Marching to 2900 - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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In one of the most domineering performances of late in the long and storied history of the Tata Steel Masters – the first major of the year – held, as ever, in the tiny hamlet of Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch North Sea coast, ominously for the chess year ahead, Magnus Carlsen ripped with ease through the opposition to claim his eighth title, doing so by claiming victory with a round to spare and a 1.5-point margin over his nearest rivals.

The deal was sealed with just a touch of élan from Carlsen, following an emphatic penultimate round win on Saturday over his former title rival, Fabiano Caruana, with the US number one erring badly at the critical moment in their game that allowed the world champion to strike with a deadly positional exchange sacrifice.

In the end, the final round proved to be an academic affair. Carlsen had the rare luxury of being able to sit out the 13th round with a free default point after Daniil Dubov had to withdraw from the tournament in the later stages and forced into a Covid quarantine, as the young Russian failed a second PCR test.

Carlsen finished his campaign undefeated on 9.5/13 including the bye, and with his actual score of 8.5/12 it means he had a gain of 3.1 Elo points, climbing to 2868 by the publication of the March FIDE list – the next, due on 1 February, is likely too tight for Wijk to be included – and officially on the march, albeit it modestly, to the Norwegian’s new legacy challenge of breaking 2900.

Commenting on the official 84th Tata Steel Masters broadcast, Carlsen said he was pleased with his penultimate round win over Caruana, which went a long way to make up for some earlier missed opportunities at Wijk: “It makes the whole difference for me. Without it, it would still be a good tournament, but one where I’d think about all the missed chances. Last year I struggled to get chances, so this year has been a really nice experience.”

Final standings:
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 9½/13; 2-3. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), R. Rapport (Hungary) 8; 4. A. Giri (Netherlands) 7½; 5-6. S. Karjakin (Russia), J. Van Foreest (Netherlands) 7; 7-8. A. Esipenko (Russia), F. Caruana (USA) 6½; 9-10. JK. Duda (Poland), S. Vidit (India) 6; 11-12. S. Shankland (USA), R. Praggnanandhaa (India) 5½; 13. N. Grandelius (Sweden) 4½; 14. D. Dubov (Russia) 3½.

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
84th Tata Steel Masters, (12)
Sicilian Rossolimo
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Popularised by Aaron Nimzowitsch, the Rossolimo Variation took off by being almost the exclusive weapon of the one-man Olympiad, GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian, who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to the French tricolour for his final Olympiad in 1972. 3…g6 4.0-0 Caruana got slightly the better of Carlsen with 4.Bxc6 in the opening game of their 2018 World Championship Match in London. 4…Bg7 5.c3 Nf6 6.Re1 0-0 7.d4 d5 8.e5 Ne4 9.Be3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qb6 11.Qe2 Bd7 12.Ba4 Rac8 13.Nc3 Nxc3 14.bxc3 Qd8 15.Bb3 With Carlsen’s queen having to retreat all the way back to d8, Caruana can claim some bragging rights to have “won” the opening skirmishes. 15…Na5 16.Rac1 Nxb3 17.axb3 Qb6 18.Qa2 Carlsen is going to have to come up with a plan once Caruana starts to push his c-pawn up the board. 18…a5 19.Qa3 Rfe8 20.c4 The most logical plan, and with it Caruana has a position Carlsen looked set to be grovelling with. 20…dxc4 21.bxc4 Qa6 22.c5! The ‘big squeeze’ is on – but Caruana will surely be kicking himself that he didn’t make Carlsen suffer here. 22…Bc6 23.Rb1 a4 24.Rec1 The moment was now, and better first was 24.Nd2! as the rook was needed on e1 to stop Carlsen’s lifeline of …Qe2. And after the better 24.Nd2, there’s no way to stop Rb6 and Nc4 dominating. 24…Rcd8 25.Nd2 Qe2! A cruel reversal of fortunes for Caruana, who suddenly sees his once domineering position crumble before his very eyes – and more so with Carlsen’s spectacular follow-up. 26.f3 In hindsight, it may have been wiser to have allowed 26.Re1 Qh5 27.f3 g5! rather than what now hits Caruana over the head. 26…Rxd4! [see diagram] The positional exchange sacrifice comes like a Thor hammer-blow for Caruana, who all but psychologically cracks under the Norwegian’s relentless pressure that dramatically changes the circumstances now on the board. 27.Bxd4 Qxd2 If e5 falls, White is in trouble. 28.Rd1 Qf4 29.Qb4 Caruana may well have held on better with 29.Qa1!? but after 29…e6 with the queen out of the way on a1, Caruana may have feared Carlsen had time now for …h5, h4 and h3 to prise open the long c6-h1 diagonal. 29…e6 30.Bc3?! The best try was 30.Rd3 but after 30…Bxe5 31.Bxe5 Qxe5 32.Rbd1 Qg5 Black has all the play and all the fun, with the plan of pushing on with …e5 and …e4. 30…Qxb4 31.Bxb4 You just know it is going to be a bad day at the office as Carlsen captures on e5. 31…Bxe5 32.Ba3 Bf6! Carlsen is set to tie Caruana down to defending his c5-pawn, with …Be7 and …Rc8. 33.Kf2 Be7 The c5-pawn has now become a huge millstone round Caruana’s neck; he wont be able to regroup having to constantly defend it, leaving Carlsen to gradually build up the pressure by advancing his kingside pawns. 34.Rb6 Rc8 35.Rd2 f6 36.f4 e5 37.fxe5 No better was 37.Re2 Re8! 38.g3 (Not 38.fxe5 fxe5 39.Rxe5? Bh4+ 40.g3 Bxg3+ 41.hxg3 Rxe5 where, despite the opposite-colour bishops, Black will keep the rooks on to easily convert with his extra two pawns.) 38…e4 with …f5, …Kf7, …h6 and …g5 to follow. 37…fxe5 Now Carlsen has a second passed pawn and his bishops are free to loiter with intent. 38.Re2 Rf8+ 39.Ke1 Rf5 A nice touch from Carlsen, as advancing the passed e-pawn creates more space and will compound Caruana’s misery, as once again he’ll be tied down to having to defend c5. 40.Rb1 e4 41.Rc1 Bh4+ 42.g3 An annoying concession, as it frees up the f3-square for Carlsen’s rook to come more into the game. 42…Bg5 43.Rb1 Rf3 It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, so the saying goes, but here, Brünnhilde is waiting in the wings adjusting her horned helmet! 44.Bc1 Bf6 45.Rb6 Rf5 All roads lead to Rome here, but the most convincing route was 45…Bc3+ 46.Bd2 a3! 47.Bxc3 Rxc3 48.Ra2 Bd5 49.Ra1 a2 50.Rb5 Rc2 and White is paralysed with multiple threats of …Rxh2, …e3, .and …Bf3 coming in quick succession. 46.Ba3 Kf7 47.Rf2 Rf3 48.Rxf3 exf3 49.Kf1 Bd4 0-1 Caruana resigns, as 50.Rb4 Be3 51.Rb1 Ke6! 52.Ke1 (If 52.Re1 Bb5+ and White can resign.) 52…Kd5 and when c5 falls, White’s position falls with it.

 

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