Showing that you can be a big winner even when you lose, Magnus Carlsen captured the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final despite going down to back-to-back defeats in rounds seven and eight, as his nearest rival, Wesley So, also lost his way and ground to give the World Champion victory with two rounds to spare in the Tour’s season-ending, marquee competition.
Carlsen’s large margin of victory was solely down to a true tour de force in the year-long competition from the Play Magnus Group, as he went on to also dominate early in the showpiece final to capture the $100,000 first prize. Carlsen’s ‘head-start’ of bonus points carried over from the regular season proved too much of an uphill climb for So, as the US champion’s spirited challenge dramatically ran out of steam with a brace of losses to Teimour Radjabov and then Levon Aronian.
And as So crashed, victory was assured for Carlsen, who could relax a little with his remaining matches now irrelevant, and he too lost in successive rounds to Radjabov and then Aronian, which proved enough for the wily Armenian to edge ahead of the American, as a fierce battle now ensues in the final rounds for second place, money and prestige between Radjabov, Aronian and So.
“Today was really poor,” a smiling Carlsen commented in victory after losing in round seven to Radjabov. “But right now I don’t really care….I’m just happy to have won overall!”
The upshot of it all is that So has a ‘dead rubber’ final round clash with Carlsen as far as the title goes, but a match he needs to win nevertheless to reclaim standing in the race for the runner-up spot with Radjabov and Aronian, plus a little ‘bragging rights’ to being the top-scorer in the final when you deduct Carlsen’s carried-over bonus points from the regular season.
Standings (after rd.9):
1. M. Carlsen (Norway), 28½; 2. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 24; 3. W. So (USA), 23½; 4. L. Aronian (Armenia), 21; 5. H. Nakamura (USA), 18; 6-7. V. Artemiev (Russia), A. Giri (Netherlands), 14½; 8. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 13½; 9. J-K. Duda (Poland), 12; 10. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 9½.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Levon Aronian
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, (8.4)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Sämisch variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 The Sämisch variation is something of a rare bird at this level of chess, as it is a very aggressive – almost caveman-like – line where White dares to compromise his own pawn structure early on, perhaps even sacrificing a pawn or two just to open up as many lines as possible to attack Black’s king. It comes with a great risk though, because if the attack backfires in anyway, any endgame scenario can often be to Black’s advantage – and sometimes, such as this game(!), the disaster might not even see you reach to the endgame! 4…Bxc3+ This is the whole raison d’être to the Sämisch: Black has to inflict as much structural damage to White’s pawns as early as he can. 5.bxc3 b6 A regular theme in the Sämisch is not to play this move to fianchetto the bishop, but rather to deploy the set-up …Nb8-c6-a5 and then …Ba6 to heap pressure on White’s c4-pawn. The pawn just can’t be saved, so White sacrifices it for an all-out attack. 6.f3 Nc6 7.e4 d6 8.Nh3 Na5 9.Bd3 Also an option is 9.Nf2!? Ba6 10.Bd3 as the c4-pawn is indirectly protected for now due ton the Qa4+. 9…Ba6 10.Rb1 Qd7 Covering the annoying Qa4+, so now the c4-pawn is under threat. 11.Qe2 c5 12.0-0 Qa4 All of Carlsen’s queenside pawns are doomed, but that’s the nature of the Sämisch beast, so with any endgame scenario invariably technically lost, White just has to “go for it”. 13.Bf4 This move seems to miss a beat – more “spirited” looked 13.e5!? dxe5 14.dxe5 Nd7 15.Ng5 Nxc4 (There’s no time to be cautious. After 15…h6?! 16.Ne4 Nb7 17.Bf4 White is taking control.) 16.Qe4 Rc8 with a double-edged game – and surely the sort of murky position Carlsen would have been looking for? 13…Rd8 14.Bxd6 It looks dangerous, but with pieces being traded off, White’s attack is not as dangerous as it looks, as Black has great defensive resources. 14…Rxd6 15.e5 Rd8 16.exf6 gxf6 As strange as it may seem, Aronian’s king is perfectly safe in the middle of the board. 17.d5? [see diagram] It’s perhaps a bit cruel to give this move a question mark, as the match-situation dictated that Carlsen – in a do-or-die scenario – simply had to press the “gamble button”, and therefore he didn’t wish to play the safer option of 17.dxc5! Bxc4 18.Rfd1 Qxa3! (taking full advantage of the …Qxc5+ tactic to defend c4) 19.cxb6 Qc5+ 20.Qf2 axb6 21.Rxb6 Qxf2+ 22.Nxf2 0-0! as the game is likely to fizzle out to a draw. And needing to win to take the match to a tiebreaker, hence the reason for Carlsen’s gamble. 17…Bxc4 18.Qe4 Rxd5 19.Nf4 Carlsen’s attack is all built around smoke and mirrors, and Aronian has it all covered. 19…f5 Even better and safer for Aronian was 19…Rd6 20.Rfe1 Ke7! and the Black king rock-solid in the middle of the board. 20.Qe3 Rd7 21.Qe5 Rf8 22.Bxf5 Carlsen is already in too deep, so he has no other option now other than to throw in the kitchen sink! 22…Bxf1 23.Bxe6 fxe6 24.Nxe6 Nc6! And with the calm knight retreat, Aronian not only has everything covered, but he’s emerging from the melee with a treasure chest full of extra material! 25.Qh5+ Rff7 26.Re1 Rde7 0-1