It once seemed as if world champions were invincible, almost impossible to defeat. José Rául Capablanca of Cuba, a titan of the early 20th century, did not lose a game from 1916 to 1924, including during the championship match in 1921 against Emanuel Lasker. More than a half-century later, Russia’s Anatoly Karpov was considered immune to defeat that the chess world was stunned when he lost.
Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, the current champion, however is not so invincible as Capa or Karpov. He resembles Karpov in his squeezing style of play, and has a sizeable lead in the ratings used to determine the world rankings. But Carlsen is not as far ahead of his rivals as Capablanca and Karpov were, in their primes, over their opponents. And when he makes a mistake, Carlsen is more vulnerable than they ever were.
And after the humiliation of losing on time from a won position in the opening round of yesterday’s Norway Chess 2015 Tournament in Stavanger, he was hit by the double whammy of slumping to 0/2 in the only decisive game of the round, after being outplayed in his homeland by Fabiano Caruana, 22, of USA/Italy, the player whom many pundits and chess fans see as being his next likely rival for the title - and the player that appears to be Carlsen’s bête noir, with the best score against the world champion.
Incredibly, Carlsen now has the worst start to a tournament in five years - and for the third time of asking, he looks set to yet again not to win a tournament in his homeland, where he’s fêted as a sporting superstar. ‘Today was a terrible day against a very strong opponent,’ reflected Carlsen. ‘I have dug myself into a pretty big hole, but I have won tournaments before where I have lost to Caruana.’
Caruana’s playing strength has surged in the last couple of years; the highlight being his 7-0 start last year in the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis. Carlsen has admitted that among the field of younger players looking to capture his crown, Caruana is “the guy”. And his latest defeat of the world champion moves him to almost within 50 points of Carlsen’s world No.1 spot.
Giri draw Anand
Topalov draw Nakamura
Caruana 1-0 Carlsen
Hammer draw Vachier-Lagrave
Grischuk draw Aronian
Round 2 Standings: 1-5. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA) 1.5/2pts; 6. Viswanathan Anand (India) 1; 7-9. Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 0.5; 10. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 0.
Fabiano Caruana - Magnus Carlsen
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 The Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez has long had a reputation for being rock solid and drawish; and especially the endgame that became known as "The Berlin Wall" - and this suits Carlsen's style of play. 9.h3 h6 10.Rd1+ Ke8 11.Nc3 Ne7 12.b3 Bf5 13.Nd4 Bh7 14.Bb2 Rd8 15.Nce2 Nd5 16.c4 Nb4 17.Nf4 Rg8 18.g4 Na6? Carlsen just appears to be 'flapping' around here with his knight - it's not really like him at all. He probably had to bite the bullet and play something like 18...g5 19.Nh5 Be7 and take his chances here. The positive for him is that he now has d3 for his knight, and he may be able to generate some play on the e5-pawn. 19.Nf5 Nc5 20.Rxd8+ Kxd8 21.Rd1+ Kc8 22.Ba3 Ne6?? 23.Nxe6 Bxa3 Exchanges are the key to easing the pressure for Carlsen in such a position - and in an ideal world, his 22...Ne6 would have been the way to do it, but for one little snafu he hadn't seen till it was too late. Carlsen had hoped to play 23...fxe6 but now comes the amazing 24.Be7!! (See Diagram) stopping one square short of exchanging the bishop, that either mates or leaves him with a hopelessly lost endgame. And moves such as Be7 is what is known in chess as an 'invisible move' - simple, yet hard-to-see (the most common being missing a diagonal backward queen move). And recently, New in Chess published a book on this theme, naturally enough entitled Invisible Chess Moves. And missing 24.Be7!! was, according to Carlsen after the game, 'More than a little embarrassing.' 24.Nexg7 Bf8 25.e6! Typical Caruana - he finds the clearest route to victory. Even with the bishop-pair, there's no hope for Carlsen. 25...Bxf5 If 25...fxe6 26.Nxe6 and with the threat of Rd8 mate hanging over him, Carlsen will also lose the h6 pawn and may as well resign. 26.Nxf5 fxe6 27.Ng3 Although Caruana is 'only' a pawn ahead here, and Carlsen does have the bishop, he does, nevertheless, hold winning aces in his hand with Carlsen's king cut off from the kingside action and those two very weak isolated pawns on e6 and h6. 27...Be7 28.Kg2 Rf8 29.Rd3 Rf7 30.Nh5! Ultimate humiliation for Carlsen here, as he needs to avoid the exchange of rooks - and the only way to do so, involves Caruana further improving the placement and unity of his forces. 30...Bd6 31.Rf3 Rh7 32.Re3 Re7 And not 32...e5?? as after 33.f4! exf4 there's yet another mate with 34.Re8+ Kd7 35.Nf6# 33.f4 Ba3 34.Kf3 Bb2 35.Re2 Bc3 36.g5 Now that Caruana has brought his king up for support, he can now push the g- and h-pawns up the board. 36...Kd7 37.Kg4 Re8 38.Ng3 Rh8 39.h4 b6 40.h5 c5 41.g6 Re8 42.f5! exf5+ 43.Kf4 Rh8 44.Nxf5 Bf6 45.Rg2 1-0