Carlsen Prevails at the London Classic

LCC_151213-0041 Magnus Carlsen before winning the London Chess Classic and Grand Chess Tour, Photo Ray Morris-Hill
It’s hard to imagine a player as strong as Magnus Carlsen in a slump. Yet, a portion of 2015 was very turbulent for the World Champion:
  • At Norway Chess, after starting the event with a loss due to an unfortunate time control misunderstanding, he finished the tournament in nearly last place.
  • Although he did successfully defend his World Rapid Championship title, he lost his World Blitz title to Alexander Grischuk.
  • At the European Team Chess Championship, he blundered and lost to an opponent rated nearly 300 points lower than him.
  • His rating reached the lowest it’s been in 4 years.
This brings us to London Classic, the final event of the Grand Chess Tour and one of the last events of the year. Nearing the end of the tournament, although undefeated, Carlsen seemed to be far from ideal form. He missed several opportunities in previous rounds, and his rating continued to trickle downwards. Despite this, Carlsen managed to come through and win, not only the London Classic, but the entire Grand Chess Tour. His nearly seven hour, hard-fought victory against Nakamura shows his incredible fighting spirit.
[Round "7"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Hikaru Nakamura"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D11"]
[PlyCount "155"]
[EventDate "2015.12.03"]

1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 5. h3 Bh5 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Nc3 e6 8. g4
Bg6 9. Ne5 Nfd7 10. Nxg6 hxg6 11. Bg2 Nc6 12. e4 dxe4 13. Nxe4 Bb4+ 14. Nc3 Nb6
15. O-O O-O 16. d5 exd5 17. Nxd5 Bc5 18. Nc3 Bd4 19. Qf3 Qf6 20. Qxf6 Bxf6 21.
Bf4 Rad8 22. Rad1 Bxc3 23. bxc3 Na4 24. c4 Nc3 25. Rd2 Rxd2 26. Bxd2 Ne2+ 27.
Kh2 Rd8 28. Be3 Nc3 29. a3 Rd3 30. Rc1 Nd1 31. Be4 Rd7 32. Bc5 Nb2 33. Rc2 Na4
34. Be3 Nb6 35. c5 Nd5 36. Rd2 Nf6 37. Rxd7 Nxd7 38. Kg3 Kf8 39. f4 Nf6 40. Bf3
Ke7 41. f5 gxf5 42. gxf5 Kd7 43. Kf4 Ne8 44. Kg5 Ke7 45. Bf4 a6 46. h4 Kf8 47.
Bg3 Nf6 48. Bd6+ Ke8 49. Kf4 Nd7 50. Bg2 Kd8 51. Kg5 Ke8 52. h5 Nf6 53. h6 Nh7+
54. Kh5 Nf6+ 55. Kg5 Nh7+ 56. Kh4 gxh6 57. Kh5 Nf6+ 58. Kxh6 Ng4+ 59. Kg7 Nd4
60. Be4 Nf2 61. Bb1 Ng4 62. Bf4 f6 63. Be4 Nf2 64. Bb1 Ng4 65. Be4 Nf2 66. Bxb7
Nd3 67. Kxf6 Nxf4 68. Ke5 Nfe2 69. f6 a5 70. a4 Kf7 71. Bd5+ Kf8 72. Ke4 Nc2
73. c6 Nc3+ 74. Ke5 Nxa4 75. Bb3 Nb6 76. Bxc2 a4 77. c7 Kf7 78. Bxa4 1-0[/pgn]
Leading into the last round, Carlsen was half a point behind the tournament leaders. Only a victory would tie him for first and get him into the playoff for the title. Grischuk came ready for a battle, playing the wild Sicilian variation that Veselin Topalov used as a surprise weapon against Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup.
[Round "9"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Alexander Grischuk"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B51"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2015.12.03"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]

1. Nf3 c5 2. e4 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O a6 5. Bd3 Ngf6 6. Re1 b5 7. c4 g5 {This
move originally threw Carlsen off at Sinquefield Cup. However, this time he
was prepared.} 8. Nxg5 Ne5 9. Be2 bxc4 10. Nc3 ({Against Topalov, Carlsen
tried a complicated piece sacrifice:} 10. Na3 Rg8 11. Nxc4 Nxc4 12. d4 Nb6 13.
Bh5 Nxh5 14. Qxh5 Rg7 15. Nxh7 Qd7 16. dxc5 dxc5 17. e5 Qc6 18. f3 Qg6 19. Nf6+
Kd8 20. Qxg6 Rxg6 {and Topalov went on to win.}) 10... Rb8 11. Rf1 h6 12. Nf3
Nd3 13. Ne1 Nxb2 14. Bxb2 Rxb2 15. Bxc4 Rb4 16. Qe2 Bg7 17. Nc2 Rb6 18. Rab1
O-O 19. Rxb6 Qxb6 20. Ne3 e6 21. f4 Kh8 22. f5 a5 23. a4 Qd8 24. h3 Qe7 25. Ba6
Bxa6 26. Qxa6 Nh5 27. Rf3 Rg8 28. Nb5 Be5 29. Ng4 Qh4 30. fxe6 fxe6 31. Nxe5
dxe5 32. Qxe6 Qe1+ 33. Kh2 Rxg2+ 34. Kxg2 Qxd2+ 35. Kg1 Qe1+ 36. Rf1 Qe3+ 37.
Rf2 Qe1+ 38. Kg2 1-0[/pgn]
In the first game of the rapid final playoff, Carlsen pushed for the win until the very end, even with only seconds left on his clock.
[Round "2.1"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Maxime Vachier-Lagrave"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B52"]
[WhiteElo "2834"]
[BlackElo "2773"]
[PlyCount "113"]
[EventDate "2015.12.13"]
[SourceDate "2015.11.12"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bxd7+ Qxd7 5. c4 Nf6 6. Nc3 g6 7. d4 cxd4 8.
Nxd4 Bg7 9. f3 O-O 10. Be3 Nc6 11. Rc1 Nxd4 12. Bxd4 Rfc8 13. b3 Nh5 14. O-O
Bxd4+ 15. Qxd4 Nf6 16. Rfe1 Rc7 17. Rcd1 Qc6 18. Nb5 Rd7 19. Nxa7 Qc5 20. Qxc5
dxc5 21. Nb5 Rxa2 22. e5 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Nh5 24. g3 Rb2 25. Rd8+ Kg7 26. Re8 Rb1+
27. Kg2 Rb2+ 28. Kg1 Rb1+ 29. Kg2 Rb2+ 30. Kh3 e6 31. Re7 Rxb3 32. Kg4 Kf8 33.
Rxb7 h6 34. Rc7 f5+ 35. exf6 Nxf6+ 36. Kf4 g5+ 37. Ke5 Ne8 38. Rxc5 Re3+ 39.
Kd4 Rxf3 40. Re5 Rf2 41. Rxe6 Rxh2 42. c5 h5 43. Nd6 Nxd6 44. cxd6 Kf7 45. Re3
h4 46. g4 h3 47. Ke5 Rh1 48. d7 Ke7 49. Kf5+ Kxd7 50. Kxg5 Kd6 51. Kh5 Rf1 52.
Rxh3 Ke7 53. Kg6 Rf6+ 54. Kg7 Rf7+ 55. Kg6 Rf6+ 56. Kg5 Ra6 57. Rf3 1-0[/pgn]
"When it was needed, Magnus came through." -Grand Chess Tour commentator, GM Yasser Seirawan. Carlsen described his own performance as: "good and lucky enough". Two other competitors who played excellently are Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. In addition to tying for 1st in the London Classic, Giri finished 2nd in the Grand Chess Tour and was the only participant to go undefeated in all three events.

Tactic #1

Giri's comment after his game against Nakamura was: “If you try to use your imagination, it reminds me of a fight between a little angry pussy cat against a wounded lion.” What was Giri’s final winning move?

Anish Giri vs. Hikaru Nakamura

White to move.

Show Solution
43. f4! Black resigns. If 43…Rc5 44. Qg6+ wins the bishop.
Vachier-Lagrave tied for 1st in the tournament and defeated Giri in the semi-final playoff. According to Grand Chess Tour commentator, GM Maurice Ashley, Vachier-Lagrave "played the best chess of the tournament”.

Tactic #2

In time trouble, while defending a tense pawn down endgame, Giri made the fatal mistake of 59. Rh8?? What did Vachier-Lagrave play to force immediate resignation?

Anish Giri vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

(Semi-Final Playoff)


Black to move.

Show Solution
59…Rxe5 White resigns. After 60. Kxe5 Ng6+ 61. Kd5 Nxh8 62. Kxc5 g3 it’s all over.
One consistent feature throughout the tournament was Grischuk’s classic time trouble: "Grischuk has had an outsized effect on this tournament all because of his plague of time pressure." -GM Maurice Ashley This led to numerous time scrambles, which had both disastrous and miraculous results. His time trouble often encouraged his opponents to play quickly also, trying to run his clock down. This created unusual opportunities for both sides. In round 8, Grischuk had just over a minute left while his opponent, Levon Aronian, had over 30 minutes. Additionally, Aronian’s position was better. However, Aronian began blitzing moves out along with Grischuk. What saving resource did the World Blitz Champion find in the nick of time?

Tactic #3

Alexander Grischuk vs. Levon Aronian

White to move.

Show Solution
36. Nh6+! Forcing a draw by perpetual check or winning the f7-pawn. 36…gxh6 37. Nf6+ Kh8 38. Nh5+ Kg8 39. Nf6+ Kh8 40. Nh5+ Kg8 Draw.
In his game against Carlsen, Grischuk missed a huge opportunity while in time pressure. Can you find it?

Tactic #4

Magnus Carlsen vs. Alexander Grischuk

Black to move.

Show Solution

30...Rxg4! 31. hxg4 Qh2+ 32. Kf1 Nf4 when Black's attack is very strong. 

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