HAPPY SPRING – IT’S TIME TO RENEW FOR FALL 2019!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

Avengers: Endgame is the latest blockbuster from the Marvel Studios superhero franchise, and it made box office history by taking a record-breaking $1.9bn in global ticket sales in its opening run. The story all revolves around ownership of the powerful six ‘Infinity Stones’ tied to the different aspects of the universe. And chess superhero Magnus Carlsen, with his very own marvel(lous) performance of late, looks as if he’s collected all six of the fabled Mind, Power, Reality, Soul, Space, and Time Gems!

Following hard on the heels of his astonish home stretch finish to the Gashimov Memorial earlier this month – where, with a trifecta of wins, Carlsen took the title by a margin of two points, and a tournament performance rating of 2988 – in Germany, he turned in an equally breathtaking home stretch finish to the Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden!

The very much in-form World Champion finished his campaign with four successive wins – taking down Georg Meier, Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave – for a remarkable +6 winning score of 7½/9, a full one-and-a-half points clear of nearest rival Fabiano Caruana, and in the process turning in a tournament performance rating of 2990 for his third successive super-tournament victory of 2019.

Carlsen’s current tear is reminiscent of Bobby Fischer when the American chess icon was in his pomp, en route to taking the title in 1972. On the unofficial live ratings, Carlsen is now at 2875 – closing in fast now on his own all-time high of 2882; and possibly just one more good result away at June’s Norway Chess from smashing the 2900 barrier on his home turf – and 56 points clear of his last title-challenger Caruana, and more than 100 points ahead of world Top-10 players Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Vishy Anand and Hikaru Nakamura.

And like Fischer, when coming up against Carlsen in this form – in what’s now being termed as his ‘beast mode’ – there’s clearly a big psychological impact at-play here, with his opponents having to face someone who is clearly in a league of his own, it is not so easy to play against a force of nature with an iron-like determination to win, and who will not give up until the board is empty.

Final standings:
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 7½/9; 2. F. Caruana (USA) 6; 3-4. Arkadij Naiditsch (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 5; 5-7. V. Anand (India), P. Svidler (Russia), L. Aronian (Armenia) 4½; 8. F. Vallejo Pons (Spain) 4; 9-10. G. Meier (Germany), V. Keymer (Germany) 2.

Video opposite: Is it Thor or Magnus Carlsen?  Check out the official Grenke Chess Classic ‘beast mode’ interview opposite after Carlsen’s dramatic win over Peter Svidler.

GM Peter Svidler – GM Magnus Carlsen
Grenke Chess Classic, (8)
Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 This looks more like the sort of move you would find from a novice down at your local chess club – but there is a point to this move, as it does avoid Carlsen’s favourite Sicilian Sveshnikov, while still keeping available ideas of going into an Open Sicilian if Black plays …d6 or even …g6. 3…e5 And then there is this, that means White doesn’t get the Open Sicilian of his choice, as the game now more resembles a sort of 1.e4 e5 Open Game. 4.Bc4 Be7 5.d3 d6 6.Nd2 Nf6 7.Nf1 Nd7 Also an idea is 7…Bg4 8.f3 Be6 9.Ne3 0-0 10.0-0 Nh5, as seen in Bacrot-Yu, Riad 2017. Either way, Black has a free and easy game with no difficulties. 8.Nd5 Nb6 9.Nxb6 axb6 10.c3 0-0 11.Ne3 Bg5 12.0-0 Kh8 Carlsen is going to cut straight to the chase with the clear intention of launching a kingside attack with …f5 – and, as commentator Peter Leko observed, “Bringing a new dynamic to the game.” And Leko says this with certain knowledge, as in the past, Kramnik played 12…Bxe3 against Leko himself, only to get nothing after a mass exchange of pieces after 13.Bxe3 Qe7 14.f4 exf4 15.Bxf4 Be6 16.Bxe6 Qxe6 17.Qb3 Qxb3 18.axb3 Rad8 19.Bg3 Rd7 20.Rf5 Rfd8 21.b4 Ne7 and both players agreed to a draw here, in Leko-Kramnik, Dortmund 2003. 13.a3N Previously, 13.a4 Be6 has been preferred. It shouldn’t make much of a difference with the pawn being on a3 rather than on a4 – but Carlsen’s reply was “unexpected”, surprisingly commented Svidler. 13…f5!? I really don’t know how Svidler could be surprised by this move, as Carlsen clearly telegraphed his intentions after 12…Kh8. 14.Nxf5?! The critical line for White had to be 14.Nd5!? which puts the knight in a wonderful outpost and prevents Black from playing …d5. Now, after 14…Bxc1 15.Qxc1 f4 16.f3 the looming kingside attack from Black isn’t all that scary, as you have to take into consideration White’s wonderful knight that attacks a number of weaknesses and commands the middle of the board. Certainly, what comes next, and given his time again, I’m sure Svidler would have opted for 14.Nd5. 14…Bxc1 15.Rxc1 Bxf5 16.exf5 d5! This is the whole logic of Carlsen’s play, as his pawns command the centre of the board. 17.Ba2 Rxf5 18.Qg4 Rf6 Carlsen also thought that 18…g6!? was a worthy move. 19.f4 You could see Svidler’s dilemma here: if he doesn’t play this move now, then Carlsen just builds up with …Qd6 (preventing f4) and …Raf8 and he has a free rein to attack the kingside. 19…exf4 Decisions, decisions for Carlsen! I would have imagined the only problem here for the world champion was deciding which was the best of two moves to play, either 19…Ra4!? or what he eventually opted for – both looked very promising. 20.Qg5 Qf8! Svidler admitted he expected Carlsen to play only 20…d4, and had missed this move, and was now fighting for his very survival. 21.Qxd5 Rd8 22.Qf3?! This was really asking for it, as now the knight comes into the heady mix of the kingside attack with a tempo. A better try to stay in the game was 22.Qh5 Rxd3 23.Rce1 g6 24.Qg4 which at least has going for it that it doesn’t allow the knight into the game. Black is still better – but unlike the game, White has survival chances here. 22…Ne5 23.Qe4 The alternative faired no better, as there was a sting in the tail after 23.Qe2 Nxd3 24.Rcd1 c4! 25.Bb1 (The point of 24…c4 is that White can’t play 25.Bxc4?? due to 25…Qc5+ easily winning.) 25…Qc5+ 26.Kh1 Qd5! with a commanding position. 23…Ng4 Decisions, decisions again for Carlsen, as arguably stronger and better was the alternative 23…Nxd3! 24.Rcd1 Nxb2 25.Rxd8 Qxd8 with Black having two extra pawns. 24.Rce1 Ne3 25.Rf2 It’s certainly uncomfortable for Svidler, but not completely hopeless yet. 25…Re8 26.Qxb7 g5 27.Rfe2? I think Svidler basically ‘cracked’ under that so-called ‘psychological strain’ I mentioned, as even he admitted that this move was “Difficult to explain”. Again, it is very uncomfortable with the …Ne3 stuck like a bone in your throat – but White wasn’t completely losing yet, and could have fought on further with 27.d4! cxd4 28.cxd4 Re7 29.Qa6 – but I guess after 29…f3! the writing was on the wall anyway for White. At least the route Svidler takes, he sportingly allows the crowd-pleasing and picturesque diagram-moment finish! 27…g4 Even more clinical and to the (full) point was 27…f3! forcing home the win, as now 28.Rf2 (There’s no defence. If 28.gxf3?? Rxf3 and you can’t stop …Rf1+ mating.) 28…Re7 and White can resign, as 29.Qa6 fxg2 30.Rxf6 Qxf6 31.d4 Re8! and White can’t stop the idea of …Rf8! and returning to the theme of a forced mate down the f-file. 28.Rf2 Qh6 29.Qc7 Ref8 30.h3 gxh3 31.g3 fxg3 32.Rxf6 h2+ 33.Kh1 g2# 0-1 [see diagram] A breathtaking attack from Carlsen that has now led to a very picturesque mating-finish – and one that could easily be mistaken as coming from the 18th century and not in today’s modern game!

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