The world chess champion Magnus Carlsen was in free fall, losing game after game at the beginning of the Norway Chess 2015 in Stavanger, one of the three tournaments of the newly founded Grand Chess Tour.
Failures of famous players attract as much attention as their successes. Misfortune was being played out on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time Tiger Woods stopped swinging his golf clubs and was eliminated from the the U.S. Open, Carlsen lost three times and drew once in the first four rounds, inhabiting last place. It was the worst start of his career.
In the first round Carlsen lost on time in a winning position against Veselin Topalov. The 40-year-old Bulgarian grandmaster turned this lucky break into first place with a string of victories reminiscent of his triumph at the world championship tournament in San Luis in 2005. In the last round Topalov held Vishy Anand, 45, to a draw.
Nobody expected the two oldest players, old enough to be fathers of a number of the young players in the tournament, to dominate the event.
The U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura had a fabulous year and he caught Anand with a last round win over Levon Aronian.
What happened to Carlsen? After he lost on time in a winning position against Topalov, he was outplayed by Fabiano Caruana and Anand. He was trying to recover in the second half of the event, but lost in the last round to his countryman Jon Ludvig Hammer. Here is the finish of his game against Caruana.
Caruana,Fabiano (2805) - Carlsen,Magnus (2876)
3rd Norway Chess, Stavanger 2015
Carlsen was under pressure for most of the game and now blundered:
Losing, but Black was worse after other moves:
A. 22...Rh8 23.Bxc5 Bxc5 24.Nxg7;
B. 22...b6 23.Kh2 Rh8 (23...Bxf5 24.gxf5 g6 25.fxg6 fxg6 26.Bxc5 Bxc5 27.Kg3±) 24.f3 a5 25.Bxc5 bxc5 (25...Bxc5 26.Nxg7±) 26.Nd3±
After 23...fxe6 24.Be7! the threat 25.Rd8 mate allows White not only to escape, but to achieve winning position: 24...b6 25.Rd8+ Kb7 26.Bxf8 exf5 27.e6 and the advance of the e-pawn wins the bishop.
The knight on g7 can't move and Carlsen threatens 25...Rxg7.
Caruana sees the retort: the knights get untangled and White keeps the advantage. It is stronger than 25.f4 Rxg7 26.Nxg7 Bxg7.
White wins either after 25...Rxg7 26.e7; or after 25...fxe6 26.Nxe6 Ba3 27.Nxh6.
The material is equal but not the position. White has a clear pawn majority on the kingside and Black has problems with defending the split pawns.
The knight wants to go to the square h5 to support the advance of the f-pawn. It also prevents h6-h5.
27...Be7 28.Kg2 Rf8 29.Rd3 Rf7 30.Nh5 Bd6 31.Rf3!
Pushing the rook from the f-file.
31...Rxf3 32.Kxf3 is hopeless. White creates a passed pawn easily.
The only way to protect the e-pawn, for example 32...e5 33.f4! exf4 34.Re8+ Kd7 35.Nf6 mate; or 32...Kd7 33.Nf6+ wins.
33.f4 Ba3 34.Kf3 Bb2 35.Re2 Bc3 36.g5 Kd7 37.Kg4 Re8 38.Ng3 Rh8 39.h4 b6 40.h5 c5 41.g6 Re8 42.f5
There was no need to prepare this advance.
42...exf5+ 43.Kf4 Rh8
After 43...Rxe2 44.Nxe2 Bg7 45.Ng3 wins.
44.Nxf5 Bf6 45.Rg2 Black resigned.
"The winner is lucky, the runner-up plays the best chess." It is an old adage, confirmed in Norway this month. Anand played very creatively. He scored a fine win against Carlsen, but his best performance was a sharp attacking game against Maxime Vachier Lagrave in the Najdorf Sicilian.
Anand, Viswanathan - Vachier Lagrave, Maxime
3rd Norway Chess, Stavanger 2015
Anand was following the game Navara-Grischuk from last year's Tromsø Olympiad. "I knew the rough idea: sacrificing on h6," Vishy said after the game. Indeed, Navara's battery of the bishop on e3 and the queen on d2 aims dangerously at the black king.
Rather than supporting the advance of the d-pawn (because of the loose knight on g3 Black can do it anyway), the new move connects the rooks. Grischuk played 17...Re8 leaving the square f8 for the bishop to cover the dark squares around the king;
17...Rd8 is another move to consider, to place the rook on the same file as the white queen.
Anand could not make the sacrifice on h6 work and decided to move his king to the corner to avoid possible checks on the diagonal a7-g1. Indeed, 18.Bxh6 gxh6 19.Qxh6 d5! has been analyzed to a draw.
An unfortunate choice. The sacrifice on h6 now works. Anand thought Black should have tried 18...Kh7 to protect the pawn on h6, for example 19.g5 hxg5 20.Bxg5 Rh8 with a playable position.
Yasser Seirawan, in the role of a color commentator, was stumped after Anand quickly reeled off this variation: 18...d5 19.e5! Qxe5 20.Bf4 Qxb2 21.Bxb8 Rxb8 22.fxe6 fxe6 and now Anand stressed an important move 23.Qe3! e5 (23...Bc8!? 24.Nf5 exf5 is a better defense.) 24.Rxf6!? and White wins, for example: 24...Bxf6 (24...d4 25.Qxe5; 24...gxf6 25.Qxh6 Qxc2 26.Rc1 Qh7 27.Qxh7+ Kxh7 28.Rc7+-) 25.Qa7 winning a piece.
They are two rules for the Internet commentators:
1. Never discuss variations without using a chessboard.
2. Never discuss variations with the fast-talking Anand.
Announcing a vicious attack. White is not risking anything since he has a draw at hand.
19...gxh6 20.Qxh6 d5 21.g5!
Going for victory. A draw can be achieved with 21.e5 Qxe5 22.Qg5+ Kh8 23.Qh4+, since 23...Nh7? 24.Qxe7 Qxg3 25.Qxb7 is clearly bad for Black.
Anand had to see this precise move. White should win now. Not 22.gxf6? Bd6! and Black wins.
Missing the last chance to stay in the game. Black probably underestimated White's next move.
After 22...Nxe4! 23.f6
A. 23...Bxf6!? - the best chance to continue - 24.Bxe4 (24.gxf6 Qg6!) 24...dxe4 25.Rxg3 Bg7 26.Qh4 e3+ 27.Kg1 e2 28.Re1 Bd4+ 29.Kh2 Be5 30.Qh5 (30.Rxe2? Rd1 and suddenly Black turns the table.) 30...Rd5 31.h4 Rfd8 Black can still play a little bit.
B. 23...Qxg5? 24.Qxg5+ Nxg5 25.fxe7 is hopeless for Black, for example:
a. 25...Rde8 26.Rg3 Rxe7 (26...f6 27.exf8Q+ Rxf8 28.h4+-) 27.Rxg5+ Kh8 28.Rf6! Kh7 29.Rf4 and white mates soon.
b. 25...Kh8 26.Rg3 Nh7 27.Rxf7! wins.
Retreating with the queen 22...Qe5 also loses after 23.gxf6 Bxf6 24.Rf4!, for example 24...Bg7 25.Rg3 exf5 26.Rh4 Qxg3 27.Qh7 mate.
The combined double-threat, mating on h7 and winning the queen, allows White to pick up material without giving Black any play.
23...fxg6 24.fxg6 Rxf1+ 25.Bxf1
Everything works perfectly for White. For example 25...Qf4 26.Qh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8 mate; or 25...Qe5 26.Qh7+ Kf8 27.Qf7 mate.
26.Rxg3 dxe4 27.Be2 e3+ 28.Kg1 Bc5 29.Kf1 Black resigned.
There are no tricks left and 30.g7 is coming.
Walter Browne (1949-2015)
Walter Browne, a chess grandmaster and six-time U.S. champion, died in Las Vegas on June 24. He was 66 years old.
I watched his brilliant career first hand since 1968. We played together or against each other at U.S. championships, international tournaments and olympiads. He was an undisputed king of the open tournaments in the United States in the 1970s and early 1980s.
I liked his devotion to chess and the will to fight. He was an intense player, calculating everything back and forth and putting a tremendous amount of energy into his games, often wrestling with lack of time.
In 2012, New In Chess published his autobiography The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse, My Life, Career and 101 Best Games.
Walter was a good friend and a memorable presence at chess tournaments all over the world. America lost one of its chess giants.
Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.
Images from the Norway Chess 2015 official site.