Malcolm Pein on…Carlsen’s Fluctuating Fortunes


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Today’s Daily Telegraph column continues Malcolm Pein’s coverage of the Tata Steel Masters and examines Magnus Carlsen’s fluctuating fortunes.

The game of the day sees the World Champion defeat the luckless Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in style.

Malcolm Pein on…Carlsen’s Fluctuating Fortunes

Magnus Carlsen, most unusually, never hit top form at the Tata Steel Masters. Possibly he struggled to adjust to over-the-board chess and a classical time limit after playing so many rapid, blitz and even bullet games online over the past year.

While in Holland, Carlsen may also have had business matters on his mind, as last week it was announced his Play Magnus Group has added the famous Dutch publishing house New in Chess to its portfolio.

After defeating Alireza Firouzja in the opening round, Carlsen was frustrated by the resourceful defence of a number of opponents. Being defeated by Andrey Esipenko did immediately spur him into life to outplay Nils Grandelius, but thereafter he only won once again.

Even more than Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be looking to bounce back at the Opera Euro Rapid, which continues today on Chess24. He lost twice at Wijk aan Zee with his beloved Najdorf Sicilian and, not for the first time, saw his Grünfeld Defense destroyed by Carlsen.

The Grünfeld Under Pressure

M. Carlsen – M. Vachier-Lagrave

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qa3 b6 9.Nf3 c5 10.Be3 0-0 11.Rd1 cxd4 12.cxd4 Qd6 13.Qxd6 exd6 14.Rc1!? (A new try. 14.Bc4 Bb7 15.Nd2 Na6 16.0-0 Nb4 17.d5 f5 supplied counterplay in Debashis- Cheparinov, Gibraltar 2015) 14…Bb7 15.Bd3 Nc6 16.Kd2 Rac8 17.h4! Nb4?! (17…h5 would be prudent followed by …Nb4 or 18.a3 Na5) 18.Bb1 Rce8 (18…Rxc1 19.Rxc1 Rc8 20.Rxc8+ Bxc8 21.Kc3 Nc6 22.Bd3 might have led to a typical Carlsen grind) 19.a3 Nc6 20.Ba2

M. Carlsen – M. Vachier-Lagrave

Black has lost time and his attempt to remedy matters with an exchange sacrifice doesn’t convince, so he likely had to grovel with 20…Re7 and …Na5. 20…Rxe4?! 21.Bd5 Na5 22.Bxe4 Bxe4 23.Rc7 a6 24.h5 b5 25.h6! (AlphaZero-like play to restrict the black king) 25…Bf6 26.Bg5! Bh8 (26…Bxf3? 27.Bxf6 Bxg2 28.Re1 will win on the dark squares) 27.Rh4!? Bd5 28.Kc3 Nc4?! (28…Nc6 was a better try) 29.Nd2! Nxa3 30.Kb4 Nc4 31.Nxc4 Bxc4 32.Be7 Re8 33.Rf4 (White’s pieces coordinate perfectly) 33…f5 34.g4! Kf7 35.Bxd6+ Ke6 36.Bc5 Bf6 37.gxf5+ gxf5 White could take on h7, but Carlsen found something even stronger. What?

Test Your Strength

Highlight the space below to reveal the answer.

38.Rc6+! Kf7 39.Rxf5 Re6 40.d5! 1-0

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