just in time to stop the pawn. 39.Nd6 g5 The only move in a desperate situation, as 39…Nxc3 crashes to 40.f7 Ke7 41.Nh4! and no stopping Nxg6+ promoting the f-pawn. 40.Nf5!! [see diagram] And Anand comes back for ‘seconds’. It should really have been winning, but kudos to the ever-resourceful Kramnik for staying calm and trying to find ways to stay in the game. 40…Ke8 Yet again the knight on f5 is taboo. If 40…exf5 41.e6+ Ke8 42.e7 Nd2 43.f7+ the e-pawn queens with check and mate to follow. 41.Nxh6 Nxc3 42.Nxg5 Nxd4 43.f7+ Ke7 44.Ra1?! It doesn’t look so obvious right now, but it’s the beginning of the end for Anand, who starts to lose his grip on the game. He couldn’t play 44.Nh7 as 44…Nf3+ 45.Kf1 Nh2+ 46.Kg1 Nf3+ lets Black escape with a perpetual. But with that in mind, the correct move was 44.Rf1! Nce2+ 45.Kf2! Nc6 46.Ng8+ Kf8 47.Nf6 Nf4+ 48.Kg3 Ng6 49.Nd7+ Ke7 50.f8Q+ Nxf8 51.Rf7+! Kd8 52.Nxf8 Nxe5 53.Nfxe6+ Kc8 54.Rf5 Rb3+ 55.Kf2 Nd3+ 56.Ke2 Rb2+ 57.Ke3 Nb4 58.Rf7 and White will win – the Black king is caught in its own back-rank that will allow mating nets, and the White king can come in via Kd4 stopping the Black pawns and threatening Kc5 to perhaps participate in the mate. 44…Nce2+! 45.Kf2 Nf4+ 46.Kg3 Ng6 47.Ra7+ Kd8 48.Ra8+ Kc7 49.Rg8 You can see what Anand was thinking when he played 44.Ra1, that somehow the f-pawn has to be winning by force – but it is not so easy as that, and sure enough, Kramnik finds the save. 49…Ne2+ 50.Kf2 Nef4+ 51.Ke3 c3 52.Nxe6+? The only saving move now was 52.Rxg6! Nxg6 53.Nxe6+ Kd7 54.Nf4 d4+! 55.Ke4 c2 56.e6+ Kc7 57.Nd3 Kd6 58.Nf5+ Kxe6 59.f8Q Nxf8 60.Nxd4+ Kf6 61.Ke3! and the king tracks back to d2 to pick-off the dangerous c-pawn, and it should just be a draw. 52…Nxe6 53.Rxg6 d4+ 54.Ke4 Re2+? The tension was beginning to tell on both legends as the time starts to run down. The clinical win was 54…c2! 55.Rxe6 c1Q 56.Kf5 (There’s no time to queen. After 56.f8Q Qc2+ 57.Kxd4 Qa4+ 58.Ke3 Rb3+ Black easily mates.) 56…d3 57.Re7+ Kc6 58.Kg6 Rf2 59.Ng4 Rf3 60.Re6+ Kc7 61.Re7+ Kb6 62.Re6+ Kb7 63.Re7+ Ka6 64.Re6+ Kb5 65.Rf6 Rxf6+ 66.exf6 Qc5 and Black will win with the d-pawn close to queening. 55.Kf3 Re3+ It looks dangerous, but after 55…c2 White escapes with the ingenious king march 56.Kxe2 c1Q 57.Rxe6 Qe3+ 58.Kf1 Qf3+ 59.Ke1 d3 60.Kd2 Qe2+ 61.Kc3 Qc2+ 62.Kb4! and Black has to take the queen perpetual check to stop White’s f-pawn from queening. 56.Kg4 Nf8 57.Rg8 Nd7 58.Nf5 c2 59.Nxe3 c1Q 60.Nd5+ Kb7 61.e6 Qd1+ 62.Kg5 Qd2+? Just when everyone thought we’d witnessed a well-deserved draw for both players, there comes a couple of time-induced errors – the draw was 62…Qg1+ 63.Kf5 Qb1+ 64.Kg5 Qg1+ 65.Kh6 Qc1+ etc. But there’s a further twist to come. 63.Kg6?? What a tragedy! A draw would have been the very fitting end to this wonderful battle between these two legends – but it was hard to know what might have been going through Anand’s mind right now, and perhaps his train of thought was interrupted by Kramnik’s error of 62…Qd2+ when he might have been expecting 62…Qg1+ – but with that twist and the deciding error right at the end, he missed the almost study-like finish of 63.Nf4! Nc5! 64.Rg6! Nxe6+ 65.Rxe6 Qa5+ 66.Kg6 Qb4 67.Kg7 and the f-pawn queens and wins. 63…Qg2+ 0-1 Anand resigns, as he loses both the knight and the e6-pawn.