Reports May 27, 2019 | 7:39 PMby Colin McGourty

Magnus lives dangerously but wins in Lindores

Magnus Carlsen won 250 bottles of whisky as he finished unbeaten and in clear first place in the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars Tournament, but it wasn’t the kind of performance we’ve become accustomed to from the World Champion this year. Although he won a 6th straight event he did it by scoring just one win and drawing his way to the title, including great escapes against both Sergey Karjakin and Ding Liren in the final two rounds.

Magnus described his play in the wild second game as "Kramnik-like", which wasn't exactly a compliment! 

You can find all the games from the inaugural Lindores Abbey Chess Stars Tournament at the official website.

And you can rewatch the final day’s commentary from GMs Danny King and Gennadi Sosonko below:

You can also replay the streams from the board cams that captured every moment of the action:

Let’s take a look at how things went for each player:

1st place: Magnus Carlsen – doing what it takes!

You can’t argue with clear first place, but this year Magnus has been doing more than just winning tournaments. The final surges in Shamkir and Baden-Baden blew away the competition and stunned even jaded observers of the Norwegian’s talent. This time in Lindores, though, the final day featured three draws by the World Champion:

It proved just enough, however, as none of the other players either avoided defeat or managed to win more than a single game either:

So it was a strange event, but you couldn’t accuse the players of not putting up a real fight. That began for the World Champion in the opening round of the day, when Magnus dared to try the Pirc Defence against the great Vishy Anand. The game fizzled out very fast, however, with Vishy regretting both not trying an early central pawn push and playing 8.Bc4!? (he felt he should have gone for 8.Be2):

“I felt kind of embarrassed after 8…e6”, Vishy admitted, and after 9.d5 exchanges soon drained most of the life out of the position before a draw was agreed in 40 moves.

In the next round a similar scenario seemed to be playing out against Sergey Karjakin, until 21…a4:

Sergey later commented:

It was a completely crazy game. At some point Magnus realised that if he makes some normal moves he’s not better at all, and so he decided to go all-in. I don’t think he blundered this a3-idea, but he just wanted to get this position where he was hoping for two bishops and the pawns.

Magnus went for 22.exd5!!? Rxc5 (22…a3! was possibly better immediately, as Magnus pointed out) 23.dxc5 a3 24.dxe6 a2 25.Nd7+ 26.Nxb6 a1=Q+:

A stunningly unbalanced position had been reached, with the World Champion himself commenting:

It was a bit Kramnik-like! You go for something that is very complicated and by no means better for White, just to keep the game interesting.

The play that followed demands much deeper analysis than there’s any chance to give it here, but Carlsen identified move 37 as the moment at which he knew he’d be ok:

Here he went for 37.g4! with the idea of transferring the knight to g3, after which he felt there was no way that Black could break down the blockade. That led to the final position of an incredible game:

It already has a name…

The word “fortress” was of course mentioned in the post-game interviews, with Magnus lamenting the fact that every time his games now feature a fortress someone will repeat his, “I don’t believe in fortresses” comment. This time it was more appropriate than usual, however, since the opponent was Sergey Karjakin, the player who Magnus had coined the phrase against in their New York match.

Magnus said he hadn't found it emotionally draining, “just a fun, interesting game”, but when asked what he’d done before the final game he commented, “whatever I did in the break was clearly insufficient!” We actually had some idea…

The final game was a rare case of Carlsen quickly finding himself in a miserable position. 12…c5!? and 18…Qxb2?! (pointed out by Ding Liren) were some of the dubious decisions that led to 23.Qb3! by Ding:

There was little choice but for Black to go for an extremely difficult ending a pawn down, but the good news for Magnus was that a draw in the other game meant a draw would be enough for clear first place. The better news was that after no glaring misses by Ding (“Black’s position is surprisingly resilient” – Magnus) the game was finally drawn in 65 moves. It was yet another tournament victory for the World Champion!

Magnus wasn’t directly asked for a verdict on his play, but when later asked if he would be interested in following Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov into politics, he responded:

Is this a comment on the quality of the play in the tournament? I prefer to follow politics as an outsider, to enjoy the entertainment rather than to provide it!

It was a "first among equals" tournament for Magnus

For first place he received his very own bourbon barrel, which, after the three years it will first take to mature, should be enough to provide 250 bottles of Scotch whisky. The other players would also receive smaller casks, with Lindores Abbey custodian Drew McKenzie Smith commenting: “With casks of whisky you always have lots of friends!” Vishy wondered what Drew was trying to say about chess players…

2nd place: Ding Liren

For Ding Liren that was a near miss, but there was an even greater sense of a missed chance since at one point in the penultimate round it had seemed he might go into the last round of the day with a full point lead over Magnus. While the World Champion was struggling against Karjakin, the Chinese no. 1 built up a big advantage over Vishy Anand. There were shades of Bobby Fischer's Bxh2 in Reykjavik on move 19:

Vishy went for 19…Na2!? 20.Rxa2 Bxa2 and saw the bishop locked in by 21.b3. There was no point backing down now, with the Indian star deciding to castle long:

Soon, however, Vishy admitted, “I’m basically busted”, and it seemed just a question of whether Ding would convert or not. Strange events would follow… Vishy identified 41.h5!? as a mistake, though computers say only 48.g4?! let most of White’s advantage slip, while 53.Rb8? (53.Rd6!) was the last straw:

With 53.Rdb3! Vishy set up a winning pin, and Ding resigned a couple of moves later. It was impressive that the world no. 3 bounced back from that disaster to push Magnus all the way in the final game, but it wouldn’t prove quite enough as he finished in 2nd place, ahead of Sergey Karjakin on the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaker.

3rd place: Sergey Karjakin

Sergey called his 50%, “not something extraordinary but a good result”, and felt he could have got more if not for his Round 3 game:

Unfortunately I spoiled my tournament yesterday when I didn’t play 16…Nh5 against Ding. If at least I would make a draw that would be +1 and perhaps I play a tiebreak.

If you wanted to make a criticism, however, it would be that Sergey played the Berlin and got a quiet 30-move draw against Vishy Anand in the final round when he needed a win to reach a playoff. He explained that he’d avoided playing his usual Berlin before against Vishy and got “completely destroyed”, which seems to be referring to this game which cost Karjakin the sole lead in last year’s Paris Grand Chess Tour.

On the other hand, Sergey was the one player to do something it would have been a crime not to do in a place calling itself the spiritual home of Scotch whisky!

4th place: Vishy Anand

Vishy was the top scorer on the final day and could have reached the dizzy heights of 2nd place with a win in that final game, but he decided to play it safe based on what had gone before:

To be honest, I’ve played so terribly here, in general, all five games… I wanted to have some feeling of control!

It had, therefore, been a curious tournament, where every player had reasons for regret. The mere fact of the tournament taking place, however, was reason for celebration, and let’s hope the Lindores Abbey Chess Stars becomes a regular event on the chess calendar. The line-up and attention to detail was highly impressive for an inaugural event:

Meanwhile there’s almost no time for the players to rest on their laurels, since Carlsen, Ding Liren and Anand will all be playing in Altibox Norway Chess in a week’s time, with the opening blitz tournament taking place on Monday 3rd June. You’ll be able to watch all the action live here on chess24, with Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson commentating for chess24 premium members, while Judit Polgar and Anna Rudolf provide a free show.    

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