Karjakin Wins Norway Chess 2013, Edges Carlsen and Nakamura

Magnus Carlsen, the world's top-rated chess player, is expected to win every tournament he enters. The Norway Chess 2013 Super Tournament was tailored for him as a tribute to his previous successes. For the first time, he would compete in his homeland against some of the finest chess players in the world, including the world champion Vishy Anand. But after Sergey Karjakin of Russia won the first four games, the first place seemed slipping out of Carlsen's reach.

Carlsen beat Karjakin in the fifth round in a see-saw battle (commented below), but in the end lost the war. Karjakin scored his best tournament victory. Carlsen shared second place with the American Hikaru Nakamura.


The spoiler of the tournament was the Chinese grandmaster Wang Hao. He beat Carlsen in the penultimate round and Anand in the last round, forcing the Indian grandmaster to share fourth place with Levon Aronian of Armenia and Peter Svidler of Russia.

Nakamura booked another solid result after finishing second in the FIDE Grand Prix in the Swiss city of Zug in April. He chose Norway over the U.S. championship. In his absence, Gata Kamsky won his fourth U.S. title. This time he was forced into a playoff by the fast-improving Alejandro Ramirez.

The Spanish Dragon



Once upon a time, a chess player looked up to the sky and thought that a certain pawn formation resembled a celestial constellation. In the notes to his game against Abram Rabinovich from Prague 1908, the Russian master Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky claims that he invented the name Dragon variation in 1901 in Kiev: the pawn configuration d6,e7,f7,g6,h7 in the Sicilian looked to him like the Draco constellation.

We can find the Dragon formation as early as in 1880 in the game Schottlaender-Winawer, played in Wiesbaden, Germany. Others followed. One of them was the creative Moscow grandmaster Vladimir Simagin. He added a special dimension to the Dragon: the exchange sacrifice. He would rather give up his rook than to exchange his dark Dragon bishop.


In 1947, Simagin won the Moscow championship ahead of David Bronstein and Grigory Ravinsky. During the tournament he did something extraordinary: he flipped the Sicilian Dragon formation and moved it to the other side of the board. Since it came from the Spanish opening, I decided to call it the Spanish Dragon. It comes after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 and now instead of Chigorin's 10...c5, he played the modest 10...c6.

It is possible that Simagin didn't know that he mirrored the Sicilian Dragon. In 1957, the American grandmaster William Lombardy began to play the move 10...c6 and employed it in the next four decades.
The Spanish Dragon formation was better suited for the Spanish Breyer variation (9...Nb8), where it started to appear in 1954.

And this brings us to the fascinating Spanish duel Karjakin-Carlsen.


Karjakin - Carlsen
Sandnes, Norway Chess 2013

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Nb8 10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2

In 1954, the Spanish Dragon appeared in the Breyer defense for the first time after 11.c4 c6.

11...Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.a4

A 21st century move, concentrating on a swift development of the queenside. Sending the knight to the kingside 13.Nf1 Bf8 14.Ng3 was popular in the last century and after 14...g6 15.a4 black almost automatically played 15...c5, being afraid of Bc2-d3. But at the 1978 U.S. championship, Lombardy ignored the white threat and played 15...Bg7 16.Bd3 c6. I tried this Spanish Dragon formation a year later as black against Karpov in Tilburg. I drew that game after a fierce tactical fight, but I misplayed the opening.

13...Bf8 14.Bd3 c6


Carlsen reached the Spanish Dragon, a counter-punching structure. He got into this position in several games previously. His c-pawn is restricting white's d-pawn, but Karjakin has more space to operate.


Karjakin wants to speed up the action on the queenside. He learned his lesson from his game against Carlsen in Moscow 2010 which continued: 15.b3 Qc7 16.Qc2 Rac8 17.Bb2 Nh5 18.Bf1 Nf4 19.b4 Nb6 20.axb5 cxb5 and black was already slightly better and later won.


Some players prefer to play g7-g6 at some point in this line and bring the dark bishop to the diagonal a1-h8. But Carlsen likes the bishop where it is and refuses to move the pawns in front of his king until it becomes necessary.

16.axb5 axb5

[16...cxb5?! 17.d5!]

17.b4 Qc7 18.Bb2 Ra8 19.Rad1

Having more space, Karjakin wants to keep as many pieces on the board as possible. He has a nice, compact position and plans to blow the center open with c3-c4. Black doesn't have many useful waiting moves.

19...Nb6 20.c4!

The right moment to open the center. The tension intensifies.

20...bxc4 21.Nxc4 Nxc4 22.Bxc4 h6

Carlsen finally moves a pawn on the kingside, denying the white knight the square g5. After an indifferent move, for example, 22...Rab8 black goes down quickly after 23.dxe5 dxe5 24.Ng5 Re7 25.f4! and white has a decisive attack.

After 22...exd4 23.Bxd4 Black can't free himself in the center with

A. 23...Nxe4 24.Bd5! c5 (24...Nf6 25.Ng5!+-) 25.Bxe4 Bxe4 26.Rxe4 Rxe4 27.Qxe4 d5 28.Qxd5 Rd8 29.Qc4+-

B. 23...d5
a) 24.e5! c5 25.Bb3 Ne4 26.Rxe4 dxe4 27.Ng5 Re7 28.Bxc5±

b) 24.Bxd5!? Bxb4 (24...Nxd5 25.exd5 Rxe1+ 26.Rxe1 f6 27.Rc1±) 25.Ng5 Re7 (25...Nxd5 26.exd5 Rxe1+ 27.Rxe1 g6 28.Ne4 Bxe1 29.Nf6+ Kf8 30.Bc5+ Kg7 31.Qb2+-) 26.Bxf7+ Rxf7 27.e5 Bxe1 28.exf6 Bxf2+ 29.Qxf2 c5 30.Bxc5 Rxf6 31.Qc2 g6 32.Qb3++-;

c) 24.Bxf6?! dxc4=

23.dxe5 dxe5 24.Bc3 Ba6

Carlsen tries to exchange the light bishops to ease the pressure, but Karjakin avoids that. After 24...Nd7 25.Rxd7 Qxd7 26.Nxe5 Rxe5 27.Bxe5 Bxb4 28.Re3 Ra3 29.Bb3, threatening 30.Rf3 or 30.Rg3, white should win.

25.Bb3! c5

"It is clear white was better," said Carlsen. The game begins to gain speed.



Karjakin keeps the queenside pawns on the board, giving his opponent fighting chances. Carlsen expected 26.bxc5 Qxc5 27.Qb2 and black can't properly defend the e-pawn. He wanted to play for a draw with 27...Bc4 28.Bxc4 Qxc4 29.Nxe5 Qa2 since the pawns are reduced to one wing.


After 26...cxb4 27.Bxe5 black's kingside collapses, for example:
a) 27...Qc5 28.Bxf6 (28.Bd4 Qh5 29.Ne5 Re7 30.Nxf7 Rxf7 31.Bxf6 gxf6 32.Rd7+-) 28...gxf6 29.Qxf6+-

b) 27...Qb7 28.Bxf6 gxf6 29.Bd5+-;

c) 27...Qb6 28.Bd4! (28.Bxf6 gxf6 29.e5 Bc8 (29...fxe5 30.Rd7) 30.exf6±) 28...Bc5 29.Bxc5 Qxc5 30.e5 Nh7 (30...Nh5 31.e6 fxe6 32.Re5+-) 31.e6 fxe6 32.Rxe6 Rxe6 33.Bxe6+ Kh8 34.Ne5 Nf8 (34...Ng5 35.Bd5 Rc8 36.h4+-) 35.Bd5 Re8 36.Nf7+ Kh7 37.Qb1+ g6 38.Qa1+-.

27.Ba4 Re6 28.Nxe5!

Carlsen thought that after 28.Bxe5 Qb6 29.b5 (After 29.Bxf6 Rxf6 30.e5 Carlsen was contemplating to sacrifice the exchange 30...Rxf3 31.gxf3 Bb7) 29...Bb7 30.Bc2 Bc5 black would have some chances for a pawn. At least, the game would be complicated.


A critical point of the game.



Too passive, allowing Carlsen to strike with a vengeance. 29.Bb5!? was an excellent way to keep up the pressure. The bishop attacks the c-pawn and controls the square c6 at the same time. It's difficult to defend:

a) 29...Bd6 30.Nxf7! (30.Nxc4 Bh2+ 31.Kh1 Nxe4=)

a1) 30...Qxf7 31.Bxc4 Be7 32.Qb3 Bc8 33.f4 and the pin along the diagonal a2-g8 is devastating.

a2) 30...Bh2+ 31.Kh1 Qxf7 32.Bxc4 (32.Kxh2+-) 32...Bc7 33.Bxf6 gxf6 34.f4 Bxf4 35.Qb3 Rae8 36.Rd8!+-;

a3) 30...Kxf7 31.e5+-;

b) 29...Bxe4 30.Bxc4 Rxe5 31.Bxe5 Qxc4 32.Rd4 Qc2 33.Qxc2 Bxc2 34.b5± Bc5 35.Rc4 Nd7 36.Rxc2 Nxe5;

c) 29...Ba6!? 30.Bd7 (30.Bxa6 Rexa6 31.Bd4 Ra4 32.b5 Rb4 33.Qe2²) 30...Rb6 31.b5 Bxb5 32.Bxb5 Rab8 (32...Qb7 33.Rb1+-) 33.Ba5 c3 34.Qa2 (34.Qxc3 Qxc3 35.Bxc3 Rxb5 36.Nc6 R8b6 black can still fight.) 34...Qxe5 35.Bxb6 Rxb6 36.Bc4±

d) 29...Nxe4? looked dodgy to Carlsen after 30.Rd7 Qc8 31.Rxf7+-

29...Rae8 30.f4 Bd6!


The black pieces come to life, enjoying great coordination and threatening to undermine the white knight on e5 with 31....Nh5. The immediate 30...Nh5 is met with 31.Rd7 Qc8 32.Rxf7 Rxe5 33.Rxf8+!


Helping Carlsen launch a combination along the diagonal h2-b8, it is a turning point. But keeping the knight on e5 is a rather difficult task.
A. 31.g3 Bxe5 32.Bxe5 Rxe5 33.fxe5 c3 34.Qc1 Rxe5 with compensation for the exchange.
B. After 31.Re3 Nh5 32.g3 black may consider 32...g5!? with equal chances.

31...Nh5 32.g3 f6!

Carlsen considered 32...g5, but it was not necessary.


According to Carlsen, Karjakin played the knight move quickly and confidently. It was his opponent's reply that left him frozen for a while. Carlsen suggested 33.Rxd6 Rxd6 34.Nxc4 (34.Ng4 Houdini 34...Red8 35.Bb1 Rd1=) 34...Rc6 35.Bb3 Rxc4 (35...Kh8!-+ Houdini) 36.Qe2 Rexe4 37.Qxe4 Bxe4 38.Rxe4 but even here the weak white king has no chance after 38...Qc6! 39.Bxc4+ Kf8 40.Rd4 Qf3 41.Be1 Qe3 42.Rd1 Nxf4! and black should win.


Carlsen was not sure what white missed, but it could be this move. The sacrifice rips open the diagonal h2-b8.
The alternatives are weaker:

A. 33...Bxf4 34.gxf4 Nxf4 35.e5! (35.Rd7 Qxd7 36.Nxf4 Qd6 37.e5 fxe5 38.Nxe6 e4+ 39.Kg1 Qg3+ 40.Kf1 Qf3+ 41.Kg1 Rxe6-+) 35...fxe5 36.Nxe5 Nd5 37.Rxd5 Bxd5 38.Bf5 Rf6 39.Be4 white keeps the edge.

B. 33...Bxe4 34.Bxe4 Rxe4 35.Rxe4 Rxe4 36.Qg2 f5 the chances are roughly equal.



The only way, otherwise white goes down quickly:
Accepting the sacrifice 34.gxf4 gives black a powerful attack after 34...Bxf4+

a) 35.Kg2 f5 36.Nxf4 (36.Nh4 fxe4) 36...Qxf4 37.Bb1 Rg6+ 38.Kh1 Qf3+ 39.Kh2 Rg3 and black mates.

b) 35.Kg1 f5 (35...Bh2+ 36.Kh1 Rxe4!-+) ;

c) 35.Nxf4 Qxf4+ 36.Kh1 Qg3! 37.Re2 Rxe4! 38.Bxe4 Rxe4 39.Rg2 Qxh3+ 40.Kg1 Rh4 and black wins.

d) 35.Kh1 Rxe4 36.Bxe4 Rxe4 37.Rxe4 (37.Kg1 Bd2! 38.Qxd2 Qg3+ 39.Kf1 Qxh3+ 40.Kf2 Qf5+ wins.) 37...Bxe4+ 38.Kg1 Be3+ 39.Kf1 Qg3 wins.

The confusing 34.e5? backfires after 34...fxe5 35.gxf4 exf4 36.Rxe6 Rxe6 37.Bf5 f3+ and black wins.


A simple solution. White wins after 34...Nh5? 35.e5! Qxd6 36.exd6 Rxe1 37.Bxe1 Rxe1 38.Qb1!+-

35.Rxe6 Rxe6 36.Bd4

After 36.b5!? denying the black queen access to the square c6, black can play 36...h5! followed by 37...h4 with a slight edge.

(36...Nh4 37.Rf1 (37.Re3 Nf5 38.Rf3 Nd6-+) 37...f5 38.e5 Nf3+ 39.Rxf3 Bxf3 40.Bxf5=) ]

36...f5 37.e5?

Perhaps another oversight, but this time Carlsen's retort could have been overlooked. Karjakin could have tried 37.Bd1 Rxe4 (37...fxe4 38.Bg4) 38.Rxe4 Bxe4 39.Qc3 or 37.Qc3 fxe4 38.Bb3 with black being better in both cases.



The knight is being sacrificed for the second time.


After 38.Rxe5 Rxe5 39.Bxe5 Qc6 white is getting mated.


The mating threats force white to give the extra piece back.


The blockade 39.Be4 fxe4 40.Re3 (40.Bxg7 e3!) 40...Re7 41.Bc3 Rd7 can be eventually broken. White is stuck with a passive defense.

39...Qd5 40.Bxf5

[40.Qd4 Qxd4 41.Bxd4 Re2+-+]


A beautiful central domination of the black pieces.

41.Bg4 h5 42.Bd1

After 42.Rd1 Carlsen was ready to sacrifice the queen: 42...Qxd1 43.Bxd1 Re1 44.g4 h4 and the threat 45...Rh1 mate forces white to surrender material.

42...c3 43.Qf2

After 43.Qxc3 Qa2+ 44.Bc2 Re2+ wins.

43...Rf5 44.Qe3 Qf7

Carlsen wants to penetrate via the second rank. 44...h4 was also good, for example 45.Bg4 (45.Bc2 Re5 46.Qf2 hxg3+ 47.Kxg3 Qd6-+) 45...hxg3+ 46.Kxg3 Qd6+ 47.Kh4 Qd8+ 48.Kg3 Qc7+ 49.Kh4 g5+-+

45.g4 Re5

A nice deflection. Almost anything wins now.


[46.Qxe5 Qf2+]


After 47.Qf4 Re2+ 48.Kg3 h4+ wins.

White resigned.

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.

Draco image by Sidney Hall, 1825; Karjakin-Carlsen picture courtesy of Norway Chess