SANDS: Carlsen dominates in last tuneup for world title fight in chess

Making an impressive statement in his last major tournament before November’s world championship match, Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen used a tough last-round win over Armenia’s Levon Aronian to capture sole first place in the Sinquefield Cup tournament in St. Louis, one of the strongest events held on American soil in decades.

Carlsen, who takes on reigning champion Viswanathan Anand of India in November in Chennai for the world title, was an undefeated 4-1 in the double round-robin event, a full point ahead of U.S. GM Hikaru Nakamura and 2 full points ahead of Aronian, the second highest rated player in the world behind Carlsen. Reigning American champion GM Gata Kamsky, who lost twice to Carlsen, finished fourth with just three draws and three losses.

Carlsen’s tenacious style was on display in his very first game of the event, surviving a strong push by Kamsky as Black in a QGD Slav to notch the point. Black’s 14. Rac1 h5!? is a prelude to a strong kingside campaign, while White puts his chips on his long-term dominance of the open c-file. When Black’s initiative finally falters, Carlsen is able to invade via the open file and put the Black king in a mating net.

White turns the game in his favor after 28. Rdc1 Nf6 (also worth a look was 28 … g4 29. hxg4 fxg4 30. Qf4 Rf8 31. Rc8 Rxf4 32. Rxd8+ Rf8, with equal play) 29. Qd1 g4 30. f3! (a key defensive move that Kamsky later acknowledged he had missed; the Black pawn on g2 will in time become White’s most valuable defensive piece, acting as a shield against Black checks) gxh3?! (Carlsen thought Black should have settled for equality here with 30 … g3) 31. Bxh4 Kf7 32. Qe1, and White’s now-activated bishop and his command of the c-file give him an enduring edge.

White’s noose tightens around the Black king on 32 … hxg2 (Rxg2+ 33. Rxg2 hxg2 34. Qg3 Re7 35. Rc2! Qh8 36. Rxg2, when White wins on 36 … Qh7 37. Qg5 Ng8 38. Qxg8+ Qxg8 39. Rxg8 Kxg8 40. Bxe7) 33. Rc7+ Re7 34. Bxf6 Kxf6 35. Rc8 Qd6 36. Qh4+ Kf7 37. Qh5+, and the Black king faces threats from all of White’s major pieces.

With his rooks having no scope to maneuver, Black is slowly asphyxiated in the finale: 37 … Rg6 38. f4! Qa3 (trying to distract White with an attack on the rook, but Carlsen plows ahead) 39. Qh8 Rg7 40. Qh5+ Rg6 41. Qh8 Rg7 42. Qf8+ Kg6 43. Kxg2 Rgf7 44. Qd8! Rh7 45. Rg1 Qa2+ 46. Kf3+ Kf6 47. Qg8 Rh3+ 48. Rg3 Rxg3+ 49. Qxg3, and Black resigns as his king can’t escape the mating net in lines like 49 … Rg7 (Rd7 50. Qg5+ Kf7 51. Rg8 Qa3 52. Qg7 mate) 50. Rf8+ Rf7 51. Qg5 mate.

Former women’s world champion Hou Yifan of China got off to a dream start in her match to reclaim the crown she held from 2010 to 2012, defeating belt holder WGM Anna Ushenina of Ukraine twice with the black pieces to open up a 3-1 lead in their 10-game match underway in Taizhou, China.

After grinding out a win in Game 1, the 19-year-old Hou showed why she’s considered the best tactician in the women’s game this side of Judit Polgar in seizing control of the match with a 24-move gem in Game 3. The center opens up in this Classical Nimzo-Indian after 13. Be2 Na4 14. cxd5 exd5 15. c4, and Black’s 15 … Rc8!?, a new move in this position, sent her opponent into a long think.

Ushenina fails to meet the demands of the position on 16. Qb3?! (with 16. Rae1 Re8 17. Bd3 b5 18. Re3! bxc4 19. Bxe4 dxe4 20. Rg3, White would have had good attacking prospects for the sacrificed pawn) dxc4 17. Bxc4 (getting greedy with 17. Qxb7 Nac5 18. Qxa7? loses to 18 … Ra8, trapping the queen) Nac3!, and Hou starts a combinational flurry that quickly overwhelms her opponent.

There followed 18. a4 (to meet Black’s threat of 18 … Ba4 19. Qb2 Rxc4) Bxa4! (already eyeing the ingenious trick after White’s 20th move) 19. Rxa4 Nxa4 (see diagram), when White suddenly realized her own trick of 20. Qxa4 Nc3 21. Qb4 (Ne6 Nxa4 22. Nxd8 Rxc4) Qxd4! 22. Bxf7+ is foiled by 22 … Rxf7 23. Qxd4 Ne2+, recovering the lost queen.

White scrambles to stay in the fight, but Black keeps the combinations coming: 20. Nf5 Nac3 21. e6 (Ra1 Qc7 22. Bd3 Qc5 23. Bxe4 Ne2+ 24. Kh1 Nxf4 and wins) Rxc4! (the quickest path to victory) 22. Qxc4 b5! 23. Qb3 (Black also wins on 23. e7 bxc4 24. exd8=Q Ne2+ 25. Kh1 Rxd8 26. Be3 c3) Qd3, with the nasty idea of 24 … Ne2+, winning the queen.

After 24. exf7+ Rxf7, White resigns, facing a decisive material loss or even mate after lines like 25. Qe6 (Nd4 Qxd4) Ne2+ 26. Kh1 Nxf2+! 27. Rxf2 Qd1+ 28. Rf1 Qxf1 mate.

Carlsen-Kamsky, Sinquefield Cup, St. Louis, September 2013

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c6 3. d4 d5 4. Nc3 a6 5. e3 Bf5 6. Bd3 Bxd3 7. Qxd3 e6 8. O-O Bb4 9. Bd2 Bxc3 10. Bxc3 O-O 11. a4 Nbd7 12. a5 Ne4 13. Bb4 Re8 14. Rac1 h5 15. Ne5 Qc7 16. Nxd7 Qxd7 17. Qe2 Nf6 18. Rfd1 Qc7 19. h3 Rad8 20. b3 Rd7 21. Rc2 Qd8 22. Rcc1 h4 23. Be1 Ne4 24. Qg4 g5 25. cxd5 f5 26. Qf3 cxd5 27. Rc2 Rg7 28. Rdc1 Nf6 29. Qd1 g4 30. f3 gxh3 31. Bxh4 Kf7 32. Qe1 hxg2 33. Rc7+ Re7 34. Bxf6 Kxf6 35. Rc8 Qd6 36. Qh4+ Kf7 37. Qh5+ Rg6 38. f4 Qa3 39. Qh8 Rg7 40. Qh5+ Rg6 41. Qh8 Rg7 42. Qf8+ Kg6 43. Kxg2 Rgf7 44. Qd8 Rh7 45. Rg1 Qa2+ 46. Kf3+ Kf6 47. Qg8 Rh3+ 48. Rg3 Rxg3+ 49. Qxg3 Black resigns.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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