26 February 2016

Who Will Be There To Fight Carlsen? Part One - Experience

The four classics of the upcoming Candidates in the review of Dmitry Kryakvin.

Final qualification for a match against World Champion is a real feast for chess fans, especially in recent years, when the formula of the main candidates’ battle has settled into an ordered and consistent pattern. Suffice it to remember the Kazan-2011 event with incredible "saves" by Alexander Grischuk, knocking out Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik along the way, as well as aggressive and initiative play by Boris Gelfand, who was later an inch away from becoming a new chess king. It also includes the fantastic 2013 London race in which Magnus Carlsen miraculously snatched the candidate mandate away from Kramnik and the Khanty-Mansiysk 2014, in which too early "buried" by experts Vishy Anand made it first to the finish line in a convincing style.

All these great deeds have rightly taken their places alongside the epochal battles, which used to lead David Bronstein, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov up for the throne contests. The chess history, upon giving rise to a crack, has finally healed its gaping wounds. The era of the troubled 1990s and 2000s, the era of chaos in the system of qualification, which would negatively affect careers and fates of such great players as Alexei Shirov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand and Vishy Anand (even though the Indian phenomenon did achieve his ultimate goal after all) has ultimately come to an end.

We are bound to express many gratitudes to everyone, beginning with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and the author of the Prague Agreement Yasser Seirawan and all the way to the FIDE / ACP committee engaged in organizing the world chess crown cycles. However, there is so much hidden danger in the words of the reigning World Champion, who has repeatedly advocated for the rehabilitation of the knockout system, which would once again bury the articulate system of qualification, revived so painfully through the efforts of so many people... I am not willing to publicly argue with the great Norwegian, but will express my point of view that in the two matches for the crown Carlsen didn’t have to go all out 100 percent, and that Thor is just simply after new thrill, seeking for combat drive.

Who could provide this very drive? Which hero will deliver a real fight to Magnus? Whose efforts will once again help the world championship match regain its shattered reputation of a mystical battle between two super humans contesting the title of chess Messiah? That is why the preview of the 2016 Candidates Tournament will see the author of these lines allowing himself an indiscretion of taking into consideration not the individual scores between participants, but rather the balance of their encounters with the Norwegian emperor.

Therefore, the first to appear on the scene is a quartet of experienced players, who have been repeatedly seen passing through the mill: Ex-World Champion (2007-2013) Viswanathan Anand (India), FIDE World Champion (2005-2006) and the 2010 candidate Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), as well as the participants of the Candidate Tournament battles with the ten-year history Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Peter Svidler (Russia).

Viswanathan Anand. 46 years of age. Elo Rating - 2762. Individual score against Magnus Carlsen - 8-10

The Indian genius was the last champion of the older generation who was in the way of the generation Next leader, but failed. The initial games against Anand took bad turns for Carlsen as the opening preparation wizard gave instructive thrashing to a presumptuous young man. By 2010, in which Vichy defended his title against Topalov and was in great shape, the eldest of the two grandmasters was leading with a 6-1 score.

Therefore, FIDE experts and officials quietly embraced the Scandinavian’s refusal to participate in the Candidate matches in Kazan as everyone seemed to be convinced in that the young man was apprehensive of having to be faced off with a tough opponent. However, it was before long that Viswanathan found himself in a protracted crisis, and the matters started taking a reverse direction: 6-2, 6-3... What is more, following the 2013 victory in London Carlsen was no longer afraid of his former offender, his rating being higher by nearly 100 points.

In his homeland battle Anand lasted only through the first four games, but ended up ceding the champion's crown with a big score following three unanswered losses so that their personal scores balanced out to 6-6. To the surprise of many, the advanced in years grandmaster did not lose heart, following it up by immediately upsetting his successor in the Rapid World Championship, and then convincingly overtaking other candidates in Khanty-Mansiysk to win the right to a rematch.

In the championship match in Sochi the audience saw that Vishy Anand, who was already bearing considerable resemblance to the legendary "Tiger of Madras" by demonstrating bomb novelties, playing much tougher chess and occasionally pressurizing the Champion, especially at the moments when the latter would be caught resting on his laurels. By the penultimate match game Carlsen was leading by a narrow margin, and that thanks to the mutual dramatic overlook that had happened in game number six. Back in that game Anand suddenly made an attempt at turning the tide of the battle by playing for a win as Black and having obtained brilliant scoring chances only... to end up faltering!

Carlsen – Anand
Sochi 2014, game 11 

The opening developed into the "Berlin", which used to be the basic defensive scheme of Anand in the Sochi derby. White stands solid enough, angling for Nh5 followed by f4, but at this very moment the following move came as a bombshell.


What a brilliant shot! Taking on b5 surrenders advantage to Black: 24.cxb5 c6! 25.bxc6+ Kxc6, and White caves in the center; or 24.axb5 a4! 25.bxa4 Rxa4 26.Rc1 Ra2!? 27.Bc3 Nf4 with a powerful initiative for Black. Therefore, Magnus had to reluctantly submit to opening up of the b-file.

24.Bc3!? bxa4 25.bxa4 Kc6 26.Kf3 Rdb8?!

The initiative has passed over to Black, but transforming it into something tangible is anything but easy. As was pointed out by the commentators Peter Svidler and Ian Nepomniachtchi, the dormant bishop should have been swung into action via 26...Be7! Indeed, in the case of elimination of one of White’s knights Magnus would have been at risk of encountering problems:

27.Nxe7+ Nxe7 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Bxa5 Bxc4 30.Bc3 Ng6 31.Nh5 Rb8! with a substantial edge;

27.Ke4 runs into 27…Bxf6 28.exf6 Bxd5+! 29.cxd5+ Kd6.

Perhaps, more stubborn would be 27.Ne3!?, avoiding exchanges on d5. It might be followed by: 27...Bxf6 28.exf6 Rdb8 29.Rb1 Rh8!! 30.Rb5 h5! 31.Rxa5 hxg4+ 32.hxg4 Rh3+ 33.Ke4 Re8 34.Kd3 Nf4+ 35.Kc2 Rf3 with extremely dangerous threats (analysis by Pavel Maletin). 

Alas, Vishy had it slightly screwed up, whereas his subsequent attempt to make up for it landed him into disaster. 



The Norwegian’s predecessor is sacrificing an exchange, but the objective effect of it is significantly lower than that of the sudden pawn break on move 23. White is superbly mobilized, his pieces deployed into good central positions. If anything was to be sacrificed, it was through the idea of Dmitry Bocharov: 27...Rb3! 28.Rb1 and only then 28...Rb4!? so as to displace White's rook into less favorable position.

28.Bxb4 cxb4?

This decisive error sealed the fate of the match. Almost every commentator, while in the immediate aftermath of the text move, recommended 28...axb4! For instance, 29.Nh5 Rxa4 30.Ra1 Bxd5+! 31.cxd5+ Kb5 32.Rxa4 Kxa4 33.Ra1+ Kb3! with any result still possible. A calmer continuation would be 29.a5 Bg7 30.a6! Rxa6 31.Ra1 Rxa1 32.Rxa1 Bxf6 33.exf6 Kb7 34.Ra5 c6 35.Ne3 Kb6 with equality, giving the Indian a chance of getting even as White in the ultimate game.  

It seems at first that even now Black features good compensation, but a closer examination reveals his being short of a single tempo to take control over key squares in order to activate his pawn chain, supported by bishops.


Carlsen has immediately launched his kingside activity.

29...Kb7 30.f4 gxf4 31.Nhxf4 Nxf4 32.Nxf4 Bxc4


This invasion is decisive. 33...Ba2 does not work out due to 34.Rc1 Rc8 35.Nd5! b3 36.Nc3, winning. Thus, the Black’s idea collapses as the coordinated work of White’s pieces "outweighs" the menacing passed pawns of Black’s.

33…Ra6 34.Nd5! Rc6 35.Rxf7 Bc5 36.Rxc7+! 

This is a petite combination involving a temporary piece sacrifice: should the White’s rook and the knight be captured, the remaining White’s rook would skewer both Black’s bishops along the c-file. 

36…Rxc7 37.Nxc7 Kc6!? 

Black tries his last chance in this historical game. Unfortunately for Anand, White’s passed pawns have become no less dangerous by now, which, coupled with being up an exchange, proves crucial.

38.Nb5! Bxb5 39.axb5+ Kxb5 40.e6 b3 41.Kd3 Be7 42.h4! 

Yet another soldier makes it to the log emplacement and a chain of automatic riflemen in the light uniforms spans the coveted distance.

42…a4 43.g5 hxg5 44.hxg5 a3 45.Kc3 Black resigns, and Magnus Carlsen has thus won the second match from Viswanathan Anand. 

The final throne battle

Following the second match victory, it seemed for a moment that Anand was no match for Carlsen any longer. In their next encounter in the super tournament in Germany Magnus employed a good old "stone wall" in the Dutch Defense against his vis-a-vis and ended up winning so easily, that it looked as if it were some Rabinovich - Botvinnik game from almost one hundred years ago!

However, in Stavanger the hour of vengeance arrived. For the first time in the course of the recent years’ confrontation against the Norwegian Anand executed a brilliant assault and took the upper hand in that spectacular style, which he used to unsettle the Kid Carlsen when the latter was yet straining to elbow his way into the elite chess circle.

Anand – Carlsen
Stavanger 2015, Round 4 

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.d3 d6 7.c3 0–0 8.Nbd2 Re8 9.Re1 b5 10.Bc2 Bf8 11.Nf1 g6 12.h3 Bb7 13.Ng3 Nb8 14.d4 Nbd7 15.a4 c5 16.d5 c4 17.Bg5 Bg7 18.Qd2

The position on the board has arisen from the Breyer variation of the Ruy Lopez, and its history features no shortage of classical players who used to employ it: 18...Nc5 19.Ra3 Qc7 20.Rea1 Rab8 21.Qe3 Nfd7, as in Tal – Petrosian, 1975, or 19.Nh2 h5 20.Nf3 Qc7 21.Ra3 Rab8 22.Bh6 Bh8 23.Rea1 Bc8 24.axb5 axb5 25.Qe1 Bd7 26.R1a2 Rec8 27.Kh1 Nh7 28.Ra7 Qd8 – a showpiece handling of the line demonstrated by Spassky against Gennady Kuzmin. 

However, Carlsen has never failed in the latest battles against Anand, defeating him even in the "stonewall"! Therefore, instead of building up defensive fortifications the World Champion decided to pull his opponent into a sharp concrete game, overlooking a concrete nuance in the position.

18…Rb8 19.Nh2 Bc8?! 

Rejecting to build up on the experience of the previous century and going for 19...h5, bequeathed from the past.

20.Ng4 Nc5 21.Nh6+ Bxh6 

21...Kf8 22.axb5 axb5 23.f4 would be bad for Black, but Magnus parts with his bishop, with a concrete idea of the queenside play in mind.

22.Bxh6 bxa4 23.Ra2 

Worthy of attention was 23.Be3!? Rxb2 24.Bxc5 dxc5 25.Qc1, aiming at bringing all scattered black pawns into requisition, but the approach  of the Indian grandmaster is both simple and effective. 

23...a3 24.bxa3 Nfd7 

Black intends to blunt the dominant white bishop by erecting a barrier of pawns in his way, while on the queenside he is ready to both resort to a standard exchange sacrifice on b3 and to mount the knight on d3 in the style of Kasparov. So it would have happened if not for a harsh response by Vishy.

25.f4! a5? 

A minor disappointment for the Champion as 25...Qh4 fails to 26.Bg5 Qxg3 27.Re3. However, an impulsive pawn advance affords Anand a vital tempo to keep his attack rolling. Correct was 25...exf4!? 26.Qxf4 Qf6!, which could have justified the choice made by Carlsen. 

26.Rf1 f6 

It is too late now to go for 26...exf4 27.Qxf4 Ne5 28.Bg5 Qb6 (putting in my two pennyworth, I would like to note that bad is 28...Qc7 29.Ba4! Nxa4 30.Qf6) 29.Kh1 Ncd7, because following a simple move 30.Ba4 Black’s position would be close to busted.

27.f5 Nd3 28.Bxd3 cxd3 


It was this move that was most likely underestimated by Carlsen. In the case of a hasty 29.Qxd3?! Qb6+ 30.Be3 (30.Raf2? Ba6 31.Qd1 Bxf1 32.fxg6 hxg6 33.Qg4 Kh7! 34.Qh4 Rh8! it is already Black playing for a win) 30...Ba6 31.Qd2 Qb3 Black gets counterplay, but Anand gives his powerful opponent no counter chances whatsoever. White doubles up his rooks to pile up against the black king.

29...Re7 30.Raf2 Rf7 31.Qxd3 Nc5 32.Qf3 Ba6 

This is an attempt to deflect the rook, because 32...g5 would have been a rather grim-looking continuation, resulting after 33.Qg4 Kh8 34.h4 gxh4 35.Nh5 in a ferocious attack.

33.Qg4 g5 

This is a critical moment of the game: White’s rook is en prise, but Vishy lunges forward, being afraid of no losses that might happen along the way. 

34.h4! Bxf1 35.Rxf1 Qd7 

35...Kh8 would run into an effective-looking 36.hxg5 fxg5 37.f6! Rxf6 38.Bg7+! Kxg7 39.Nh5+.

36.hxg5 fxg5 37.Qh5! 

In the case of an alternative line 37.Bxg5 Kh8 38.Qh4 Rbf8 39.Rf3 it would be difficult to prevent the transfer of the attacking white pieces onto ideal squares, but Anand opts for a forced line in which there's nowhere for Carlsen to run away to.

37...Kh8 38.f6 Rg8 39.Bg7+ Rfxg7 40.fxg7+ Qxg7 

41.Nf5! Qg6 

Once again it is the concrete line that proves decisive - 41...Qf6 42.Ne7! Qxe7 43.Rf7, winning.

42.Qxg6 Rxg6 43.Ne7 Kg7 

Absolutely hopeless is 43...Rh6 44.Rf8+ Kg7 45.Rc8 Rf6 46.Nf5+ Kf7 47.Nxd6+ Rxd6 48.Rxc5, but the exchange sacrifice also fails to add much to prolong the resistance.

44.Nxg6 Kxg6 

White won an exchange, and the Champion is about to stop the clock

45.Rf8 a4 46.c4 h5 47.Kf2 Black resigns as he is incapable of defending all his pawn weaknesses. 

What are the Indian grandmaster’s chances in the upcoming Moscow event? It is obvious that not every fan is looking forward to witnessing the third part of the sequel "Magnus versus Vichy". However, objectively speaking, the absence of Vladimir Kramnik makes Anand the most sophisticated and experienced warrior among other tournament candidates. Despite his age and all kind of rumors that report the former world champion’s readiness to take up the minister’s post in his homeland, Viswanathan is still full of ambition. Immediately after the Gibraltar, which inflicted seemingly irreparable blows to one of the tournament rating favorites, there followed the Zurich event in which Viswanathan, frankly speaking, performed better than any other player.

It is also clear that the India’s leading player will meet substantial difficulties on his way to qualify into the next Candidates Tournament in terms of an Elo rating, a World Cup, a Grand Prix cycle... To put the issue squarely, he needs either to win in Moscow, or to end up giving in to the pressure of youth! I have little doubt that the highly experienced player will do everything possible to get along with the first option.

Veselin Topalov. At the time of the Candidates Tournament he turns 41 years old. His Elo rating is 2780 and his individual score against Magnus Carlsen is 5-8

Interestingly enough, Veselin happened to be the first elite grandmaster whom Carlsen began outplaying on a regular basis. In 2007-2008, the rivals inflicted as many as three wounds to each other, but from then on, it would be none but Magnus to win the games, so that in 2010 the score turned 7-3 in his favor!

After that the tournament fates of our heroes parted as Magnus was busy storming Olympus, whereas Veselin, having lost to Anand and his candidate match to Kamsky, dropped out of the elite circle for a certain period of time, focusing entirely on his family. Prior to the Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, the Bulgarian rejoined the hall of best players. Even though he lost to the Norwegian in the fields of Wijk aan Zee 2012, in the couple of games that followed he succeeded in demonstrating to the leader of the world ranking list his capability of making a draw, if a tournament situation required his doing so.

An unexpected turn of events or rather a turning point took place in the first competition of the Grand Chess Tour-2015. In round one of the super tournament the Champion gradually outplayed his favorite customer, his ninth victory over Veselin being not far away, but at that moment there happened an incredible thing...

Carlsen – Topalov
Stavanger 2015, Round 1 

Having been slightly late for the start of the game, Magnus missed the tournament director refreshing the audience about the current time control, being confident of the pending automatic 15-minute increment while calmly calculating the winning series of checks: 61.Bc4+ Ke8 62.Bb5+! Kf7 63.Qf5+ Kg7 64.Qd7+! Kf6 65.Qd8+! Kg7 (nothing is changed by 65...Kf7 66.Bc4+ Kg6 67.Qg8+ Kf6 68.Qf8+ Kg5 69.Qg7+) 66.Qe7+ Kh6 67.Qf6+ Kh7 68.Bd3+ Kg8 69.Bc4+ Kh7 70.Qf7+ Kh6 71.Qf8+! Kg5 72.Qg7+ Kf5 73.g4+ Ke4 74.Qg6+ Kd4 75.Qb6, winning his opponent’s queen. All of a sudden for him, however, his clock time would start displaying zeroes instead and the World Champion’s game was forfeited!

The arbiters recording the forfeit

That was a shocking blow with terrible consequences! As of recently Carlsen has been said, not without reason, to be close to reaching the 2900 ELO level, but following such a twist of fate the Norwegian stepped into an unprecedented streak of bad luck! The idol of millions was seen losing his rating, stalling, and, to top it all up, after yet another encounter with Veselin, ended up on the floor of the ring.

Carlsen – Topalov
St. Louis 2015, Round 1 

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ Nd7 4.0–0 Ngf6 5.Re1 a6 6.Bd3 b5 7.c4 

Carlsen has already been seen playing this position 7...Ne5 8.Bf1 Nxc4 9.a4 Bd7 10.d4 cxd4 11.Nxd4 e5 12.axb5 with serious initiative (as in Carlsen - Nakamura, 2014), and a less turbulent continuation 7...bxc4 8.Bxc4 Nb6 9.Bb3 e5 10.d3 Be7 11.a4 (as in Safarli - Grandelius, 2015) leads to a pleasant position for White with a clear plan of playing along the light squares. However, the Bulgarian grandmaster showed up for the game anything but empty-handed.


This is a killing novelty, which, however, according to Anish Giri was known even to his wife, grandmaster Sopiko Guramishvili. As was rightly noted by Michal Krasenkow, the pawn sacrifice is reminiscent of the legendary Kazakh Gambit 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g5?!?! However, in the game position Black’s compensation is a lot more substantial as the d3-bishop is in the way of immediate mobilization of Carlsen’s troops.

8.Nxg5 Ne5 9.Be2 bxc4 10.Na3?! 

Magnus overestimated the piece sacrifice that followed. At the end of 2015, playing against Grischuk in London, he employed 10.Nc3 Rb8 11.Rf1 h6 12.Nf3 Nd3 13.Ne1 Nxb2 14.Bxb2 Rxb2 15.Bxc4 Rb4 16.Qe2 Bg7 17.Nc2 and ended up winning, not in the least unaided by his opponent, however. 

10...Rg8 11.Nxc4 

Other continuations: 11.f4 Nd3 12.Bxd3 cxd3 13.Qb3 d5 14.Qxd3 h6 15.e5 c4 16.Qd4 Nh5, 11.Nf3 Nd3 12.Bxd3 cxd3 13.Qb3 Nh5 or 11.d4 cxd3 12.Bxd3 h6 13.Nf3 Nxd3 14.Qxd3 Bb7 would have given Black a dream-type of position. 

11...Nxc4 12.d4 Nb6 13.Bh5 Nxh5 14.Qxh5 


Better still was to avoid clinging to extra material, giving back the exchange: 14...Rg6! 15.Qxh7 Rg7 16.Qh8 cxd4 17.Nh7 Rxh7 18.Qxh7, when the sizeable edge could be retained both by 18…e5 (mentioned by Ramirez), and 18...Bb7 19.Bh6 Nd7, approved by Michal Krasenkow.

15.Nxh7 Qd7 16.dxc5 dxc5 17.e5? 

Somehow, the World Champion succumbed to the temptation of setting a trap, despite having at his disposal an opportunity of transiting into a complex ending, where the missing white piece would have been compensated by as many as three pawns already.

17.Nxf8! Qh3 (17...Qg4? 18.Qxg4 Rxg4 19.Nh7 f6 20.Ng5! with the idea 20...fxg5? 21.g3) 18.Qxh3 Bxh3 19.g3 Rg8 (rook and pawns is once again superior after 19...Kxf8 20.Bh6) 20.Nh7 f6, followed by a game full of adventures with any result still possible. 


Losing is 17...Qh3? 18.Nf6+ Kd8 19.Rd1+ Kc7 20.Ne8+ Kc6 21.Qxh3 Bxh3 22.Nxg7, but the newly exposed central diagonal allows Black plunging his queen into the thick of the battle.

18.f3 Qg6! 19.Nf6+ Kd8

The queens are inevitably traded off and, with the black pieces so excellently deployed, even such a renowned endgame master as Carlsen could pose not even the slightest of technical problems in front of Topalov. 

20.Qxg6 Rxg6 21.Ne4 Bb7 22.h4 Rc8 23.h5 Rg8 24.Bd2 Nc4 25.Bc3 Bh6 26.Rad1+ Ke8 27.Rd3 Bf4 28.Nf2 Bc6 29.Nh3 Bg3 

The passed rook pawn moves nowhere and the collapse is not that far off. 

30.Re2 Bb5 31.Rd1 Bc6 32.Nf2 Bxe5! – and White stopped the clock shortly after. 

"Magnus, haven’t you been in the know of the 7...g5 move? Even Giri’s wife is aware of it!"

That St. Louis encounter proved how dangerous has one of the best world players of the zero years remained up to this day. The latest games of Veselin and Magnus have turned out in favor of Topalov, and should Silvio Danailov and his supervisee happen to shine in the so hospitable towards the long-awaited Bulgarian friends capital of Russia, a match for the world chess crown with a bullfighter from Ruse could be very interesting indeed!

Peter Svidler. Age – 39 years. Elo rating - 2751. Individual score against Magnus Carlsen is 2-1

Peter Veniaminovich is one of the toughest opponents for the invincible Norwegian and, what’s more, it is Svidler whom the most unpleasant moments in the World Champion's career are associated with. The native of St. Petersburg defeated a young man who finished last in his first super tournament, while many years later Svidler almost deprived him of his right to a match against Anand.

Carlsen (2690)  Svidler (2728)
Wijk-aan-Zee 2007


White needed to tolerate patiently with 25.Ra3 bxa4 26.Rxa4 Nc5 27.Ra2, whereas now the pawn is lost for good. 

25...Rxd1 26.Rxd1 bxa4 27.Qxa6 Qxe4 28.Qc8+ Kh7 29.Rd8 

Carlsen has dumped his pieces into the enemy’s territory, but Svidler has anticipated it with a nice tactical refutation. 

29...Qf4+ 30.Ng3 Nd2 31.h4 Qxh4+ 32.Kg1 

The knight is hanging, while its retreat is followed by 33.Rh8 and 34.Qg8, but...

32...e4! 33.Rxd2 e3 34.Rd3 Qf4! 35.Rxe3 Rxe3 36.fxe3 Qxg3 37.Qf5+ Qg6, and Black went on to convert his extra pawn in a queen ending, in which Magnus resigned when resistance was still not out of the question.  

However, during the last decade Peter Svidler has not been always part of a narrow circle of individuals who were invariably invited to the first magnitude tournaments, and his battles with Carlsen have not occurred as often as, for example, those by Anand or Kramnik. However, the creative component has remained unchanged: Magnus would try to "squeeze" his opponent into a powerful positional bind, while Svidler would throw off the Norwegian with apparent ease, demonstrating remarkable imagination and precise variation calculation technique.

The Norwegian is frustrated, having yet another time failed to put Peter Svidler up against any problems

During the first round of the London Candidates Tournament Thor finally managed to equalize the score, but there came the last round of the marathon, in which Carlsen and Kramnik were in the lead, each needing nothing else but victory.

Carlsen  Svidler
London 2013, Round 14 

Peter Svidler has emerged in good shape out of the opening so that the current situation on the board is approximately equal. Black could have dispensed with a simple 20...Rb8, but at this moment the native of St. Petersburg would suddenly dive into wild complications. Can it to some degree explain the root of the problems experienced by Magnus in his encounters with Peter? Some other person placed in the shoes of Svidler might dream of nothing else but draw, first hugging the ground and then committing some fatal error in the ending...

20... Nh5 21.g3 

Had Carlsen known what was there in store for him, he would have sufficed with a simple 21.b4 cxb4 22.Bxb4, - the d6-weakness is not critical but White is in no danger of losing the game.  

21...g6 22.Nh6+ Kg7 23.Ng5 

The computer-suggested 23.Nxf7?! Kxf7 24.Ng5+ Kg8 25.Nxe6 Rxe6 26.Bxe6+ Qxe6 27.b4 is unlikely to look attractive to a human player due to the gaping holes along the light-squares. 

23...Nxg5 24.Bxg5 d5 25.exd5 Bxd5 

Svidler embarks on the play along the central diagonal, while Magnus pins a great deal of his hopes on the following text move.


White still goes on playing for a win. 26.Bxd5 Qxd5 27.Ng4 f5 28.Bh6+ Kh8 29.Ne3 Qd4 would have been the way to equality.


An ambitious rejoinder! Svidler invites Carlsen’s troops to bog down on his part of the board in the hope that they will not make it in time to lend defense to their king. 

27.Bf6+ Kg8 

White’s knight is lured into h6. Losing was 27...Nxf6 28.Qh6+ or 27...Kf8 28.Nxe5 Bxe5 29.Qh6+ Kg8 30.Bxe5 Qh3? 31.Bxf7+! Kxf7 32.Qxh7+ Ke6 33.Qxg6+ Kd7 34.Qd6+, mating.

28.Nh6+ Kf8 29.Qe3 

Approximate equality would be maintained via 29.Nxf7 Nxf6 30.Qh6+ Kg8 (30...Ke7 31.Ng5 is losing) 31.Nd6+ Bd5 32.Nxe8 Qxe8, even though the position would have preserved its complex nature. Carlsen spent the majority of his time calculating these lines and, having made the queen move, found himself in a severe time trouble. 

29...Bb7 30.Bh4 

The bishop falls victim to attack on h4. The heat of the fight was to be maintained by 30.Bh8! Re7 (worse is 30...Qh3 31.f3) 31.f3; even though the bishop on h8 looks exotic, there is no way for Black to get the better of it, while the white assault troops pose dangerous threats. Now Svidler launches into offensive.

30...Qh3 31.f3?

White could have saved himself via 31.Bd5! Bxd5 32.Qxc5+ Kg7 33.Qxd5 Kxh6 34.Qxf7 Ba5 35.Qxe8 Bxe1 36.Qxe5 Bxf2+ 37.Kxf2 Qxh2+ 38.Ke3 Qg1+, escaping with a draw by perpetual. 

31...Nf4! 32.gxf4 

The ending arising after 32.Qf2 Qxh4! 33.gxh4 Nh3+ 34.Kg2 Nxf2 35.Kxf2 Bd8 is nothing to be happy about.

32...Qxh4 33.Nxf7 Bxf3! 

The two bishops have gone on a rampage, producing an impression of almost any move leading to a victory. However, it was at this very moment that Magnus got his chance to bail out. 

34.Qf2 Qg4+?! 

Stronger is 34...Qxf4 35.Re3 Bg4, transiting into a winning ending, whereas now White could still put up resistance by 35.Kf1 Qh3+ 36.Kg1 exf4 37.Rxe8+ Kxe8 38.Ng5 Qg4+ 39.Kf1 Bc6 40.Qxc5. 

35.Qg3? exf4 36.Rxe8+ Kxe8 37.Qxg4 Bxg4 38.Ng5 h6 39.Nf7 h5 40.Nh6 Bd1 


White is not winning back his missing pawn: 41.Bf7+ Kf8 42.Bxg6 Kg7; 41.Nf7 h4, and Svidler goes on to deliver a series of energetic moves to finish the struggle. 

41...f3 42.h3 Bf4 43.Nf7 g5 

As the knight is cut off from the battlefield, Black has no problems promoting his pawn. 

44.Ke1 g4! 45.hxg4 hxg4 46.Kxd1 g3 47.Ke1 g2 48.Kf2 Bh2 White resigns.

Facing the leader of the world rating list with a raised visor!

You already know what followed next - the future World Champion stood there on the staircase landing almost in tears when the news arrived from the playhall about Kramnik also losing to Ivanchuk.

Magnus and Peter followed the qualification on the banks of the River Thames by yet two encounters - in Norway Chess 2014 the World Champion threw the prudence to the winds, rushing to deliver checkmate to his opponent with every possible means and nearly reaching his goal. However, Svidler, being low time, found a chain of only moves and confidently walked a tightrope above the rows of sharpened knives to end up making yet another draw.

Along with Anish Giri, Peter Veniaminovich remains almost the only extra-class grandmaster, whose mystery defies the Norwegian wizard. For over 10 years, Svidler has been close to those who challenged the champion, having participated since 2005 in the tournament matches for the world champion title and in the candidate tournaments, where his role would often be of a critical nature. Will the Moscow event finally provide him with an opportunity to play a match of his life?

Levon Aronian. 33 years of age. Elo rating  2792. Individual score against Magnus Carlsen  5-12

The Tashir nominee had to face Magnus over the board more than any other leading grandmaster. It’s no laughing matter, but the first time Aronian and Carlsen met each other was back in 2004 in the FIDE World Championship knockout tournament! Despite equality in the classical games period, it was a lot more senior Armenian grandmaster who went on. The subsequent mutual test also took place within the framework of the Candidates cycle, which used to be in Elista in 2007. Levon was pressing, while the young Norwegian would demonstrate a phenomenal will power and came back twice in a must-win situation! The additional games fetched victory to the "southern guy" just as in the previous occasion.

By all appearances, Carlsen has never forgotten the childhood grudges and, following his rise, began systematically settling scores with Aronian. Even prior to the start of the London Candidates Tournament the balance score of their encounters reached the level of "+3" and then "+4" in favor of Magnus. After the British qualification the situation for the Armenian chess player became much more unpleasant as the Norwegian went on to gradually increase the score to a crushing 12-4!

Carlsen – Aronian 
Wijk-aan-Zee 2015, Round 5 

The World Champion has his opponent tied literally hand and foot. Both the d5- and c7-pawns are weakness, therefore Aronian should preserve his bishop at all cost, while an attempt to embark on active counterplay reaches the target neither - 30...Bb4 31.Nb1 Ne4 32.Qg4 Kh8 33.Nd3 Bd6 34.Nc3 Nf6 35.Qf5. The queens have to be traded off, upon which White follows by activating his king and advancing pawns on the kingside to create yet another weaknesses...

30... g6 31.h5! Kg7 

31...g5 32.Nxd5 Nxd5 33.Qxd5 Bxg3 34.Qf5 is no better than the text move.

32.hxg6 fxg6 33.Nxd5!

A simple combination crowns White’s strategic achievements. 

33...Nxd5 34.Qxd5 Bxg3 35.Qg2! 

Using a small geometry White piles on the virtually defenseless g6-square, whereas the error on move 36 accelerated the inevitable.

35…Bd6 36.Nc4 Rf8? 37.Ne5! Bxe5 38.Qxg6+ Kh8 39.Qxh6+ Kg8 40.dxe5 Qxe5 41.Rg6+ and White won shortly after.

Facing each other in the battle fields of Wijk aan Zee

However, together with Vishy Anand and Veselin Topalov, Levon has also reaped the fruits of a half year of Carlsen’s crisis. At the European Team Championship Magnus played dreadfully, having managed even to blunder a piece in two moves to Yannick Pelletier. An exemplary punishment befell him also in a duel with the leader of the Armenian national team.

Carlsen – Aronian
Reykjavik 2015, Round 3 

1. e4  e5 2. Nf3  Nc6 3. Bb5  Nf6 4. d3  Bc5 5. 0-0  Nd4 6. Nxd4  Bxd4 7. c3  Bb6 8. Na3  c6 9. Ba4  d6 10. Bb3  a5 

This is a fighting of nuances of which the Anti-Berlin specialists are so renowned for (Magnus for White and Levon for Black). 10...0-0 runs into an unpleasant 11.Nc4 Bc7 12.Bg5, therefore Aronian provides room his bishop at the crucial diagonal.

11. Nc4  Ba7 12. a4  0-0!? 

At the press conference Levon noted that he would often sacrifice a pawn for initiative in the Marshall Counterattack, while here it was necessary to buy off with a life of some remote foot-soldier only.

13. Bg5 h6 14. Bxf6 

14.Bh4 g5 15.Bg3 Bg4 16.Qd2 Nh5 would be equal to admitting that Black has emerged with excellent perspectives out of the opening, therefore Carlsen is adamant.

14... Qxf6 15. Nxa5 d5! 

16. Bc2 dxe4 17. dxe4 Rd8 18.Qe1?!

The World Champion rejected 18. Qf3 in view of 18…Qxf3 19. gxf3 Rd2 20. Rac1 Be6! and Black is dominating, while missing an effective trick 18. Bd3! Qd6 19. Qf3!  Qxd3 20.  Rad1  Bxf2+ 21. Kh1  Bg4! 22. Rxd3 Bxf3 23.  Rxd8+  Rxd8 24.gxf3  Bb6 25.  Nxb7  Rd7 26. a5  Rxb7 27. axb6  Rxb6 with equality. 

Even though White is unwilling to commit his queen to e2 because the subsequent black queen plunging on g5 and the black rook landing on d2 comes with tempo, the choice of the Norwegian is perfect neither.

18...Qg5 19. Kh1 

White needs to defend against the bishop shot since 19. Qc1 Rd2 20. Nc4 Bh3 21. g3 Rad8! is losing.

19...Rd2 20. Bd1  Be6 21. b4  Rad8

White is firmly pressed against the ropes, and in quest of counterplay Magnus decides to part ways with his queen, hoping for compensation, which proved insufficient in the end. After 22. Be2 R8d7 Black exerts a lot of pressure, but there is nothing fatal yet.

22. Nxb7?!  Bc4 23. Nxd8  Bxf1 24. Qxf1  Rxf2 25. Qg1  Ra2! 26. Rxa2 

26.Bb3 is effectively refuted by 26...Qxg2+! 27.Qxg2  Rxa1+ 28.Qf1  Rxf1+ 29. Kg2 Rg1+! 30. Kf3  Rc1 and winning in view of capturing on с3 with tempo. 

26...Bxg1 27. Kxg1  Qc1 28. Nxc6  Qxd1+ 29. Kf2  Qb3

Although White has a rook, knight and as many as two pawns for the queen, Carlsen’s forces are discoordinated while the black queen is on the rampage in his camp as if a hungry wolf in a sheep pen.

30. Rd2  Qxc3 31. Rd6  Qb2+ 32. Ke3  Qa3+ 33. Kf2  Qxa4 34. Nxe5 

White pins his hopes on building up a fortress after 34...Qxb4 35. Rd8+ Kh7 36. Nf3 Qxe4 37.h4, when breaching their defensive lines on a single flank is not that simple. However, Black has a lot more powerful resource at his disposal, which the leader of the three-time Olympic champions did not fail to find out.

34…Qc2+! 35. Kf3  f5! 36. Rd3  fxe4+ 37. Kxe4  Qxg2+ 38. Nf3  Qg4+ 39. Ke3  g5! 

This is a precise move! 39...Qxb4? 40. h4 would be much worse, while after the text move the defensive formations of White begin cracking at the seams.

40.  Kf2  Qf5 41.  Rd8+  Kg7 42.  Kg2  g4 43.  Nd2?

This error is fatal. Although 43. Nd4 was not losing immediately, there would have followed 43...Qe4+ 44. Kg3 Kf7 45. b5 h5 46. b6  h4+, and White’s disaster is not that far off. 

43...Qe6! 44.  Nf1  Qc6+ White resigns as he is losing his rook.

When performing for the team Levon Aronian becomes twice as strong!

This impressive victory had a magical effect on the Armenian grandmaster, who cheered up instantaneously and stated his readiness to fight for the world title, while a big fan of his, owner of the "Tashir" Group of Companies, undertook immediate care of the organizational aspects of the Candidates Tournament.

Perhaps the latest Aronian’s failures could be attributed to the fact that the master of combinational whirlwinds ceased believing in the ultimate victory over the Scandinavian. Will Levon succeed in putting to rest his failed qualifications of Mexico-2007, Kazan-2011, London-2013 and Khanty-Mansiysk-2014? However, back then the hope of our southern neighbors invariably toed the starting line in the rank of one of the favorites or even an undisputed favorite, but nowadays the situation is much more comfortable for him from the psychological point of view.

Pictures taken from ChessPro.ru, Сhess.com and Chessbase.com 

To be continued