How to Win a Match with 13 Rounds to Spare: Magnus Carlsen at the Showdown

Photo: Lennart Ootes

Unheard of Margin of Victory

Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren

Photo: Lennart Ootes
“I’m really looking forward to the faster time controls. It’s fun. It’s a challenge. There are no excuses. I mean, if you want to approach it like a game with increment and blame other people when you lose on time, I’m not going to have any sympathy for that. It adds another dimension, another challenge.” -Magnus Carlsen
Despite Carlsen's huge score advantage by the finish, the match was highly anticipated as Ding Liren is one of the one of the best players in the world, especially in blitz. Before the match, Ding was ranked #3 on the FIDE Blitz rankings, and he was even #1 on the list in July 2016, peaking at 2875. In fact, the very first game showed Ding's immense abilities. The two players reached endgame where Carlsen, playing white, had the good bishop while Ding's bishop was passively placed and blocked by his own pawns. Although the endgame seemed to ultimately be equal, commentators and watchers alike expected the typical Carlsen-esque grind, trying to turn tiny factors into an advantage. Instead, Ding Liren turned the tables:
“We were talking about Magnus trying to maybe being able to rustle up some possibilities in his game against Ding Liren. But, it is the Chinese genius who has come up with some ideas, saying maybe I’m the one playing for a little something in this position, not content to just sit there and play defense only. He's playing really ambitiously!” -Maurice Ashley, Showdown Commentator
At the critical moment, Ding overlooked a winning but tricky variation. Can you find it?

Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren

Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown: Carlsen-Ding (Rapid)"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Ding Liren"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C90"]
[WhiteElo "2826"]
[BlackElo "2772"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/R3bk2/3p4/2pPp3/2P2p1p/3P1P1r/4KB2/8 b - - 0 46"]
[PlyCount "9"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]46... Rh2 $3 {Preventing 47. Bxc5 dxc5 48. d6 while clearing the way for the
h-pawn. This simple-looking move is supported by an upcoming bishop sacrifice.}
({The game continued with} 46... Kf6 $2 {which ran into some tactical trouble
with} 47. Kf1 Rxf3 48. Kg2 {and Black had to give up the exchange with} Rg3+ ({
If} 48... Rxd3 $2 49. Bxh4+ Kf5 50. Bxe7 $18) 49. Bxg3 hxg3 {and the two soon
drew:} 50. Kf3 Bf8 51. Ke4 Be7 52. Kf3 Bf8 53. Ke4 Be7 54. Kf3 Bf8) 47. Kf1 h3
48. Bh4 {Black's advanced, passed pawn is more valuable than the bishop.} Rh1+
49. Kf2 Rb1 50. Rxe7+ Kg6 {and White cannot prevend Black from queening on h1.}
1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Although Ding missed the win and the game was ultimately drawn, the game showed how tough an opponent Ding could potentially be. It is incredibly rare to see Carlsen struggle to draw an equal endgame.
Maurice Ashley: What do you think is going through Ding Liren's mind right now? Does he know that he missed the win?
Yasser Seirawan: Yes.
Maurice Ashley: What does he need to do to recuperate, just forget about the past---I know that's what we have to do as professionals---and really play his game, not go outside of himself? What are the odds he's going to be able to pull that off?
Yasser Seirawan: Well, it's the cup half full/half empty. You could walk away from it that game saying, I'm such an idiot... oh man, I blew it. I had my chance. I should've won. And you can have that attitude.
Or, you have have the other attitude that says, "I'm in good form. I was black in game one. Magnus thought he had the pressure. I turned it around on him. I outplayed him. I slipped, fair enough. But, hey, I was the one in control. So, it all depends on your attitude.
Carlsen's Near Win

Magnus Carlsen vs. Ding Liren

Here, Carlsen found a great positional idea that he used to gain an overwhelming advantage.
White to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Ding, Liren"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "3br3/5q1k/3p3p/p4p2/1pPP1P2/1P1Q1N2/6RP/7K w - - 0 45"]
[PlyCount "18"]45. c5 $1 {A great positional move, gaining the e5 square for his knight and
gaining the upper hand in the knight vs. bishop battle.} Re4 46. cxd6 Rxf4 47.
Ne5 Qd5 48. Qa6 Bb6 49. Nd7 {Threatening Black's bishop and Nf6+} Qf7 50. Qc4
$4 (50. Nxb6 {is completely winning.}) 50... Qxc4 51. Nf8+ {Now Carlsen has to
settle for a perpetual check.} ({When he played 50. Qc4, Carlsen had hallucinated} 51. Nf6+ Kh8 52.
Rg8+ {was checkmate.}) 51... Kh8 52. Ng6+ Kh7 53. Nf8+ Kh8 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
The turning point
Carlsen seemed become more determined by his near victory, cleanly outplaying Ding the following game and winning with black.
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown: Carlsen-Ding (Rapid)"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "4.1"]
[White "Ding Liren"]
[Black "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E06"]
[WhiteElo "2772"]
[BlackElo "2826"]
[PlyCount "80"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Be7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Qc2 c5 7. O-O cxd4 8. Nxd4
Nc6 9. Nxc6 bxc6 10. Rd1 Ba6 11. b3 Qb6 12. Nd2 Rfd8 13. Bb2 Rac8 14. Rac1 h6
15. e3 c5 16. cxd5 exd5 17. Nf3 d4 18. Qd2 Ne4 19. Qe1 d3 20. Nd2 Nxd2 21. Qxd2
c4 22. bxc4 Bb4 23. Bc3 Rxc4 24. Bxb4 Qxb4 25. Qxb4 Rxb4 26. Rd2 Rc4 27. Rcd1
Rc3 28. f4 Bc4 29. Kf2 Ra3 30. Bf1 a5 31. Ke1 a4 32. Rc1 Be6 33. Ra1 Kf8 34.
Rb2 Rc3 35. Rd2 a3 36. Rb1 Bc4 37. Rb4 Rc1+ 38. Kf2 Bxa2 39. Ra4 Rc3 40. Rxa2
Rc2+ 0-1[/pgn]
In the 20 minute time control, although the games were hard-fought, Carlsen won three games and drew the other three, preventing Ding from scoring a single victory.

Ding Liren vs. Magnus Carlsen

What move did Carlsen play that led to immediate resignation by Ding?
Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown: Carlsen-Ding (Rapid "]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.12"]
[Round "4.1"]
[White "Ding Liren"]
[Black "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A28"]
[WhiteElo "2772"]
[BlackElo "2826"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2rr2k1/pp3pp1/1b5p/1P1q1b1P/3pN3/P2Q1P2/1B4P1/3RR1K1 b - - 0 27"]
[PlyCount "3"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]27... Rc3 $1 {If the rook is captured, there are discovered attacks galore:}
28. Bxc3 (28. Qd2 Bxe4 29. Rxe4 d3+ 30. Kf1 Qxh5 $19) 28... dxc3+ 0-1[/pgn]
It took Ding three days before he scored his first win. Starting Day 3 with a powerful victory, Ding used his attacking pressure to gain an extra pawn and confidently converted his advantage in the ending.
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown: Carlsen-Ding (Rapid "]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.13"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Ding Liren"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B48"]
[WhiteElo "2826"]
[BlackElo "2772"]
[PlyCount "94"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. a3 b5 8. Nxc6
Qxc6 9. Bd3 Bb7 10. O-O Nf6 11. Re1 Rc8 12. Qf3 Bd6 13. Bd4 Qc7 14. Bxf6 gxf6
15. Qh5 Be5 16. Nd1 Ke7 17. c3 Rcg8 18. Ne3 Rg5 19. Qh3 h5 20. Qh4 Rhg8 21. g3
f5 22. exf5 Qc6 23. Nd5+ Qxd5 24. Be4 Qc4 25. b3 Qxc3 26. Bxb7 Bf6 27. Rac1
Qxb3 28. Qe4 Rg4 29. Qe2 h4 30. fxe6 fxe6 31. Rcd1 hxg3 32. fxg3 Rd4 33. Kg2
Rxd1 34. Rxd1 Qxa3 35. Qd2 Qb2 36. Qxb2 Bxb2 37. Bxa6 b4 38. Bd3 d5 39. Kf3 e5
40. Bc2 e4+ 41. Ke2 Rc8 42. Bb3 d4 43. Bd5 Rc2+ 44. Kf1 e3 45. Re1 Rf2+ 46. Kg1
Bc3 47. Rf1 Rxf1+ 0-1[/pgn]
However, Carlsen was able to immediately neutralize it by winning the very next game, showing once again his incredible ability to become more determined in the face of a disappointing result. This began a four game winning streak for the World Champion. Ding's confidence seemed completely shaken, struggling under the time pressure and committing blunders. Carlsen's overwhelming lead made the final result a forgone conclusion, and he clinched the match with an entire day to spare. https://twitter.com/saychess1/status/930217317551738880 Carlsen's overwhelming match victory even landed a new record for the highest live blitz rating ever at 2974.

Tactical Slugfest

Hikaru Nakamura vs. Veselin Topalov

Photo: Lennart Ootes
"These two have really been the showstoppers, the stars of this entire competition. Every time we watch them, our eyes are transfixed at the electrifying play because neither one backs down." -GM Maurice Ashley
Although Nakamura led consistently and won the match with 9 rounds to spare, this match-up produced some of the most interesting games, including imaginative attacks and tactics. In fact, the first 4 games of the 10 minute time control were all decisive---in Black's favor!

Hikaru Nakamura vs. Veselin Topalov

In this sharp position, Topalov has a clever tactical possibility. Can you find it?
Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown 2017"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Black "Topalov, Veselin"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r2rk1/p5pp/1pR2p1q/3nN3/3PNnP1/6QP/PP3P1K/4R3 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "3"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]1... Rxc6 2. Nxc6 f5 {Attacking the knight on f5 while creating a discovered attack on the knight on c6.}0-1[/pgn]
https://twitter.com/STLChessClub/status/929101747905277953 This game (Day 3, Round 3) is very representative of the double-edged chess that Topalov and Nakamura played throughout the event.
[pgn][Event "Showdown"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Topalov, Veselin"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D37"]
[PlyCount "66"]1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. d4 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. a3
Nc6 9. Qc2 Qa5 10. O-O-O Be7 11. Kb1 a6 12. Nd2 b5 13. Nb3 Qb6 14. cxd5 exd5
15. Bg5 Be6 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Nxd5 Bxd5 18. Rxd5 Rac8 19. Bd3 Nb4 20. Bxh7+ Kh8
21. Qd1 Nxd5 22. Qh5 Bg5 23. Be4+ Qh6 24. Qxh6+ Bxh6 25. Bxd5 Rcd8 26. e4 f5
27. Nc5 fxe4 28. Bxe4 Rxf2 29. Nd3 Rf6 30. Ne5 Re8 31. Ng6+ Kg8 32. Bc2 Re2 33.
Bd3 Rxg2 0-1[/pgn]

Amazing Comebacks

"That is one of the earmarks of people who end up becoming grandmasters: the ability to bounce back from devastating defeats." -GM Maurice Ashley

Fabiano Caruana vs. Alexander Grischuk

Photo: Lennart Ootes
Caruana and Grischuk seemed to be the most evenly matched at these time controls, and their match was the most up in the air throughout. At the halfway point, Caruana trailed, but only by one extra loss (in a 20 minute game worth 4 points). On day 3, Grischuk started to extend his lead, but in the second half, Caruana won three games in a row, neutralizing all of Grischuk's gain.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Alexander Grischuk

How did Caruana begin a fearsome kingside attack?
White to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Showdown"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Grischuk, Alexander"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1qrr3k/pb3pp1/1pn1pb1p/2p5/3PP3/2PBBN2/P3QPPP/2RR2K1 w - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "15"]
[SourceDate "2017.11.16"]1. e5 Be7 2. Bxh6 $1 {Clearing the way for Qe4, threatening checkmate on h7.}
Nxd4 $1 {Opening up the bishop on b7 to prevent Qe4.} 3. Nxd4 gxh6 4. Qh5 Bg5
5. h4 $1 Qxe5 (5... Bxc1 6. Rxc1 {and, since all of Black's pieces are on the
opposite side of the board, Black's king is defenseless. For example,} Kg8 (
6... Kg7 7. Nxe6+ fxe6 8. Qg6+ Kf8 9. Qxh6+ Ke8 10. Qxe6+) 7. Qxh6 Rc7 8. Bh7+
Kh8 9. Bg6+ Kg8 10. Qh7+ Kf8 11. Nxe6+ fxe6 12. Qh8+ Ke7 13. Qg7#) 6. hxg5 Qxg5
7. Qxg5 hxg5 8. Nf3 {and Caruana converted his extra piece into a victory.} 1-0[/pgn]
The turning point
"When he didn't put me away in that game yesterday where he was just crushing from the opening and had more time, I managed to actually win that game. After, the tides just turned." -Fabiano Caruana
On the final day, Caruana extended his streak to 6 points out of 7 games (5 wins and 2 draws), completely evening the score. In this 26 move victory, Caruana creates a crushing attack seemingly out of nowhere.
[pgn][Event "Champions Showdown in Saint Louis (Blitz"]
[Site "St Louis, MO USA"]
[Date "2017.11.12"]
[Round "3.2"]
[White "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Black "Alexander Grischuk"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A07"]
[WhiteElo "2794"]
[BlackElo "2785"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r1q1rk1/pp3pbp/6p1/3Pp1B1/3p2b1/P2P2P1/2PQ1PBP/1R3RK1 b - - 0 17"]
[PlyCount "20"]
[EventDate "2017.10.21"]17... Bf6 $2 {Although this is technically Black's "bad" bishop, the
fianchettoed bishop can be very important for the defense of the king in the
Closed Sicilian, and it was a huge mistake to trade it off.} 18. Bxf6 Qxf6 19.
f4 {Because Black is now weak on the kingside, Caruana immediately strikes on
that side of the board.} Rfc8 20. Rbe1 e4 {Unfortunately, there isn't much
better.} ({If} 20... exf4 21. Rxf4 Qg5 22. h4 Qh6 (22... Qh5 23. Re7) 23. Qf2
Bf5 24. g4 Rxc2 25. Qxc2 Qxf4 26. gxf5 {White wins a piece.}) 21. dxe4 Rc3 22.
f5 Rbc8 23. e5 Qb6 24. f6 Kh8 25. Qh6 Rg8 26. e6 {and Grischuk resigned. If}
fxe6 27. f7 1-0[/pgn]
The 5 minute blitz segment was where Caruana excelled the most, winning 6 games while losing only once---highly impressive against a player like Grischuk, a three-time World Blitz Champion. Caruana clinched the match with one round to spare. He also gained 78 blitz rating points, reaching the live blitz top 10.  

Wesley So vs. Leinier Dominguez Perez

Photo: Lennart Ootes
Exceeding expectations, former World Blitz Champion Leinier Dominguez, showed how much he excels at fast time controls, holding a commanding lead for a majority of the match. In fact, at one point, Dominguez led by an entire 16 points. On Day 3 in the later half of the 10 minute games, Wesley So showed why he's one of the top 10 players in the world, managing to fight on despite the huge gap in score.
The turning point
In Game 6, the tables began to turn. In a double-edged position with his king uncastled, So tactically took advantage of Dominguez's weaknesses and emerged with a winning position from thin air.

Leinier Dominguez Perez vs. Wesley So

How did Wesley So get the upper hand in this complicated middlegame?
Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "Showdown"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.11.11"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Dominguez Perez, Leinier"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r2qk2r/5ppp/2P1pnb1/p1bp4/Q1nN1P2/N1P5/P3B1PP/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "11"]{So plays actively, going after the c3 pawn, which holds White's position
together, and ignores all of his opponent's threats, including Nxc4 and the
potential discovered attack with c7+.} 1... Ne4 $1 2. c7+ Qd7 3. Qxd7+ Kxd7 4.
Nxc4 Nxc3 $1 {and White's position is falling apart:} 5. Ne5+ Kxc7 6. Kh1 Bxd4
{and Dominguez soon resigned.} 0-1[/pgn]
This victory sparked a five game in a row winning streak for So. With the momentum completely in his favor, So soon took the lead in the match, and Dominquez was not able to recover. On the final day, So scored 7 wins while losing just two games. Wesley's performance gained him 87 blitz rating points, making him #7 in live rankings. https://twitter.com/ChessMike/status/929866114577842176 Want to relive the excitement? Visit the "Best of Champions Showdown" on Twitter, our collection of the most compelling, entertaining, and downright hilarious tweets from the event. https://twitter.com/USChess/status/930454244771078144 For additional information on the 2017 Champions Showdown, visit the Official Website.
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

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Magnus is so good he should not be allowed to play against a human, but forced to play only against Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish.

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