20 Apr

So Much Better

All sports players, regardless of whatever activity they are involved in, fall into form slumps against certain opponents and rivals - and this is something that sports psychologists have studied in great detail over the years.  The sage psychobabble advice they generally tend to offer when you get into such a rout is the simple, yet very effective: ride it out!


And one curious cases of such a slump of late has involved none other than World Champion Magnus Carlsen.  Since round three of the 2014 Tromsø Olympiad in his Norwegian homeland, he’s suffered a four-game losing streak to Fabiano Caruana - all of which has helped the Miami-born Italian up the rankings to be his new rival at world number two. But Carlsen has patiently rode out the slump, with the hex ending in round three of the 2nd Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan.

The Norwegian benefitted from the miss of a repetition draw by Caruana, who - in a time scramble - lost the plot and with it the game, as he went wildly astray. That win put Carlsen in the joint lead with Wesley So, on 2.5/3 - but at the end of the fourth round, new US star So took the sole lead in the tournament with a third win, this time beating local Azeri star, Rauf Mamedov.

So is off to a flyer with an unbeaten start of 3.5/4, and looks to have shrugged off his recent, ill-fated debut just a few weeks ago at the US Championship in St. Louis. There, he suffered from a well-publicised family feud and a sensational six-move default - curiously, inspired by another recommendation from every sport psychologist - after writing motivational notes to himself, as used recently on-court by top tennis star Andy Murray.

So leads Carlsen by a half point at the top, and now regained the rating points he squandered in St. Louis, as he climbs back up to world No.6 at liveratings.com, knocking the Russian ex-champion, Vladimir Kramnik into 8th place. And Caruana’s demise in Shakmkir has also benefitted newly-crowned US Champion, Hikaru Nakamura, who is now the new world No. 2 behind Carlsen

Round 4 standings: 1. Wesley So (USA), 3.5/4; 2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 3; 3. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), 2.5; 4-5. Viswanathan Anand (India) & Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, (France), 2; 6-9. Rauf Mamedov (Azerbaijan), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands) & Fabiano Caruana (Italy), 1.5; 10. Michael Adams (England), 0.5.

W So - R Mamedov
2nd Vugar Gashimov Memorial, (4)
Sicilian Accelerated Dragon
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 The Maróczy Bind, named after the Hungarian grandmaster Géza Maróczy (1870–1951). The idea behind it, is that White clamps down on d5 with his c- and e-pawns in conjunction with Nc3, hence the 'bind' reference. 5...Nf6 6.Nc3 d6 7.f3 Bg7 8.Be3 0–0 9.Be2 Nh5 10.g3 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Be6 12.f4 Nf6 13.0–0 Rc8 14.b3 Qa5 15.f5! Bd7 Taking the pawn is just bad: 15...gxf5? 16.exf5 Bd7 (16...Bxf5?? 17.b4! wins a piece.) 17.Bf3 Bc6 18.Bxc6 bxc6 (18...Rxc6? 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Nd5! Bxa1 21.Nxe7+ Kg7 22.Qxa1+ f6 23.Nxc6 bxc6 24.Qd4 and White has the advantage of a pawn and a big positional plus. 16.a3 e6 17.b4 Qd8 Better was 17...Qc7 but White still holds the advantage with a ready-made attack after 18.Rc1 Bc6 19.Qd3 b6 20.fxe6 fxe6 21.Nd5! 18.fxg6 fxg6 (See Diagram) 19.e5! Also winning was 19.Bxa7 - but kudos to So for mapping out a forcing series of exchanges that leads to a clear endgame win. 19...dxe5 20.Bxe5 Bc6 21.b5 Ne4 22.Qxd8 Rcxd8?! A complicated position, and Mamedov probably saw several 'ghosts' in trying to calculate the more natural capture - and you can soon see the problems he faced: 22...Rfxd8 23.bxc6 Nxc3 24.cxb7 Nxe2+ 25.Kg2 Rb8 (25...Bxe5? 26.bxc8Q Rxc8 27.Rae1) 26.Bxb8 Rxb8 27.Rab1 Nc3 28.Rb4! (This looks like the clear win - not so clear, though, is the speculative 28.c5!? Nxb1 29.Rxb1 Be5 30.c6 Rd8 31.Re1 Rd2+ 32.Kf3 Bc7 33.Rxe6 Kf7 34.Re3 Rb2 and Black looks to be more than holding the pawns.) 28...Bf8 29.c5! Nd5 (29...Bxc5? 30.Rc4 winning material.) 30.Rb3 Bxc5 31.Rc1! Bd6 32.Rc6! Be5 33.Rxe6 winning easily. 23.Rxf8+ Rxf8 24.Bxg7 Kxg7 25.Rc1 Nxc3 26.Rxc3 Bd7 26...Be4 27.Re3 Bf5 28.g4 wins a pawn and an easy win. 27.c5 The pawns storming up the board cannot be stopped - the rest of the game is just a formality for So. 27...Rc8 28.a4 Kf6 29.Kf2 Ke5 30.Ke3 Be8 31.Bf3 Rc7 32.Kd3 g5 33.Kc4 h5 34.a5 g4 35.b6! axb6 36.axb6 Rd7 37.Re3+ Kf6 38.c6! bxc6 39.Bxc6 Rd8 40.Bxe8 Rxe8 41.b7 1–0

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