Opinion Nov 13, 2014 | 8:22 PMby Colin McGourty

Tkachiev on Carlsen's problems in Sochi

Norwegian journalists watch Magnus Carlsen in the press conference after his loss in Game 3 | photo: Vladimir Barsky, sochi2014.fide.com

Is Magnus Carlsen in the same position as Garry Kasparov was in the match he lost to Vladimir Kramnik in London in 2000? That’s one of the questions Vlad Tkachiev poses as he reviews the first third of the 2014 World Championship match in Sochi. He sees worrying signs for the reigning champion, and asks how the Norwegian star can counter Viswanathan Anand’s opening preparation.

This is the fifth post in Vlad Tkachiev’s new blog ChEsSay, translated with permission from the Russian original:

Magnus the wandering cowboy

(Based on 1/3 of the Carlsen-Anand match)

Flashback no. 1: October-November 2000, the Kasparov-Kramnik match

After encountering a novelty on move 11 of the Grünfeld Defence in Game 2, Kasparov lost and then never returned to the opening  one of his favourites. Work began on repairing his repertoire “on the fly”, as a result of which the World Champion switched to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted and the Nimzo-Indian Defence. Kasparov himself admitted that took up to ten hours a day. As a result, the 10th game (again with Black) ended in a win for Vladimir as, after the 15th game, did the whole match. Afterwards Garry Kimovich explained his loss by his opponent’s domination in opening preparation, achieved thanks to attracting a large number of elite players: besides the official members of Kramnik’s team — Bareev, Lautier, Illescas, others involved were alleged to be Gelfand, Svidler, Morozevich… and more.

Flashback no. 2: September-October 2004, the Kramnik-Leko match

Kramnik, having almost completely switched to 1.e4 from autumn 2003 onwards, began just before the match to alternate that move with 1.d4 and 1.Nf3. In the match, meanwhile, he plays exclusively 1.e4.

Leko plays 1.d4 for the whole match, except the first game. Something he’d almost never done before that.

The result: from a very early stage the match turned into a case of “stumbling in the dark” for both players and their teams. Only in the last game did Vladimir nevertheless manage to level the score.


1/3 of the match in Sochi is over and it’s already possible to draw preliminary conclusions. The main one is — openings will be a decisive factor. Or more specifically, whether Magnus Carlsen and his team manage to patch that gaping hole.

None of the remaining factors have represented any surprises. Both players calculate variations at a pretty high level, they handle their time very practically and the Norwegian surpasses his opponent in positional understanding, the playing of simple positions and overall mental attitude. At the same time, on a couple of occasions he made serious tactical mistakes (in advance he failed to see 44.Qh1 in the first game, or 33.Nc6 Nf4+ 34.gxf4 Qg6+ in the fourth). But then we already knew that the Indian is slightly stronger in that area of play.

Carlsen admitted he'd missed this trick in the press conference after Game 4. It also provided an amusing moment in the live commentary, since Peter Svidler tried — and understandably failed — to make the move Ne7+!

A surprise — and a big one — was how completely unprepared Carlsen was for the mighty 1.d4 from Anand. How that happened is a story in itself, or perhaps two stories in one.

In an interview with Firstpost not long before the start of the clash with Anand in Sochi, the Indian gave the impression that he might have received some help preparing for the match from none other than world no. 2 Caruana. Whichever way you look at it, Fabiano with White is associated above all with the move 1.e4. That, combined with the fact that Viswanathan himself has almost always started the game with the king’s pawn, could easily have set Magnus’ team off on the wrong track. And although Caruana denied that himself a few days ago…

…the effect had been achieved.

But that’s not all. If you recall the story of Kasparov’s catastrophe in London: back then no small portion of the world chess elite united to prepare against him. Why? — simply because overthrowing the Champion was beneficial to all. And what if the situation has been reproduced 14 years later and the domination of one player above all the rest has triggered a common interest among the world’s top chess players? And based on that they rushed to offload their most cherished opening files on Anand. At the very least it’s a logical supposition, given the somewhat depressed and bewildered look of the World Champion in the last two press conferences. Such things are always felt.

But now details. There’s only been one true surprise in the openings: 2…e6 from Anand in the 4th game. He’s played that extremely rarely of late — three times in six years. In the other games it was easy to guess the opening:

  1. The Grünfeld Defence — Vishy had played 1.d4 six times against Carlsen before Sochi, and on two occasions the Norwegian chose this opening — 2009 and 2011.
  2. The Berlin Variation — out of the 13 games between the players in the last five years where Magnus started with 1.e4 Anand had chosen precisely this reinforced concrete setup on eight occasions, not losing a single game. On five occasions he offered to play the Najdorf with the moves 1…c5, 2…d6, but only got it once. 3.Bb5+ led to one win for the Norwegian, and it should have been three! It’s obvious that it was precisely this line that Anand’s camp decided to avoid.
  3. The Tartakower-Makogonov-Bondarevsky Variation. This had already occurred between these opponents on two occasions, in 2009 and 2011. In general, this is part of Carlsen’s classical education instilled by Kasparov. Along with the Grünfeld.

Given the unsuccessful outcome of the opening for the Norwegian in his 2nd game with Black it’s worth considering in more detail what his options now are. Let’s allow ourselves one more lengthy historical digression:

In the last four years after 1.d4 he’s played:

  1. The Queen’s Indian (in particular twice against Anand). Why not repeat that? The obvious answer is 4.g3, after which 4…Bb7 is no good due to 5.Bg2 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.d5 — the Polugaevsky Gambit, which has been seen more than once in the games of Anand’s seconds Wojtaszek and Gajewski. 4…Ba6 is also terrifying, because it’s not even clear which of the variations: 4.Qc2, 4.Qa4, 4.Qb3, 4.b3 or 4.Nbd2 would be chosen by Anand. Most likely one of the first three, since they’re the most dangerous. Carlsen has long been avoiding the main options in all these lines.
  2. The Ragozin Variation — played by Magnus twice in the last year. It’s scary to go for this — since it’s the main opening of those same ubiquitous Polish seconds. Definitely not.
  3. The Bogolyubov Defence — the Norwegian used this to neutralise Aronian at the Candidates Tournament in London. But he’s only played it four times in his whole lifetime. Hardly.
  4. The Queen’s Gambit with the option of transposing to a number of different setups: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Nbd7 — he’s played this a lot. A sensible choice, with one drawback — very, very predictable. They’ll be lying in wait.
  5. The Slav Defence — no, no and once again no! Against anyone but Anand! This is his main opening, and you can’t expect anything good to come of that — the difference in knowledge is just too great.
  6. Let’s call them “pranks” — the Benko Gambit, the King’s Indian Defence, the Dutch Defence, 1…e6 2.c4 Bb4+, the Queen’s Indian with 4…Bb7 5.Bg2 g6. No doubt I’ve forgotten some… All of these were played by Carlsen once, twice or a little more often, for a special occasion. It feels unlikely there’s any particular knowledge here, or the desire to repeat them at a crucial moment. I’m sure these have been looked at in great detail in the Indian’s HQ. And somehow it just wouldn’t be serious.

Magnus has always been remarkably quick to adapt things he’s only just seen. I’m sure the most interested spectator of the start of the Tal Memorial Blitz was him. Never mind that it’s blitz — in the situation he’s in anything might help. As it is, of course, you have to ask yourself: what was “Team Carlsen” doing before the match?

It’s bad taste to end an article rhetorically, but it has to be done.


Right on cue, Magnus Carlsen will now have the black pieces in tomorrow's Game 5. It might be a crucial encounter, since Carlsen will then have White in Games 6 and 7.

Why not join Magnus in watching the Tal Memorial Blitz! Alexandra Kosteniuk is the only woman in the 12-player field and had a curious first day: 10 losses and 1 win... against Vladimir Kramnik! | photo: ruchess.ru

Don't miss the action here on chess24, with the game starting at 13:00 CET, but the Tal Memorial Blitz starting two hours earlier — it's all available on our Live Broadcast page

See also:


Sort by Date Descending Date Descending Date Ascending Most Liked Receive updates

Comments 16

Guest
Guest 4655935821
 
Join chess24
  • Free, Quick & Easy

  • Be the first to comment!

Register
or

Create your free account now to get started!

I am aged 16 or older.

By clicking ‘Register’ you agree to our terms and conditions and confirm you have read our privacy policy, including the section on the use of cookies.

Lost your password? We'll send you a link to reset it!

After submitting this form you'll receive an email with the reset password link. If you still can't access your account please contact our customer service.

Data Consent Details

We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines.

Using chess24 requires the storage of some personal data, as set out below. You can find additional information in our Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, Disclaimer and Terms of Website Use. Please note that your data settings can be changed at any time by clicking on the Data Settings link in the footer at the bottom of our website.

data details

Necessary Data

Some data is technically necessary to be able to visit the page at all. A so-called cookie stores identifiers that make it possible to respond to your individual requests. It contains a session ID - a unique, anonymous user ID combined with an authentication identifier (user_data). A security identifier (csrf) is also stored to prevent a particular type of online attack. All of these fields are alpha-numeric, with almost no relation to your real identity. The only exception is that we monitor some requests with the IP address that you are currently using, so that we are able to detect malicious use or system defects. Additionally, a technical field is stored (singletab) to ensure that some interactions are only processed in the browser tab that is currently active. For example, a new chess game will not be opened in all your current tabs. We use your local storage to save the difference between your local clock and our server time (serverUserTimeOffset), so that we are able to display the date and time of events correctly for you. You can also enable more data fields, as described in the other sections. Your personal decision on which data storage to enable is also stored as necessary information (consent).

Settings Data

We offer a range of personal settings for your convenience. Options include which opponents you prefer to be paired against, your preferred chessboard and pieces, the board size, the volume setting of the video player, your preferred language, whether to show chat or chess notation, and more. You can use our web page without storing this data, but if you would like to have your individual settings remembered we recommend enabling this feature. For logged-in registered users this setting is mandatory to store information about your privacy settings, users you have blocked and your friendship settings. As a registered user we also store your data consent in these settings.

Social Media Data

We embed a Twitter feed showing activity for the hashtag #c24live and also make it possible to share content in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. If you enable this option social networks are able to store data in your cookies or local storage for the purpose of these features.

Statistics Data

We would like to measure how our page is used with Google Analytics, so that we can decide which features to implement next and how to optimize our user experience. If you enable this feature Google will store your device identifiers and we will send tracking events (such as page requests) to Google Analytics. These have no direct relationship to your person except for the IP address currently being used.

Marketing Data

To help cover the cost of free services we would like to show you advertisements from our partner networks. Members of these networks store data on the banners shown to you and try to deliver ads that are relevant. If you choose not to allow this kind of data we have to show more anonymous advertisements and will be more limited in the free services we can offer.

Other Data

For registered users we store additional information such as profile data, chess games played, your chess analysis sessions, forum posts, chat and messages, your friends and blocked users, and items and subscriptions you have purchased. You can find this information in your personal profile. A free registration is not required to use this application. If you decide to contact the support team a ticket is created with information that includes your name and email address so that we can respond to your concern. This data is processed in the external service Zendesk. If you subscribe to a newsletter or are registered we would like to send you occasional updates via email. You can unsubscribe from newsletters and as a registered user you can apply several mail settings to control how your email address is used. For newsletters we transfer your email address and username to the external service MailChimp. If you buy content or subscriptions on chess24 we work with the payment service provider Adyen, which collects your payment data and processes information about the payment such as fraud protection data.