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04 Nov

Numero Uno

Arpad Elo (1903-92), professor of physics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, became one of the biggest names in the game, though curiously not for his playing skills but rather for his prowess with a slide-rule and a calculator. In 1960, his Elo system replaced the Harkness rating system in the USA, and in the past 50 years or so the term “Elo” has become what millions of players around the world associate with chess ratings.

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How does Black win?

The Elo rating system was accepted by FIDE in 1970 as a way of establishing a world ranking system. His first published list in 1971, though, provoked the scorn of the Soviet authorities when Bobby Fischer appeared at the top and not the then-World Champion, Boris Spassky. But Elo’s system prevailed by predicting with eerie accuracy the final result of the 1972 World Championship duel in Reykjavik between the two titans.

“Numero uno” in chess has been a very select club in the 45-year history of the Elo list, with only seven players ever holding the top spot: Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov, Vishy Anand, and last but not least the current No.1, Magnus Carlsen.

The November rating list sees Carlsen yet again in his customary No.1 spot ahead of next week’s World Championship Match in Manhattan against Sergey Karjakin, who is rated No.9, and the Russian challenger just slips into the FIDE Top-10. Although there’s a sizeable 81-point gap between Carlsen and Karjakin, numbers mean nothing when it comes down to a match-play situation - though for what it’s worth, I still expect that Carlsen will easily retain his title.

But Carlsen’s top dog status looks likely to be challenged by two young players on the rise: US Champion Fabiano Caruana, who jumped a further 10-points following his big win recently at the Isle of Man, and he now moves to within 30-points of Carlsen; and not far behind Caruana is another player to watch out for, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL), who now replaces Vladimir Kramnik as the new World No.3.

FIDE Top-10: 1. Magnus Carlsen 2853 (=); 2. Fabiano Caruana 2823 (+10); 3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2811 (=); 4. Vladimir Kramnik 2810 (-7); 5. Levon Aronian 2795 (=); 6. Wesley So 2794 (=); 7. Vishy Anand 2779 (+3); 8. Hikaru Nakamura 2779 (-8); 9. Sergey Karjakin 2772 (=); 10. Pentala Harikrishna 2768 (+6).

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Anand vs. MVL | © Corsican Circuit KO

And although there were only rapid rating points at stake in last week’s 16-player Corsican Circuit Rapid Knockout, MVL showed - like Caruana - he could well be a worthy challenger in the future for Carlsen, as he easily disposed of the five-time ex-champion Vishy Anand with a wonderful virtuoso performance in the final, winning 1.5-0.5, to capture the title.

GM Vishy Anand - GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Corsican Circuit Final, (2)
Sicilian Najdorf
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 Like the first World No.1, Bobby Fischer, MVL is the only elite player to risk all by playing exclusively the Sicilian Najdorf. 6.Nb3 Somewhat unusual, but recently this retreat has been championed by Russia's Alexander Grischuk. 6...Nc6 7.Be3 g6 8.Nd5 Nxd5 9.exd5 Ne5 10.Bd4 Bh6 MVL doesn't mind the doubled e-pawns, as he will have the bishop-pair as compensation - and the bonus of a big grip over the dark squares. 11.Be2 0-0 12.0-0 b5 13.a4 b4 14.c3 Bb7! If you play the Sicilian Najdorf, then activity is what you always strive for - and here, MVL opts to go 'all-in' by sacrificing his queenside to have the superior pieces. Just the right sort of game to play in a rapid final! 15.cxb4 Bxd5 16.Na5 MVL gambles everything on his active pieces - and if his plan backfires, Anand will crush him on the queenside. 16...e6 17.Ra3 The rook lift is more of a defensive move to help secure against a mounting attack from MVL on the kingside - but one accurate move by MVL makes it look a little awkward. 17...Rb8! 18.Bc3 Anand would love to play 18.b5 - but this would leave his knight en prise. So now he has to waste valuable time with 18.Bc3 and 19.Be1, all of which gives MVL a free hand for his kingside assault. 18...Qh4! 19.Be1 Bf4 Stopping 20.f4 and already asking questions of how White is going to defend his king - and it is rare we see Anand pulverized in such a spectacular fashion when he has the white pieces. 20.Rh3? Anand had to hold his nerve here and go for the crazy queen sacrifice option with 20.g3 Qh3 21.Qxd5!? (If 21.f3 Ng4!! wins.) 21...exd5 22.gxf4 taking full advantage of the rook lift to a3. 22...Qc8 23.fxe5 dxe5 and a wonderful mess, though Black still retains an advantage - but any result is still possible here, with White having three pieces for the queen! And if 20.h3 g5! 21.f3 Bg3 22.Bxg3 Qxg3 23.Qe1 (If 23.Qd2? g4 forces home the win, as 24.hxg4 is met with 24...f5!) 23...Qxe1 24.Rxe1 Rxb4 and Black is easily winning the ensuing endgame, as White can never play Bxa6 due to ...Rfa8 winning a piece. 20...Qg5 21.Rg3 Qf5 Much stronger than simply taking the exchange, as the rook isn't exactly going anywhere anytime soon. But with 21...Qf5, MVL is going to exploit the weakness on g2 to swiftly switch his attentions to the queenside. 22.Bxa6 Bxg3 23.fxg3 Qe4 24.Rf2 Rxb4! Simple and winning - the vulnerable knight on the rim is the target. 25.Re2 There's no preventing the heavy loss of material. If 25.Bxb4 Qxb4 26.Qd2 Qxd2 27.Rxd2 Ra8 wins a piece with an easy win. 25...Rd4! (See Diagram) MVL's centralized pieces are a dream, though I suspect more a nightmare for Anand. 26.Qc1 There's another variation on a theme if Anand opts to exchange queens: 26.Rxe4 Rxd1 27.Re2 Ra8! and again Black wins another piece, as the Na5 comes under attack as Be1 is pinned! 26...Nf3+! Now the knight sacrifice crashes through for the win. 27.gxf3 There's no hiding place. If 27.Kh1 Qf5 28.Rf2 Qg5! 29.Qxg5 Nxg5 30.Re2 Ra8 31.Bb5 Rd1 32.Nc4 Nf3! and yet again, Black will win more material. 27...Qxf3 28.Qc3 Qh1+ 29.Kf2 e5 0-1

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