Life Begins at 30-ish - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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For Magnus Carlsen, life not so much starts at forty but rather 30-ish, as he was back to his familiar winning ways once again, nearly six months after he reached his milestone birthday late last November, as the World Champion finally ended the hoodoo of one of the longest droughts in his career since he took over the world #1 spot just over a decade ago.

After such a long barren spell with no tournament victories – eliminated at the early knockout stages in four successive online tournaments on the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, and slumping to a disappointing sixth place at the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee – the relief was evident on the Norwegian’s face as he beat his long-time rival Hikaru Nakamura to clinch the New In Chess Classic last weekend.

“Neither of us played a particularly good match,” readily admitted Carlsen in his post-victory interview. But regardless of how you win it, his first Tour title came at a crucial time, coming hard on the heels of Russian champion Ian Nepomniachtchi – also 30 – emerging as the winner of the FIDE Candidates Tournament to challenge the Norwegian for his world crown, with the two 30-year-olds now going head-to-head in a €2m, 14-game title match that will take place later this year during the Expo Dubai through November-December.

While Nepomniachtchi’s Candidates victory with a round to spare was one of the biggest of his career, his final round defeat at the hands of the pre-tournament favourite, Ding Liren, just denied the Russian champion the double of a career-high world #3 spot on the FIDE world rankings for May, which he looked set to achieve before his loss.

FIDE May Top-10:
1. Magnus Carlsen, 2847 (=); 2. Fabiano Caruana, 2820 (=); 3. Ding Liren, 2799 (+8); 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi, 2792 (+3); 5. Levon Aronian, 2781 (=); 6. Anish Giri, 2780 (+4); 7. Alexander Grischuk, 2776 (-1); 8. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 2770 (=); 9. Wesley So, 2770 (=); 10. Teimour Radjabov, 2765 (=).

GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Magnus Carlsen
New In Chess Classic | Final, (1.4)
Slav Defence
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 e6 The “triangle” of pawns on d5, c6 and e6 is the fundamental key structure in the Slav Defence. It is very robust, difficult to breakdown, and as a rule of thumb if Black achieves this structure without any concrete problems, then he is guaranteed a good game. 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.0-0 Bd6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Rd1 Re8 11.Qe2 Qe7 12.Bd2 dxc4 13.Bxc4 e5! Another crucial freeing move in the Slav – and if …e5 is played without any problems, then Black should have a free and easy game, as Carlsen demonstrates. 14.dxe5 Qxe5 15.g3 b5 16.Bb3 a5 Also a strong alternative was 16…Nc5! that sees White going backwards with 17.Be1 Rad8 18.Bc2 b4 19.Nb1 Nce4 and not so easy for White to unravel. 17.Bc2 Qe6 Carlsen would have been pleased with how the game has gone, as Nakamura is in a difficult cramped position with his pieces being all “boxed in”. 18.Kg2 a4 19.a3 Ne5 20.Bb1 Qe7 Perhaps better was cutting to the chase with 20…Nc4!? 21.Ba2 Nd7 22.Bxc4 bxc4 and the obvious big plan of looking to plant a knight on d3. 21.Be1 Rad8 22.Ba2 Ned7 23.Qc2 Be5 24.Rac1 Nc5 25.Ne2 Rxd1 26.Rxd1 Qa7 27.Rc1 Ne6 28.f3?! Nakamura seems to be getting ahead of himself with this over-cautious move that not only loses the momentum, but also creates a weakness on e3 that Carlsen hones in on. Sharper and more precise was 28.e4! denying that crucial d5 square for the Black knight. Now if 28…c5 29.Bxe6 Rxe6 30.Qxc5 Qxc5 31.Rxc5 Bxb2 32.f3 Bxa3 33.Rxb5 Bf8 34.Bb4! Nd7 35.Bxf8 Kxf8 36.Ra5 Nb6 the game should end up in a draw with careful play – even if Black does end up losing the a-pawn, the R+P ending should still be a draw with all the pawns on the kingside. 28…Nd5! Carlsen immediately pounces on the big weakness on e3 created by Nakamura’s last move – and the game dramatically starts to swing in his favour. 29.Qxc6 Am all-too human reaction, looking for relief by liquidating the position. Also good was 29.Bxd5 cxd5 30.Rd1 Rd8 31.Nc3! Bxc3 32.Qxc3 with an equal position. 29…Nxe3+ 30.Kh1?! This is where Nakamura begins to “wobble”. Safer was 30.Kh2 offering the easy repetition bail-out for both players with 30…Nf1+ 31.Kg2 Ne3+ 32.Kh2 Nf1+ etc. 30…Qb8! [see diagram] And with one very good multi-purpose move (defending e8 and b5, plus putting more pressure on b2 and g3), suddenly Carlsen begins to take control. 31.Bf2?! Nakamura just begins to lose the thread of the game, wrongly worrying about the threat to g3. But hindsight in chess is a wonderful thing, and given the position again, I’m sure he would have realised that g3 was taboo, and opted instead for the better and safer 31.Bc3! Bxc3 (The point that Nakamura may well have missed is that 31…Bxg3?? 32.Rg1! inadvertently just puts Black’s own king in serious danger!) 32.Rxc3 Nd1 33.Rc2 Ne3 34.Rc3 Nd1 and again the safest option is the mutual bail-out with a repetition. 31…Bxb2 32.Bxe3 Bxc1 33.Bxc1? This just compounds Nakamura’s problems – as backwards as it looks, he had to recapture with 33.Qxc1 Qe5 and following up with 34.Ng1! and as ugly as it looks, this seems to hold everything together, for example after 34…Qxg3 35.Bxe6 Qe5 36.Bxf7+ Kxf7 37.Bd2! the idea being to plant the bishop on b4 and leave the knight covering the king and the weak f3 and h3 pawns – not a position that Black can easily exploit with his own king exposed. 33…Rc8 Right idea, wrong execution Magnus! The clinical kill was 33…Qc8! 34.Qxc8 (Not 34.Qxb5? Nd4! winning.) 34…Rxc8 35.Bxe6 Rc2! 36.Bf4 Rxe2 37.Bd5 Re1+ 38.Kg2 Ra1 and with the a3-pawn set to drop, Black should easily convert as this own passed a-pawn will cost White one of his bishops. 34.Qe4 Qd6 35.Be3 Qd1+ 36.Ng1 Qc2 37.Qd5?? Oopsie! The pressure on the board, coupled with the time pressure on his clock mounts for Nakamura, as he blunders badly just when he had dodged a bullet. After the correct 37.Qb7! Qc6 38.Qe7 Re8 39.Qb4 Rd8 40.Bf2 this time round, as opposed to the above note, after 40…Qc2 41.Bxe6 Qxf2 42.Qe7! Rf8 43.Bd5 Qxg3 44.Bc6 Qb8 45.Qb4 Black will lose the b-pawn and the game should just be a draw. 37…Rd8 0-1

 

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