19 Jun

Magnus Horribilis

In a 1992 speech to the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth II, famously expressed her sorrow at a year which saw the break-up of two family marriages, one divorce and the fire at Windsor Castle as being her “annus horribilis”. And if you go look it up in the dictionary, it’s Latin for a disastrous or unfortunate year. And with yet another defeat at the 3rd Norway Chess 2015 Tournament, for Magnus Carlsen, this is turning into his very own disastrous tournament, a sort of “Magnus horribilis”.


Carlsen was again outplayed in round four, this time going down in flames to ex-champion Viswanathan Anand, in what must rate as his best game against the man who took his title. The World Champion is now languishing firmly at the foot of the table on 0.5/4 - and when I checked-in with the resident bard of Brooklyn, Mig Greengard, to fact check when Carlsen was last this far down the table after a bad start, he quickly quipped back “Not sure Magnus has been this far down on a table since he was crawling under one as an infant!”

So how far back do we need to go? Remarkably, it was 14 years ago - and in Norway! At the Gausdal Classic in 2001, Carlsen started with the same score of 0.5/4. The reason for his disaster now could well be that he is still psychologically scarred by the unfortunate opening round incident, when he lost on time in a totally won game to Veseline Topalov, not realising what the time control was.

And I hate to quote another Queen here, though this one being pop diva Cher, but if I could turn back time Topalov and Anand used to dominate tournaments with Carlsen coming below them. Now we have to collectively pinch ourselves, as both veterans are riding high once again and the world champion is in a rating free-fall. The rest day on Saturday must surely come as a much welcomed respite for Carlsen.

Round 4:

Topalov 1-0 Aronian
Giri draw Nakamura
Anand 1-0 Carlsen
Grischuk 1-0 Hammer
Caruana draw Vachier-Lagrave

Round 4 Standings: 1. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 3.5/4; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3; 3-4. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Viswanathan Anand (India) 2.5; 5-7. Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 2; 8-9. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 1; 10. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 0.5.

Viswanathan Anand - Magnus Carlsen
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Breyer variation
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 We've basically just transpossed into Breyer variation in the Ruy Lopez, named after Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) of Hungary. Breyer's promising early career was tragically cut short by illness, and he's now - somewhat sadly - best remembered for his legacy of this hypermodern idea in the Ruy Lopez of retreating his knight from c6 back to b8 and out again to d7. This deep idea gives Black an active bishop on b7 to attack White's centre, and usually the knight finds itself better placed on c5 (after White plays d5) or b6. It was popularised in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Boris Spassky and particularly Lajos Portisch, the many-time Hungarian candidate for the title. Like a lot of good, solid openings, it had a hiatus for several years before being resurrected once again by present World Champion Magnus Carlsen, its modern-day champion. And this is one line against the Ruy Lopez that I feel particularly suits Carlsen's style of play. 15.a4 c5 16.d5 c4 17.Bg5 White wants to try and entice Black into playing h6, after which he'll retreat the bishop to e3 and follow-up with Qd2 and have a little weakness to chip away at. 17...Bg7 18.Qd2 Rb8 19.Nh2 Strong, and a typical manoeuvre in such Lopez positions. 19...Bc8 20.Ng4 Nc5 21.Nh6+ Bxh6 22.Bxh6 bxa4 23.Ra2! a3 A pragmatic choice from Carlsen, who opts to immediately return the pawn. Holding on to the extra pawn was fraught with dangers: 23...Bd7 24.Bg5! Kg7 25.Rf1 with ideas of blasting things open with f4 - not a pleasant prospect. 24.bxa3 Nfd7 25.f4 Black will have to play very carefully from here, if he's to survive. 25...a5 26.Rf1 f6? It looks super-solid, but it just creates a further weakness. Better was taking on f4 and using e5 as an outpost for the knight on d7. 27.f5! Nd3 Hoping for a multiple exchange on d3 and following up with ideas of ..Qb6+ and ...Ba6 and activity. Carlsen has no choice here, as after 27...g5 28.Nh5 Black's position is set for a rapid collapse. 28.Bxd3 cxd3 29.Qd1! A nice retreat from Anand, who simply ignores the pawn on d3 and goes all-out the attack with multiple threats of Qg4 and/or Raf2. 29...Re7 30.Raf2 There's just no salvation here for Carlsen - his position is doomed. I bet Anand wished he could have had positions like this during his two recent title matches with Carlsen. 30...Rf7 31.Qxd3 Nc5 32.Qf3 Ba6 33.Qg4! (See Diagram) Now that the bishop is off the c8-g4 diagonal, Anand puts his queen on g4. Taking on f1 is now going to lose very, very quickly. 33...g5 34.h4! Bxf1 35.Rxf1 Qd7 36.hxg5 fxg5 37.Qh5 Kh8 38.f6 Rg8 It's not the loss of the exchange that going to be Carlsen's downfall, it will be the knight coming in to f5. 39.Bg7+ Rfxg7 40.fxg7+ Qxg7 41.Nf5 Qg6 There's nothing else here. If 41...Qa7 42.Kh2 and after Nh6 Carlsen can resign. 42.Qxg6 Rxg6 43.Ne7 Kg7 It was a lost cause anyway: if 43...Rh6 44.Rf8+ Kg7 45.Rc8 Rf6 46.Nf5+ Kg6 47.Nxd6 wins easily. 44.Nxg6 Kxg6 45.Rf8 a4 46.c4 h5 47.Kf2 1-0

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