Magnus Carlsen knocked Fabiano Caruana down to world no. 4 after spotting a path to victory in a game that seemed to be heading nowhere fast. He was joined in the Shamkir lead by Wesley So, who put Michael Adams to the sword in another game where time trouble was a huge factor. Elsewhere there were two quiet draws and one thriller – Anand-Giri – where the former World Champion may have missed a chance for a first win against his young opponent.
Magnus Carlsen ended his series of four Round 3 losses in a row in emphatic fashion, and wasn’t feeling superstitious afterwards:
I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game, but I feel that as long as I play at a normal level I shouldn’t lose every game just because it’s the third round.
There did seem to be something like voodoo at work, though. Caruana can’t have been too surprised by Carlsen’s Stonewall Dutch after his opponent had used it to beat Vishy Anand in the GRENKE Chess Classic, but after passing up a potential chance (16.Ba3!?) he was no better.
He was no worse, either, and after a manoeuvring struggle he could have brought the game to a logical conclusion on move 26:
He could just repeat with Rc7 – Re7 and I don’t see what I could have done. I was very surprised by the way things happened.
I was thinking it was a draw pretty much whatever I did and I just drifted.
Perhaps he was tempted by the seemingly abject position of Carlsen’s c3-knight after 25...Rfe8 26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Ra1:
The hapless steed doesn’t have a square it can jump to without being lost, but it all but wins the game in a handful of moves – with some help from Carlsen’s uncanny ability to seize on the slightest of chances: 27…Rd8 28.Bf1 c5 29.Ra3 Nb1 30.Ra1? (admittedly 30.Ra5! looks scary, with …Rd1 and …Nd2 threatened) 30…Nd2 31.Be2 Nf3+ 32.Bxf3 exf3:
The knight is gone, but the structure is horribly unpleasant for Caruana, with the f3-pawn an unpleasant reminder of Carlsen's similarly sudden win in Wijk aan Zee. The Italian would have struggled to resist even if he didn’t have seconds on his clock, but at least he found some inspired defence with 38.e4!
The rook didn't get to go on a suicidal rampage, though, since Carlsen sidestepped that trap, and after 38…Rd4 39.Ra8+ Kf7 40.Ra3?! (40.Ra7+ was the last chance to resist) 40…Rxc4 it was over.
Caruana summed up:
My play from the start wasn’t very good, but I got to this endgame that should have just been a draw. I started to see ghosts. It’s a bit hard to explain why I was so worried in this endgame. It’s a fairly elementary draw.
Perhaps the rest of us have little trouble explaining why anyone might be worried playing endgames against Carlsen.
The only player to keep pace with Magnus is Wesley So, whose
second win in three games was also Michael Adams’ second defeat. Neither player
was too sure what they were doing in the opening, with So explaining he found 9.f3 at the board. The complex
manoeuvring struggle cost both players a lot of time, but when they speeded up it
was Adams who came off the rails with 26…Qa5?:
The queen has abandoned the defence of the d7-knight and So quickly spotted 27.Bh4!. The rook can’t sidestep the attack, so Adams was forced to weaken the white squares around his king with 27…f6 (or 27…g5). He later commented:
Missing Bh4 was just ridiculous… This was clearly the big error. I could have done better after that, but this was clearly the start of all my problems.
Both players were forced to blitz out the moves that followed, but that just helped So’s attack proceed like a hot knife through butter. He encountered no resistance to pushing his e-pawn and 36…Qc5? 37.exf6! Bxf6 38.Ne4! was the end:
A powerful display by So, who had every right to look a little confused when he was asked if he was aiming to finish in the top 3 or the top 4 of the tournament. Michael Adams responded to every chess player’s favourite question about how he was planning to improve his bottom place after three rounds:
Play a bit better, I guess. The problem is I’m making serious tactical oversights and it’s a bit tricky if you’re making serious tactical errors like this.
It's Magnus Carlsen next for the Englishman.
Let’s tackle the day’s two missable draws. The first game to finish was Mamedyarov - Vachier-Lagrave, where the French no. 1 spared us the necessity of trying to talk sensibly about the game by prefacing his press conference with:
I think you’d have more fun watching the other games instead, because this is what happens with the Grünfeld – a forced drawn line.
The other game was one where Anish Giri’s quip probably didn’t
In this tournament everyone’s either an ex-World Champion, a current World Champion or a future World Champion!
Rauf Mamedov is unlikely to be World Champion any time soon, but three draws in three rounds is pretty impressive in his first taste of super-tournament action. When he played 5.Re1 against his opponent’s Berlin Defence the writing was on the wall. Kramnik noted, “there were not so many critical moments in this game” before pointing out he’d last looked at 14…Nh4 in the year 2000 – back in that naïve and happy time when the chess world thought the Berlin was just a one-off weapon to hold Kasparov at bay.
The play that followed was curious – while we all waited for 1/2 – 1/2 to appear on the screen the players seemed to do all they could to sabotage the inevitable, with Mamedov first falling onto the defensive and then Kramnik admitting he made a move (33…Qe8?!) that “is not really playing for a win”. It was eventually a draw, though, with Mamedov regretting his solid approach, though from the sidelines playing so solidly that his opponents take unjustified risks looks like his best hope of a happy ending in Shamkir!
In a previous press conference Carlsen had been asked whether he was going to prepare specially for Kramnik in Round 4. If Carlsen was puzzled he wasn’t letting on, but Kramnik responded to an analogous question:
I’m getting scared. I thought I was playing Anand tomorrow and now it’s Carlsen as well. It might be a bit too much!
Vishy Anand had a rather more eventful day, putting Anish Giri’s Caro-Kann to the test in a spectacular encounter. The touch paper was lit with an exchange sacrifice:
17.Rxf4! Anand felt afterwards this was “a bit speculative”, but it seems the champion’s instincts were as good as ever, and after 17…g5 18.Nxf5 gxf4 19.Nxg7 Kxg7 20.Qg4+ Kh7 21.Qxe6 White’s position looks close to winning. Giri is very resourceful, though, and a theme of the post-game press conference was Vishy being surprised by his opponent’s moves. For instance, he thought he was completely winning after trapping the black rook with 30.Be3:
But he’d underestimated Black’s counterplay, with the black knight just in time to complete its long journey from b6 to f5: 30…Ne7 31.Nf4 Qg8 32.Nxd3 Qxg3+ 33. Kh1 Nf5+. Curiously Vishy also thought he was winning after 37.Kg2, since he’d overlooked 37…Qc2+, and in the circumstances a draw looked a fair result, though this is a game that would probably repay serious analysis.
For starters you can try the press conference, which was captured, along with all the others, on the Azerbaijani coverage (click on the flag under the video during the live broadcast if you want to watch the press conferences while the English/Russian commentary concentrates on the action on the boards). The first conference, Mamedyarov-MVL, starts at about 01:56:00:
The standings after 3 rounds are as follows:
And in standings further afield Carlsen's dominance has grown, even if he's some way short of the 2889.2 he hit almost exactly a year ago:
In tomorrow’s Round 4, apart from Kramnik – Anand we have bottom vs. top, Adams – Carlsen, and also what on paper should be a very winnable game for Wesley So against Rauf Mamedov, though if he learned anything from St. Louis (apart from the "Laws of Chess") it's not to underestimate the underdogs!
Watch all the games live here on chess24 from 12:00 CEST. You can also watch on our free mobile apps:
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