25 Aug

Archangel On My Shoulder

In an age where grandmasters and elite players are getting younger and younger, it was two veterans who stole the show a couple of months back in Stavanger in the first leg of the $1m Grand Chess Tour. Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov, 40, won the tournament while India’s Vishy Anand, 45, tied for second. As a result they jumped to equal No2 in the world rankings, ahead of a pack of elite players in their 20s.


While some may have thought this was a blip, Topalov believes age and guile has a lot going for it. Here he is, at an age when the likes of Garry Kasparov was looking to retire from the game, playing the best chess of his career. And Stavanger was no blip for Topalov, the Grand Chess Tour leader, as he’s now jumped to a perfect start of 2/2 at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis by following his opening round win over World Champion Magnus Carlsen by now beating Hikaru Nakamura to take the early lead.

Topalov is not only on-course for a repeat Grand Chess Tour win in St. Louis, but if he does so he will be uncatchable in winning the overall series and the bonus prize of $75,000. And apparently he says he’s doing it without any extensive training preparation! All of which means Topalov is now the undisputed world No2 behind Carlsen, and has seen his live rating rise to a career-high of 2826.5 - and his position is now virtually unassailable of capturing one of the two Candidates rating spots available.

A year ago at the Sinquefield Cup, Fabiano Caruana was the man of the moment. He recorded one of the best results in chess history, winning his first seven games straight against an elite field - and from here, we witnessed the rise of Caruana and the dramatic fall of Carlsen. And the World Champion has lost 28 rating points in his last 10 games in the Grand Chess Tour - so now was the time to stop the haemorrhaging, as Carlsen found he had an angel (or rather an Archangel) on his shoulder, as he consigned last year’s winner to a dismal start of 0/2 in today’s game of the round.

Round 2
Grischuk 1-0 Anand
Topalov 1-0 Nakamura
Vachier-Lagrave draw Aronian
Giri draw So
Caruana 0-1 Carlsen

Round 2 standings: Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 2/2; 2-4. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 1.5; 5-7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 1; 8. Wesley So (USA) 0.5; 9-10. Vishy Anand (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 0.

Fabiano Caruana - Magnus Carlsen
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Archangel Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 This line was developed in the early sixties by players from the north Russian port town of Archangelsk - named after the monastery there of Archangel Michael - and has carried this name ever since (though in the west known as the "Archangel Defence"). With 6...Bb7, Black exerts pressure against the opponent's centre, in particular e4. White must decide whether to protect this pawn solidly with 7.d3 or head towards the unfathomable complications after 7.c3 Nxe4 that's become the tabiya of the Archangel . Another popular option is 7.Re1 Bc5 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6, which is closely related to the Moller System. 7.d3 The solid set-up is more in keeping with Caruana's style. 7...Be7 8.Nc3 0-0 9.a3 d6 10.Re1 Qd7 11.Ne2 Nd8 12.Ng3 Ne6 13.Ba2 Rfe8 14.Ng5 Caruana had to also be tempted by the standard Lopez knight outpost with 14.Nf5!? 14...d5 Taking advantage of the fact that the White knight is no longer hitting e5. 15.Nxe6 If 15.exd5 Nxg5 16.Bxg5 Nxd5 17.Bxe7 Rxe7 18.Qf3 Qc6! 19.Nf5 Ree8 and Black is threatening ...Nf4 exchanging queens with an equal game; and if White plays 20.Qg3 Qf6 also simplifies. 15...Qxe6 16.Bg5 Also an option was bolstering the f5 square with 16.Qf3 c5 17.exd5 Bxd5 (17...Nxd5?? 18.c4! wins material) 16...h6 17.Bxf6 Bxf6 18.Qf3 c6 19.c4 Rad8 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.Nf5 Bg5! The bishop suddenly springs to life and finds activity. All of Carlsen's pieces are now on their most optimum squares. 22.h4 Bd2 Also worth a punt was 22...Bf4!? with the threat of ...dxe4 and ...Qxf5 . And if 23.g3 Qg6! 24.h5 Qg5 and Black has serious threats with the bishops and queen combining to menace the White king and queen. 23.Re2 dxe4 24.dxe4 Qf6 25.g3 Kf8 If Carlsen can safely evict the knight from f5, then he's on top here. The trouble is, he can't shift it right now with ...g6 as Nxh6+ wins a pawn. So to do so, he first moves the king out of reach of the check - but in hindsight, it may well be that his best option was 25...Kh8! 26.h5 Bg5 27.a4 b4 28.a5 Kg8 Now the king has to go back, as Carlsen now realises his king could be caught out if the game opens up after he plays ...g6 - so the monarch heads back towards h8. 29.Bc4 Rd7 30.Ra4! Ganging up on b4, that can't be protected, and at the same time activating his rook. What's not to like here? 30...Kh8 31.Rxb4 g6 32.hxg6 fxg6 33.Qb3 Somehow, amidst all the mayhem now coming, Caruana, with around 15 seconds to reach the time control, manages to keep it all in check. Well, almost all... 33...Bc6 34.Ne3 Bxe4 35.Bd5! Stopping any Carlsen ideas of ...Qf3 mating on g2. 35...Bxd5 36.Nxd5 Qc6 37.Nc3 Qf3?! Carlsen is taking liberties here with Caruana in time trouble. Instead, best was 37...Bd8 hitting the vulnerable pawn on a5. 38.Qc2 Best was 38.Rb8! - but Caruana had little time left to calculate. 38...Red8 Carlsen is trying to activate all of his pieces as menacingly as possible, with just seconds left on Caruana's clock, bluffing that there could be a mating trick in the position. There is, but it's a helpmate! Also strong for Carlsen here was 38...Rd3. 39.Rbe4 Rd2 (See Diagram) 40.Rxd2?? Carlsen's bluff pays off! This is a sad story that has been around since clocks were first introduced into chess praxis, at the Paris tournament of 1867: It's always the case that more blunders are  played on the 40th and final move of the first time control than any other time. And this is the case here, with Caruana having just seconds to make the time control, he plays the reflex move of capturing the rook, where practically any queen move - 40.Qb1, 40.Qa4, 40.Qb3 (the exception being 40.Qc1) - will leave an equal position and a draw soon to follow. 40...Rxd2 0-1

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