Reports Nov 24, 2019 | 10:56 PMby Colin McGourty

Tata Steel India Day 3: The Carlsen exhibition

Magnus Carlsen beat Vishy Anand and Ding Liren on Day 3 in Kolkata to win the rapid section with a stunning 15/18 despite letting a win slip from his grasp against Harikrishna. 2nd place Hikaru Nakamura is a full 4 points back, but still 2 points ahead of Anish Giri, Levon Aronian and Wesley So, with the overall winner already looking like a foregone conclusion before the 18 rounds of blitz. It wasn’t just about the score, with the Carlsen-Anand game an instant classic for the way Magnus managed to defuse a brilliant try by Vishy.

Magnus is running away with the tournament, and he could have scored more | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Svidler, Jennifer Shahade, Maurice Ashley and Tania Sachdev:

Magnus marches on

The first game of the final day of rapid chess in Kolkata couldn’t have been better, with the crowds and photographers recalling the scenes in Chennai in 2013 when Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand fought for the World Championship title.

Lying in wait for the players | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Magnus works his way through the crowd | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Vishy Anand has inspired a continent | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

No question about the game of the day | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Quite a stage for the players! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Such highly-anticipated games often disappoint, but this one surpassed all our hopes to become what Peter Svidler called, “definitely the game of the tournament so far”. A Ragozin left standard theory after Magnus thought 3 minutes before playing a rare 9th move, while after 15.Bf4 Vishy came up with an extremely bold plan:

The computer suggests simply defending the pawn with 15…Kh7, but here Vishy went for 15…Qa5, hitting the c3-pawn. Taking on h6 here was an option, while after 16.Qc1 Vishy could also have backed down by defending the h6-pawn, but instead 16…Nb6!? threw more fuel onto the fire. 

Magnus bit the bullet and went for 17.Bxh6! and Vishy showed he wasn’t merely playing for pawns with 17…Na4!?, giving up the exchange on f8.

Magnus revealed what was going through his head:

I was mostly just trying to calculate and find the best way. I had seen from afar that there was this idea of giving up the exchange and I sort of thought that it was reasonable, but you never really expect it to happen before it’s there! I really had no clue. I thought I could be better, I thought I could be worse, I thought I could be winning, I thought I could be lost – anything!

Magnus took the exchange with 18.Bxf8 Rxf8 19.f3! Re8?! (the first move of the game the computer seriously disagrees with for Black – 19…g3! or 19…Nxc3! seem to justify Black’s concept) 20.Kf2!

f2 would prove a surprisingly safe square for the white king during the game, though Magnus was far from confident:

I thought that it was not unreasonable for Black, but it would feel very unfair if I was losing as well. It was all such a mess! After Kf2 on move 20 I was thinking if 20…Nxc3 I was going to go 21.e4, and this was one of those positions where again I couldn’t see anything clear for him, but I was really, really scared. It feels like I could be just missing something and I’m completely lost.

The computer suggests it was by no means lost for White, but Black does get serious play for his sacrificed material. As it was in the game after 20…b5 21.e4! dxe4 22.Nxc4!? (22.Nxe4! seems to be better) 22…bxc4 23.Qg5+ there was one last moment for Vishy to retain good chances of survival (and given the complexity of the position, maybe more):

23…Kf8! was essential, and after 24.Qxf6 Re6! 25.Qh8+ Ke7 Black has temporarily stabilised enough to be able to switch to trying to get counterplay with his e-pawn and more active pieces. Magnus:

Here he needed to go 23…Kf8 to protect f7, and then again I had no clue, but I didn’t feel I could have much other choice but to go for this anyway.

Instead Vishy chose 23…Kh7?! and after 24.Qxf6 e3+ 25.Kg1 was forced to make the defensive move 25…Be6. In the play that followed Magnus didn’t always get the silicon stamp of approval for his moves, but White’s edge was always large to winning, with Vishy forced to play suboptimal moves to try and stop the transition to a simple ending. That ended as such attempts often do:

39.Rxe6! and Vishy resigned, since 39…fxe6 40.Qd7+ picks up the c8-rook as well as being mate-in-3.

Magnus commented when asked how he could allow himself to open a cricket match and play football in between rounds while still performing at the highest level:

I think it’s all about confidence - that when you start off well you can allow yourself to relax more and take more chances. It’s as simple as that.

Magnus followed that up with two fantastic grinds against Harikrishna and Ding Liren. We’ll get to that first game a little later, while for Ding Liren it was an unwelcome echo of his most painful loss of the year – Game 3 of the World Cup final. The Chinese no. 1 and world no. 3 had just beaten Teimour Radjabov in Game 2 and everyone assumed he’d go on to win the World Cup, especially when Teimour allowed the Marshall in the next game. That line of the Ruy Lopez has become notoriously drawish in top-level chess, with White’s extra pawn seldom proving enough for victory. In Khanty-Mansiysk, however, Teimour surprised his opponent in the opening and went on to win convincingly.

Ding Liren had shown Magnus could be beaten in Saint Louis, but it was a different more familiar story this time round | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

In Kolkata the players only finally left known theory on move 19, and it looked as though it was the standard situation where Black had sufficient counterplay to draw. 20 moves later, however, and Magnus was in full control, with 44.Ne3! one of those dream moves that simply does everything at once:

The f1 and g2-squares are covered, f5 is also taken away from the queen and the c4-bishop is attacked, a liability as White is also threatening Qe4+ and then taking twice on c4. Ding saw nothing better than 44…Qe6 but when queens were exchanged he was simply left a pawn down with a bad bishop against a good knight. Magnus made no mistake as he wrapped up victory in 59 moves.

That meant he’d scored 15/18 in the rapid section in Kolkata, matching a feat he’d pulled off in Abidjan earlier in the year. Back then he had a shaky first day of blitz but still won by 3.5 points in the end, and only a very brave or reckless person would bet against him going on to win in Kolkata. The more likely struggle will be to set a new record score for a Grand Chess Tour Rapid & Blitz event:


Harikrishna was the one who managed to thwart the World Champion | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The other most memorable performance of the day came from Harikrishna. The Indian didn’t win a game, but just look at the positions he saved.

Black vs. Giri (position after 50…Rb2): two extra passed pawns for White

White vs. Carlsen (position after 63.Kg2)

Harikrishna had done a fantastic job of complicating the game, but 63…Ke4! 64.Kxg3 Ra1! 65.a6 Rg1+ 66.Rg2 Rc1! is winning for Black, though in one line only because Black can promote to a knight with check! Instead after 63…Rxa4?! 64.Kxg3 Ke4 65.Rb6! it turned out White was just in time to force a draw.

Black vs. Anand (position after 55…Bg1)

Vishy played 56.b4? cxb4 57.Bxb4 and the position was drawn, as Hari went on to prove. The only win by this stage was to sacrifice the a5-pawn with 56.Bh6! Kxa5 and follow up not with the immediate Be3 but 57.Bd2+! Kb6 and only now 58.Be3! The pawn endgame is winning after an exchange of bishops, while b4 is a threat.

The “chasing pack”

Nakamura is the one player who may have a realistic chance of catching Magnus | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The only player who might dream of catching Magnus at this stage is Hikaru Nakamura, who also came closest in Abidjan. He’s won three games, drawn five and only lost to Magnus. He’s also feeling good, telling Tania Sachdev, “I think I’ve played great except for one opening mishap against Magnus.” On Day 3 he scored two draws and beat Wesley So in what Svidler described as, “a small technical masterpiece”. Hikaru labelled Wesley’s 29.f4!? in a drawish position as “completely insane”, but pointed out that what his opponent realised only too late was that 54…Bd6! traps the d7-knight:

Hikaru was able to bring his king to e6 and his bishop to c8 to attack the stranded horse.

The other players to match Nakamura’s 1 win and 2 draws on Day 3 were Ian Nepomniachtchi, who beat Vidit and stemmed the bleeding, and Levon Aronian, who also beat Vidit after unleashing a wild piece sac in the opening. 

Levon Aronian's win over Vidit was not entirely smooth...  | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Levon claimed it was, “some kind of a preparation specifically for rapid and blitz games”, though he nearly spoilt it a couple of times in what followed. Like Ding Liren earlier in the event he got a rook endgame with an extra two connected passed pawns on the side of the board and also went on to blunder, giving the excuse that it was, “because most of the time our opponents resign, trusting us!”

49.Rf3? was the mistake by Levon, allowing the black queen to approach, and the position was drawn until 51.Rg2:

“Just keep the king on f4” was Levon’s advice for Black, and indeed 51…Rb4, 51…Rc4, 51…Rd4, 51…Re4, 51…Ra3, 51…Ra1+, 51…Ra7 and 51…Ra8 all draw with best play. Vidit instead took a step too far with his king and after 51…Kf3? 52.h5! Kf4 53.g5 Kf5 54.g6 he resigned, since there was no longer any stopping the pawns.

That leaves the standings as follows going into the 18 rounds of blitz (with the 13th World Champion's commentary):

It’s hard to see any race for first place developing, while Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi’s dreams of qualifying for London look long gone, so perhaps the main sporting intrigue remaining has an Indian flavour – will Vishy Anand get the 5 points he needs to overhaul MVL and join Magnus Carlsen, Ding Liren and Levon Aronian in the $350,000 Grand Chess Tour finals in London in just over a week’s time? For that he needs to finish clear 6th, which is currently very much in the balance.

Don't miss the blitz, which is guaranteed to be a lot of fun! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can once again follow all the action from 9:30 CET LIVE here on chess24 with commentary in English and Russian!

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