Carlsen’s Universal Recipe

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Table of Contents

Magnus Carlsen’s opening preparation in his last World Championship match in Dubai was excellent. His main strategy was to obtain slightly inferior positions with Black where he would be comfortable and confident to hold. While this is OK, the surprising aspect of his play in these positions was that it was very simple and without too much variance.

The universality of Carlsen’s play with the black pieces in the Ruy Lopez structures was quite striking.

Take a look at the following position from the third game of the match. White’s last move was 10.Nbd2.

In this typical Ruy Lopez position Black has several plans, but in this and other similar positions, Carlsen always went for one plan: …Re8, followed by …h6 and …Bf8 (or starting with …h6 and then …Re8 and …Bf8).

Then, according to circumstances, either the knight maneuver …Ne7-g6 or the exchange of the bishops with …Be6.

And that was it for the whole match!

In the position above he played 10…Re8.

If you look at the other games he played with Black you will inevitably see the above plans. Even in the last game of the match, where the Giuoco Piano was played, he also went for this plan:

Carlsen played 11…Re8 followed by 12…Be6.

It’s incredible that you can base your whole preparation in a World Championship match on only one idea (…Re8, …h6 and …Bf8) with two possibilities after it (…Ne7-g6 and/or …Be6)!

Incredible as it may seem we now know that it worked perfectly and it is in fact quite possible to do so. Carlsen continued to use this plan even after the match, as in the game with Duda from Wijk aan Zee in 2022, where he went for an even faster …h6 , …Re8 and …Bf8 compared to the fifth game of the match with Nepomniachtchi.

In Dubai Carlsen played 13…d5 and only later in the game went for the knight maneuver …Ne7-g6 and prepared the move …Be6 with the help of …Qe8. In Wijk, however, he went for the straight-forward 13…h6, followed by …Re8, …Bf8 and …Be6.

What makes Carlsen’s recipe so appealing is that one can base the whole repertoire against 1.e4 on these two ideas as they are applicable both in the Ruy Lopez and in the Italian Giuoco Piano. Often the simplest things work best and here we even get the stamp of approval by the (former) World Champion. Simple chess is good chess

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