Into the Homestretch - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


With a record-breaking seven titles already under his belt, Magnus Carlsen goes into the deciding final weekend of the 84th Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee in familiar territory of being the sole leader in the traditional first major of the year held on the windswept wintery Dutch North Sea coast, following a resounding round 9 crushing win over his overnight co-leader, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

And after following up with a quick draw against his former title-challenger, Sergey Karjakin, the Norwegian went into Thursday’s final rest-day with what could prove to be a vital half-point lead over nearest rival and Dutch No 1, Anish Giri, with an eighth title clearly within his grasp going into the homestretch of the final three rounds.

Carlsen has barely put a foot wrong, undefeated on 7/10, with big wins over the chasing pack of Giri, Mamedyarov and Richard Rapport, respectively in second, third and fourth place. But for Carlsen’s new challenge to reach 2900, he has to somehow keep winning now to equal his previous best winning score of 10/13 (achieved in 2013) to just about stand still.

Imagine winning four games – Giri, Rapport, Praggnanandhaa and now Mamedyarov – and drawing your other 6 games against many of the world’s top-players in the first major of the year, yet on the unofficial live ratings only gaining 1 Elo point so far! That, in a nutshell, is the vagaries of the rating system, because Carlsen is in a league of his own that he loses rating points even when he draws.

It makes Carlsen’s self-imposed new year challenge of breaking the 2900-barrier all the harder: as is being demonstrated at Wijk, with just one very minor slip making all the difference between gaining a few points and losing a few points, as the world champion was winning (or relatively close to winning) in all but one of the games he’s drawn so far.

There’s live coverage of the final three rounds on Chess24 starting on Friday at 14:00 CET (8:00 ET, 05:00 PT) with top Grandmaster commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson.

Tata Steel Masters Standings:
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 7/10; 2. A. Giri (Netherlands) 6½; 3-4. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), R. Rapport (Hungary) 6; 5-7. A. Esipenko (Russia), S. Karjakin (Russia), S. Vidit (India) 5½; 8. F. Caruana (USA) 5; 9-10. JK. Duda (Poland), J. van Foreest (Netherlands) 4½; 11. S. Shankland (USA) 4; 12-13. D. Dubov (Russia), R. Praggnanandhaa (India) 3½; 14. N. Grandelius (Sweden) 3.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
84th Tata Steel Masters, (9)
Catalan Gambit
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.c4 e6 4.g3 Magnus Carlsen recent conversion to playing the Catalan has added a new dynamic to the world champion’s game, with an opening jam-packed with tons of hidden ideas and permanent positional pressure to terrorise his opponents. 4…dxc4 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 a5 7.0-0 0-0 8.e3 Ra6 9.Qc2 b5 10.a4 Mamedyarov has a pawn, but it is difficult for Black to complete his development – and this where White gets his compensation. 10…c6 11.Nc3 Rb6 12.e4 Yet another compensationary motif in the Catalan Gambit, is that White, with free and easy development, can dominate the center. 12…Be7 13.e5 Nd5 14.axb5 cxb5? Hard to know exactly what Mamedyarov’s thinking was here – did he think that with his queenside pawns he could afford to sacrifice the exchange and hold, or did he simply blunder, believing there might be something wrong with the best move? Either way, it is quite something to ignore the better in-between move 14…Nb4! hitting the White queen that looks perfectly safe. Now after 15.Qe4 cxb5 16.Rxa5 Nd5 17.Rfa1 (The pawn is taboo with 17.Nxb5? Nc6 leaving White in dire straits.) 17…Nc6 18.Ra8 (Not 18.Rxb5? Nxc3 19.Bxc3 Rxb5 20.Qxc6 Rb6 21.Qxc4 Bb7 with a material and positional advantage.) 18…Nc7 19.R8a2 Bb7 and we have ‘a game’ – and one where Black looks to be successfully unraveling. 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Bxa5 Nc6 17.Bxb6 Qxb6 The more I think about it, the more I believe Mamedyarov simply mis-assessed his prospects here, as Carlsen ably demonstrates. 18.Ra8! h6?! This only adds to Mamedyarov’s misery – he just had to accept that damage had been done and ‘get on with it’ with 18…Be6 19.Rxf8+ Bxf8 20.Rd1 hoping that the pressure on d4 will save the day. But now, with the delay, Carlsen piles on the pressure. 19.Rfa1! Mamedyarov’s hesitancy has allowed Carlsen to regroup his rooks to dominate the a-file – and note how Black can’t take on d4 for now, as after 19…Nxd4 20.Nxd4 Qxd4 21.Rd1 Qxe5 22.Rxd5 Qe1+ 23.Bf1 Qb4 24.Qc3! the queenside pawns will fall like skittles after the forced trade of queens. 19…Be6 20.Qd1 A clever strategic retreat from Carlsen’s queen, that doesn’t just protect the d-pawn. 20…b4 21.b3! Fixing Black’s queenside pawns, the only hope Mamedyarov had in the game. 21…c3 The alternative was no better: 21…cxb3 22.R1a6 Rxa8 23.Rxa8+ Bf8 24.Qxb3 Nxd4 25.Nxd4 Qxd4 26.Qa4 Qb6 27.Qe8 Qc5 28.Qd8 b3 29.Bf1 g6 30.Rb8 and sooner rather than later, Black is going to run out of useful moves to make. 22.R8a6 Qc7 23.Ne1! [see diagram] Yet another clever retreat from Magnus, a multi-purpose move with the option of putting the knight on d3 or c2. 23…f6 But what to do anyway? If 23…Qd7 first to defend the potentially hanging …Be6, then 24.Nc2 f6 25.f4 and suddenly there’s major threats of Ne3 followed by f5!, Rxc6! and Bxd5+ hanging in the air. 24.Nd3 fxe5? Mamedyarov opts now to hang for the sheep as the lamb by self-imploding. 25.Nxe5 Nxe5 26.Rxe6 c2 27.Qe1 1-0 And Mamedyarov resigns, faced with the depressing prospects of 27…Bg5 where, amongst many moves, the easy option 28.dxe5! c1Q 29.Rxc1 Qxc1 30.Qxc1 Bxc1 31.Bxd5 Kh8 32.Rc6 Bb2 33.f4 is clearly winning.



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