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23 Jan

Magnus On Tilt

"On tilt" - usually associated these days with poker, though it originated from playing pinball - is a term used to describe a negative emotional state that clouds a person's judgement and leads them to continue to make mistakes, often growing in magnitude as the player's frustration mounts. And this perfectly describes Magnus Carlsen’s mood right now at the 79th Tata Steel Masters, as suddenly the World Champion’s once reveared invincibility in the game is looking very vulnerable indeed.


Can you find the mate (White to move) Magnus missed?

In November last year, Carlsen had a lacklustre defence of his crown with a last-gasp playoff victory over Sergey Karjakin.  From there, he then went on to lose his two speed crowns at the year-ending World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Doha.  Carlsen was looking to rebuild his standing in 2017, but now two remarkable back-to-back games at the Tata Steel Masters could well see him sensationally eclipsed as the world No.1.

In round seven, playing against the Dutch No.1, Anish Giri, Carlsen reached today’s diagram position where he played the ‘winning’ move of 53.Bf3! and there followed the forced sequence of  53…e1Q 54.Bh5+ Kf8 55.Rf5+ Kg8...only for Carlsen to blunder with 56.Bf7+?? and the game ending in a marathon draw after 123-moves.  But unbelievably, in one of the biggest misses in the annals of all the World Champions, Carlsen failed to spot the easy win with the forced mate-in-3 after: 56.Rc8+! Re8 (There's no alternative. If 56...Kg7 57.Rf7+ Kh6 58.Rh8#) 57.Rxe8+ and Black can resign.

But things then went from bad to worse for the World Champion.  In the following round, Carlsen faced Hungary’s Richard Rapport for the first time and - perhaps still frustrated by missing the forced win in the previous round - he inexplicably pressed the ‘self-destruct’ button by playing overly ambitious against the tournament tail-ender. Not unsurprisingly, it backfired spectacularly, and Carlsen was soon forced into a humiliating early resignation.

But along the way, the damage has been done to Carlsen’s standing and once invincibility in the game, because now his rating has plummeted below 2840 on the unofficial live list for the first time in his rise to the top, and Fabiano Caruana, the US world No.2, is within 8-points of Carlsen’s coveted No.1 spot  - and this could happen sooner rather than later, because the US champion is the top seed in the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters that gets underway tommorrow!  

And with Carlsen in virtual free-fall, Wesley So, the US world No.4 (and now No.3 on the live list), continues his impressive upward rise and standing in the game, as he moves almost effortlessly up the rankings and establishes a 1-point lead at the top of the Tata Steel Masters leaderboard, as he looks to start the new year in much the same way as he ended the previous year, by winning yet another landmark major chess title.


Carlsen, just seconds after realising he'd missed an
easy mate against Giri, dramatically captured by @photochess

Round 8 standings:
1. Wesley So (USA)  5.5/8; 2-3. Pavel Eljanov (Ukraine), Wei Yi (China) 5; 4-7. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Bakran Adhiban (India), Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 4.5; 8-9. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 4; 10-11. Dmitry Andreikin (Russia), Radaslow Wojtaszek (Poland) 3.5; 12-13. Richard Rapport (Hungary), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 3; 14. Loek Van Wely (Netherlands) 1.5.

Monday is a rest day at the Tata Steel Masters, with play resuming on Tuesday.

GM Richard Rapport - GM Magnus Carlsen
79th Tata Steel Masters, (8)
Reti’s Opening
1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 Bf5 3.Bb2 e6 4.d3 h6 5.Nbd2 Nf6 6.c4 c6 7.g3 Be7 8.Bg2 0-0 9.0-0 Nbd7 10.a3 a5 This is a typical Reti set-up with White playing on the queenside while his pieces holds Black from pushing his pawns in the centre. And typically, the 'Reversed London'/ New York Defence - as pioneered against this hypermodern system by former world champion Emanuel Lasker against Richard Reti himself, at New York 1924 - is a solid and very reliable system against the Reti. 11.Qb1 While it may look strange to develop the queen here, White plans Bc3 and pushing for b4. 11...Bh7 12.b4! axb4 13.axb4 Qb6 If 13...Rxa1 14.Bxa1 Qc7 15.b5 and White is successfully chipping away at Black's position, preventing him pushing in the centre. 14.Bc3 Rxa1 15.Qxa1 Bxb4 16.Bxb4 Qxb4 17.Rb1 Rapport has easy equality here - a dream position to have in your first game against the World Champion. 17...Qd6 18.Rxb7 e5 19.d4! Correctly liquidating Carlsen's centre before he can do anything with it. 19...exd4 If 19...e4 20.Ne5! and White will soon be following up with capturing on d7 and playing e3 with a very solid position. 20.Nxd4 c5 21.N4b3 d4 If 21...dxc4 22.Nxc4 Qe6 23.Ne3 Be4 24.Bxe4 Nxe4 25.Qa4! Ndf6 26.Qc4 Qe5 27.Ra7! and White has easy equality with the constant threat on f7 forever cramping Black from doing anything. 22.Bh3! A good, accurate move from Rapport that cuts across Carlsen's plans of trying to make something - anything - out of this position. With the bishop on h3, it stops Carlsen playing ...Bf5 and also ties him down to defending the knight on d7. A wise head would now realise that the position was equal and the game was heading for an inevitable draw here. 22...d3?!? This is simply taking enormous liberties against a weaker player - but at 2700, Rapport is not a weak player! Frustrated that he isn't winning, Carlsen lashes out and it quickly backfires on the World Champion. Instead, he had to accept he only stood marginally better here, and play the safe continuation of 22...Rb8 23.Rxb8+ Qxb8 24.Qa5 Qe5! 25.Qb5 Bf5 26.Bxf5 Qxf5 27.Nxd4 Qe5 28.N4f3 Qxe2 29.Qb1 Kf8 30.Qf1! where the position is nothing more than equal and a draw on the horizon, with a 'symmetrical position' on the board with queens, knights and pawns mirroring each other. 23.e3 A very simple move to find, and one that starts to dramatically change the complexity of the position, as suddenly all of Rapport's pieces are active and he has big threats of preparing of a central pawn push. 23...Ne5 The problem is that Carlsen no longer has the 'safety' move of 23...Rb8 as 24.Rxb8+ Qxb8 25.Qa3! hits the c5-pawn, and Black can't play 25...Qc7 as 26.Bxd7 Nxd7 27.Qa8+ Nf8 28.Qd5! Ne6 29.e4 is cutting off Black's bishop and allowing White to pick off the d3-pawn at his leisure. 24.Bg2 Rc8 25.f4 Neg4 26.e4! This quickly leads to Carlsen's demise, as the threat of the further push to e5 and possibly Bd5 hitting f7 cannot be met. 26...Re8 What else is there? If 26...Bg6 White comes over the top now with 27.e5 Qe6 28.Qa7! (Certainly not 28.exf6?? Qe3+ 29.Kh1 Nf2+ 30.Kg1 Nd1+ 31.Kh1 Qe1+ 32.Nf1 Be4! wins on the spot.) 28...Nxe5 29.fxe5 Qxe5 30.Re7 Qg5 31.Bb7 Rd8 32.Qxc5 easily winning. 27.e5 Nxe5 28.fxe5 Rxe5 Carlsen has a couple of pawns and some nebulios activity for the piece - but one very accurate move from Rapport soon ends any hopes the World Champion might have had of somehow saving this. 29.Rb6! Qe7 If 29...Qxb6 30.Qxe5 the rooks are off the board and White is also hitting c5. 30.Rb8+ Ne8 31.Bc6! Re1+ 32.Qxe1 Qxe1+ 33.Nf1 1-0 Carlsen resigns, as after 33...d2 34.Nbxd2 and there's still no defence to the big threat of Rxe8+ going two pieces up.

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