- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

An impressive five-game win streak has put world champion Magnus Carlsen in the driver’s seat at the first major tournament of 2015.

With five games to go after Monday’s rest day, the Norwegian superstar is setting a blistering pace at 6-2 at the Tata Steel Masters tournament in Wijk aan Zee, although three players — U.S. GM Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France and Ding Liren of China — are just a half-point back.

In the concurrent Tata Challengers event, American GM Samuel Shankland is tied for third at 5-3, 1½ points behind Czech star GM David Navara and 15-year-old Chinese prodigy GM Wei Yi. Play in both 14-player round-robin events wraps up Saturday.

Even with a lot of games left to be played, the Masters tournament in particular has already recorded a few noteworthy moments. GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Poland’s top-rated player, got a rare invitation to a top-line event and responded with a win in Round 3 over Carlsen and a win two rounds over world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana of Italy, both times, oddly, from the White side of Dutch Defense.

At one point in Round 3, Carlsen, Caruana and Armenian GM Levon Aronian all appeared on the way to defeat, perhaps the first time in the history of the game that the planet’s three highest-rated players were losing at the same time. (Carlsen and Aronian did lose, but Caruana held on for a draw against Dutch GM Anish Giri.)

One clear storyline from Wijk aan Zee has been Carlsen re-establishing the pecking order at the elite level. Aside from the hiccup against Wojtaszek, the Norwegian world champ has shaken off some recent indifferent results to remind the world of who is No. 1. In particular, his powerful win over Caruana last week came at a time when many saw the Italian star challenging the champ’s supremacy.

The real fight begins in this Rossolimo Sicilian after 10. a3 Qa7 11. Qb1!? (not subtle; White wants to expand — quickly — on the queenside) Nh5!, igniting a battle on both wings. After 18. Na4 g4 19. hxg4 Bxg4 20. Qxc5, White has won a pawn, but it is Black with the attacking initiative.

Carlsen turns up the pressure with a temporary piece sacrifice on 21. Nh2 f3! 22. Nxg4 Qg6, when 23. Ne3? Nf4 24. Rfe1 (g3 Ne2+ 25. Kh1 Qh5 mate) Nxg2 leaves White without a defense. Caruana activates his queen to aid in the defense, but his troubles aren’t over after 27. Qg5 Qxg5 28. Bxg5 Nf4!, when the White’s king remains in the crossfire after 29. Bxf4? (a nervous move to get the annoying pawn on g2 off the board; tougher was 29. Kh2!, though Black retains an edge) exf4 30. Kxg2 f3+ 31. Kf1 Rf4!, passing up winning the exchange to go for mate, with the Black f-pawn now pinning in the White king.

Carlsen misses an aesthetic win but never relinquishes his dominating edge: 33. d4 Bh6!? (good enough, but it was quickly noted that 33…Bxd4! 34. cxd4 Rh4 35. Kg1 [Ke1 Rxd4, and the king can’t escape] Kh8!, clearing the g-file, leads to a quick mate) 34. Ke1 Rxe4+ 35. Kd1 c5! (perhaps the move Black had in mind 36. Kc2) 36. Kc2 cxd4 37. Kd3 Re2 38. c4 Rxf2 39. Rd1 (Rb2 Rxb2 40. Nxb2 Rb8, and Black easily wins the endgame) Re2, and White resigned a hopeless game.

We wrote last week about the rough start for 13-year-old American GM Sam Sevian, getting his most prestigious invitation to date to play in the Challengers tournament. But after getting just a half-point in his first three games, Sevian has battled back to an even score at 4-4, including some nice wins over Russian GM Vladimir Potkin and Russian WGM Valentina Gunina, the 2012 European women’s champion.

The young American’s fighting spirit was on display in his game with Gunina, in which Black had to battle back from an inferior position before his more experienced opponent cracked in the endgame. Sevian equalizes without difficulty in this Ruy Lopez Arkhangelsk variation, but gets into trouble after the hasty 24. Rf1 g5? (White’s kingside pressure is annoying, but this forces the issue too soon; better was hunkering down with 24…Rf6) 25. fxg5! f4 26. Ne4!, when Black gets into trouble after 26…fxe3 27. g6 Ng5 28. Nf6+ Rxf6 29. Rxf6 Qe7 30. Rff1!, with the nasty threat of 31. h4 Ne6 32. Rf7 and decisive penetration.

After 30. Qxc6 e2 31. Rf3, White is a clear pawn to the good, but Black proceeds to make the most of his lone trump — the passed pawn on e2. Both players overlook a clear shot for White after 32. Qc5+ Re7?, when Gunina could have rid herself of the obstreperous pawn with 43. Kf2! Qxb3 44. Rxe2 Qf7+ 45. Kg1 Qe8 46. Re6!, threatening 47…Rxh6 and wins. Instead, White returns the favor with 43. d5? Qd2!, when White can make no progress after 44. Kf2 Qf4+ 45. Kg1 Qd2.

Sevian proves the stronger player in the game’s final phase, deftly shielding his king while using his passed a-pawn to devastating effect: 54. d7 Qd4+! (sidestepping 54…Qxc6?? 55. d8=N+! Kg7 56. Nxc6 Re4 57. Kf2 and wins) 55. Kh1 Qxd7 56. Qxh6? (see diagram; 56. Qxd7! Rxd7 57. Rxe2 a3 58. Ra2 Rd3 is equal) Qf5!, and suddenly it’s White who finds herself on the ropes. The finale: 62. Qa5 (Qg4+ Qxg4 63. hxg4 a2 64. Kg1 Rf7 wins) a2 63. Kg1 Kh6 64. Qg6+ Kh7 65. Qa5 Qxe1+! (other moves also win, but this is the most forcing) 66. Qxe1 a1=Q 67. Qxa1 e1=Q+ 68. Qxe1 Rxe1 69. Kf2 Rc1 — the c-pawn falls and White resigns the hopeless ending.

Caruana-Carlsen, Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2015

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d3 Bg7 6. h3 Nf6 7. Nc3 b6 8. Be3 e5 9. O-O O-O 10. a3 Qe7 11. Qb1 Nh5 12. b4 f5 13. bxc5 f4 14. Bd2 bxc5 15. Qb3+ Be6 16. Qa4 Rac8 17. Qa5 g5 18. Na4 g4 19. hxg4 Bxg4 20. Qxc5 Qf6 21. Nh2 f3 22. Nxg4 Qg6 23. Qe7 fxg2 24. Rfb1 Qxg4 25. Qg5 Qe2 26. Qe3 Qg4 27. Qg5 Qxg5 28. Bxg5 Nf4 29. Bxf4 exf4 30. Kxg2 f3+ 31. Kf1 Rf4 32. c3 Rd8 33. d4 Bh6 34. Ke1 Rxe4+ 35. Kd1 c5 36. Kc2 cxd4 37. Kd3 Re2 38. c4 Rxf2 39. Rd1 Re2 White resigns.

Gunina-Sevian, Tata Steel Challengers, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2015

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. O-O O-O 8. c3 d6 9. h3 h6 10. Re1 Bb6 11. Nbd2 Be6 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 d5 14. exd5 Bxd5 15. Ng3 Bc5 16. Be3 Bd6 17. Nd2 Qd7 18. Nde4 Nh7 19. Qh5 Be6 20. Nxd6 cxd6 21. f4 f5 22. Bb3 Bxb3 23. axb3 Rf8 24. Rf1 g5 25. fxg5 f4 26. Ne4 Nxg5 27. Qg6+ Qg7 28. Qxd6 fxe3 29. Nxg5 Qxg5 30. Qxc6 e2 31. Rf3 e4 32. Qe6+ Kg7 33. Qxe4 Rxf3 34. Qxf3 Re8 35. Re1 Qd2 36. Qg3+ Kh7 37. Qf2 Kg8 38. d4 Qxb2 39. Qg3+ Kf7 40. Qf4+ Kg7 41. Qc7+ Kf8 42. Qc5+ Re7 43. d5 Qd2 44. Qf2+ Ke8 45. c4 bxc4 46. bxc4 a5 47. Qg3 a4 48. Kh2 Qe3 49. Qg6+ Kd8 50. Qd6+ Ke8 51. Qc6+ Kf7 52. d6 Qf4+ 53. Kg1 Qe4 54. d7 Qd4+ 55. Kh1 Qxd7 56. Qxh6 Qf5 57. Kh2 a3 58. Qd2 Qe5+ 59. Kh1 Qe3 60. Qd5+ Kg7 61. Qf5 Qg3 62. Qa5 a2 63. Kg1 Kh6 64. Qb6+ Kh7 65. Qa5 Qxe1+ 66. Qxe1 a1=Q 67. Qxa1 e1=Q+ 68. Qxe1 Rxe1+ 69. Kf2 Rc1 White resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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