03 Jul

The Carlsen Blitzkrieg!

Magnus Carlsen turned in a true tour de force performance in the blitz tournament of the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour leg in Leuven, Belgium, as the world No.1 proved to be in majestic form from start to finish, as he literally blitzkrieged the field to more than make up his 3-point deficit, as he overtook rapid victor Wesley So to take the overall title for his second successive GCT victory in as many weeks.

After 36...h5!

With blitz mavens Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, not to mention world blitz champion Sergey Karjakin missing from the field in Leuven, Carlsen proved to be in a league of his own as he stormed into a commanding lead by the end of day 1, and then finishing day 2 for a final tally of 14½/18, along the way only losing one game to his bête noir in the Dutch No.1, Anish Giri.

But Carlsen’s blitz win proved to be so emphatic, that he shot past US champion So in the combined standings to take the overall title - and not only that, the Norwegian also gained almost 50 rating points to take his blitz No.1 ranking to a stratospheric nose-bleed level of 2948 in the unofficial live ratings, pulling well ahead now of Nakamura, who is 80 points behind, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave trailing a further 15 points behind.

And with another 13 tour points and $37,500 for winning in Leuven, Carlsen storms into a commanding lead in the GCT standings, topping the leader board on 25 points (and $68,750 in prize money) to put himself in a strong position as the tour circus heads next to the US Midwest for the double header of the Sinquefield Cup and St. Louis Rapid & Blitz events starting at the end of the month and going through to mid-August.

5-year-old Belgium Play Magnus fan, Oliver, from Temse,
not only got to make Magnus' opening move, he also had words
of encouragement for his hero! | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)

Blitz final standings
1. Carlsen 14½/18; 2-3. Giri, Vachier-Lagrave 10; 4-5. Kramnik, Aronian 9½; 6. Nepomniachtchi 9; 7-8. Ivanchuk, So 8½; 9. Anand 8; 10. Jobava 2½.

Combined standings
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 25½/36; 2. Wesley So (USA) 22½; 3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 22; 4. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 20; 5-6. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 18½; 7. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 18; 8. Viswanathan Anand (India) 16; 9. Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 15½; 10. Baadur Jobava (Georgia) 3½.

GM Vassily Ivanchuk - GM Magnus Carlsen
Your Next Move GCT Blitz, (13)
Alapin Opening
1.e4 e5 2.Ne2?! Russian master Semyon Alapin (1856-1923) is more famous for 2.c3 against the Sicilian, but here Ivanchuk uses the surprise value of blitz to try to catch out Carlsen with the uber-rarity of the Alapin Opening - and most likely this will be the first and only time we'll ever see it in elite chess! 2...d5 Most obscure lines for White in the Open Game with 1.e4 e5 is usually best answered by an early ...d5 and quick development - and Carlsen plays it now, as he wants to avoid any relatively awkward transpositions from Ivanchuk into a Vienna Opening with Nbc3 and g3. 3.exd5 Nf6 4.d4 exd4 5.Qxd4 Qxd5 6.Nbc3 Qxd4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 8.Ndb5 Na6 9.Bf4 0-0! The queens are exchanged, White has no pawn center, and Carlsen's king is castled to safety and he's ahead in development - what's not to like here for the world champion? 10.f3 The pawn on c7 is just too hot to risk taking. If 10.Nxc7 Nxc7 11.Bxc7 Re8+ 12.Be2 Bd4! and White is in deep, deep trouble. And similarly, if 10.Be2 c6 11.Nd6 Nb4! 12.0-0-0 Bxf2 leaves the f2 pawn en prise and a very comfortable game for Black. So, faced with this early crisis in his game, Ivanchuk opts for a line that completes his development and sees his king castled to safety. 10...Re8+ 11.Be2 Be6 Just look how free and easy Carlsen's development has been - Ivanchuk's ploy of trying to surprise the world champion in the opening has completely backfired. 12.0-0-0 Bxa2! Carlsen is always quick to spot the tactics! And if it wasn't for this, Ivanchuk may well have had a very playable game - but now, the Ukrainian ace is a pawn down and has to compromise his position to return to equality. 13.Rhe1 It goes without saying that trying to trap Carlsen's bishop was futile. If 13.b3 c6! 14.Kb2 (Worse was 14.Nd4 Ba3+ 15.Kd2 Rad8 and White's king is going to get caught in the center by the rampant Black rooks.) 14...Bxb3 15.cxb3 cxb5 16.Bxb5 Red8 17.Be5 Be7! 18.Bxa6 bxa6 19.Rhe1 Rac8 and Black is just a pawn up with an easy game. 13...Nh5 14.Bd2 Be6 15.Ne4 Be7 16.Nd4 Bd7 17.Bxa6 As Carlsen is a pawn up with an easy game, what else is there? Ivanchuk is hoping that the damage to Carlsen's queenside pawn structure is enough to save the game. 17...bxa6 18.Bg5 Bxg5+ 19.Nxg5 Nf6 20.Nb3 If Ivanchuk can safely post his knight on c5, he has some hopes of saving the game. 20...h6?! The only bad move from Carlsen in the game. The world champion is a pawn up, albeit his queenside pawns are crippled, and he should have prevented Ivanchuk from safely getting Ne4 in. Instead, he should have played 20...Bc6! 21.Na5 Rxe1 22.Rxe1 Re8! 23.Rxe8+ Bxe8 with the better game. But that's blitz for you, you can make mistakes. 21.Ne4 Nxe4 22.Rxd7! Unfortunately, Carlsen had missed this - and now, the game should have just petered out to a draw with both sides having rooks on the seventh. 22...Nf6 23.Rdd1?! Arguably the decisive moment. Ivanchuk had to play 23.Rxe8+! Rxe8 24.Rxc7 Re1+ 25.Kd2 Rh1 26.h3 Rh2 and both rooks are going to be mopping up pawns to a draw. 23...Kf8! Carlsen is always alert to see the possibilities in the endgame - and here, he's calculated he will have some winning chances if all the rooks are swapped off, as Ivanchuk's knight will be a little offside on the a-file, and his king will be the more active. 24.Nc5 Rxe1 25.Rxe1 Re8 26.Rxe8+ Kxe8 27.Nxa6 Kd7 28.Nc5+ Kd6 There really isn't much in the position - but Carlsen's king is just that little bit more active, and Ivanchuk doesn't quite have the time left on his clock to fathom out how to stop this from happening. 29.Nd3 The best response looks to be 29.Nb7+ Kd7 (Not 29...Kc6? 30.Nd8+! wins the f7 pawn, and Black can't track back with his king to try and trap the knight, as White has Nh8! and a re-entry square on g6 to escape.) 30.Kd2 and Black is prevented from playing ...c5 and still can't shift the knight with ...Kc6 as Nd8+ wins the f7-pawn. So from here, White will be able to get his king more centralized than happens in the game. 29...c5 Carlsen's c5 pawn, king and knight now control a lot of real estate in the center. I dare say in classical, Ivanchuk would have saved this position - but this is blitz, and you simply don't have the time for all the little nuances of a king and knight endgame. 30.Kd2 c4 31.Nf4 Kc5 32.h4 a5 Carlsen's queenside activity with the pawns and his king become very problematic for Ivanchuk, especially with his digital clock metaphorically ticking down now. 33.g4 Nd5 34.Ne2 The last chance was to exchange knights and go for the king and pawn ending, but your gut instincts tell you to keep the knight on, as you can always sacrifice it for a few pawns - but difficult to see in the time pressure that White can establish a fortress after 34.Nxd5! Kxd5 35.Ke3 g5 36.hxg5 hxg5 37.c3! Ke5 38.Kd2 Kf4 39.Ke2 f6 40.Kf2 Ke5 41.Ke3 and a draw. 34...g6 35.c3 There's no time for 35.Ng3 as Black has 35...a4 threatening to play ...c3+ and running the a-pawn. 35...Kd6 Now Carlsen shifts his attention to Ke5 to look at opening a way in on the kingside. 36.f4 h5! Ivanchuk is effectively in Zugszwang here, and the f5-entry square for either the knight or the king will ultimately prove decisive. 37.g5 a4 38.Ke1 Ne3 39.Ng3 Ng2+ 0-1

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