Reports Feb 3, 2014 | 3:00 PMby Colin McGourty

Zurich, Rds 3 and 4: Carlsen on a roll

Magnus Carlsen is on the verge of another great tournament victory. The World Champion leads Levon Aronian by a point at the Zurich Chess Challenge after defeating Nakamura and Caruana. We take a look back at all the week’s events, with some exclusive analysis from Rustam Kasimdzhanov.

Zurich Chess Challenge 2014

Fighting chess in Zurich

The Zurich Chess Challenge has so far featured both top-quality and hard-fought chess, with seven out of the 12 games ending with a winner. With the right players – e.g. Carlsen, Nakamura or Caruana – and minimal rule changes e.g. discouraging draws before move 40 – it’s impossible to talk about the draw death of chess as people were wont to only a couple of years ago.

It would also be somewhat awkward if the grandmasters cut their work short right before the eyes of diamond magnate and sponsor Oleg Skvortsov. To avoid that likelihood if a game ends in a draw before move 40 the players are required to play a rapid game for the audience. It’s a good sign that so far we’ve only had one such game, between Gelfand and Aronian. Their classical game in Round 3 was hard fought but ended after 27 moves. The subsequent rapid game was won by the Armenian, although it has no bearing on the final standings.

Oleg Skvortsov with his wife Natalia and Hou Yifan. The Women’s World Champion was one of the star guests over the weekend and gave a simultaneous display | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Carlsen, always Carlsen

The name Magnus Carlsen has featured with incredible frequency on our site of late. That’s hard to avoid, as he just keeps on winning and winning. After his victory in Round 3 against Hikaru Nakamura and in Round 4 against Fabiano Caruana he’s topping the table with 7 points. Nevertheless, there’s still some tournament intrigue, with Levon Aronian in hot pursuit.

If he doesn’t lose a game like the one against Hikaru Nakamura how is he ever going to lose? That’s the question that perhaps no-one on the planet can answer at this moment in time. Let’s take a look at the game:

1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘c3 ♗b4 4. f3 d5 5. a3 ♗e7 Against Anand in Game 9 of the World Championship match in Chennai Carlsen preferred the main continuation

5... ♗xc3+ , although he ended up on the defensive after 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 c4 9. ♘e2 ♘c6 10. g4 0-0 11. ♗g2 ♘a5 12. 0-0 ♘b3 13. ♖a2 b5 14. ♘g3 a5 15. g5 ♘e8 16. e4 He did eventually win that game, but it required some good fortune.

6. e4 dxe4 7. fxe4 e5 8. d5 ♗c5 The position is very unbalanced. White has a space advantage but his dark squares are weak and Carlsen's bishop therefore finds a very convenient outpost on d4. The World Champion had no doubt looked at this variation with his second Jon Ludwig Hammer, who has some experience in this line.

9. ♗g5

9. ♘f3 ♗g4 10. h3 ♗xf3 11. ♕xf3 ♘bd7 12. ♗d3 0-0 13. ♗d2 c6 14. 0-0-0 ♕b6 15. ♖hf1 ♗d4 16. ♔b1 ♘c5 17. ♗c2 ♘e8 18. ♗c1 gave White an edge in Volkov,S (2614)-Hammer,J (2601), Oslo 2011.

9... 0-0 10. ♘f3 ♗g4 11. h3 ♗xf3 12. ♕xf3 ♘bd7 13. 0-0-0 This plan with long castling and later attacking on the kingside looks very promising for White.

13... ♗d4 14. ♘e2 c5 15. g4 a5 The typical opposite-side-castling battle begins. It turns out White holds all the trumps, largely due to his space advantage.

16. ♔b1 ♖a6 17. ♘g3 g6 18. h4 a4 19. ♖h2 This rook reliably defends the second rank and the b2-point.

19... ♕a5 20. ♗d2 ♕c7 21. g5 ♘e8 22. h5 ♖b6 23. ♗c1 ♖b3 24. ♕g4 Carlsen only realised at this point that the white attack is much faster and more dangerous. The computer engine Houdini already gives White a decisive advantage.

24... ♘b6 25. ♗e2 ♘d6 26. ♖dh1

26. hxg6! fxg6 27. ♕e6+ ♖f7 (27... ♕f7 28. ♖dh1!+− ) 28. ♖dh1 (28. ♘f5 ♘xf5 29. exf5 ♕d7 30. fxg6 ♕xe6 31. dxe6 ♖f8 32. e7 ♖e8 33. gxh7+ ♔h8 34. ♖f1 ♘d7 35. ♗g4+− ) 28... ♔f8 29. ♘f5! ♘xf5 (29... gxf5 30. g6+− ) 30. exf5+−

26... ♗xb2 The best practical try.

27. ♗xb2 ♘bxc4 28. ♗xc4 ♘xc4 29. hxg6 ♕b6

29... fxg6 30. ♕e6+ ♔h8 31. ♕xg6+−

30. g7

30. gxf7+ ♖xf7 31. ♘h5 ♖xb2+ 32. ♔a1 ♖xh2 33. ♘f6+! ♔g7 34. ♖xh2 and Black will be mated.

30... ♖d8 31. ♕h4 ♖xb2+ 32. ♔a1 ♖xh2 33. ♖xh2 ♕g6 34. ♘f5 ♖e8 White still has many ways to win.

35. ♕g4 ♕b6 36. ♕h3 ♕g6 37. d6 At first glance it seems as though this idea wins, but White gets a rude awakening.

37... ♘xd6 38. ♘xd6 ♖d8 39. ♘c4

39. ♘f5 is the move you'd like to play here, but unfortunately it loses as the white king is also vulnerable. 39... ♖d1+ 40. ♔a2 ♕e6+ 41. ♔b2 ♕b6+ 42. ♔c2 ♕b1+ 43. ♔c3 ♕b3#

39. ♘c8! would preserve a small endgame edge after 39... ♔xg7 40. ♘e7 ♖d1+ 41. ♔a2 ♕e6+ 42. ♕xe6 fxe6 43. ♖h6 although you'd need exceptional technique in order to transform that into a full point.

39... ♕xe4 According to the computer this position is equal, but from a human point of view Black is on top. The queen covers the only weak point on h7 and White needs to be very precise to keep Black's heavy pieces in check. As if that wasn't enough, Nakamura only had a few minutes until the time control to find the best move - and he knew full well that he'd thrown away a winning position.

40. ♕h5?

40. ♘e3! Only this move would hold the balance, but it's not intuitive to put the knight on this square where it blocks the 3rd rank for the white queen.

40... ♖d3! The winning move. Black prevents White's defensive idea with 41. Qe2. Now that Carlsen scents victory nothing can stop him.

41. ♖h4 ♕f5 42. ♕e2 b5 43. ♘d2 ♕xg5 44. ♕xd3 ♕xh4 Black simply has too many pawns for the knight. White can't hold.

45. ♘e4 ♔xg7 46. ♕f3 ♕f4 47. ♕g2+ ♔f8 48. ♔b2 h5 49. ♘d2 h4 50. ♔c2 b4 51. axb4 cxb4 52. ♕a8+ ♔g7 53. ♕xa4 h3 54. ♕b3 h2 55. ♕d5 e4 56. ♕h5 e3 57. ♘f3 e2 58. ♔b3 f6 59. ♘e1 ♕g3+ 60. ♔a4 ♕g1 61. ♕xe2 ♕a7+


The two other games in Round 3 ended in draws. Aronian and Gelfand played out a Fianchetto Variation of the Grünfeld-Indian Defence. A symmetrical position was soon reached in which many pieces were exchanged. The game fizzled out with neither player having realistic winning chances.

Caruana vs. Anand was much more exciting. In a Slav the players refrained from castling for a long time and provoked mutual weaknesses. Those were eventually neutralised and the players decided to seal a draw by repetition right after move 40.

Round 3Fabiano Caruana½ - ½Viswanathan Anand
Levon Aronian½ - ½Boris Gelfand
Hikaru Nakamura0 - 1Magnus Carlsen

VIP visit

The star guest of the 4th round was Charles Aznavour. The French-Armenian singer has a cultural centre named after him in Yerevan and enjoys even greater cult status in Armenia than Levon Aronian – which is really something. As a cultural ambassador the 89-year-old moves back and forth between Paris and Zurich and decided to visit the chess tournament. He chose the right day, as all the games ended decisively.  

Charles Aznavour makes the first move in the game between Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Aznavour’s presence seemed to inspire Aronian, as the world no. 2 outplayed Hikaru Nakamura from start to finish. Aronian showed himself to be very well prepared in a Fianchetto Variation of the King’s Indian Defence. He gained a dangerous passed pawn on the a-file before eventually ending the game in memorable fashion on the other side of the board:

39. ♖xg7! ♔xg7 40. ♗d4+ Mate can't be averted.

40... ♔h6

40... ♔g8 41. ♕e7 ♕c1+ (41... ♖f7 42. ♖b8++− ) 42. ♔g2 ♕h6 43. ♖b7+−

41. ♕e3+ ♔h5 42. g4+ ♔h4 43. ♕h6+ ♔xg4 44. ♕h3+ ♔f4 45. ♖f3+ Nakamura resigned here, depriving the spectators of the chance to enjoy

45... ♔g5 46. ♖g3+ ♔f4 47. ♕g4#


Viswanathan achieved his first victory in what seems like an eternity by overcoming Boris Gelfand with the black pieces:

This position isn't easy for White. His king is clearly more exposed and he has more pawn weaknesses. This is a good example of how fast a top grandmaster can collapse when he has to defend a difficult position in time trouble.

31. ♖h1 This looks like a normal move. White protects the h4-pawn and the plan of pushing h5 looks plausible. However, the decisive factor here is control of the f-file.

31. ♖f1! ♕xh4 32. ♕f4 should give White sufficient counterplay on the f-file. After 32... ♕e7 and now a normal move like 33. ♕f2 Black can't allow the liquidation to a pawn ending with 33... ♖f8 as the a3-pawn will fall and his king will have no entry into the white camp: 34. ♕xf8+ ♕xf8 35. ♖xf8+ ♔xf8 36. b4!+−

31... ♖f8 32. h5 ♕f7! 33. h6 ♕f3! The white "attack" on the h-file remains totally ineffective.

34. ♖e1

34. h7+ ♔h8 35. ♖e1 ♕xg4

34... gxh6! 35. e6

35. ♕xh6 ♕d3+ 36. ♔c1 ♖f2 with mate to follow.

35... ♖e8 36. g5 ♕f5+ and White resigned as he's losing another pawn.


The game of the round was once again provided by Magnus Carlsen. His victory over Fabiano Caruana left chess24’s Rustam Kasimdzhanov somewhat stunned:

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 ♘f6 4. d3 ♗c5 5. ♗xc6 dxc6 6. h3 ♘d7 7. ♗e3 ♗d6 8. ♘c3 c5 9. 0-0 ♘f8 10. ♘d2 ♘g6 11. ♘c4 ♗e6 12. ♘e2 After the most boring of openings - reminds me of a joke from a decade or so ago: "What do you think is worse, the Anti-Marshall or the Anti-Sveshnikov?" It also makes me sad to think I'm probably one of about 10 guys in the world who finds that funny  - Black has no problems, but Fabiano made a dangerous decision to castle queenside... just like Hikaru a little earlier against Vishy 

12... ♕d7 After

12... 0-0 13. ♘xd6 cxd6 14. f4 f5 it would have been pretty equal, as 15. exf5 ♗xf5 16. g4 ♗xg4 17. hxg4 ♕h4 doesn't look like a winning attempt.

13. ♘xd6+ cxd6 14. f4 exf4 15. ♘xf4 ♘xf4 16. ♖xf4 Now after

16... b6

16... 0-0 17. ♕f3 f6 18. ♕g3 White gets a slight but pleasant initiative.

17. ♕h5 d5 18. d4 c4 19. b3 A move that's only justified if you feel your opponent is dying to castle queenside 

19... ♕c6

19... ♖c8! 20. e5 cxb3 21. cxb3 0-0 is completely fine for Black. 22. ♖af1 ♕b5! The queen landing on d3 kills off any hopes of creating an attack.

20. ♖af1 0-0-0 21. bxc4 ♕xc4 22. ♖xf7! Not at all obvious - at least to me - this shows what great feel Magnus has. The resulting position turns out to be very difficult for Black.

22... ♗xf7

22... g6 23. ♕h6

23. ♖xf7 ♖d7 24. ♖xd7 An interesting choice. The alternative

24. ♕f5 ♖d8 (24... ♕c6 25. ♖xg7 ) 25. ♕e6! was also very strong, forcing Black to find 25... b5! , which is not a move that can be found  (25... ♕xc2 26. ♗g5± ; 25... ♕c7 26. ♗g5± ) 26. e5 ♕c7 27. ♖xg7+/= (27. ♗g5 ♕b6! is the obvious point behind 25... b5 )

24... ♔xd7 25. exd5 When I saw this position during the online broadcast I wasn't at all sure that White is much better. It turned out, however, that these pawns are much stronger than they look, and the black king is much more vulnerable. Magnus concludes matters with some hair-raising precision.

25... g6 26. ♕g4+ ♔c7 27. ♕e6 ♔b7 28. ♕e7+ ♕c7 29. ♕e4 ♕d7 30. d6+ ♔a6 31. ♗f4 ♖c8 32. ♔h2 ♖c4

32... b5 33. a4! bxa4 34. ♕e2+ ♔b7 35. c4 and the pawns will march all the way up the board.

33. ♗g3 ♖c8 34. ♕d3+ ♔b7 35. c4 Now it's over - this is the kind of army that can't be stopped.

35... ♕c6 36. ♕b3 ♔a8 37. a4! ♖e8 38. a5 ♔b7 39. c5! ♔c8 40. axb6 axb6 41. d5 ♕xc5 42. ♕a4 ♖e3 43. ♕a8+ ♔d7 44. ♕b7+ ♔e8 45. d7+ ♔d8 46. ♗h4+ ♖e7 47. ♕c8+ Well, what can I say? That was some impressive chess there - this is what Fischer's chess of 1971-2 must have felt like...


Round 4Magnus Carlsen1 - 0Fabiano Caruana
Levon Aronian1 - 0Hikaru Nakamura
Boris Gelfand0 - 1Viswanathan Anand

Zurich Chess Challenge: Standings after Round 4



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