He stumbled across the finish line, but Norway’s young superstar Magnus Carlsen has earned a date against reigning world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a title match later this year.
After leading for much of the tournament, Carlsen suffered two losses in his final three games in the FIDE Candidates Tournament in London, falling to Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine and in the last round to Russia’s Peter Svidler. But former world champion Vladimir Kramnik — tied with Carlsen going into Monday’s final round — stunningly also went down to defeat against Ivanchuk shortly after Carlsen conceded his game. With both players at 8-5, the Norwegian advanced on the basis of having racked up more wins.
Despite the unimpressive finish, the prospect of an Anand-Carlsen match will be a popular one with chess fans, with the 22-year-old Norwegian attempting to become the first player from his country to hold the world crown and the first player from the West to be champion since Bobby Fischer’s abdication in 1975.
The Carlsen coronation in London was nearly undermined by a late surge from Kramnik, who pulled within a half-point of the lead in Round 11 with a nice win over struggling Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov. A round later, Kramnik scored a second straight win with a tough victory over second-seeded Levon Aronian of Armenia, while the young Norwegian was suffering a shocking defeat with White at the hands of tournament tailender Ivanchuk, putting Kramnik in sole possession of first for the first time in the event.
Against Radjabov, Kramnik used his opponent’s poor clock management to set a slick little tactical trap that Black cannot see through.
Radjabov was already working to stay in the contest, when White played 26. Nb4! Rd7 27. Nc6 Qe6 28. Rb6!, when Black had to find 28Rc7! 29. Rxa6 Nd7 30. e5 Nb8 31. Rb6 Nd7, holding.
But Black grabs a poisoned pawn and pays dearly: 28Qxa2? 29. e5 Nd5 (see diagram; on 29Nh5, White has 30. g4) 30. Rb2! (the point — 30Qa3 loses to 31. Rb8!, so the queen must abandon her guard on d5) Qa4 31. Bxd5 Rxd5 32. Rb4! Qa2 33. Nxe7+! Kh8 (Rxe7 34. Qc8+ Bf8 35. Rb8) 34. Nxd5 Qxd5 35. Qc4 Qxc4 36. Rxc4 Bxe5 37. Kf1!, and Black will lose his bishop on 37Re7 38. Rce4 f6 39. f4; Radjabov resigned.
Carlsen’s grind-it-out style backfired against Ivanchuk, who despite his spotty play in London (including several time forfeits) remains a dangerous and highly imaginative opponent.
Black gets the better of this Old Sicilian Defense, with a superior pawn structure after 13. Bd4?! (“awful,” according to the loser’s disgusted post-mortem) Nc5 14. a3 Ne4 15. Qe1 Nxc3 16. Bxc3 Bxc3 17. Qxc3 Qxc3 18. bxc3, though White doggedly defends his slightly worse position for many moves.
But Carlsen’s world-class technique lets him down in the rooks-and-knight ending, as Black’s better placed pieces net a pawn after 44. Rc4+ Kb5 45. Re4 Rf5 46. Ne8 Kc5 47. Nc7 Nxe5, when 48. Nxe6+?? loses to 48Kd5.White still could have held the ending as late as 70. c5 Rxa4, when Carlsen noted after the game the line 71. c6 Ke6 72. Rb5 Kd6 73. c7! Kxc7 74. Rxe5, and the double rook-pawn edge is a book draw. Ivanchuk finds a neat finesse after 71. Rh6? Ke4! 72. Rd6 Rd4 73. Ra6 Kd5 74. Rxa5 Rc4+ 75. Kd3 Rxc5, and the Black e-pawn/h-pawn combo is enough to win.Black wins a last critical tempo on 86. Kg2 h1=Q+! 87. Kxh1 Kf5 (attacking the White rook and clearing the g-file for his own rook) 88. Re1 Rg8 89. Kh2 Kf4 90. Rf1+ Ke3, and with his king hopelessly cut off from the action, Carlsen resigned.
The Kramnik win and Carlsen loss only set up the last-round drama.
Kramnik-Radjabov, London Candidates Tournament, March 2013
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Bg2 cxd4 6. Nxd4 O-O 7. Nc3 Qc7 8. b3 d5 9. Ndb5 Qa5 10. Bd2 dxc4 11. bxc4 Qd8 12. O-O a6 13. Na3 Bf5 14. Nc2 Nc6 15. Ne3 Qd7 16. Nxf5 Qxf5 17. Rb1 Rad8 18. Qc1 Qe6 19. Re1 Qxc4 20. Rxb7 Ne5 21. Bf4 Qe6 22. h3 Nc4 23. e4 Ne5 24. Bxe5 Qxe5 25. Nd5 Rfe8 26. Nb4 Rd7 27. Nc6 Qe6 28. Rb6 Qxa2 29. e5 Nd5 30. Rb2 Qa4 31. Bxd5 Rxd5 32. Rb4 Qa2 33. Nxe7+ Kh8 34. Nxd5 Qxd5 35. Qc4 Qxc4 36. Rxc4 Bxe5 37. Kf1 Black resigns.
Carlsen-Ivanchuk, London Candidates Tournament, March 2013