26 Dec

The Triple Crown

In 2014, Magnus Carlsen set a new chess record in the annals by becoming the first player ever to hold the three main world titles in chess, namely classical, rapid and blitz.  And after successfully defending his classical world title recently, Carlsen is back in action again, this time looking to become the first player to win the ‘triple crown’ of all three main titles in the same calendar year, as he defends his World Rapid and Blitz titles in Doha, Qatar.

After 22.Be5!

On Christmas Eve, Norway’s biggest newspaper, VG, awarded Carlsen the "Athlete of the Year" title (for the fourth time in 5 years), and his year-end message to the Norwegian media was that the world title - retained after beating Sergey Karjakin in Manhattan in late November - “is worth nothing if I also can't prove that I am number one in the world.” And ominously for 2017, Carlsen further added: “I'll prove to people that I'm really the best player in the world.”

But things didn’t go to plan for Magnus, as he sensationally crashed in the opening rounds of the World Rapid Championship in Doha with a horrific start of 0.5/2 against two relative unknowns, first drawing with Indian GM Surya Ganguly, and then losing to Georgia’s GM Levan Pantsulaia. And although Carlsen rallied to win his next three games, he now faces an uphill battle to defend his rapid world title.

The surprise leader at the end of day 1 is the unlikely figure of Ukraine’s Anton Korobov, who turned in a phenomenal performance to remain the only player left in the field with a perfect score of 5/5 - and along the way, Korobov trounced Russia’s Alexander Grischuk, and then followed this up with an even more spectacular 5th round win over China’s GM Yu Yangyi in today's game.

Carlsen with it all to do | © Maria Emelianova

In second place is Armenia’s Levon Aronian, a half point behind Korobov on 4.5-points, while defending champion Carlsen finds himself a full 1.5-points off the pace in 20th place (=10th), on 3.5-points, and a big ask over the next two days and 10 rounds, if he want's to hold the triple crown in chess. 

GM Anton Korobov - GM Yu Yangyi
World Rapid Ch., (5)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Be7 4.Bf4 A more dynamic and aggressive weapon against Black’s set-up. White puts his bishop on f4 to avoid the exchanges that often occur after the more usual 4./5.Bg5 lines, such as the Lasker variation, and as early as possible wants to put pressure on Black. 4…Nf6 5.e3 0-0 6.Nf3 b6 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.Bd3 Ba6 10.0-0 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 c5 12.e4! Black would have a fine position if it wasn't for this move; the threat now being to rapidly push the d-pawn up the board to cause maximum mayhem in Black's position. 12...Qb7 13.d5 exd5 14.exd5 Nd7 Black can't be too hasty going for the d-pawn, otherwise his pieces can get into a tangle. One example being: 14...Rd8 15.d6 Bf6 16.Rad1 Nc6 17.Bg5 and the d-pawn is a bigger monster than it becomes in the game. 15.Rfe1! Stronger than pushing the d-pawn - Korobov first wants to strategically centralise all his pieces behind the d-pawn. 15...Rfe8 16.b3 Bf6 17.Rad1 b5 While exchanging pieces might look best, as it will ease the tension a little, in the long-run, it will just make the task of White winning easier to execute: 17...Rxe1+ 18.Rxe1 Rd8 19.d6 Nf8 20.Bg3 Ne6 21.Nh4 g6 22.Nf3 and White has created some dark-square weaknesses to add to Black's woes of what to do about the d-pawn. It is not easy finding moves here for Black in such positions, where a dangerously passed pawn is like a bone stuck in your throat. 18.h4 h6 19.g4 Korobov is going straight for the jugular, as his opponent has to deal with the d-pawn and a mounting kingside attack, where the d-pawn is preventing Black's pieces moving over to defend the king. 19...Nf8 20.g5 hxg5 21.hxg5 Bb2 22.Be5! The die is cast here.  Black's bishop is his only active piece, so Korobov looks to exchange it off for a bigger advantage - and if Black doesn't exchange it off, then Korobov will have succeeded in removing a key piece from Black's defences. 22...Ba3 23.Nh4! With Black's pieces disconnected and out of play, Korobov's pieces swiftly move in for the kill. 23...Bb4 24.Re3 Piling on the agony now, as the rook lift threatens to swing over to the kingside attack. 24...Qd7 25.Nf5 c4 26.bxc4 bxc4 27.Qc2 Bc5 28.Bxg7! The exchange sacrifice blows a hole in Black's kingside defences - there's no holding back Korobov's attack now. 28...Bxe3 29.fxe3 Ng6 30.Bc3 The threat is simply Rf1 and Nh6+ crashing home for the win. 30...Nh4 What else is there? If 30...Rab8 31.Rf1 Rxe3 32.Nh6+ Kf8 33.Rxf7+ Qxf7 34.Nxf7 with an easy win, as Black can't take on f7 due to the follow-up Qf5+. Now, with all of White's assets ready to strike, Korobov takes his opponent's king on a brisk Christmas walk up the board. 31.Nh6+ Kf8 32.Qh7 Ke7 33.Bf6+ Kd6 34.Nxf7+ Kc5 35.Bd4+ Kb5 36.Rb1+ Ka5 37.Bc3+ Ka6 38.Qh6+ 1-0

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