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Shamkir 2019 Round 8: Carlsen's Sveshnikov helps him win Shamkir Chess 2019 with one round to spare

by Tanmay Srinath - 09/04/2019

When the penultimate round of Shamkir Chess 2019 began, Magnus Carlsen was half a point ahead of Sergey Karjakin. As the two rivals sat opposite each other, it was clear that Karjakin with the white pieces was going to go all out against the World Champion. Second place didn't interest the Russian. Beating the World Champion was his aim. He opened the game with 1.e4 and Carlsen responded with his favourite - the Sicilian Sveshnikov. Once Karjakin had decided to play a full-blooded fight, he had to take some risky decisions. That's when the World Champion showed his class. He sacrificed a pawn, brought his pieces into the attack and with magical play on the light squares, forced Karjakin to resign when the material was still even on the board! With this win Magnus won the Shamkir Chess 2019 with a round to spare!

There was some clarity heading into the penultimate round of Shamkir 2019. Sergey Karjakin had the white pieces against Magnus Carlsen, and was in a must win situation as far the tournament first place was concerned. Sergey went for 7.Nd5 against Magnus’s Sveshnikov, but the World Champion showed amazing depth in preparation to equalise chances soon. He then took advantage of Karjakin’s time pressure errors to win a wonderful counterattacking game and win the title with a round to spare! Ding Liren ground down Veselin Topalov in a rook vs knight endgame, where Veselin had a draw until the very last minute, but overlooked a veiled threat in the position and had to resign. Alexander Grischuk continued the discussion in the Advance Caro Kann by beating David Navara in a complex middlegame with White. The other two games ended up in draws. A closer look:

Karjakin - Carlsen:

This was the decider as far the tournament was concerned. Sergey had to win with White in this round if he had to have any chance of finishing first. Sergey went for 1.e4 and played the Open Sicilian against Magnus' Sveshnikov. And what followed was a truckloads of fun for the viewers!

Karjakin believed he could beat the World Champion and went all out | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

But Carlsen is playing at an altogether different level! It's very difficult to beat the World Champion when he is in such great form. | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

This position first arose in the famous 12th game in the World Chess Championship 2018, with both players needing a win to win the title. Fabi played Be3 here, and ended up getting slowly outplayed after making some questionable decisions. Sergey deviates here with 15.Bg5, the universal first choice of all the engines, and a very logical one as well- White either provokes f6 and weakens g6, or makes good use of the g5 square for a long time, having provoked its weakening by h4-h5. This decision, as we shall soon see, is quite double edged as well. If White doesn’t play accurately, Black ends up getting a lot of play on the light squares.

In chess and in life, one has to often give something to get something. Here, with his next move 18.g3, Sergey takes control of the f4 square and solidifies his control over the kingside dark squares. However, the g4 square, among other light squares, are severely weakened by White’s expansion policy, thus giving Black a lot of counter-chances. It is wrong to criticise this move, but now the play becomes very sharp and any inaccuracy will be fatal.

An inspired pawn sacrifice by Magnus. By castling, Black allows White a free extra pawn, but in return gets his knight into the game to targets the soft spots on light squares.

The knight on e5 is a monster, looking at all the light squared weaknesses

It is clear to both Man and Machine that Black has successfully equalised, and Sergey has to play very precisely now, if he is to make good use of his material. Magnus has a clear cut attacking plan ready, and in this position I personally prefer Black already - his play will be smooth and easy, while White is condemned to a hard defense of his king here.

Qd7!? Magnus has his eyes set on the light squares!

Sergey is not one to back down easily. He starts his play on the queenside.

Here, Black has traded a couple of pawns in the center, gaining a majority on the queenside in exchange for allowing White a passer on the d-file. Sergey commits the first mistake Nc3?, a move that was condemned by the World Champion. He and all the top engines suggest Qc2!?, with a very tense battle ahead.

Magnus quickly went for b5-b4 pushing White's pieces behind. Here White should have understood that he is walking on thin ice and should have played d6. However, Karjakin's next move sealed the deal in Magnus' favour. Na4!? The knight is relegated to the side of the board and doesn't do much over there.

Here things are already looking rather scary for White. Black has a naturally developing Kingside attack, while White’s d-pawn can’t advance too far. However, defensive resources in chess are surprising large in number. Here Sergey had to play f3!!, a very brave move, weakening g3, but crucially taking control of the g4 and f3 squares, which are potential invasion squares for Black’s pieces. White is still breathing after this, but the defense remains onerous. Instead, 30.f4? was the last straw. After Qg6, it is painfully clear that White is getting massacred on the kingside.

The final diagram illustrates Black’s model build up after the pawn sacrifice- the octopus on d3, control of the critical e2 square, and White’s chronically weak light squares. Magnus finished off a powerful game in two more moves, and with it the title race ended. A creative attacking game by the World Champion, returning to his dominant best!

Karjakin shunned three-fold repetition at the start of the game and went for a fight! A great attitude by the great champion! | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

GOAT - "Greatest of All Time" Magnus Carlsen wins Shamkir Masters 2019. Magnus beat Anand, Navara, Giri and Karjakin to score 6.0/8 and win the event with one round to spare. Carlsen's live rating is now 2856, which is a solid 40 points more than world no.2 Fabiano Caruana. Magnus has played four times (2014, 2015, 2018, 2019) in Shamkir out of the six editions that have taken place and he has won all four of them! | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

Radjabov-Anand:

One of the main opening lessons taught to all of us by Anand over the years has been to trust one’s preparation, irrespective of the results its getting in this tournament. | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

Anand repeated his drawing weapon 6...c5 against Teimour’s 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined, and the players debated the IQP line covered extensively in the Sinquefeld Cup 2018. Anand deviated first, and the only imbalance in the game consisited of Vishy having a d4 passer to Teimour’s kingside majority. The critical point was reached as early as move 16:

Here Radjabov played Nc4, the first choice engine move, initiating exchanges, and a draw was thus a logical result on move 33. Here, he had the chance to go for the natural 17.f4! (instead of Nc4), launching his kingside majority down the board. After Nxd3 Qxd3, it is true that the Queen is slightly misplaced in this position. However, the d4 pawn remains in lock and key, and White has a mobile pawn mass on the kingside that will mow Anand down if he doesn’t react accurately. This was Teimour’s best chance at an opening advantage, and I expect this will be tried in future games.

Radjabov continues to play solid chess, and sits right in the middle of the leaderboard. | Photo: Shamkir Chess 2019

Grischuk-Navara:

A contender for the most attractive game of the round. The players contested the Advance Caro Kann today, a variation that has become critical at the top level these days. White got early queenside play going, and play resembled an Advance French, with White having a pawn on e5, and Black compensated by the attacking chances he gets on e5 and d4. Grischuk handled the imbalance better, and we soon reached the decisive point of the game:

In the press conference Grischuk was very critical of Black’s previous play with Nh6, f6 and Ng4. He felt that having wasted three tempi in the opening and having a blocked Bc8, Black doesn’t have a good enough position to punish White, who has safely developed his pieces and has a big positional advantage already. Navara’s 18...Nxf2? can only be explained by his extreme tiredness due to having a lot of fighting games already in the tournament. As he himself stated, he miscalculated the lines and missed the strong blocking move Bd4! in some lines and missed c5! as played in the game. Sasha’s play after getting an advantage has been nearly perfect, but there is one last moment that can be mentioned.

Here, Alexander mentioned that if he were Black he would resign here, but David Navara is a very tough nut to crack, even in bad form and uneven health. David suggested an improvement for Black here with Rg5! first, goading the king forward to e4, and then playing Rg1, instead of the immediate Rg1 that Black played in the game. He then has some practical chances in the two bishop + knight vs rook endgame based on checking from the back, as White only has the h-pawn left and two pieces versus rook is a theoretical draw. It is admirable that Navara finds such resources even in lost positions like these. One should take note of such a good attitude!

After fighting hard, Navara blundered the rook on a1 but the position was anyway lost

Topalov-Ding:

Veselin has often said that he doesn’t work hard on chess anymore, and he continues to defy the laws of return on investment, by holding his own against the best in the world! Today however was not his day. Ding equalised easily in a Nimzo Indian as Black, and soon put pressure on White’s queenside structure. The game oscillated between a draw and a black advantage for a long time till Veselin blundered for the final time: Ding’s youth and persistence won against Topalov’s experience today.

Ding’s last move Rh5? was the penultimate blunder, allowing White to hold the draw after Ne4+!. Black can’t break through in that case, and White has to hold on till the 50 move rule comes into place. Veselin however, got tired (very understandable after more than a 100 moves!) and blundered with Nf7??, a safe looking move that doesn’t take into account Black’s zugzwang possibilities. Ding immediately cashed in with Rd5! forcing resignation in a few more moves.

Giri - Mamedyarov:

A Quiet Italian was debated by both players today, with Anish deciding to avoid Shak’s Open Spanish. White played solidly and got a foothold in the center easily. Black however, was very ambitious, playing a quick c6 and d5, and trying to counter fire with fire. We soon reached the critical part of the game: Anish Giri got an advantage against Shak today, but was unable to capitalise on the chances he got.

Here we can see that Black’s position is slightly overextended, with d5 being vulnerable and the black queen in a very irritating pin. Shak here had to play h6! to sacrifice a pawn. Doing so, he would have sharply activated his pieces after Bxf6 Qxf6 cxd5 Nh4! with enough counterplay to hold the balance. But Shak didn't go for it. He committed a serious inaccuracy with Be6?! allowing 17.d4! exd4 18.exd5! cxd5 and here Giri had the chance to punish black with Nh5!

19. Nh5! condemning black with a decisive weakening of his kingside. White then would be playing only for two results- a win or a draw. Judging by Anish’s expression in the press conference, he either missed Shak’s recommendation (Nh5!) or underestimated it.

1.5 point lead for Magnus Carlsen with one round to spare!

About the author:

Tanmay Srinath is an 18-year-old chess player from Bangalore, Karnataka, currently pursuing both chess and engineering at BMSCE Bangalore. Tanmay is also a Taekwondo Black Belt, who has represented the country in an International Tournament in Thailand. He is a big fan of Mikhail Tal and Vishy Anand, and sincerely believes in doing his bit to Power Chess in India!