Carlsen: Probably The Best Chessplayer in the World

If Magnus Carlsen kept a diary… “Got up. Had breakfast. Looked at some chess games. Had lunch. Played chess with Hikaru. Beat him (again). Went to a football match. Fulham won 1-0. Nice day.”

OK, I’m putting words in the young man’s mouth but that pretty much summarises his day in the matter of fact manner that he often presents to the world. He does what he knows best and he doesn’t try to hype it or conjure up an air of mystery about himself. The December issue of CHESS magazine (out any day now – – please forgive the blatant plug) has a fascinating interview with Magnus. The interviewer, Italian chess journalist Janis Nisii, succeeds in getting Magnus to relax and reveal more of his inner thoughts than before.

Even Magnus’s reticence was revealing! What do I mean? Here’s an example from the interview. Asked who his heroes were, Magnus couldn’t come up with a name. Asked why this was, given that everyone has heroes, he said “I understand that, but it’s not my approach to life at all. I’ve often been asked to name the persons I admire the most and I don’t know, I never thought about that at all. I’m more interested in what people have achieved rather than the people themselves and that also remains true in chess.” Maybe that’s part of his secret. He concentrates on what is useful and simply doesn’t bother with pointless daydreams. He is not intimidated by ‘big names’ and just focuses on the moves they make. Maybe when I say that ‘this is his secret’, I really mean ‘that’s where the rest of us are going wrong’…

Let’s get down to the third round action: on behalf of everyone watching and following, I want to say ‘well done’ to all the players, who served us up another absolute feast of chess. There were three decisive games out of four games today and, as we shall see, it came close to being four out of four. That makes it five decisive encounters out of 12 games played so far. I don’t want to tempt fate, and it is very wrong of me to make odious comparisons, but I can’t resist: that’s a much better percentage than the ten decisive games out of 45 played in Moscow recently.

Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have developed quite a rivalry over the past year or two and their every meeting creates a real frisson. It’s a healthy rivalry, expressed not in words but in blows exchanged across a chessboard. That said, it is looking rather one-sided at the moment, with Carlsen scoring three wins in classical games against Nakamura in 2011 before they sat down in London (he also won their game here last year, of course). As usual, Magnus’s opening strategy was designed to avoid too many theoretical questions and to reach a position where he can prod and bully his opponent and show off his refined technique.

Nothing much happened in the opening or early middlegame but Magnus maintained his slight grip as far as a position where he could sacrifice the exchange to tighten his control still further. Hikaru didn’t quite know where to put his rooks and that was all the encouragement the world number one needed to step in and exploit his opponent’s indecisiveness. After the game Hikaru was left wondering where he had gone wrong. Meanwhile an elated Magnus Carlsen headed off to watch Fulham beating Liverpool at football (yes, I wasn’t kidding about that bit – that’s soccer to US readers).

Round 3

M.Carlsen – H.Nakamura

Giuoco Piano

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 d3

Anyone hoping for something brash like 4 Ng5 or 4 d4 would have been disappointed. Magnus is not trying to provoke a slugging match because his opponent would love that. He is going to play it nice and slow. His style reminds me of those weird cycling races where they start by pootling round the track like old grannies doing their shopping, and only start pedalling furiously during the last couple of laps.

4…Bc5 5 c3 d6 6 Bb3 a6 7 Nbd2 Ba7

Beginners are always told by their coaches not to move a piece twice in the opening unless they have to. And yet Magnus and Hikaru have both done it already. But they know what they are doing, just as the ancients who developed this line did when they called it the Giuoco Piano – ‘quiet game’.

8 Nf1 h6 9 Ng3 0–0 10 0–0 Be6 11 h3 Qd7

Perhaps Hikaru would have been better off trying to provoke something a bit sharper with 11…d5 here. As played, Magnus gradually works his way towards the sort of manoeuvring position he favours.

12 Be3

“I was pretty happy to get in Be3” (Carlsen)

12…Ne7 13 Nh4 Ng6

When you’ve played h3, you always have to make sure you are in control if your opponent plays 13…Bxh3 . In this case, White’s plan is to continue 14 Bxa7 Rxa7 15 gxh3 Qxh3 16 Ng2! (16 Nf3? loses to 16…Ng6!) 16…Ng4 17 Re1 Qh2+ 18 Kf1 Qh3 and now 19 f3! secures White a winning advantage. Both players had foreseen this. However, the move played is also a little suspect as it cedes White a tiny plus. And a tiny plus is sometimes all Magnus Carlsen needs to work on.

14 Nhf5 Ne7 15 Nxe7+ Qxe7 16 Bxa7 Rxa7 17 f4 c5

“I think it’s easier to play for White” (Carlsen). Nakamura later admitted he spent too much time thinking around moves 14 and 15 – a sign that he wasn’t in his comfort zone.

18 Bc2!?

Magnus said he was thinking about 18 a4 instead, while Vlad Kramnik expressed surprise that he should have retreated his bishop from b3. My analysis engine is a little surprised too. Perhaps it is these small, filigree differences between Magnus and the other top players which define his unique style.

18…b5 19 Qd2 Rb7 20 a3 a5 21 Rf2

“I think this position should be fine. I’m a little confused as to what happened” (Nakamura). Incidentally, it was very good of Hikaru to come to the commentary room after his defeat, and honest of him to make such a candid confession.

21…b4 22 axb4 axb4 23 Raf1 bxc3 24 bxc3 exf4 25 Rxf4 Nh7 26 d4 cxd4 27 cxd4 Qg5 28 Kh2 Nf6 29 Bd1 Rfb8

“I guess it’s losing. It’s a little bit strange,” said a bemused Nakamura in the commentary, still unable to understand quite why he lost. He had seen the exchange sacrifice coming but wasn’t concerned about it during the game. It would be no consolation but chess engines don’t seem to understand this position either. Nakamura wondered about 29…Ra8 so that if 30 h4 Black can play 30…Qa5 and offer a queen exchange.; 29…Ng4+!? was another Nakamura suggestion in the commentary room.

30 h4 Qg6 31 Rxf6!

Not conclusive by any means but it complicates the game and gives Magnus the sort of game he likes to play. For the exchange, White has weakened the black pawns and he will have some dangerous piece play against Nakamura’s king and queen. Meanwhile the two black rooks are some way from reaching posts where they can threaten retribution.

31…gxf6 32 Qf4

32 d5 Bd7 33 Qc3 is what Deep Rybka advocates here but ‘Deep Carlsen’ has other ideas.


Nakamura’s instincts are to be active but with hindsight one wonders whether he might have been better off digging in with a move like 32…Rd8

33 Bh5 Qg7 34 Bf3 Ra8?

Hikaru starts to wilt under pressure of clock and position. 34…Rd8 35 Nh5 Qg6 36 d5 Bc8 37 Nxf6+ is good for White but Black is still in the game.

35 d5 Bc8 36 Nh5 Qf8

36…Qg6 37 Qxd6 is also very difficult for Black.

37 Nxf6+ Kh8

If you count the material, Black is still OK but the black king is very weak while its opposite number is rock solid. And White has piece which is not doing much which he can deploy very effectively.

38 Rc1!

It seems a little ironic, because White only has one rook to his opponent’s two, but the c1 rook packs the more powerful punch. It’s coming to c7, to threaten Rxf7 followed by Qxh6+ and mate, or Rc6 and simply Rxd6.


If, for example, the a8 rook moves forward with 38…Ra6 , then White plays 39 Rxc8! followed by 40 Qxh6 mate.

39 e5! Opening the long diagonal but also giving his bishop the use of the e4 square. The black pieces find themselves out of play and the end is in sight. 39…dxe5 40 Nh5+

40 Qxe5 wins in much the same way.

40…Kh7 41 Be4+ 1–0

41…Kg8 42 Qg3+ Kh8 43 Qxe5+ f6 44 Qxb2 is crushing.

Prior to today, Mickey Adams had only lost one game in three London Classic tournaments but he succumbed to Luke McShane in a rather strange game. Mickey Adams was unhappy with his 16th move and three moves later, when McShane played a speculative piece sacrifice, capturing a pawn on h3 with his bishop, Mickey declined to accept the sacrifice and was left a pawn down for nothing. Probably just an off day for the England number one but much credit to Luke McShane for completing the job as efficiently as he did, since Mickey Adams is highly tenacious in defence and loses few games.

The youngest of England’s four competitors wasn’t too far away from his best scalp ever. David Howell had Vishy Anand in an uncomfortable position for a while in the middlegame. Vlad Kramnik in the commentary room thought it was close to winning had Howell played 32…Rb2, and Vishy Anand later concurred with his predecessor as world champion. Once again David was short of time, with just four seconds remaining when he played his 40th move. By then Vishy had dug himself and was defending. His long run of draws continues but he would have been glad of this one. David will be disappointed with only drawing but can reflect on a well-judged defence of his king earlier in the game (22…h5!).

Aronian-Short featured a Queen’s Indian Defence, with Aronian characterising Short’s black set-up as “kind of solid but also kind of extravagant”. In particular he mentioned 14…g6 (where he preferred 14…h6) and 16…Na5 (where his preference was 16…Nb8. The position at move 22 most of us would adjudge as “slightly better for White” (which is what most engines say) but Aronian and Kramnik thought it was practically winning. I must admit I find that very hard to swallow but there is no question that Aronian is as consummate an initiative player as Carlsen.

This was a very good day for both Aronian and Carlsen. Vlad Kramnik in the commentary room foresaw a great future for Levon, predicting that we will see a world championship match between him and Magnus Carlsen in the not too distant future. I’ve a strong feeling he is right.




Tie break











Luke J





























David W L











Nigel D




The scores above are ‘absolute’, i.e. they make no allowance for the three players who have played fewer games. My unofficial ‘relative’ scores (using a golf-style formula but in reverse: +2 for a win, ‑1 for a loss, draws don’t count) are 1 Carlsen +4, 2-3 Kramnik, McShane +2, 4-5 Aronian, Nakamura +1, 6 Anand 0, 7-8 Adams, Howell -1, 9 Short -2.

Round 4 games start on Tuesday 6 December 2010 at the later time of 4pm British time, for one day only. World number three Levon Akopian has the bye and will be joining the commentary team for the day.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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