Croatia Grand Chess Tour
June 26-July 8, 2019
1. Magnus Carlsen NOR 2875, 8.0/11
2. Wesley So USA 2754, 7.0/11
3-4. Levon Aronian ARM 2752, Fabiano Caruana USA 2819, 6.0/11
5-7. Anish Giri NED 2779, Ding Liren CHN 2805, Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS 2775, 5.5/11
8. Sergey Karjakin RUS 2748, 5.0/11
9-11. Viswanathan Anand IND 2767, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov AZE 2774, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave FRA 2779, 4.5/11
12. Hikaru Nakamura USA 2754, 4.0/11
Average Rating 2782 Category 22
Time Control: 130 minutes play-to-finish with 30 second delay before the clock starts on every move
After winning the Croatia leg of the Grand Chess Tour, Magnus Carlsen’s rating is at 2882 which ties the highest-ever rating he (or anyone else in the world for that matter) has ever achieved. He won the world title from Vishy Anand in 2013 and retained it in 2014. He was also the world champion in rapid and blitz, the first player to simultaneously hold all these titles.
After the 2014 high, when he was world champion of everything, he sort of got lazy and started over-relying on his technique (this is my opinion which of course anyone is free to dispute) and his games went through a phase of trying to prove a theorem rather than an explosion of ideas to overwhelm an opponent. He still won tournaments, but dominating performances now came only once in a while.
Now he is back in the groove. In this year he has won seven consecutive elite tournaments: Tata Steel Chess (Wijk aan Zee), Grenke Chess (Germany), Shamkir Chess (Gashimov Memorial, Azerbaijan), Abidjan (Rapid/Blitz in Ivory Coast), Lindores Abbey Chess Stars (Lindores Abbey Distillery, Scotland), Norway Chess (Altibox tournament, Stavanger, Norway), and finally this tournament in Croatia.
His last loss in a classical game was against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Biel last July 31, 2018. Before that it was the month before against Wesley So in 2018 Altibox Norway Chess. The reason I harp on this is because just before their game Carlsen made some unfortunate comments: “I can’t remember him (So) ever being close to beat me. If I want a draw, I will often get it easily.”
But I digress. Known for his attacking style as a teenager Carlsen has since toughened up his technique to mold himself into a universal player, equally good in attack, defense, and grinding away with technique. How can you be stronger than that? Where can you find space to improve yourself?
From the chess that he has played I can confirm that this is the new, improved version, Magnus Carlsen II, if you like. He is even more dangerous than before, with obviously a lot of hard work done on his openings, and then there is this new-found aggression with which he pounces on his opponents, trying to finish them off quickly rather than transpose to the endgame and complete the job there.
Aronian said about Carlsen:
“He started going into the main lines, which he was usually not doing in previous years. I think he trained pretty well for his match with Fabiano. Now he does something that is unusual for him: he plays very critical opening lines from the start. He plays central chess, something he wasn’t doing. And it works well for him.”
Giri also made this point about Carlsen and openings.
“I think what has changed is, he won a few games after repeating a lot of lines at home. Such preparation takes a lot of energy and effort. You have to analyze and afterwards you have to look at these lines and you have to make sure you remember them. That takes a lot of effort, and I think before he thought that wasn’t worth it. Now he won a few games this way, he felt, oh wait, that’s actually worth it. So now he is not only having walks in the rain like today, but at some point he also sits with his laptop in his room, puts on his headphones and stares at the screen for a couple of hours and does his job. That makes him a different player and people have to still get used to it but I think right now they really understand. He has simply become one of the best prepared players in the world.”
Here is his win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, one of the world’s greatest authorities in the Gruenfeld. The ease with which the Frenchman is dispatched is almost obscene.
Carlsen, Magnus (2875) — Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime (2779) [D85]
Croatia Grand Chess Tour Zagreb CRO (11.1), 07.07.2019
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Be3
Another even more popular system is 8.Rb1 0–0 9.Be2 but MVL has already shown he can handle the Black pieces quite well here. An interesting game from two years ago went 9…cxd4 10.cxd4 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qxa2 12.0–0 Bg4 13.Be3 Nc6 14.d5 Na5 15.Bg5 b6 16.Bxe7 Rfe8 17.d6 Nc6 18.Bb5 Nxe7 19.h3 Bxf3 20.Qxf3 Qe6 21.Bxe8 Rxe8 22.dxe7 Qxe7 Aronian, L (2799)-Vachier-Lagrave, M (2804) Tbilisi World Cup 2017. MVL’s exchange sacrifice has ensured that black’s queenside pawns give him sufficient counterplay. 1/2 32.
8…Qa5 9.Qd2 Nc6 10.Rb1 cxd4 11.cxd4 0–0
[11…Qxd2+ 12.Kxd2 0–0 leads to a typical Gruenfeld endgame where White has his pawns on d4 and e4 and tries to prove them a central force, while Black puts pressure with pieces. There is no theoretical conclusion yet as to whether White has any advantage here]
12.Qxa5 Nxa5 13.Bd3
White wants to castle quickly, perhaps because he saw MVL’s game where he quickly attacked the white king and the first player was not able to survive the opening: 13.d5 e6 14.Bd2 b6 15.Bxa5 bxa5 16.Bc4 exd5 17.Bxd5 Ba6!? 18.Bxa8 Rxa8 19.e5 Bf8 20.Rc1 Rd8 21.Rc2 Bb4+ 22.Nd2 a4 23.Kd1 Bd3 24.Nf3 Be4+ 0–1. Bellahcene, B (2475)-Vachier Lagrave, M (2811) Bastia FRA 2016.
13…Bg4 14.0–0 Bxf3 15.gxf3 e6 16.Rfd1
For the next few moves the play is centered around White’s d4–d5 advance. Carlsen tries to put maximum forces behind it while MVL seeks to discourage it.
16…Rfd8 17.Bf1 b6 18.Ba6
In general outline white intends d4–d5 and then control d8 and d7 with his bishops.
18…Rd6 19.Rbc1 Rad8 20.Bg5 f6
Forced. 20…R8d7? 21.Rc8+ Bf8 22.Bb5 and Black has to give up the exchange, for 22…Rb7 23.Bh6 leads to mate.
21.Be3 h6 22.Bb5 f5 <D>
POSITION AFTER 22…F5
[23…exd5? 24.Bf4 Rf6 25.Bc7]
A nice try to complicate the issue.
[26.Bxa6? allows Black the use of the c6 square after 26…exd5 27.Bb4 Rc6]
26…exd5 27.Bb4 Re6 28.Rxd5 Rxd5?! 29.exd5 Re4
Naturally White had to ensure that he is not losing a piece here.
30.Rc8+ Kf7 31.a3 Be5 32.Be8+ Kg7 33.d6 Rd4 34.d7 Nb7 35.Be7 Re4 36.Rc6 Bd4 37.Rc7 1–0
Caruana joined in the praise:
His tournament here was extraordinary, but his play throughout the year has been really excellent, and he’s winning games with remarkable ease, which normally these things don’t happen, like today, he ends the game with an hour on the clock. I think that things are just all falling together for him, at every stage of the game.
Giri, Anish (2779) — Carlsen, Magnus (2875) [B30]
Croatia Grand Chess Tour Zagreb CRO (1.1), 26.06.2019
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 5.d3 Ne7 6.h4 h5 7.e5 d6?!
The usual move here is 7…Ng6. While this new move is really not that good, it totally discombobulates Anish Giri, who is one of the best prepared GMs in the world.
It appears that Black intends to continue with ..e6–e5 (that’s the reason the knight went to g6) …Bg4 and finally …Bxd6. Giri embarks on a faulty maneuver to counter this idea.
9.Nfd2 Bxd6 10.Nc4 Be7 11.Nc3 Ba6
Simply removing the knight from the board, the knight which White had taken pains to position on the optimum c4 square.
12.Qf3 Bxc4 13.Qxc6+ Kf8 14.dxc4 Nxh4 15.0–0 Nf5 16.Ne2
Black obviously wants to put his knight on d4 so Giri immediately takes steps against it.
Giri had been playing some weird knight moves, but this one is a clear mistake. Why not centralize the queen with 17.Qe4.
17…Rc7 18.Bf4 Rd7 19.c3? g5! 20.Rad1? Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Qa8!
Surprisingly, White can no longer adequately defend his king.
22.Bc7 h4 23.f3 h3 0–1
The worse part about his position is that the white queen cannot even try to get back to her king’s defense. For example 23…h3 24.Qc2 Ne3
The lesson from all this is that the best can still get better, and so long as everybody keeps trying to improve themselves the classical form of chess will always be alive.
Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.