Far from being dead, like the famous scene in Frankenstein, World Champion Magnus Carlsen is very much alive! After his horrific start to the Grand Chess Tour in his homeland Norway, staging a recovery of sorts at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, Carlsen went on to ride his luck in the final round of the 7th London Chess Classic to emerge in a three-way tie for first place…and then he went on to almost effortlessly win the playoff tiebreaker to capture all the marbles of the London title, the inaugural tour title, and a cool bonus of $75,000!
Carlsen was all but down and out playing Russian Alexander Grischuk in the final round, only for the Muscovite to go wildly astray in his habitual timetrouble, first missing a win, and then a draw, and then blowing the game. And with Carlsen ending on the same number of points as young turks Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the World Champion had fate on his side as he took a big advantage into the playoff after beating Grischuk, while the other two had beaten tail-enders.
This meant Carlsen could relax with an automatic bye into the final with the better tiebreak scores. And in the final, Carlsen probably thought all his Christmases had come at once, as MVL managed to contrive - probably through tiredness - to lose a technically drawn rook and pawn ending that even I remembered as being one of the first lessons learned in the timeless tome Rook Endings by Levenfish & Smyslov.
In the diagram, MVL (Black) erred with 51…Rf1? and lost. Instead, the correct drawing technique is 51...h2! 52.Re2 Ra1! 53.Rxh2 Ra8! 54.Re2 Rh8+ 55.Kg5 Rg8+ 56.Kf4 Rf8+ 57.Kg3 Rg8! (now the pawn can’t move, and the king just gets checked around again if it comes out from behind the pawn) 58.Re4 Kd5! - and with this crucial move, Black has the classic fourth rank defence with the pawn on g4, not allowing White’s king to march back up the board with the passed pawn protected.
It was best all summed up near the end, as elite players Levon Aronian and Grischuk got into the spirit of things by moving into the commentary booth to entertain the large live online audience, as the 9.5 hour drama drew to a conclusion: Grischuk: “So Magnus is winning everything yeah? I created a monster.” Aronian: “Yeah, you're Dr Frankenstein!”
Anand draw Giri
Adams draw Caruana
Aronian draw Vachier-Lagrave
Carlsen 1-0 Grischuk
Nakamura draw Topalov
Final Standings: 1-3. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 5.5/9; 4. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 5; 5-7. Fabiano Caruana (USA), MIchael Adams (England), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 4.5; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 4; 9. Vishy Anand (India) 3.5; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 2.5.
Vachier-Lagrave 2-1 Giri
Carlsen 1.5-0.5 Vachier-Lagrave
Magnus Carlsen - Alexander Grischuk
7th London Chess Classic, (9)
Sicilian Defence. Moscow Variation/Kopec System
1.Nf3 c5 2.e4 d6 3.Bb5+ Against the Muscovite, the Moscow Variation! 3...Nd7 4.0-0 a6 5.Bd3 Transposing to a sort of Kopec System, named after the US author, chess coach and AI specialist IM Danny Kopec, a former Scottish Champion. The idea is to play c3, drop the bishop back to c2 and the game often resembles a Ruy Lopez rather than a Sicilian 5...Ngf6 6.Re1 b5 7.c4 g5!? In the opening round of the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, the second event of the tour, Topalov played this aggressive ...g5 thrust to beat Carlsen. 8.Nxg5 Ne5 9.Be2 bxc4 10.Nc3 Carlsen's improvement over 10.Na3 he played against Topalov. 10...Rb8 And Grischuk had prepared this months ago at home; and believed Black had a good game - but one very accurate, prophylactic move from Carlsen, and suddenly any Black compensation is not so clear. 11.Rf1! Carlsen's big idea with the retreat is to answer any ...Nd3 with Qa4+ and Qxc4 - and with the rook back on f1, the knight is no longer a threat on d3. 11...h6 12.Nf3 Nd3 13.Ne1 Taking the c4-pawn is good for Black: 13.Qa4+ Qd7 14.Qxc4 Nf4! and now, with ...Rb4 being a threat, White will have to waste valuable time with 15.a3 and Black can play 15...Rg8 with a strong kingside attack brewing. 13...Nxb2 14.Bxb2 Rxb2 15.Bxc4 Rb4 16.Qe2 Bg7 17.Nc2 Rb6 18.Rab1 Opening the game further with 18.d4 was also an option. 18...0-0 19.Rxb6 Qxb6 20.Ne3 Now Carlsen's knight(s) control d5 and f5, and he had to be confident he had a position he could work with. 20...e6 21.f4 Kh8 22.f5 a5 23.a4 Qd8 24.h3?! This didn't seem right, as it opened dark-square weaknesses around Carlsen's king - something he soon regretted. Instead, perhaps just 24.Qd3 trying to tie Black down to his pawn weaknesses. 24...Qe7 25.Ba6 Bxa6 26.Qxa6 Nh5!? Black's only hope is to complicate matters by exploiting the dark-square weakness around Carlsen's king. 27.Rf3 Rg8 28.Nb5? Carlsen goes pawn hunting - but in doing so, he removes his queen and knight from vital duties shoring up his kingside defences. 28...Be5! 29.Ng4 Qh4! A move that didn't really need any thinking about, as all of Black's pieces begin to swirl around Carlsen's king. 30.fxe6? Carlsen had to accept he had to play 30.Nxe5 allowing Grischuk to bail out with a forced draw after 30...Qe1+ 31.Rf1 (Black would be winning after 31.Kh2? dxe5 32.Nd6 Ng3 33.Nxf7+ Kh7 34.Ng5+ Rxg5 35.Qb7+ Rg7) 31...Rxg2+ 32.Kxg2 Qg3+ 33.Kh1 Qxh3+ 34.Kg1 - however, it is unknown whether the World Champion gambled in Grischuk's habitual timetrouble (The Russian had nearly 6 minutes left on his clock here - an eternity for Grischuk!). If he did, it was a very dangerous gamble, as Grischuk had an easy win that quite remarkably, he missed. 30...fxe6? Grischuk misses his big moment for a chance of getting to the playoff for the title rather than Carlsen. The move screaming out to be played was: 30...Rxg4! 31.hxg4 Qh2+ 32.Kf2 Nf4! 33.Rg3 Nxe6 34.Rf3 Kg7! and Grischuk would have had excellent winning chances here. 31.Nxe5 dxe5 32.Qxe6 Qe1+? Grischuk's last chance was 32...Qg5! 33.g4 Nf4 34.Qf5 Rd8 with a draw being the likely outcome. 33.Kh2 Rxg2+ Unfortunately, now there's no perpetual for Grischuk at the end of the rainbow. 34.Kxg2 Qxd2+ 35.Kg1 Qe1+ 36.Rf1 Qe3+ 37.Rf2 Qe1+ 38.Kg2 1-0 if 38...Qxe4+ (38...Nf4+ 39.Rxf4 exf4 40.Qxh6+ Kg8 41.Qxf4) 39.Kh2 and no more checks.