The year 2015 is very young and the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen has already won two strong tournaments -- in Wijk aan Zee in January and in the German resort Baden-Baden this week. But first, let's go briefly to Gibraltar, where the American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura was tearing the competition apart this month.
The United States have two chess players rated in the world's top 10 and they intend to push each other to get even better. Nakamura's fighting spirit didn't allow him to leave Wesley So's recent rating advance unanswered. He went to Gibraltar, where he won in 2008, and began to win game after game.
Already in the first game against the Serbian woman grandmaster Jovana Vojinovic, he did something unusual. Starting with the third move, he moved his queen on six consecutive moves. Nakamura would have been a hero some five centuries ago, around 1485, when the chess queen ceased to be a mere adviser to the king and acquired additional powers.
"That's what the fans want," exclaimed Hikaru, but the fans were utterly confused. "Don't move one piece too often in the opening," was one of the rules they read in chess manuals. Hikaru threw the rules out the window.
Vojinovic, Jovana - Nakamura, Hikaru
Gibraltar Masters 2015
1.d4 f5 2.Bg5
A popular continuation to avoid the Dutch defense main lines. It is a simple, concise variation - easy to learn.
2...c6 3.e3 Qb6
The first of six consecutive moves with the queen. Not only is the b2-pawn under attack, but the black king can escape via the square d8 to the queenside.
4.Nd2 Qxb2 5.Rb1 Qc3
A novelty. The normal development 6.Bd3 is the way to go.
An interesting draw occurred after 6.Ne2 Qa5 7.Nf4 g6 8.h4 Nf6 9.h5 Ne4 10.hxg6 Nxg5 11.Qh5 Ne4 12.g7+ Kd8 13.gxf8Q+ Rxf8 14.Rd1 Nxd2 15.Rxd2 Qxa2 16.c4 Qa1+ 17.Rd1 Qc3+ 18.Rd2 Qc1+ draw, Seirawan-Dolmatov, Cetinje 1992.
6...Qa5 7.gxf5 Qxf5 8.h4
There was nothing wrong with a piece development, for example: 8.Ngf3 Nf6 9.Bd3 Qh3 10.Rg1 and White is ready to pounce.
The last step on the queen journey and Black is a pawn up. But I doubt Nakamura would like to defend this position against a skillful attacker such as Alexei Shirov.
9.Nh3 g6 10.Bd3 d6 11.Qf3 Nd7 12.h5 Ndf6 13.hxg6 hxg6 14.Bxg6+ Kd8
The king is rather safe here. Black's pawn structure is more compact and healthy and there are holes in White's camp.
15.Bf4 Kc7 16.Ng5 Rxh1+ 17.Qxh1 Bh6 18.Qh4 Bd7 19.Bd3?!
19.c4 would at least deny Black the square d5.
The action switches to the queenside, where Nakamura is ready. From now on White would be outplayed.
20.Ne6+ Bxe6 21.Bxh6 Nc3 22.Ra1 Qb4 23.Kf1 Nxa2 24.Rd1 Nc3 25.Re1 Nxh6 26.Qxh6 Bd7 27.f3 a5 28.Kf2 a4 29.Qg5 Rh8 30.Qg3 Nd5 31.Rd1 c5 32.Bc4 Nc3 33.Re1 b5
As Hikaru remarked, his e-pawn still dwells on its original square. Remarkable.
Nakamura went on to win the first six games and almost won the seventh, but the English grandmaster David Howell escaped with a draw after he reached the Vancura defensive set-up. Josef Vancura was a brilliant Czech chess composer and endgame theoretician who died at the age of 23 in 1921. His nephew Petr told me that his uncle suffered terrible headaches: "He had excruciating pain and decided to end his life." His rook endgame analyses were published after his death.
Nakamura could have won the game at one point, but he missed it. Hikaru knew the Vancura defense because he used it against Teimur Radjabov at the Gashimov Memorial last year.
Howell,David - Nakamura,Hikaru
Gibraltar Masters 2015
Vancura's position could be achieved with the white rook on c4 where it can safely attack the h-pawn and prevent the black king from supporting the pawn by giving checks from the side. Nakamura missed the following winning move:
Threatening to activate the rook to the square f1. Instead, Nakamura chased the rook to the right square with 64...Ke3? and after 65.Rc4! h3 66.Rc3+ Kd4 67.Rg3 Rh2+ 68.Ka1 Rh1+ and the players agreed to a draw.
65.Rd3+ Kf2 66.Rd2+
Or 66.Rc3 Re1 67.Rh3 Re4 followed by 68...Kg2, Black wins.
The point! Black wins a tempo to free his rook, because the white rook is unprotected.
67.Rc2 Rf1 wins.
Despite this minor setback, Nakamura won the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters undefeated with seven wins and three draws with 8.5/10. Howell was a half point behind him with 8/10. The world women's champion Hou Yifan led a group of nine players with 7.5/10. It included the Chinese prodigy Wei Yi, 15, who broke another record: the youngest player to jump over the 2700 rating barrier. Altogether, 150 players took part in this open tournament.
The Grenke Chess Classic
Magnus Carlsen added drama to his victory at the Grenke Classic, an eight-player event in Baden-Baden, Germany. Most of the grandmasters played for the Bundesliga championship team that is based there.
Carlsen dropped a game to Arkady Naiditsch and had to play catch up till the end. The two players shared first place in the tournament. The tiebreaker went full five games and ended in Carlsen's favor 3-2.
After the loss, Carlsen had to play Vishy Anand - their first encounter after last year's world championship match in Sochi. In the critical position after 23 moves, Anand decided to open up the game, but Magnus was ready. It became a nice lesson in counterattacking, although Vishy did not find the best resistance.
Anand, Viswanathan - Carlsen, Magnus
Anand tries to use the pin to open the game for the bishop pair and to dismantle Black's kingside.
24...dxe4 25.fxe4 Bb2!
A double attack on the pawns on a2 and e4 bails out Black. Carlsen also thought that 25...Ng4 26.exf5 Rxf5 27.Rxf5 gxf5 was playable.
It is not only a pawn Carlsen wins, but his a-pawn becomes a dangerous passer. Moreover, threatening to win the white queen with 27...Bd4+, Magnus is able to consolidate his kingside.
Black is able to trade the queens after 27.Kh1 Rad8! 28.fxg6 (28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.fxg6 Qd5+ 30.Bg2 Qd3) 28...Rxd1 29.Qxd1 Qd5+ winning easily.
27...g5 28.Rfe1 Qf7 29.Re6 Ng4 30.Bxg4 hxg4 31.Rg6+ Kh7
A fancy, but faulty rook sacrifice. Carlsen was very much surprised not to see 32.Re6 with good chances to equalize, for example:
A. 32...Qxf5 33.Rd7+ Kg8 34.Rg6+ Kh8 35.Rh6+ leads to a perpetual check. But not 35.Qxb2+? axb2 36.Bd4+ Rf6! and Black wins.
B. 32...Rfe8!? 33.Red6! (33.Rde1 Kg8!) 33...Kg8 34.Bd4 Bxd4+ 35.R6xd4 a2 36.Ra1 White is passive, but perhaps not down.
C. 32...Bf6?! 33.Rxf6! Qxf6 34.Rd7+ Rf7 (34...Kg8 35.Bd4±) 35.Bd4 Qxd4+ 36.Rxd4 a2 37.Rd1 a1Q 38.Rxa1 Rxa1+ 39.Kg2=
32...Qxd7 33.f6 Qd1+!
The queen sacrifice is a simple, human refutation of White's attack. The computers are trying to convince us that 33...Rxf6 34.Rxf6+ Kg8 35.Rg6+ Kf8 also leads to Rome.
34.Qxd1 Kxg6 35.Qd3+ Kh6 36.h4 gxh3 White resigned.
The a-pawn is hard to stop, for example: 37.Qd7 Bxf6 38.Qxh3+ Kg6 39.Qe6 a2 and Black wins.
Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Nakamura now compete in the Zurich Chess Challenge (February 14-19).
Note that in the replay windows below you can click either on the arrows under the diagram or on the notation to follow the game.
Images by Sophie Triay (Gibraltar) and Georgios Souleidis (Baden)