THERE are not many chessplayers who can bounce back after losing two games in a row, but Magnus Carlsen is one of them.
The young world champion began the Vugar Gashimov Memorial in standard fashion, surging to the lead with wins over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov from Azerbaijan and Japanese-American Hikaru Nakamura, but disaster struck in rounds four and five with back-to-back losses to the talented Italian Fabiano Caruana and another Azeri, Teimour Radjabov.
This left the Norwegian languishing on just 50 per cent half-way through the event, but Carlsen rebounded with an amazing 4/5 in the second half to clinch the event, including victories over Mamedyarov, Nakamura and Caruana.
That left Carlsen on 6.5/10, a full point ahead of Caruana on 5.5. Then followed Nakamura, Radjabov and Russian Sergey Karjakin on 5.0. Mamedyarov, a dynamic, crowdpleasing player who was twice world junior champion, was last on 3/10 after a terrible tournament.
The event highlighted the sort of world champion Carlsen is: he does lose games, but he has the capacity to rebound and “win on demand”, so to speak. Other world champions were different: Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian would draw most games, win a few but very rarely lose, whereas Carlsen loses a few but wins plenty.
The tournament was staged in Shamkir, Azerbaijan to remember the great Vugar Gashimov, who died from a brain tumour in January, aged just 27. The Azeri was a noted blitz specialist and one of the world’s top players.
A second-division tournament in Shamkir featuring five Azeris was won by the Ukrainian Pavel Eljanov on 6/10, ahead of Russia’s Alexander Motylev on 5.5.
Meanwhile, Carlsen continues to dominate the world ratings, which have just been updated. He leads with a rating of 2882, followed by Armenia’s Levon Aronian on 2815, but then a surprise: zooming up into third spot is the Russian Alexander Grischuk on 2792. The 31-year-old blitz star has long been a top 10 player but this is his best yet.