After the setback loss to Vladislav Artemiev in round four, Magnus Carlsen once again looks to be back on course for victory in the marquee $300,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final from the Play Magnus Group, as the world No 1 reestablished his big lead at the top following a very smooth win over Hikaru Nakamura in round five before the rest day on Thursday.
There was no reprise of the epic 2020 Tour final battle – which went all the way to a deciding Armageddon tiebreaker – between these lifetime rivals as Carlsen dominated to take the full 3-points by a score of 2.5-0.5, with a game to spare; so much so that even he was a little surprised over the ease of his win, commenting that his opponent had offered “very, very little resistance … with this kind of resistance I got today, it’s not difficult to play well.”
It’s now a big ask for Wesley So, Carlsen’s main tour rival to make up the deficit, as the reigning US champion finds himself five match-points adrift from the Norwegian at the top, with just four rounds remaining – but there’s always hope, and going down the homestretch Carlsen still has to face Anish Giri, Teimour Radjabov, Levon Aronian, before meeting So on the final day of the competition.
Carlsen play in its execution against Nakamura was almost on a parallel with the great José Raúl Capablanca, with even Chess24 commentator – and Ian Nepomniachtchi world championship second – Peter Leko warning that game 3 was the sort of position you had to avoid at all costs when facing the world champion, as he’ll simply win with a punishing endgame grind.
In fact, if anything, the game reminded me very much of one of those many Capa grinds that appeared in Irving Chernev’s timeless Dover classic, Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings, an incredibly instructive book on endgame technique, using examples from one of the true masters in the endgame.
The premise to this must-read and still relevant book is very simple, with the annotations to 60 of Capa’s games only starting from the key moment when the maestro makes the smooth transition from middlegame to the endgame, and how, from a relatively simple position, and with little or no effort, the legendary Cuban World Champion would easily convert his small advantage.
1. M. Carlsen (Norway), 26½; 2. W. So (USA), 21½; 3-4. L. Aronian (Armenia), T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 15; 5. H. Nakamura (USA), 12; 6-7. V. Artemiev (Russia), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 11½; 8. A. Giri (Netherlands), 10½; 9. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 5½; 10. J-K. Duda (Poland), 5.
Live coverage of the final four rounds of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final is available with commentary from the regular tour team of host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska (plus surprise guests) is available at www.championschesstour.com and chess24’s Twitch and YouTube channels. All games will be played in the chess24.complayzone.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final, (5.3)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0-0 Bd6 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 Qe7 9.Nbd2 Bg4 10.h3 Bh5 11.d4 0-0-0 12.Re1 Qe6 13.c4 Bxf3 14.Nxf3 Qxc4 15.dxe5 Bxe5 16.Nxe5 Qb5 17.Nxc6 Qxc6 18.Qb3 Rd7 19.Rac1 Qe6 20.Qxe6 fxe6 21.Bg3! In the true spirit of Chernev’s aforementioned Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings, today we’ll start our analysis of Carlsen’s smooth endgame win from this point. Here, Carlsen just puts his bishop on the more troublesome diagonal, not just looking to hit c7, but re-positioning it to e5 where it clearly dominates Nakamura’s knight. 21…b6 The alternative of 21…c6 will soon lead to trouble after 22.b4! Kd8 23.a4! a6 24.b5! axb5 25.axb5 cxb5 26.Rb1 Ke7 27.Rxb5 Rc8 28.f3 Rc2 29.Kh2! looking to meet 29…Rdd2 with 30.Rxb7+ Nd7 31.Rg1 and a clearly better ending. 22.Rc6! The little concession from Nakamura sees Carlsen exploit the hole on c6 with his rook lift, and now a double hit on c7 and e6. 22…Re8 23.Be5 Kb7 24.Rec1 From what first looked like an “equal position”, suddenly in the space of a couple of moves Carlsen has a very strong initiative with all his pieces active and Nakamura tied down to defending weak pawns – not the sort of position you want to be facing against Carlsen! 24…Ree7 25.f3 Ne8 26.h4 h5 Difficult to know what to do here, as Carlsen has the sort of position he loves to ruthlessly and relentlessly grind you down, but perhaps better looked to be 26…a5!? and play a patient waiting game of waiting to see how Carlsen is going to make the breakthrough. Easier said than done though, as Carlsen is the ultimate master of the long torture. 27.Kh2! And Carlsen wastes no time in highlighting the pitfalls of Nakamura’s last move, as he threatens the king march Kg1-h2-g3-f4-g5 and Black’s kingside pawns all vulnerable. 27…g6 28.Kg3 Rd2 29.R6c2 Rxc2 30.Rxc2 Rf7 There’s a slight easing in Nakamura’s position with the trade of rooks – but not for long, as Carlsen soon finds another chink in his long-time rivals weak position. 31.b4! a6 32.a4 The threat is b5 and the rook returning once again to c6 that forces …Re7, allowing the White king to waltz in with Kg3-f4-g5 etc. 32…Rf8 33.b5 axb5 34.axb5 Kc8 Looking to re-purpose the king to d7 to defend e6 – but Carlsen soon finds a further weakness with Nakamura’s plan. 35.Ra2! Kd7 36.Ra8 Rf7 37.Ra1! Rf8 There’s not much more Nakamura can do, as Carlsen is fully stretching Black’s resources here. If 37…Nd6 38.Rd1 Rf8 39.Bxd6 cxd6 40.e5! d5 41.Ra1 Rc8 42.Ra6 and the White rook will soon infiltrate well behind enemy lines, as 42…Rb8 (or 42…Kc7) will be answered by 43.Ra7+ followed by 44.Rg7 and Black’s kingside pawns falling. 38.Kf2 Nd6 39.Bxd6 Kxd6 40.Rd1+ Ke7 If there was a moment of regret for Nakamura, it looks like now, as even if you drop a pawn with 40…Ke5!? it is always better trying to defend a difficult endgame with an active king than an inactive one. 41.Ke3 Ra8 42.Rc1 Kd7 43.Kf4 [see diagram] And with little or no effort, suddenly Carlsen has a clear winning plan, as Nakamura can’t defend his weak pawns with the White king now marching in. 43…Ra2 44.g4 Ra3 It’s a lost cause now for Nakamura. After 44…Rf2 45.Rg1! e5+ 46.Kg5! Rxf3 47.gxh5 gxh5 48.Kxh5 the h-pawn will soon push up the board for the win. 45.Rf1 With f3 double-covered, there’s no stopping Kg5 and Black is doomed. 45…Ke7 46.Kg5 Kf7 47.Kh6 Equally good and winning was 47.Rc1! Rxf3 48.gxh5 gxh5 49.Rxc7+ Ke8 50.Kxh5 Re3 51.Kg6 Rxe4 52.h5 Rg4+ 53.Kf6 Rf4+ 54.Kxe6 and Black can resign. 47…Rc3 48.g5! Threatening Rd1 that will soon pick-off the g-pawn and Black’s position collapsing. 48…Rd3 49.Rc1 Rd7 50.Rc6 Re7 Nakamura is clinging on to the veneer of his crumbling position, but Carlsen now puts him out of his misery with the decisive breakthrough. 51.f4! Rd7 52.f5 gxf5 53.exf5 exf5 54.Rf6+ Kg8 55.Rxf5 The two passed kingside pawns will win with ease. 55…Rd6+ 56.Kxh5 c6 57.bxc6 Rxc6 58.g6 Rc8 59.Kg5 Rb8 60.h5 b5 1-0