Reports Apr 24, 2014 | 8:40 AMby Colin McGourty

Shamkir, Rd 4: Caruana topples Carlsen

Suddenly, it’s game on! World Champion Magnus Carlsen suffered his first defeat in ten months to the same man who beat him back then in the 2013 Tal Memorial – Fabiano Caruana. The Italian-American joins the Norwegian in first place, after the remaining two games ended drawn. Are we seeing the start of a great rivalry? 

Round 4 results

Karjakin SergeyRUS ½ - ½Mamedyarov  ShakhriyarAZE 
Radjabov Teimour AZE  ½ - ½Nakamura HikaruUSA
Caruana FabianoITA 1 -  0Carlsen MagnusNOR

Replay the live commentary

7-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler was again joined by Lawrence Trent and Jan Gustafsson for almost six hours of highly instructive and entertaining chess commentary, which you can replay in full below:

‌Caruana - Carlsen 1-0

It was a familiar scenario in Round 4 of the Gashimov Memorial tournament in Shamkir, Azerbaijan – a player misses good winning chances in a long game the day before (Karjakin-Carlsen) and then blunders and loses the next. Familiar, that is, unless we’re talking about Magnus Carlsen, who has long since exuded an air of invincibility. 

Magnus Carlsen about to suffer his first defeat as World Champion | photo: official website

All great runs come to an end, however, and some of the pre-game tweets later looked prophetic:

Carlsen lamented afterwards that he’d felt bad all day and perhaps should have tried a different opening against such a strong opponent, but his Berlin Wall was only wobbling until he overlooked a simple trick. Our German editor IM Georgios Souleidis looks at where it all went wrong for the World Champion: 

24. ♖d1 ♔c8? An astonishing blunder by Carlsen. He played it after a mere 12 seconds, as you can see from the chess24 broadcast.

24... c6! 25. ♘c7 (25. ♘xe7 ♖xe7 26. ♗h4 g5 27. ♗g3 was mentioned by Carlsen, with an advantage for White.) 25... ♖g8 26. e6 fxe6 27. ♘xe6+ ♔c8 and the players agreed that Black is worse, but still not lost.

25. ♘xc7 ♖d8

25... ♔xc7 26. e6+ ♔d8 27. ♖xd7+ is absolutely hopeless for Black.

26. ♘d5 ♖e8 27. ♗e1 ♗d8 28. ♗c3 g6 29. ♔g3 b5 30. cxb5 ♗xb5 31. ♘e3 ♖e6 32. f4 ♖a6 33. ♖d2 h5 34. gxh5 gxh5 35. ♘f5 ♖g6+ 36. ♔h2 ♗c6 37. ♘d6+ ♔b8 38. f5 ♖g8 39. f6! ♗b6 40. ♘c4 With the last move before the time control Caruana missed the immediate win that he returned to after the time control.

40... ♖e8

40... ♗c7 would have put up more resistance, although it should also ultimately be lost. In the press conference Carlsen showed the variation 41. ♗a5 h4 42. ♗xc7+ ♔xc7 43. e6 (43. ♘d6!+− ) 43... fxe6 44. f7 ♖f8 45. ♘e5 and was surprised when Caruana pointed out 45... ♗d5! After 46. ♖f2 ♗e4! 47. ♖f4 White is still better, but he needs to show good technique to convert his edge into a win.

41. ♘d6 ♖g8 42. ♘xf7! With time to think and relax the Italian has no problem calculating the winning variation.

42... c4 The threat is mate-in-one, but it's easy to see that after

43. h4! White has dealt with all the threats. The rest is trivial at this level.

43... ♖g4 44. e6 ♗e3

44... ♖xh4+ 45. ♔g3 ♖g4+ 46. ♔h3+−

45. ♗e5+ ♔a8 46. ♖d8+ ♔b7 47. ♗g3 c3 48. ♖b8+ ♔a6 49. ♖c8 ♗d5

49... ♖c4 50. bxc4 c2 51. ♖xc6+ ♔a5 52. ♗e1+ ♔a4 53. ♖a6#

50. ♖xc3 ♗d4 51. ♖d3 ♖e4 52. ♖d2 ♖xe6 53. ♘g5


Caruana may not have been required to demonstrate the absolute precision he showed when he last beat Carlsen in June 2013, but he once again proved he doesn't easily get overawed. This may be an opportune moment to consider the prospects of Fabiano – and Sergey Karjakin – of challenging Carlsen in the years to come. Let's look at some of the qualities required!

1. Good moves

Perhaps we should add "focus" to the list! | photo: official website

When Caruana was questioned about the Carlsen phenomenon after his own game in Round 3 in Shamkir he denied there was any mystery to his rival’s success, explaining that Magnus simply plays a lot of good moves, and that to match him you have to do the same. 

Easier said than done, of course, but Caruana proved he was up to the task in Round 4, just as Sergey Karjakin had done after a poor opening the round before. Reeling off a sequence of moves following the computer’s first line is perhaps the defining feature of the new generation of chess players, and it’s noticeable that they’re also less likely to suffer fatigue and blunder. That was most pronounced in the recent Candidates Tournament, where although Karjakin lost two games early on he lost them to brilliant play by his opponents (Kramnik and Aronian) rather than blunders, while the older generation, Anand excepted, was blundering left, right and centre as the tournament developed.

2. A killer instinct

Peter Svidler, our star commentator here on chess24, also saw no mystery to Carlsen in a recent Russian interview, though he emphasised another aspect of the champion’s make-up:

Magnus is a very capable young man with a very well-developed mentality. It’s simply that a huge number of the qualities that are essential to play chess well have come together in one person. He plays very, very well, but it seems to me there’s no particular secret. It’s simply that Carlsen is an amazingly gifted young man who also has the right sporting instincts – who’s ready to play every game to win. He doesn’t, for instance, have any of the softness that the majority of sportsmen have to some degree or other. He has almost none of that, and taken together with huge talent that’s simply a lethal combination.

Mentality is an area where at first glance Karjakin and Caruana might not seem to match up to Carlsen, but you only needed to look at the Candidates Tournament to see Karjakin’s sheer will to win, while Caruana has been very impressive in the post-game press conferences in Azerbaijan. Take, for instance, his response to a question on how he felt about beating Carlsen:

I like to win and I like to win against Magnus, so I don't mind it.

He may not be as brash or social media savvy as some, but he displays no signs of weakness.  

A sign of things to come? | photo: official website

3. Talent, or the X factor

Perhaps the biggest question mark hanging over Carlsen’s rivals is one of sheer talent. Is Carlsen in a class apart? Russian grandmaster and commentator Sergey Shipov, for instance, responded as follows in his Review of 2013 at Crestbook to a question on what “Fabulous” Fabiano is lacking to beat all-comers:

Perhaps he's not as fabulous as Carlsen.

Caruana is probably the most diligent and hard-working chess player among the elite, but that’s not enough to "beat all-comers". Otherwise the Chinese players would already long since have occupied the whole chess Olympus. What does Fabiano lack? Perhaps talent. Perhaps luck. However, he’ll have chances to refute all my suspicions about a lack of talent. And, more likely than not, he’ll manage to make his peace with Lady Luck. She likes hard workers.

Spanish grandmaster Miguel Illescas does see Carlsen as in a class apart, but also as the torch-bearer of a new approach to chess, as he explained in a fascinating recent interview for the Spanish site Jot Down (also notable for his describing Carlsen as “a little freaky”!):

It’s an evolutionary step. From Kasparov, who you could say was the last great champion, to Carlsen, something has taken place.

Miguel Illescas was a long-term Kramnik second - here they're on the way to the 2006 World Championship match against Topalov | photo: ChessBase

The other day I was asked who the best player ever is. And it’s Carlsen. For that reason – because it’s evolved. It’s like comparing a mobile phone with an Olivetti computer of the 80s. He’s developed a way of playing that somehow integrates human knowledge with the knowledge of the machines, and he’s made that cocktail function naturally. Those of us of my generation, or the generation of Kramnik, have become accustomed to living with the machines as a necessary evil. We integrate them into our routines: I’m on Twitter – it’s great and I’m active there – but it’s not my natural habitat. I learned to write with a pen. For Carlsen, however, it’s in his blood. He learned with the computers, so he integrates a calculation of moves that hasn’t been seen before, even from Kasparov or Fischer. It’s something no-one’s ever had before.

Illescas also expresses some doubts about Caruana:

When I saw a couple of the games Caruana played in Zurich it was enough to see the opening to say: “He’s going to get into trouble”. He didn’t know something elemental. Basic things, such as that a queen and knight are better than a queen and bishop; that a bishop that seems very good can become very blunted in certain types of pawn structures… and Caruana didn’t know all of that, and ended up making draws based on effort and calculation, whereas I would have drawn much sooner.

Understanding helps, but in chess now concrete calculation is more important. A single bad move can ruin a whole game.

The jury remains out, but it certainly looks as though Carlsen will face obstacles to his world domination in the years to come, even if we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from individual games. So far Caruana has only managed to surpass Carlsen in one area - his rapid rating

It’s tempting to wonder if Carlsen has the same problem many prodigies seem to have when they play people younger than themselves, but as “alexmagnus” pointed out at Chessgames, Carlsen loses only a game a year to such players:

  • 2010 Sjugirov 
  • 2011 Giri
  • 2012 Caruana 
  • 2013 Caruana 
  • 2014 Caruana

Although you might, of course, spot a trend in the last three years! 

Radjabov 1/2 - 1/2 Nakamura

A player who has publicly declared himself to be the man to stop Magnus Carlsen is, of course, Hikaru Nakamura (Svidler: "if I was going to play Magnus the next day my absence on social media would be very pronounced"):

Even if their Round 2 game now seems a long time ago, the American’s record of 0 classical wins and 9 losses to Carlsen doesn’t yet inspire confidence. He did, however, manage to recover by beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Round 3 and in Round 4 he held on against the tournament’s other local star, Teimour Radjabov... with some help from a famous defensive idea in rook endings:

This is what he's talking about:

The only defence here was Nakamura's move, 61...Rb6! By attacking the pawn from the side he ensures that the white rook can't leave the a-file, and if the white king approaches it will face a rain of checks. Only if the pawn advances to a7 will the black rook return to the a-file to prevent the white rook from leaving a8.

Even Peter Jackson would struggle to incorporate the day's events into The Lord of the Rings, but it was still a fine display of endgame technique | photo: official website

Karjakin 1/2 - 1/2 Mamedyarov

This was the shortest game of the day, but still a very entertaining fight, as Georgios Souleidis explains:

1. e4 c6 Karjakin: 

I didn't expect Shakhriyar to choose the Caro-Kann again after his loss yesterday to Nakamura. After my long game against Carlsen I barely had any time to prepare today, but I remembered this variation with 6. c3, pushing the f and g-pawns and Be3, and that Black has to play very accurately to hold the balance. My idea ultimately wasn't good enough to get an advantage, so the draw is a logical result.

2. d4 d5 3. e5 ♗f5 4. ♘f3 e6 5. ♗e2 c5 6. c3 Karjakin varies from the previous day's game of Nakamura against Mamedyarov, in which the American chose the main move 6. Be3. Karjakin is perhaps the greatest expert on this line, having played it in the following two games.

6. ♗e3 ♕b6 7. ♘c3 ♘c6 (7... ♕xb2 8. ♕b1 ♕xb1+ 9. ♖xb1 c4 10. ♖xb7 with excellent compensation in Karjakin - Eljanov, Khanty-Mansiysk 2010.) 8. 0-0 (8. dxc5 ♗xc5 9. ♗xc5 ♕xc5 10. ♘b5 ♔f8 11. ♘bd4 ♘ge7 12. 0-0 ♗e4 13. ♖e1 ♕b4 14. a3! ♕xb2 15. ♖b1 ♕xa3 16. ♖xb7 with compensation in Nakamura - Mamedyarov, Gashimov Memorial 2014.) 8... ♕xb2 9. ♕e1 cxd4 10. ♗xd4 ♘xd4 11. ♘xd4 ♗b4 12. ♘db5 ♗a5 13. ♖b1 ♕xc2 14. ♖b3 ♘e7 15. ♘d6+ ♔f8 16. ♘xb7 and here as well White had very good compensation in Karjakin - Fridman, Dortmund 2012.

6... ♘c6 7. 0-0 cxd4 8. ♘xd4

8. cxd4 is of course also playable - ultimately it's a question of taste.

8... ♘xd4 Normally Black has to fight for squares for his knights in the Advance Variation, so taking on d4 is a logical move in order to gain the c6-square for the other knight.

8... ♘xe5? simply fails to 9. ♗b5+ ♘d7 10. ♘xf5 exf5 11. ♕xd5 and it's clear that White's lead in development will be decisive.

9. cxd4 ♘e7 10. ♘c3 ♘c6 11. g4 ♗g6 12. f4 White is better developed and wants to radically open up the position.

Karjakin noted his 5 hours of preparation for Carlsen the day before had done him much less good than his 30 minutes for Mamedyarov - life isn't always fair! | photo: official website

12... f5!

12... ♕d7 led after 13. f5 exf5 14. h4 fxg4 15. ♗xg4 ♕d8 16. h5 ♕h4 17. ♔g2! ♗e4+ 18. ♘xe4 dxe4 19. ♗f4 ♖d8 20. ♗g3 ♕g5 21. ♕b3 to a winning position in Kosteniuk - Soumya, Istanbul 2012.

13. exf6 You might be tempted by the idea of blocking in the bishop with

13. g5 , but after 13... h6! Black gains the h-file for his rook.

13... ♕xf6 14. f5 exf5 15. ♗e3 A novelty. The previous game, Zhigalko - Gagunashvili, Legnica 2013, saw

15. ♘xd5 ♕xd4+ 16. ♗e3 ♕xd1 17. ♖axd1 Optically the white position looks very promising, but after the simple 17... 0-0-0! Black gets his king to safety. The ending after 18. gxf5 ♗f7 is equal.

15... ♗d6 16. ♘xd5 ♕h4 17. ♗f4 ♖d8 Mamedyarov mentioned that after

17... 0-0-0 18. ♖c1 in this particular case the king is no better off than it would be on e8.

18. ♗xd6 ♖xd6 19. ♘c7+ ♔d8 20. ♘b5 fxg4!

20... ♖d7 21. d5 is also possible. One option now is 21... ♘e5 22. gxf5 ♗f7 23. ♘c3 ♗xd5 24. ♘xd5 ♕e4 25. ♖c1 ♖xd5 and the position is dynamically balanced as neither king has any cover.

21. ♘xd6 White forces the draw, as

21. ♕b3 is too dangerous. During the press conference Mamedyarov showed the following variation: 21... ♖e8 22. ♘xd6 (22. ♖ae1 ♗c2! 23. ♕xc2? ♖h6−+ and due to the mate threat on h2 White has to give up material.) 22... ♖xe2 23. ♕g3 ♕xg3+ 24. hxg3 ♘xd4 with more than sufficient compensation for Black.

21... g3 22. hxg3 ♕xg3+ 23. ♔h1 ♕h3+

23... ♕xd6 24. ♗f3 would be attempted suicide by Black as the white king is now safe and Black lacks sufficient counterplay for his material deficit.

24. ♔g1 ♕g3+ 25. ♔h1 ♕h3+ 26. ♔g1 ♕g3+


So after four rounds Fabiano Caruana has joined Magnus Carlsen in the lead on 2.5/4:

1Carlsen Magnus2881NOR1 ½  012.5
2Nakamura Hikaru2772USA0  ½½ 12
3Karjakin Sergey2772RUS ½ ½ ½  ½2
4Radjabov Teimour2713AZE  ½½½ ½2
5Caruana Fabiano2783ITA 1½ ½½ 2.5
6Mamedyarov Shakhriyar2760AZE0 0  ½ ½ 1

The players have one more round to navigate before reaching the rest day, with Nakamura taking on Karjakin, while Carlsen will no doubt hope to hit back straight away with the white pieces against Radjabov. The games start at 12:00 CET - don't miss our live commentary with GM Peter Svidler and IM Lawrence Trent!

See also:

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