04 Apr

On The Rise

After an epic finale, the Moscow Candidates’ Tournament is well and truly over now, and Sergey Karjakin has emerged from the gladiatorial fray to be Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger for the crown.  But all the chatter among the pundits and fans has now moved on to who will win when the two millennials final fulfil their early, prodigal rivalry when they meet in their World Championship clash in New York this coming November.


Karjakin has been around the elite level for probably more years than we give him credit for. In 2002, aged 12 years and 7 months, Karjakin hit the headlines by becoming the youngest grandmaster in the history of chess - a record that still stands to this day, and a record I have previously stated I believe may never be broken. Yet despite being a pre-teen superstar, success has been a long time coming for Karjakin, as he’s constantly had to live in the shadow of Norwegian prodigy Carlsen.

The two were age-group rivals in their formative years; and now they face each other across the board in the first-ever clash of the millennials for the world chess crown. Carlsen leads Karjakin 3-1 with 15 draws in their previous meetings in classical games; but their games have always proved to be tough affairs, and if I were a betting man, I’d wager on Carlsen to narrowly retain his title in what will most likely be a very close match - and for the same reasons Carlsen himself tipped Karjakin to win the Candidates’: the challenger's defensive abilities, his resilience, and his strong preparation.

And all eyes will be on the two as they met shortly in their first tournament together as champion and challenger, in the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament in Stavanger, running 19-30 April. Along with Carlsen and Karjakin, also in the mix is ex-world champion Vladimr Kramnik, Candidates Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Veselin Topalov; the rest of the field comprising of: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, ,Paverl Eljanov, Pendayla Harikrishna and wildcard qualifier Nils Grandelius.


The rise of Karjakin to win the Candidates’ also marked a changing of the ‘old guard’ in more ways than one, with the release last week of the new April Fide ratings, that saw veterans from the Garry Kasparov era, Viswanathan Anand (11) and Topalov (16), dramatically tumbling out of the Top 10 following their erratic play in Moscow. Not unsurprisingly, on the rise is Karjakin, who jumped 19 points to World No.8.

Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament

April Fide Top 10
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 2851 (=); 2. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), 2801 (=); 3. Fabiano Caruana (USA), 2795 (+1); 4. Anish Giri (Netherlands), 2790 (-3); 5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 2788 (-4); 6. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 2787 (-3); 7. Levon Aronian (Armenia), 2784 (-2); 8. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), 2779 (+19); 9. Ding Liren (China), 2777 (=); 10. Wesley So (USA), 2773 (=).

GM Sergey Karjakin - GM Veselin Topalov
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (12)
Sicilian Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 The Adams Attack - named not after the top English grandmaster Michael Adams, but after American master Weaver Adams, and was a big favourite of Bobby Fischer back in his early days. It’s also sprung back into life by being added to the Sicilian arsenal of both Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. 6…e6 7.g4 Nfd7 8.Be3 Be7 This move hasn't been seen up to now at elite level- it's Topalov's twist on the position, delaying the development of his queen's knight until he knows how best to position it and respond to Karjakin's aggression on the kingside. 9.g5 b5 10.a3 Bb7 11.h4 0-0 12.Qd2 Nb6 13.h5 Topalov is going for the harmonious development of his pieces, as Karjakin simply continues the aggression with his rolling attack down the kingside. This is a typical sort of Sicilian mix. 13...N8d7 14.g6 Ne5 15.0-0-0 Nbc4 16.Bxc4 Nxc4 17.Qe2 Rc8? Black's knight on c4 is just as threatening as White's pawn on g6 - but Topalov had to follow up right now with 17...Bf6 to stand any chance of competing in this double-edged position. But Topalov's 17...Rc8? is just far too slow. and instead allows Karjakin to strike first. 18.h6! fxg6 Now it is too late to play 18...Bf6, as there comes 19.hxg7 Bxg7 20.Qh5! crashing through instantly. In the previous line, if Topalov had first played 17...Bf6, then 18.h6 was strongly met by 18...hxg6 and White's attack is going to burn out. 19.Nxe6! Qd7 20.Nxf8 Bizarrely, Topalov commented that he simply "missed this move" - instead he was only thinking only of 20.hxg7 but this also loses now, and perhaps was the more clinical win for Karjakin, as Topalov has to play 20...Rfe8, as after 20...Rf7 there's a stunning sacrificial win with 21.Qg4! Rxg7 22.Bd4 Rf7 23.Qxg6+!! hxg6 24.Rh8#. 20...Bxf8 21.hxg7 Bxg7 22.Bd4 a5 With Topalov's dangerous black-squared bishop being exchanged, Black has a hopeless position - and there's no time for 22...Nxa3 23.bxa3 Bxd4 24.Rxd4 Rxc3 25.Rhd1 and White easily winning. 23.Bxg7 Qxg7 24.Qg4! (See Diagram) It looks as though Topalov may have some saving chances here with the knight attacking a3 and b2 and the queen and rook doubling down on the knight on c3 - but after the very accurate 24.Qg4!, Topalov has no time for what he was probably banking on here, as the check on e6 sees White getting the strike in first. 24...Re8 The rook is forced off the dangerous c-file to defend the deadly check on e6. Instead, if 24...Nxb2 25.Qe6+ Kh8 26.Rxd6 Qxc3 27.Rxh7+!! Kxh7 28.Qxg6+ Kh8 29.Qh6+ Kg8 30.Rg6+ Kf7 31.Qh7+ Kf8 32.Rg8# 25.Qg5 Bc6 If 25...Bxe4 26.Qxb5 clears up quickly. 26.Qh6 Qh8 It's never good when the only move for a queen is back to h8 - but the reality of the situation is that, the only thing Topalov has going for him here, is the attack on b2 and c3. But now, Karjakin methodically clears up now with very accurate play. 27.b3! Nxa3 28.Rh3! The rook defends c3 and now Karjakin is threatening Rdh1 and the tripling of the 'heavy furniture' down the h-file. 28...Bd7 29.Rg3 Qf6 30.Rh1 The end is not far off now. 30...Re7 31.Qh4 Qg7 32.Nd5 Rf7 There's no danger allowing the queen check on a1, as Black will only have a couple of spite checks before having to resign: 32...Qa1+ 33.Kd2 Qd4+ 34.Rd3 covering the check and now also f2 is defending by White's queen. 33.Qd8+ Qf8 There's no defence; the end is nigh: 33...Rf8 34.Ne7+ Kf7 (34...Kh8 35.Nxg6+) 35.Qxd7 Qa1+ 36.Kd2 Qd4+ 37.Ke2 Qxe4+ 38.Re3 Qxh1 (38...Qxc2+ 39.Kf1 Qd1+ 40.Kg2 and there's no more checks as g4 is covered.) 39.Nf5+ Kf6 40.Qxd6+ Kg5 41.f4+ Kg4 42.Rg3+ Kxf5 43.Qe5#. 34.Qxa5 Nxc2 35.Qc3! Not only hitting the knight but also threatening Rxg6+- so Topalov resigns 1-0

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