Speed Chess: Can You Fight Back Like Carlsen and Nakamura?

"It's always fun to play Magnus!" -Hikaru Nakamura after defeating Sergey Karjakin semi-finals to reach the 2017 Speed Chess Championship Final
Once again, the stage is set for an epic Speed Chess final, and---once again, it's Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura, two of the greatest blitz players on earth. What makes these two such fantastic blitz players? It’s not that Carlsen and Nakamura are immune to mistakes. On the contrary, they make their fair share of mistakes and often reach difficult or inferior positions. The difference is that mistakes, even complete blunders, often do not end up losing them the game. Sharpen your own tactics as we explore their top-notch counterattacking skills. Carlsen rarely resigns in blitz games, even when down significant amounts of material. In Carlsen’s Champions Showdown Match against Ding Liren, he refused to resign when he blundered a rook, and, shockingly, even went on to win! In his semi-finals Speed Chess match against Alexander Grischuk, Carlsen outdid himself and won a game where he had previously blundered his queen.

Puzzle #1

Alexander Grischuk vs. Magnus Carlsen

Black to move.
Level: Warm-Up
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Live Chess"]
[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2017.11.21"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Grischuk, Alexander "]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2843"]
[BlackElo "3029"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "5rk1/3b1p2/p4p1p/6n1/5P1R/1BP1Q1P1/6KP/r7 b - - 0 40"]
[PlyCount "81"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]{Many would be too distracted after the queen blunder to play well, but Carlsen notices that his opponent has given him an opportunity.} 40... Re8 $1 {The white queen is in the center of an open board, and it's
basically trapped.} 41. Qxe8+ {Grischuk decides to return the queen, and
Carlsen goes on to convert his extra pawn into a win.} ({If} 41. Qd3 Bc6+ 42.
Kf2 Ne4+ 43. Kf3 Nc5+) (41. Qd2 Bc6+ 42. Kf2 Ne4+) (41. Qc5 Re2+ 42. Qf2 {In
this case, Black doesn't even want the queen:} Bc6+ 43. Bd5 Bxd5#) 41... Bxe8
42. fxg5 hxg5 43. Rb4 Kg7 44. Kf2 a5 45. Rb8 Bc6 46. Rb6 Be4 47. Ra6 Ra3 48.
Bd1 Ra2+ 49. Ke3 Bd5 50. h4 Rg2 51. hxg5 fxg5 52. g4 Rg1 53. Be2 Re1 54. Kd4
Bb7 55. Ra7 Rxe2 56. Rxb7 Rg2 57. c4 Rxg4+ 58. Kd5 Rg1 59. c5 Rd1+ 60. Ke5 Rc1
61. Kd6 g4 62. c6 a4 63. c7 g3 64. Rb5 Kf6 65. Rc5 Rxc5 66. Kxc5 g2 67. c8=Q
g1=Q+ 68. Kb4 Qd4+ 69. Ka3 Kg7 70. Qc1 f6 71. Qc7+ Kg6 72. Qg3+ Kf7 73. Qc7+
Ke6 74. Qc8+ Qd7 75. Qc4+ Ke7 76. Qe4+ Qe6 77. Qb7+ Kd6 78. Qb6+ Ke7 79. Qb7+
Ke8 80. Qb8+ Kf7 0-1[/pgn]

Puzzle #2

Magnus Carlsen vs. Gadir Guseinov

Despite blundering the exchange earlier in the game, Carlsen has kept his opponent under pressure and now has his chance to win. Can you find it?
White to move.
Level: Intermediate
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Speed Chess Championship"]
[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2017.10.04"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Gadir Guseinov"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "3013"]
[BlackElo "2670"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1k1r3r/1pN2p2/p5p1/2Q3Rp/P6q/1P3P2/1KP2P2/8 w - - 0 32"]
[PlyCount "15"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[TimeControl "300+2"]32. Nxa6+ $1 32... Ka8 (32... bxa6 33. Qb6+ Kc8 (33... Ka8 34. Qxa6+
Kb8 35. Rb5+ Kc7 36. Rb7+ Kc8 37. Qa8#) 34. Rc5+ Kd7 35. Qc7+ Ke8 36. Qe5+ Qe7
37. Qxh8+ Qf8 38. Re5+ Kd7 39. Qf6 $18) 33. Nc7+ Kb8 34. Nb5 Qf4 35. Re5 {and
Guseinov's flag fell, but he's getting checkmated either way. For example,} Rd2
36. Qa7+ Kc8 37. Qa8+ Kd7 38. Qxb7+ Kd8 39. Qc7# 1-0[/pgn]

Puzzle #3

Magnus Carlsen vs. Alexander Grischuk

White to move.
Level: Advanced
Show Solution
"Magnus finds those moves more than anybody. The thread is slipping and he finds some sort of thread on the position to make a practical imbalance that makes you have to re-win the game. -Commentator Danny Rensch
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Speed Chess Semi-Final"]

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2017.11.21"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Grischuk, Alexander"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r2r2k1/p4pbp/2p1b1p1/4n3/2PBP3/2N2PP1/P5BP/R2R2K1 w - - 0 19"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[SourceDate "2017.12.18"]
[WhiteClock "0:00:18"]
[BlackClock "0:00:10"]19. Nd5 $1 {This piece sacrifice gave Carlsen a dominating pawn center, giving
him enough counterplay and pressure to ultimately hold the game:} cxd5 20. cxd5
Bd7 21. f4 Nc4 22. e5 a5 23. Rdc1 Rac8 24. Rc3 Nd6 25. Rxc8 Rxc8 26. Rb1 h5 27.
Bf2 Nf5 28. Be4 Rc4 29. Bd3 Rc3 30. Rb3 Rxb3 31. axb3 a4 32. bxa4 Bxa4 33. Bc5
Bd7 34. Kf2 Bf8 35. d6 Bg7 36. Bc4 Kf8 37. Bd5 Ke8 38. Kf3 Bh6 39. h3 Ng7 40.
g4 hxg4+ 41. hxg4 Ne6 42. Be3 Nd8 43. Be4 Bg7 44. Bd5 g5 45. f5 Bxe5 46. Bxg5
Nc6 47. Bf4 Bg7 48. Ke4 Nb4 49. Bb7 Ba4 50. Be5 Bh6 51. Kf3 Kd7 52. Be4 Nc6 53.
Bf4 Bf8 54. Bd5 f6 55. g5 fxg5 56. Bxg5 Kxd6 57. Bxc6 Bxc6+ 58. Kg3 Ke5 59.
Bf4+ Kxf5 60. Bb8 Bc5 61. Bc7 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
“Grischuk is better here. He’s up a piece for two pawns, but now it’s a whole new psychology. In the previous position, you’re grinding down and you’re trying to work your way into the dark squares. You’re looking at all these ways to have long term compensation for the pawn you sacrificed. Now, you’re in a position where you’re better, but you have to deal with the onslaught of pawns and find better minor piece coordination before it’s too late. I feel like those little things are things that add up in the bigger picture of the match.” -Danny Rensch
 

Puzzle #4

Sergey Karjakin vs. Hikaru Nakamura

Not only does Karjakin have a material advantage (1 bishop and 3 pawns vs. 1 rook), but he’s just played 35. Qd2, creating a double attack on two valuable black pawns on a5 and g5. How did Nakamura respond?
Black to move.
Level: Intermediate
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Speed Chess Championship 2017"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.12.16"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/4q1k1/5rB1/p2p1Pp1/P2P4/6P1/1P1Q1P2/5K2 b - - 0 35"]
[PlyCount "13"]35... Rc6 {Saving both the g5 and a5 pawns.} 36. Bh5 (36. Qxa5 $4 Rc1+ 37. Kg2
Qe4+ 38. f3 Qc2+ 39. Kh3 Rh1+ 40. Kg4 Kh6 {trapping White's king by guarding
the g5 pawn and sheltering his own king from checks.} 41. Qd8 Rh4+ 42. gxh4
Qg2#) 36... Qf6 {Nakamura puts pressure on White's d4 and f5 pawns while keeping
an eye on his king and the center.} 37. Bg4 Rc4 {Black's activity compensates
for White's extra material, and the players soon agreed to a draw:} 38. Be2
Rxa4 39. g4 Qe7 40. Bf3 Qf6 41. Kg2 Rb4 1/2-1/2[/pgn]

Puzzle #5

Sergey Karjakin vs. Hikaru Nakamura

Karjakin is a pawn ahead, and his previous move (28. Bf1) aims to dislodge Black's active rook and press on the c4-pawn. How did Nakamura keep his counterplay alive?
Black to move.
Level: Advanced
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Speed Chess Championship 2017"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.12.16"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r3k1/6pp/5p2/4b3/2p3b1/2PrB1P1/P4P1P/R1R2BK1 b - - 0 28"]
[PlyCount "18"]28... Bxc3 $5 {This exchange sacrifice keeps Karjakin's position under
pressure.} ({If} 28... Rxc3 29. Rxc3 Bxc3 30. Rc1 Bb4 31. Rxc4 {White's extra
outside passed a-pawn would've given him excellent winning chances.}) 29. Bxd3
cxd3 30. Rab1 Kf7 31. h3 Bxh3 32. f3 d2 33. Rd1 Bf5 {The constant threats from
Black's bishop pair and advanced passed pawn make it difficult for Karjakin to
consolidate his material advantage.} 34. Rb7+ Kg6 35. g4 Bc2 36. f4 h5 37.
gxh5+ {and the players agreed to a draw.} 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
 
The Knockout Bracket
Watch the highly anticipated finale on Chess.com/TV or Twitch.tv/Chess on Wednesday, January 3 at 10 a.m. PST / 1 p.m. EST. For more information on the 2017 Speed Chess Championship, visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award. You can follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West  

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