6 February 2016

The Champion’s Bayonets

The forced marches of the rank and file of Magnus Carlsen and his opponents’ armies in the 2016 Tata Steel Super Tournament in the review of Dmitry Kryakvin.

The year 2016, like all its predecessors, begins with a fantastic super tournament in Holland. Indeed, the Tata Steel is the most democratic inauguration of the season! The elite "top ten rule", introduced by the organizers of the Chess Tour, does not apply here so that the Wijk aan Zee arena is likewise stormed into by both immortal Olympians and heroes of flesh and blood, eager to show their bravery to the audience.

The organizers have, as always, picked up an interesting and combative lineup for the arena. Here is an invincible King Magnus accompanied by the grand seigneurs Don Fabio, Lord Anish, and Duke Sergey, who dream of nothing else but overthrowing the monarch. Here is a powerful trio Wei, Ding and Hou, who have travelled a long way along the Silk Road to conquer the distant Europe, a hot knight Shakhriyar, a noble knight David, a daring knight Loek, and a duelist Evgeny, which is much more cold-hearted than his namesake Onegin, however. The last but not the least in this company are the Magister Michael, the Lord Pavel and the Captain Wesley – all of them making it an exclusive company indeed!

Meanwhile, an inquisitive reader may note that a full rehearsal in advance of the Moscow battle still lacks such players from the map of the Great Houses as the Maharaja Vichy and the Commander Hikaru, who opted for commissioning their fleets into the troubled waters of Gibraltar, as well as Peter the Great and Levon the Braveheart with Veselin of Sofia - those glorious heroes have not put on their armor yet, but are busy honing their backswords and halberds in their household armory workshops. Nevertheless, Wijk is really shining not mainly because of the glint of its rating treasures, worn by its distinguished guests, but mostly because of their thirst for life and death battles. Prisoners were not taken this time, whereas patient maneuvering and trench warfare have been completely displaced by dizzying offensives against enemy fortifications.

A huge role in it was played by unexpected, heroic infantry assaults against enemy fortifications. From time to time they were essentially reminiscent of the "Brusilov Offensive", the sight of which alone was enough for defenders to start freaking out and take it to heels. Yet other infantrymen moved forward, still knowing that at best they could earn their places in the Spartan Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, they kept moving and moving towards the inevitable, goaded forward by hands of their lords, accustomed to anything but half-measures.

It goes without saying that the first word at such representative events invariably belongs to the king. Therefore, the introductory part of this creativity survey, dedicated to the offbeat use of pawns, starts with the artworks of Carlsen, who by round eleven has knocked the largest number of opponents out of their saddles and is half-a-body length ahead of his closest pursuer Caruana.

Navara – Carlsen
Round 1 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 h6 

Going back from high words of chivalry to our everyday chess terms, first of all, I would like to say that the idea of h7-h6 and g7-g5 has been borrowed by the Norwegian from Dennis Khismatullin’s games. Moreover, prior to employing it in the "Carlsbad" structure, Dennis used its modifications in the Ragozin Defence: 6... Bb4 7.e3 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Bg3 Ne4 10.Nd2 Nxg3 11.hxg3 c6 12.Bd3 Nb6, as in Kryakvin – Khismatullin, 2014.

I remember my first reaction to the Neftekamsk grandmaster’s decision being a cultural shock - how could he weaken the f5-square so much? However, a couple of moves later, during which White was enjoying the dreams of getting a small comfortable "plus", it turned out, in fact, that not only Black was in possession of a bishop pair, but the white knights had no outposts either, so that the occupation of the so much desirable square was out of the question. Having overreacted somewhat, the author of this lines mounted his knight on e5 (see the below game Brodsky - Khismatullin) and then had to spend the next five and a half hours in a deep defensive stance.

Surprised also were David Navara and the Chess-News commentator grandmaster Andrey Deviatkin, who doubted the value of Carlsen’s eighth move. I, too, would attach a similar value to this move, had I not spent that memorable evening in Taganrog a couple of years ago in a vice grip of Denis’s.

7.Bh4 c6 8.e3 

8...g5!? 9.Bg3 Nh5 

It is a modernization of the previous idea. Indeed, why develop you bishop on b4 where White can attack him or force trades on c3?

10.Bd3 Nxg3 11.hxg3 Bg7 12.0–0 

This peculiar tabiya happened three times in Khismatullin’s games, whereas the Black’s play that happened in the blitz game against the head coach of the Ukrainian women's national team is quite characteristic of this line: 12.Qc2 Nb6 13.0–0–0 Be6 14.Kb1 Qe7 15.Ne5?! 0–0–0 16.f4 Kb8 17.Na4 Nxa4 18.Qxa4 Rhe8 19.Rc1 Rc8 20.Rhe1 f6 21.Nf3. In this position Denis made his bishops active: 21…Bf8 22.a3 Qg7! (exactly the same move would symbolize the collapse of White’s hopes in the game Kryakvin - Khismatullin) 23.f5 Bg8 24.Nd2 Qc7 25.Nf1 h5 (as in Brodsky - Khismatullin, 2015), and White ended up in a position with his weaknesses still there, which were, to be more precise, eliminated shortly after. 

More coherent actions against the author of this invention (in the classical game, however!) were demonstrated by Mikhail Mozharov in the course of the "2015 Aeroflot Open": 13.0-0 Be6 14.a4 a5 15.Ne5 g4 16.Bf5!?, and the Muscovite managed to highlight the weakness of the f5-square.


Carlsen forestalls the pawn minority attack on the queenside. In a duel against his old acquaintance Salem Saleh, which occurred at the 2015 World Blitz Championship, Khismatullin refrained from inhibiting the advance of White’s pawns, but tried to act in accordance with the well-established patterns: 12...0–0 13.b4 Nb6 14.Qc2 Be6 15.Nd2 Qe7. Here the grandmaster from Emirates made an imprecise move 16.a3?!, and after 16...a5! 17.Rab1 axb4 18.Rxb4 Nc8! 19.Rfb1 Nd6 started burning the candle at both ends, sacrificing a pawn and obtaining a dubious compensation in return for it: 20.Na4 b5 21.Nc5 Rxa3 22.R4b3 Rxb3 23.Ndxb3 Nc4 24.Ra1. It goes without saying that had there been plenty of time for contemplation, White would have automatically gone for 16.Rab1!

Strictly speaking, the situation that has arisen on the board is, in fact, the Carlsbad variation in which White opts for exchanging his bishop on f6. Only the black pawn is on g5 rather than on g6, which is compensated by the active deployment of his minor pieces.

13.a3 0–0 14.Qc2 Re8 

It is easy to be taken in by the apparent passivity of Black’s position. For instance, a seemingly precise attempt at capitalizing on the weaknesses of the с5 and b6 squares in the style of Akiba Rubinstein 15.Na4 would run into a precise rejoinder 15…Nb6! 16.Nc5 Nc4. The knight is on his way to the ideal d6-square, whereas if he is to be captured, the diagonals for the powerful black bishops would open up after 17.Bxc4 dxc4 18.Qxc4 b6 19.Nd3 c5!


There remains only this straightforward plan for White to employ, but the fact that the black knight is still on d7 allows Magnus getting back at his opponent by building the "Pillsbury ring" with his b5, c6, and d5 pawns supporting the knight on c4.

15...b5! 16.Na2 

16.Nd2 Nb6 looks interesting either, but the best chess player of the Czech Republic is after exerting pressure on the c6-pawn. 

16...Bb7 17.bxa5 

Navara is a real fighter! Which player, meeting the chess Thor over the board, would have succeeded in not yielding to the temptation of forcing numerous simplifications on the queenside after 17.a4? But David arrived in Wijk aan Zee to play chess, and beautiful chess at that. Whether it is being Carlsen or anyone else for that matter is number ten on the priority list.

17...Rxa5 18.Nb4 Qa8 

The ChessPro commentator rightly noted that after 18...Nb6!? 19.Nxc6 Bxc6 20.Qxc6 Nc4 Black did receive full compensation for the pawn, although evaluating such lines as 21.Bxc4 bxc4 22.Rfb1 Re6! 23.Qb7 Rea6! 24.Rb5 Ra7! over the board is anything but easy. Chess is a concrete game, as Tigran Petrosian used to repeat. As for Tigran Vartanovich being right, there will be plenty of opportunity to convince ourselves about in the course of this review. That is to say, Petrosian quoted the theorem, while "Stockfish" and Carlsen went on to prove it.
The Norwegian chooses a logical continuation, defending c6 and attacking a3.


Black is OK after 19.Rac1 Rxa3 20.Bh7+ Kh8 21.Bf5 Nb6 22.Nxc6 Nc4 – possession of the a-file is a mighty factor after all! 

19...Kh8 20.Bf5 Nb6 


After the end of the game Navara was very regretful about having been hasty with this intrusion, while underestimating the consequences of 22…Nc4. What can be suggested instead of this move? The logic tells us that White is to avoid any dynamic play to complete his mobilization first, while aiming at deploying his pieces into better squares and trying to prove that Black’s weaknesses count more than anything else.

Let’s give a try to 21.Ra2!? Nc4 (a hasty 21...Rxa3 22.Rxa3 Qxa3 23.Nxc6 Nc4 surrenders initiative to White after 24.Bd7 Rf8 25.Qf5!) 22.Rfa1 Bf8. Black’s knight on c4 and his dark-squared bishop are his positive features in this position. Further evaluation of Khismatullin’s idea requires practical testing, even though it appears as if in this duel against David Carlsen successfully implemented all key ideas available for Black in this setup.

21...Bxe5 22.dxe5 Nc4! 

After 22...Rxe5 23.f4! Black would have found himself under hurricane bombardment, whereas now David Navara is bound to force a draw because otherwise he is going to lose material.

23.Qc3 Rxa3 

While 23...Kg8 24.e6 fxe6 25.Qf6! leads to a draw by perpetual, the alternative continuation 23...c5?! looked rather risky, which the Champion was undoubtedly aware of. For instance: 24.Nd3! (there is no full compensation for the missing piece after 24.e6+?! d4 25.exd4 cxb4 26.axb4 Ra3 27.Rxa3 Qxa3 28.exf7 Rf8 29.Qe1 Bd5) 24...d4 25.exd4 Bxg2 26.d5!, and Black is almost as good as lost. Moreover, the tournament had just started, making it inopportune time for Magnus to take any risky decisions yet. 



This is yet another precise move, whereas after 24...Kg8 25.Bd7 Re7 26.Bxc6 Bxc6 27.Rxa3 Nxa3 28.Ra1 it is already White negotiating from a position of strength, while now a draw is inevitable. 

25.Rxa3 cxd4 26.Rxa8 Rxa8 27.exd4 Ra4 28.Rb1 Nd2, making it impossible for the white rook to escape the eternal chasing. 

29.Rb2 Nc4 30.Rb1 Nd2 31.Rb2 Nc4 Draw. Despite a relatively small number of moves, the game is very important for better comprehension of such type of positions - both opponents were at their best!

In the following round Carlsen was to play as White against Fabiano Caruana, one of the principal opponents of the reigning chess king. The style of the game opening could be said as reminiscent of the shatranj era - 1.g3 g6 2.Bg2 Bg7 3.e4!?, which suggested the idea of a lengthy positional battle of heavyweights to come, but it was before long that Magnus and Fabio engaged themselves in a melee!

Carlsen – Caruana
Round 2 

10.h4! h6 

As was noted by Alexey Korotylev, commenting the game online at the ChessPro website, there was no ignoring the flank offensive: 10...0–0 11.h5 f5 12.hxg6 hxg6 13.Bg5 or 10...Be6 11.h5 Qd7 12.Nd2 0–0–0 13.h6 Bf6 14.0–0, and the clumsily placed f6-bishop is in the way of his own infantryman, which is supposed to go marching against the white king. Meanwhile, nothing prevents the light army from quickly deploying his forces via a2-a3, b2-b4.

You can try holding your ground without yielding an inch of it to your opponent 10...h5 11.Nd2 Be6 12.f4 Qc7 13.Qf2 0-0-0!?, and this position is to computer’s liking. I suspect that Caruana’s evaluation was slightly different: from a human being point of view it seems that White should fare better with his offensive with kings castled on opposite flanks of the board. Therefore, the American Italian reacts in a more reserved fashion.

11.h5 g5 12.f4! 

A very energetic type of play! The Norwegian forces exchanges, creating gaps in his opponent's pawn chain. Fabiano’s only hope now is his lead in development.

12...exf4 13.gxf4 gxf4 14.Bxf4 Nc6 


The cunny subtle move is directed against the b7-b5 advance while leaving the d2-square as a loophole for the king to escape through. However, it is not obvious how the straightforward 15.Nd2 Be5 16.Bxe5 Nxe5 17.0-0-0 Bg4 18.Nf3 was any worse as compared to what happened in the game. It is not clear so far how black is able to capitalize on the pin, whereas the prospect of causing a lot of pressure against the f7-pawn in a heavy-piece ending is way too unpleasant.

15...Be5 16.Be3 Be6 

The latent downsides of the knight’s development on the edge of the board could only be highlighted via 16...b5! In this case, as noted by Korotylev, 17.Nxb5 Rb8 18.Na3 Be6 provides Black with decent compensation for the missing pawn, making White resort to the dance with swords to get any sort of positional superiority: 17.Nc2 b4 18.d4 Bg3+ 19.Kd1!? Evaluating and analyzing the emerging position is anything but an easy task as Black needs to find ways to coordinate his pieces on the one hand, whereas White’s king is stuck in the center on the other hand. In the game the tangle of Magnus’s pieces in the center proved much more viable and harmonious!


There is no point for White to plunge into complications arising after 17.0–0–0 Bxa2! 18.Bh3 (losing is 18.d4? cxd4 19.cxd4 Rc8 20.Nc2 Qa5). It is obvious that 18...Be6? 19.Bxe6 fxe6 20.Rhg1 guarantees White a comfortable edge, but Black can raise to the occasion via 18...a6!, stirring up a lot of commotion against the opponent’s king in the very near future. 

17...Bg3+ 18.Kd2 Qd7 

While White’s king is relatively safe in the center, it might seem to be proper timing for playing 19.Qf3 already. The sluggish 19... Be5?! allows White taking control over the enemy’s light squares via 20.Bh3 0-0-0 21.a4 Kb8 22.Raf1, followed by laying siege of the pawn weaknesses. Much stronger is 19... Rg8!, since after 20.Bxh6 Ne5 21.Nxe5 Bxe5 22.Qe2 0-0-0 the central pawn levers d6-d5 and f7-f5! are in the air.

Just at this very moment the excellent performance qualities of the World Champion came to the forefront yet another time, it being in the sharpest of situations, rather than in the course of positional fighting or some technical stage of an endgame. The Carlsen’s creative works are distinguished by his capability at critical moments and in very complex positions of coming up with excellent solutions that require subtle understanding of what is going on on the board and jewelry precision type of calculation. You cannot let your enemy’s monarch hide behind his loyal bodyguards, encouraging Magnus into delivering blow ahead of his opponent.

19.d4! cxd4 20.cxd4 

The black king was not in time to castle, disabling Caruana of answering force with force just yet... Both 20...b5 21.Na3 b4 22.Nc4 and 20...Bg4 21.Bf3 look pretty unconvincing, thus making the answer of the upcoming Candidates Tournament participant to be of a forced nature. 

20…Ne5! 21.Nxe5 dxe5 22.d5 

The board situation has drastically changed! Now both kings feel lack of comfort, whereas Carlsen has stabilized his pawn structure in the meanwhile. White’s superiority in this position is determined by the fact that in the line after 22...f5 23.Bh3! Qa4 24.b3! Qxe4 (or 24...Qb4+ 25.Kd1) 25.dxe6 0–0–0+ there is a 26.Kc3!! resource, allowing White’s king to escape while leaving him up a piece. It is that very concrete approach to chess, much spoken about nowadays. 

Alexey Korotylev’s 22...Rg8 23.Rac1 Bg4 24.Bf3 f5 with unclear play was the best recommendation yet another time. Although it seems to me that 24.Qc4! would have retained definite hopes of gaining an edge, it was only in this continuation that Black could count on getting any sort of full-fledged equal type of play. Fabiano Caruana, however, surrendered the light squares while relying on the counterattack, which proved a good practical decision, but not quite a sufficient one at that.

22…Bg4? 23.Bf3 Bxf3 24.Qxf3 Qb5 25.Rac1? 

White returns an error. Even though 25.Qxg3 Qxb2+ 26.Kd3 Qb5+ ends up in a perpetual check, the position after 25.b3! Qb4+ 26.Kd3 Bf4 (26...Qb5+ 27.Kc2) 27.Rhc1 Bxe3 28.Qxe3 Rg8 29.Rc4 Qa3 30.Qf2 Rg4 31.Rac1 (Korotylev) would have petered out into a difficult heavy-piece ending for Black. However, you can appreciate the complexity of the position since even Magnus, being on rise in this game, failed to come up with the setup of his pieces involving his king walking out to d3.

In any other situation Carlsen could have been right; he begins mobilizing his heavy pieces disregarding the loss of material, but the timely return of a pawn allows Caruana sailing into a drawish harbor.

25...Qxb2+ 26.Kd1 

26.Rc2!? Qb4+ 27.Kd1 Qb1+ 28.Bc1 Bf4 29.Rg1 Bxc1 30.Rxc1 Qxa2 31.Rc7 Qa1+ 32.Ke2 Qa6+ 33.Qd3 was a curious line, playing for domination while being two pawns down! However, Magnus adopts a decision to call it a day. Along the distance of such a lengthy tournament as Wijk Carlsen the shark will always find his victim to prey upon – there is no point pushing hard against the giant octopus until the last breath.

26...Bf4! 27.Bxf4 exf4 28.Qxf4 Rg8 29.Rf1 

There is no trading of queens: 29.Qd2! Qe5; however, the alternative move, too, gives no winning chances whatsoever. 

29...Qd4+ 30.Ke1 Qb4+ 31.Kd1 Qd4+ 32.Ke1 Qb4+ with repetition of moves. 

Following this game the crowned player parted even as Black with Wei Yi, who has so far been demonstrating the miracles of solid play (let’s remember that in his first Wijk tournament Carlsen had had a hard time!), and went on to fight Mamedyarov, who has recently suffered a lot from the number one of the world rating list. But the black Norwegian run of ill luck was interrupted by Shakhriyar’s well-adjusted homemade shot, probably prepared by his coach Alexander Khalifman.

Carlsen – Mamedyarov
Round 4 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Qa4 

This is a modern attempt to avoid a solid symmetrical line of the Grunfeld Defence with g3. Black’s problems can be demonstrated in the following continuation: 5...dxc4 6.Qxc4 Be6 7.Qa4 Nbd7 8.Nf3 Nb6 9.Qd1 Bg7 10.0–0 0–0 11.Nc3 Nbd5 12.Na4, as in Sargissian – Svidler, 2011; with all minor pieces still on the board Black lacks space for their maneuvering. 

Although popular, but not everybody’s cup of tea is 5...Bg7 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.Nf3 0–0 (7...Bg4 8.Nbd2) 8.0–0 Bg4 9.Nbd2, as in Grischuk – Radjabov, 2008 – it’s not to everybody’s liking to surrender the advantage of a bishop pair in return for spending the rest of the game in a meticulous defense. 
Therefore, as of recently preferred by strong theoreticians was 5...Nfd7!? 6.Qc2 dxc4 7.Qxc4 Nb6 8.Qd3 Bg7 9.Nf3 Bf5 10.Qa3 Qd6, as in Dubov - Areschenko, 2013 and Svidler - Radjabov, 2015. We can only try to guess as to whether White has anything substantial in this position and what improvement Carlsen had up his sleeve for this encounter. Shakhriyar was obviously not willing to test it either, placing his stakes on an unexpected idea, which was put to an evaluation test by Wei Yi in the second round of this tournament already.

5…a6!? 6.cxd5 b5 7.Qd1 

What’s going on? Black has exposed his queenside so much prior to White’s committing his b1-knight (!!!) to any square yet! It would have been OK, should the white knight have been already committed to the c3-square. Probably it was due to this reasoning that Alexander Kovchan failed to gather a lot of followers, even though he equalized relatively trouble-free in his game against Dmitry Bocharov after 7.Qb3 cxd5 8.Nc3 (8.a4 is met by 8…Nc6! 9.Nf3 b4) 8...e6 9.Bg5 Nc6 10.e3 Be7.

7...cxd5 8.Nf3 Bg7 9.Bf4 

My recommendation to White would be 9.a4 b4 10.Bf4 0–0 11.Nbd2, although the possibility of Black easily parrying this plan, aimed at taking possession over the c5-square, should not be ruled out. The source game featured Pavel Eljanov embarking on a full-scale operation aimed at trading off the dark-squared bishops, with Magnus following in the footsteps of the World Cup semifinalist.  

9...0–0 10.0–0 Nc6 11.Ne5 Bb7 12.Nxc6 Bxc6 13.Be5 

Should the dark square defenders disappear from the board, the c5-square will become a tasty morsel for all Carlsen’s pieces, especially for his remaining knight. However, even back then in the duel against Eljanov the Chinese prodigy came up with a typical maneuver.

13…e6 14.Nd2 Bh6 

In this position the game between Pavel and Wei Yi saw 15.e3 Qe7 (not so precise is 15...Nd7 due to 16.Bd6) 16.h4 b4, and Black equalized since nothing is gained by 17.Nc4 Bb5! 18.Bd6 Qd8 19.Bxf8 Bxf8, winning back the sacrificed exchange. 

Still hot on the traces of the game, the ChessPro recommended putting the rook on c1 first, and Magnus arrived at a similar conclusion. The World Champion opted for exchanging a couple of minor pieces, judging that in a symmetrical position with a stable center his knight might become superior to the enemy’s bishop. However, it was not enough to have Shakh’s foundations shaken.

15.Rc1 Rc8 16.Bxf6 Qxf6 17.e3 b4 18.Re1 Qd8 


The direct invasion of the knight to с5 yields nothing - 19.Nb3 Qb6 20.Nc5 a5 21.Re2 Rc7 22.Rec2 Rfc8 23.Bf1 Bf8 24.Qd3 Be8, and Black will have no problem making a draw. The Norwegian attempted to bring his knight around to f6, but Mamedyarov parries his idea with a precise play.

19...Qb6 20.Nf3 Rc7 21.Qd3 Ra8 22.Rc2 Bf8 23.Rec1 Bd6 24.Ne5 Bb5 25.Qd1 Bxe5 26.dxe5 Rac8, and it was before long that Shakhriyar fixed a draw, breaking the extremely ill stretch of his encounters against Magnus.

It is quite illustrative that both in the Navara – Carlsen game as well as in this one a weakness has been demonstrated to stand for nothing by itself, making it very difficult to capitalize upon without the support of minor pieces, without opening a second front, and without trying to create a second weakness. So, refrain from approaching the issue of weak squares formally and, as the classical players taught us, no dogmas should be allowed to interfere with your creative play! So, overcome you taboos and one-track frame of thinking, keeping in mind the main thing in chess is its beauty and complexity!

Meanwhile, as many as four rounds were finished with only four half points under Carlsen’s belt. It was time to accelerate, and Magnus decided to put up a great fight to the veteran of the Dutch chess. (I do not want to offend the courageous grandmaster in any way, but nowadays the younger seniors are just slightly over 50. Having played a little bit in the children’s tournaments, you become a veteran almost immediately after!) It is known that Van Wely is now actively involved in coaching, but has not given up on his ambition yet, sharing interviews right and left in the course of the tournament in the style of our colleagues from boxing, promising, among other things, to defeat Anish Giri by move 20. I must say that Loek’s flamboyant catchwords were followed by quite aggressive solutions adopted by him over the chessboard.

Van Wely – Carlsen
Round 5 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4 Bg7 5.e3 0–0 6.Rc1 Be6 7.cxd5 

Developing the bishop to e6 is the latest trend in the Grunfeld Defence, keeping in mind that the harmlessness of the 7.Qb3 c5 8.Qxb7 Qb6! 9.Qxb6 axb6 line was proved long time ago. Black has a substantial lead in development in the ending so that White is quite happy giving back a pawn, sailing into a drawish harbor. 

The capture on d5 became popular following the Dominguez - Nepomniachtchi encounter from the summer Capablanca Memorial in which Leinier, despite ending up with a tragic drop of his flag, still caused all sorts of inconveniences to Ian throughout the entire game.


8.Nxd5 Bxd5 

The 2016 Wijk aan Zee Challengers Tournament saw the Dreev - Bock game, which illustrates White’s ideas in the case of a solid 8...Qxd5 9.b3 Qa5+ (9...c6 10.Nf3 Nd7 11.Qd2 Nb6 12.Be2 Rfc8 13.Ng5! fails to solve Black’s problems, as in Dominguez-Nepomniachtchi, 2015) 10.Qd2 Qxd2+ 11.Kxd2 c6 12.Nf3 Nd7, and then Aleksey went on to gradually outplay his younger opponent after 13.Bd3 Nf6 14.Be5 Bd5 15.Ke2 Rfd8 16.Rhd1 a5 17.Bc4 a4 18.b4. However, the question of magnitude of White’s pressure in that ending remains open. The endgame technique of Alexey Dreev is so substantial that he could still win this position from a decent grandmaster even as Black!

Magnus is not happy with similar developments, preferring a more aggressive bishop’s capture, as used to be played for Black by Li Chao and Navara.

9.Bxc7 Qd7 10.Bg3 

The bishop needs to retreat because after 10.b3?! Nc6 11.Bg3 Rac8 12.Ne2 e5 Black gets a powerful initiative.


In the 2015 European Championship the Czech grandmaster, playing against Sanan Sjugirov, introduced a spectacular novelty: 10...Nc6 11.Ne2 e5! 12.dxe5 Nxe5.

It looks as though Black has blundered a piece: 13.Bxe5 Bxe5 14.Rc5 Rfd8 15.e4, however, after 15…Qe7! 16.Rxd5 Rxd5 17.exd5 Bxb2 it turns out that White is far from easy to complete his development, thus giving a huge amount of compensation to Black! Following an extensive period of thinking, Sjugirov opted for a more simple continuation: 

13.Nc3 Rac8 14.e4 Be6 15.Qxd7 Nxd7 16.Be2 Nc5, and here the activity of Black’s pieces allows him the immediate win-back of a pawn, thus equalizing the game. 

This is all very good, but a draw (a fifth one in a row!) against Van Wely was unacceptable to Carlsen, who found a way to keep the struggle from fading away.

11.Ne2 Bd5 

However, this is quite a risky move, as opposed to the flexible 11...Nc6 12.Nc3 Qe6!? The fact is that now not only does White have a powerful center, but he can also pursuit the aim of preventing the undeveloped b8-knight from joining the action. It being such a tempo game, Magnus wastes yet more time attempting to preserve his light-squared bishop. However, it is not as simple as that.

12.Nc3 Bc6 

So, how is Loek supposed to go about this position? Sluggish is 13.f3 Rd8 14.Be2 Na6 15.Bxa6 (15.0–0 Nb4 is good for Black) 15...bxa6 16.0–0 Qb7, and the resulting position is not the one that you would like to have when facing the Norwegian player. Black has a bishop pair and his pawn is going to march up all the way to a4. On the other hand 13.Qb3 a5 doesn’t look OK for White either. 

What to do then? It is necessary to pass the onus of move onto your opponent, because committing the knight to a6 is not too great an idea just yet since the bishop will gobble it up all at once, while the swing of the rook to d8 will allow subsequent taking aim of the f7-pawn with a tempo. With this in mind, which move is going to be useful in terms of development while not blocking the f1-a6 diagonal? And Van Wely did come up with a perfect solution.


Other than playing for mate, Loek as if communicates the following message to the World Champion, “Do not relax, my old friend, I am here for a serious business!” 

13...Rd8 14.Qb3 Qf5? 

This is a faceoff! Magnus picks up the gauntlet, showing that he, too, thirsts to begin the combat. Objectively speaking, the queen’s lunge was punishable, whereas a solid 14...Na6 15.Bc4 (15.h5 e5) 15...e6 16.0-0 Nc7 17.h5 would have given rise to a position with slightly preferable prospects for White.

15.h5 e6 16.hxg6 hxg6 


There is nothing to add to the tough line posted on the ChessPro: 17.Nb5! Nd7 18.Bd3 Qg5 19.Nc7! Rac8 20.Nxe6! Qa5+ 21.Ke2 Bd5 22.Nxd8! Rxc1 23.Nxb7 Bxb3 24.Nxa5 Rxh1 25.Nxb3, and a minor piece plus two pawns is superior to a rook, giving White excellent chances to convert his advantage. However, unless you see the entire chain consisting of all nine White’s moves with exclamation marks, the knight lunge on b5 would be just striking the air. Loek simply develops his bishop.

17...Nd7 18.Bd3?! 

On the other hand, finding 18.b4! Nb6 19.b5 Bd5 20.Bd3 Qg5 21.Ne4 was a decent quality solution and quite within human capabilities at that. 


Now Black is more than OK, with his pieces centralized and a remote passed pawn as a long term perspective.

19.Kf1 Nf6 20.Be5 Rac8! 

Magnus sidesteps a subtle trap: after 20...Nd5? 21.Bxg6! fxg6 (or 21...Bxe5 22.Qh5 fxg6 23.Qh7+ Kf8 24.dxe5) 22.Qg4 Be8 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.Qg5 the situation of the black king is such that there is hardly anyone willing to put on his shoes. 


The Dutch grandmaster had used up much time to think over each of this latest moves, slowly approaching the time control zone. White lost the thread of the game as he was not supposed to lose sight of the g4-square. It’s not that 21.Kg1 or 21.Rh3 was a piece of cake either, but was surely enough to maintain balance in the position. 

21...Ng4! 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.f3 


Oh, how uneasy it is for a commentator to put question marks to the decisions taken by the World Champion. In our computer age this move deserves as many as two question marks, while only some 50 years ago the chess newspapers or magazines would unanimously admire a similar piece sacrifice by Tal, Stein or Spassky.

Why was it that Carlsen refrained from 23...Nf6 24.Kf2 Qg5 25.Ne2 e5 so appropriate to his style? Loek, with his lack of thinking time, would have had a hard time then. But the imaginary "rising flag" of his opponent provoked Magnus into making a move designed for a spectacular kill!

24.fxg4 Rxd4 25.Ke1 

White’s only task is getting his pieces together, upon which Black’s initiative will fade out before long. It may be achieved in various ways, being in fact not such a challenging task to overcome. The majority of commentators awarded the king move with exclamation marks, although there is nothing wrong with a simple continuation 25.Rc2 Rxg4 26.e4 Rf4+ 27.Ke1 Qg3+ 28.Kd1 Rd8 29.Rh3. 

25...Qe5 26.Ne2 Rxg4 27.e4 

During the press conference Carlsen tried to convince the audience in the power of his attack and recommended that Loek go for an ending after 27.Qc3 Qxc3+ 28.Rxc3 Rxg2 29.Rh4, in which a piece is opposed by three pawns with the likely drawish outcome. Van Wely’s move is stronger, however.


This is a step into the abyss, but too easy a life for White would be after 27...g5 28.Qe3!, rendering the g2-pawn invulnerable because of subsequent trapping of the black rook. In the pursuit of victory Carlsen casts the prudence to the wind, abandoning his king to fend for himself.

28.Qh6+ Kf6 


29.Qh4+! g5 is tougher by far. Losing on spot is 29...Qg5 30.e5+ Kg7 (30...Ke7 31.Qb4+changes nothing) 31.Qh7+ Kf8 32.Qh8+ Ke7 33.Qxc8, as well as 29...Kg7 30.Qh7+ Kf6 31.Rf1+ Ke7 32.Qxf7+ Kd6 33.b4 – and the black king is snared into a mating net.
30.Qh3 Rxe2+ 31.Bxe2, and then after 31...Rd8 Black has as many as four pawns for a rook, but still these pawns are not a chain of passers so that following a couple of precise moves the material advantage would start to take its toll. However, the Dutchman’s last move spoils nothing just yet. 

29...Rd8 30.Qh3? 

This is a serious error already, after which Van Wely’s position started going downhill. Why exactly put your piece on the edge of the board, why not unite your men together? 30.Rf1+ Ke7 31.Qe3 Rh2 (31...a6 32.Qf3 would end up badly for the poor black rook) 32.Qxa7, and it is only White playing for a win here. The loss of control over the e3-square comes expensive for the home player.


Did White really count on the 30...Rg5 31.Qh4 continuation?


Coming up with a worthy refutation is no longer as simple as it used to be - 31.Qh4 would swap queens under circumstances that are far from being favourable, whereas 31.Rc4 runs into 31...e5!

31...Kg7 32.Qf3 Rd7 33.Rf2 Rg4 


34.Rh2 Rg1+ 35.Kf2 Rd1 36.Bc2 R1d2 37.Qh3 Kf8 looks rather risky for White, whereas discovering a drawing combination 34.Nd4! e5 35.Ne6+ (35.Nxc6 fails to 35…Rg3) 35...fxe6 36.Qf8+ Kh7 37.Rf7+ Rxf7 38.Qxf7+ Kh6 39.Qf8+ Kh7= (39...Kh5? 40.Be2) proved impossible for Van Wely with only seconds on his clock. 

The Norwegian grandmaster’s dreams are about to come true.

34...Qh4 35.Be2 

Your intuition tells you that you should avoid 35.Ng2 Qh1+ 36.Ke2 Rxe4+ 37.Bxe4 Qd1+ 38.Ke3 Qd4+ 39.Kf4 Bxe4 40.Qe3 (losing is 40.Qxe4 Qxf2+) 40...g5+ 41.Kxg5 (41.Kg3 Qe5+ 42.Kh3 Rd1 would result in a mate) 41...Rd5+ 42.Kh4 Bxg2+, especially since Magnus, with his virtuosic technique, would experience no problems converting while having a minor piece plus three pawns versus a lonely rook.

35...Rg1+ 36.Bf1 Kg8?! 

The engine gives us a magnificent solution: 36...e5! 37.Nd5 f5! 38.Re3, and even though taking on e4 is impossible, Black comes up with 38…Bb5! 39.Kd2 Rxf1 40.Rxf1 Bxf1 41.Qxf1 fxe4 42.Qc4 Qd8, winning back his piece in a forced manner. While the above line is counter-intuitive, to put it mildly, Carlsen, on his part, sticks to the waiting technique, setting up a nice trap for his opponent to step into. 


And Van Wely does step into it, whereas after 37.Ng2! Qxe4+ (37...Rxf1+ 38.Kxf1 Qh1+ 39.Ke2 f5 40.Ke3 e5 41.Rxc6! doesn’t work out for Black, while 37...Qg5 38.Ne3 f5 39.Rg2 leads to an unclear position) 38.Qxe4 Bxe4 Black has as many as four infantrymen for a piece, but the queens are exchanged, and with not so much material remaining on the board the fight would have continued once the time control was over.

37...Rxf1+ 38.Kxf1 Rd1+ 39.Kg2 Bxe4 – the queen is lost, and the Champion has thus scored his first victory in the tournament. 

Following such an adventurous type of win, the World Champion was to face Evgeny Tomashevsky, and Carlsen went on to generate one of the best games of the tournament. It seems to me that the game was not commented by my colleagues at length, missing out on many of its key moments. In fact, up until a certain moment the Russian was putting up a very decent resistance to the pressing Atlant, but failed to the truckload of problems and lack of time at the crucial moment of the encounter.

Carlsen – Tomashevsky
Round 6 

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 

Although Peter Svidler labeled it “The Grischuk Opening”, the priority still belongs to Boris Grachev and Gata Kamsky when it comes to the front-line activities involving the Nf6 and e6 order of moves. Carlsen faced a "pig" formation once as Black in a short game, but his white experience in this line is not within anybody’s recollections.

3…b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.h3 Be7 6.Bd3 0–0 7.0–0 c5 8.c3 


No less a person than Alekhine instructed here to steer towards the "hedgehog" type of structures, his recipe remaining the most popular one until this day. It should be mentioned, however, that Magnus used this line to defeat Kamsky: 8...d6 9.Nbd2 cxd4 10.exd4 Nbd7 11.Re1 Qc7! 12.a4 a6 13.Bh2 Rfe8 14.Qb3 Bf8 15.Re2 Bc6, it being a game played in the 2008 World Blitz Championship. Less precise actions were undertaken in 2015 in Berlin by the Poland’s rising star: 11…a6 12.a4 Re8 13.Bh2 Nf8 14.Nc4! Ng6 15.a5 b5 16.Nb6 Ra7 17.b3 Nd5 18.Nxd5 Bxd5 19.c4 (as in Kramnik - Duda, 2015) – Vladimir Borisovich grabbed the initiative and went on to win the game.

9.Nbd2 d5 

Aleksei Aleksandrov used to build up powerful defensive formations via 9...d6 10.Qe2 Re8 11.Rfe1 Bf8 12.Bh2 cxd4 13.exd4 Ne7, but Tomashevsky had other ideas in mind – an old game Potkin – Kurnosov appealed to the Saratov chess player and he decided to equalize according to the Chelyabinsk grandmaster, who departed from us so prematurely.

10.Qe2 Bd6 

The latest Russia Team Championship saw Dmitry Frolyanov testing the following line against the godfather of the entire variation: 10...Rc8 11.Rad1 Nh5 12.Bh2 c4 13.Bc2 f5, which could, however, run into a brilliant combinational refutation: 14.e4!! fxe4 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Qxe4 g6 (even worse is 16...Nf6 17.Qxe6+ Kh8 18.d5) 17.Qxe6+ Kg7 18.d5, with a powerful attack which leads to Black losing material unavoidably (as in Grachev – Frolyanov, 2015).

The last move of Black’s does not look very logical indeed. Why make it with the loss of a tempo? Still, had the dark mammoth made it to d6 at one go, as in the Karjakin - Adams game that turned out to be so unfortunate for the Alpari project... Again, talking to reporters and spectators, Magnus noted that his choice of continuations was large, but was there any choice in reality? It is clear that it was said not because of something Carlsen could misunderstand. A press conference is, first of all, a kind on arena in which many participants rarely tell the truth, preferring to somewhat confuse those who might seek some latent additional information in their words.

Thus, White profited nothing special out of 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.e4 Nd7, as in Potkin - Kurnosov, 2010. 11.Ne5 is parried by 11…Qc7, while 11.Bg5 runs into 11…Be7 12.Rfe1 Nh5!, and the exchange of bishops provided Black with substantial amount of additional space to maneuver his pieces. However, the World Champion found a way to capitalize on his extra tempo. 


The thing is that White has already put up a heavy piece battery along the e-file, therefore going for such lines as 11... Qc7?! 12.Bxd6 Qxd6 13.e4 or 12.Bg5 Nd7 13.e4 makes no sense for Black any longer.

How to react to the idea, which was initially put to an evaluation test by Mikhail Botvinnik back in the 1947 Chigorin Memorial, which he came out victorious from? (1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.cxd5 cxd5 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bf4 e6 7.e3 Bd6 8.Bd3!?, as in Botvinnik - Kottnauer; please read about the events of this and other tournaments of 1947 - 1948 in the second part of the "Keres versus Botvinnik" saga, which is planned to come out on our website as soon as the month of February).

11...Bxf4 12.exf4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 Nxd4 14.cxd4 does not guarantee full equality as the b7-bishop is dormant, while White can go on developing his activity on the kingside, although the bastions of black seem strong enough. It is unsafe to allow a piece sacrifice 11...Nh5? 12.Bxh7+! Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kg6 14.Qd3+ f5 15.Nxe6 or 15.dxc5 bxc5 16.Nxe6 with a powerful attack.

Interesting was 11...h6!? For example, 12.Ne5 Qc7 13.Ndf3 Ne4 or 12.Rad1 Nh5 13.Be5 cxd4 14.cxd4 (14.exd4 Nxe5 15.dxe5 Nf4) 14…Nb4, giving Black an excellent play. However, Magnus could read his opponent’s ideas: 12.a3! Nh5 13.Be5, maintaining the pressure. Although Evgeny Tomashevsky was later criticized for the knight transfer to g6, I am inclined to believe that this decision is quite feasible, even if not the best one. 

11...Ne7 12.Rad1 Ng6 13.Bxg6!

It is both simple and very strong. The trade of a bishop for a knight provides access to e5 for the white cavalry. 

13…hxg6 14.Bxd6 Qxd6 15.Ne5 g5! 

Carlsen condemned the move without offering anything in return, while stressing that 15...Ne4 16.f4! would give White a comfortable type of play. An alternative continuation, offered by the commentators, seems unconvincing - 15...a5 16.f4 Ba6 17.Qf2, and White's attack is on the rise.
Tomashevsky’s reaction is more sophisticated though, removing the pawn from g6 and putting the knight retreat, followed by f7-f6, on the agenda. The latter circumstance requires Carlsen taking a volitional decision, and the World Champion is known to be a person who you never need to ask twice.

16.f4! gxf4 17.Rf1! 

What a nice tactical resource! In the case of 17...fxe3 18.Rxf6! exd2 19.Rxd2 Qe7 (Black gets mated immediately after 19...gxf6 20.Qg4+ Kh8 21.Rf2) 20.Rf4 Qg5 21.Rg4 Qh6 22.dxc5! bxc5 23.Nd7 Rfe8 (23...Rfc8 24.Qe5 is unsatisfactory) 24.Nxc5 the knight is superior to the bishop, coupled with an excessive amount of pressure that White keeps exerting against the position of Black. 

17…Nd7 18.Qh5 


Again, it was in the course of the press conference that the Norwegian demonstrated the following line: 18...g6 19.Qh6! (19.Nxg6 fxg6 20.Qxg6+ Kh8 leads to a draw by perpetual only) 19...Nxe5 (19...fxe3 20.Ndf3) 20.Rxf4 and Black is busted completely. However, let’s try to find out what was so irreparably wrong that Evgeny did to land himself in such a hopeless position so soon. His pieces are on good squares, and no forced mating threats are within immediate sight. 

Correct was 18...cxd4! 19.Nxd7 (19.exd4 Nxe5 20.dxe5 Qc5+) 19...Qxd7 20.exd4 f6 21.Rxf4 Qe8, and even though White enjoys a slightly superior position, there is no direct harm to Black and the black bishop will also come in handy to lend protection to the e6-pawn. However, the knight jump is not a losing continuation yet.

19.Qh4 Qd8? 

This is a serious blunder already and leads to a substantial loss of time. At this moment Carlsen complacently told about a beautiful defensive resource 19...Nh7! 20.exf4 (20.Rxf4 allows 20... g5 21.Rg4 f6). I'll add from myself that after 20...cxd4 21.cxd4 Qd8 22.Qg3 Rc8, and the game was only about to begin. Alas, the next move of the Saratov grandmaster actually surrendered the game.

20.Rxf4 Ne4? 

In response to 20...cxd4 21.exd4 Ne4 White could come up with an extremely spectacular sacrifice of exchange: 22.Qe1 (22.Qg4 f5) 22...g5 23.Rg4! f5 24.Rg3!, and the knights are galloping towards a rendezvous with the black monarch. In the game everything turned out to be a lot more prosaic - the ending is just hopeless for Tomashevsky.

21.Nxe4 Qxh4 22.Rxh4 dxe4 23.dxc5 bxc5 24.Rd7 Rab8 25.b3 


Losing is 25...f6 26.Ng6, whereas 25...Rfd8 can be equally well met by 26.Rxf7 Rd5 27.Rg4, and 26.Rh8+! Kxh8 27.Nxf7+.

26.Rc7 a4 27.bxa4 Ba8 28.a5 Rb7 29.Rxc5 Ra7 30.Nc4, and here Evgeny decided against prolonging a hopeless resistance. 

The World Champion, having developed a so habitual for himself whirlwind tournament middlegame tempo, advanced into sharing first. Next in his way was Pavel Eljanov, who was playing White and made no secret of his highly flying ambitions.

Eljanov – Carlsen
Round 7 

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0–0 7.0–0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 

I can only add that if White is willing to avoid the line that happened in the game, he should seriously consider his order of moves, since 8.Bf4 dxc4! 9.Qc2 Nd5 10.Qxc4 b5! 11.Qc2 (11.Qxb5 Rb8) 11...Bb7 12.Nc3 Nxf4 13.gxf4 c5 promises nothing special, as in Dominguez – Harikrishna, 2015.
Game after game this Catalan tabiya tests the class of its proponents in such main branch lines as 8...c6 9.Bf4 b6 10.Rd1 Bb7 or 10...Ba6, but Magnus has retrieved an old martial recipe yet another time, and again from the book of Botvinnik's recommendation!


9.Bf4 c6 10.Nc3 

In recent years the aggressive shot of the black knight has been tested in practical games more than once, and Eljanov has already had a battle experience in this line against his comrade-in-arms Richard Rapport.

The unnatural-looking 10.Nfd2 (as in Fine – Steiner, 1944 and Sethuraman - Epishin, 2015) could be even more powerfully met by 10...g5! 11.Be3 Nd6. In the known game Lautier – Bareev, 1996, after 10.Nbd2 Nxd2 11.Nxd2 g5 12.Be3 f5 13.f3 the great connoisseur of the Dutch structures Eugene Ilgizovich equalized with a subtle play, but Magnus would have responded here with 10...g5!? anyway.

Since there is no avoiding the g7-g5 lever, the knight would be better off deployed on a more active position on с3. 

10...g5 11.Be3 

The source game Petrosian - Botvinnik, played in the 1963 World Championship match, saw Tigran Vartanovich reacting in his habitually soft non-contact manner: 11.Bc1 f5 (now 11...Nd6 12.c5 Nf5 makes no sense since it comes without harassing the bishop) 12.b3 Bf6 13.Bb2 Bg7 14.Rad1 Rf7 15.Nxe4! fxe4 16.Ne1 Nf8 17.f3 and managed to achieve a big positional plus. The line was never once repeated by the Patriarch. Still, Mikhail Moiseevich didn’t handle the line in keeping with the modern fashion, according to which he should have attended to the problems of his c8-bishop via 12...b6!


This is a fresh treatment of the opening as Magnus occupies the f5-square with his knight rather than with his pawn. Rapport followed suit of Spassky and Jobava: 11...f5 12.Rad1 Nd6 13.b3. The Bernard – Spassky game did appeal to me: 13.c5 Nf7 14.b4 a6 15.a3! Bf6 16.a4!; it looks as though on his first move White dropped his pawn one square too short of а4. 13...Bf6. The game Nogueiras – Jobava, in which a draw was agreed after 13...Nf7, doesn’t count as theory. 14.Bc1 Rf7 15.Ba3 Ne4, and Pavel got advantage after 16.Nxe4 fxe4 17.Ne5 (The 17.Ne1 retreat, according to Petrosian, was worthy paying attention to) 17...Nxe5 18.dxe5 Be7 (or 18...Bxe5 19.Bxe4) 19.Bd6 Bxd6 20.exd6. 

It goes without saying that Eljanov had every reason to be skeptical as to the choice of his opponent, confessing after the game about seriously overestimating his own potential in the position.

12.b3 Nf5 

In the case of 12...dxc4 13.Bc1 cxb3 14.axb3 f5 15.Rd1 Nf7 16.e4 White has powerful compensation for a missing pawn as the arrangement of Black pieces looks rather weird. 


Black’s setup could be challenged by a counter-intuitive pawn sacrifice, offered by the ChessPro commentator Sergey Grigoriants - 13.Bd2! g4 14.Ne1 Nxd4 15.Qd1, leaving Black with his a8 and c8 pieces in a deeply dormant state and his king exposed. The Ukrainian grandmaster decided to part ways with his bishop (Tigran Vartanovich would have certainly disapproved of any similar developments!), believing that the black queenside would never develop anyway. However, his judgment proved erroneous.

13...Nxe3 14.fxe3 b5! 

This is a mighty blow! It turns out that after 15.cxb5 cxb5 16.Nxb5 Qb6 17.Nc3 Ba6 Black has a powerful compensation for the pawn as the queenside dark squares of White are seriously weakened. On the other hand, 15.c5 is met by 15...f5! 16.gxf5 exf5, rendering the e3-e4 breakthrough no longer possible for White. Therefore, Eljanov opens up the center, regardless of the material losses involved.

15.e4!? b4! 

This is yet another instance of Black taking both a strong and a principled decision. Following 15...bxc4 16.bxc4 dxc4 17.Rab1 Nb6 18.e3 Ba6 19.a4 there would have arisen a position that can be described as typical for the Catalan. 


White can certainly refrain from parting ways with his knight, going for something like 16.Na4 dxc4 17.Qxc4 Bb7 18.Rad1 Nb6 19.Qc1!?, but was it really the task that the World Cup semifinalist was up to anyway? 

16...bxc3 17.dxc6 Nb8 18.Qe4 

Three pawns are inferior to a piece in the following line: 18.Rad1 Nxc6 19.Nxg5 Bxg5 20.Bxc6 Rb8 21.Qxc3 (Grigoriants), whereas 21…Qc7 highlights Black’s domination over the dark squares, with the white pawn so inappropriately located on the g4-square at that.

Let us remind ourselves that chess is a concrete game. Indeed, had Carlsen now played 18...Qc7 19.Ne5 or 18...Na6 19.Ne5, Eljanov would have obtained a powerful compensation. However, there is a counterstrike available for Black that dislodges the queen out of its perfect position.

18...f5! 19.gxf5 exf5 20.Qd5+ Qxd5 21.cxd5 Na6 

White’s central pawns are strong, but they are blockaded by the black pieces, and still it is going to take up some time to get rid of the c3-infiltrator.

22.Rac1 Nc7 23.Ne5 f4!

This move puts White up against the largest possible amount of problems. We cannot but mention the two lines shown by Sergey Grigoriants: 23...Nb5 24.e3 Ba3 (24...Bb4! is a more accurate move) 25.Nc4, and White goes on to sacrifice a whole rook to enable his passed pawns to launch forward; after 23...Rd8 24.Rxc3 Rxd5 25.Bxd5+ Nxd5 26.Rcf3 f4 27.h4 g4 28.Rxf4 Nxf4 29.Rxf4 too much material would have been removed from the board.


Being in the most difficult of positions, Pavel Eljanov, same as Van Wely and Tomashevsky, caves in under incredible tension. As the ChessPro commentator noted, correct was 24.Rxc3 Nb5 (24...Rd8? 25.e4! fxe3 26.Rxe3 Nxd5 27.Bxd5+ Rxd5 28.Nc4 allows infiltration of the white rooks) 25.Rd3 Bf5 26.e4 fxe3 27.Rxe3 Bd6 (27...Nxd4 28.Nd7) 28.Nc4 Bf4 29.Re7, and the struggle continues. However, does Black really need all these forced continuations? Carlsen could easily opt for a strong and a useful consolidating move 25...Kg7!

24...Rd8 25.Rxc3 Nxd5 26.c7 Nxc7 27.Bxa8 Nxa8 

White’s life has not become any easier after winning an exchange. Moreover, should the a8-knight swing into the action, then…


More stubborn is 28.Ne5, counting on 28…Nb6 29.Nc6 Bf6 30.h4 h6 31.hxg5 hxg5 32.Nxd8 Bxd4+ 33.e3 Bxc3 34.exf4. However, this line is not forced and there were other options available to the World Champion,  first and foremost of them being 28...Bb4 29.Rc4 Bd6, keeping the pieces from exchanging. 

28...Bb4 29.Rc2 Bb7 30.h4? 

This is the last error. Even though after 30.a3 Bf8 31.Kf2 White would be in a difficult position, Magnus was yet to show us his performance mastery.

30...Be4! 31.Rh2 

There are no good alternatives for White any longer: both following the text move and after 31.Rcf2 Nb6 32.exf4 gxh4 the black bishops and a pawn tear the white rook apart.

31...Nb6 32.Ne5 

This move surrenders the game, but 32.Nxb6 axb6 33.exf4 g4 was no better than that. 

32...fxe3 33.hxg5 Rxd4 34.Ng4 Nd5 – and the Norwegian grandmaster has reached the “+3” level. 

Carlsen, following not too confident a start of his, showed that the great and genial Magnus was coming back nonetheless. And he is seen prepared for this year in terms of not losing, defending his title in a match and bringing up his rating towards the 2900 level yet again. The following "white" opponents of the World Champion were Karjakin and Giri, who cared about the reliability of their positions above all, whereas in between playing them the Norwegian took the better of Michael Adams in a fight that was not entirely error-free on the one hand, but very eye-catching on the other hand.

Carlsen – Adams
Round 9 

A pawn is a soul of chess! The first part of the game saw the English grandmaster using his connected passed pawns against his opponent, while now it is the turn of Carlsen to do the same.

56.e5+ Ke7 56.Ke4 f6 

The most stubborn continuation was 56...Kd7! 57.f4 Kc8 58.f5 Kb7 59.Rd1 (59.e6 f6), at which moment the intrigue would be kept by 59...c5! 60.bxc5 Rxa7 61.Rd7 Ra4 – I wonder, if there is any victory for White here at all? Adams decides to exchange a couple of pawns, but the creation of a remote passer finally tips the scales in favor of Magnus.

60.f4 fxe5 61.Kxe5 Ne8 61.f5 Nd6 

White wins mathematically after 62...Nf6 63.Kd4 Kd8 64.Ra6 Nd7 65.f6! c5+. 

Black’s defensive formations also crumble down after 65...Nxf6 66.Kc5 Kd7 67.Kb6 or 65...Kc7 66.f7 Kb7 67.Ra1 Rxa7 68.Rxa7+ Kxa7 69.Ke4 Kb6 70.Kf5 Kc7 71.Ke6 Kd8 72.Kd6.

66.bxc5 Nxf6 67.Rxf6 Rxa7 68.Kd5, and Black is not in time to reach the Philidor position. But then, let’s not plagiarize because the winning continuation was mentioned on the ChessPro website.

62.f6+ Kd7 63.Rd1 Re8+ 64.Kd4 Kc7 65.Re1!, this is the last nice move after which Black is no longer capable of keeping both passed pawns in check. 

We are looking forward to the final three rounds of this most exciting of tournaments, whereas their completion will be followed by summarizing the overall outcome and analyzing in detail a selection of interesting examples from the power transformation of pawn structures taken from the creative works of other tournament participants. From myself, I wish Alexey Dreev, playing in the Challengers’ tournament, to catch up and overtake Adhiban on the final stretch, and my wish to Sergei and Evgeny is to slam the door as loudly as possible!