Rapid reverse as Carlsen tries to defend another title
When last we wrote about Magnus Carlsen, he was sacrificing his queen to clinch his world title defense last month over Russian challenger Sergei Karjakin in New York City.
Carlsen is back in action this week, defending another world crown. But this time it was the great young Norwegian who was on the wrong end of a queen sacrifice at the World Rapid and Blitz championships now underway in Doha, Qatar. Carlsen, who first won the rapid world belt in 2014, could be excused for needing a little time to ease back into competitive form given the grueling overtime battle with Karjakin. But the rapid format — 15 minutes for the entire game, with a 10-second supplement per move — doesn’t exactly offer the kind of recuperative time the champ needed.
That was evident in Carlsen’s surprising Round 2 loss Monday to Georgian GM Levan Pantsulaia, a fine player and the world Under-16 champion a dozen years ago, but also a player whose rapid rating of 2622 is a mind-boggling
below Carlsen’s 2906. Still, Pantsulaia didn’t back down from the challenge, survived a little middle game pressure and finished things off with panache for the upset.
Black does fine in the early stages of this English Opening, and White’s 15. e4!? Bxc4 16. dxc4, is a bid to counter’s Carlsen’s growing space edge. Black’s troubles start a little later, when 22. Bh3 f3!? looks dangerous but never really amounts to anything, and 23… Nb4?! (both 23…Kh8 and 23…Rxd8 kept things equal) 24. Bxb4 axb4 25. c5! Bh6 26. cxb6! gives White a clear edge in lines such as 26… Bxc1 27. Rxd8 Rxd8 28. bxc7 Rd4 29. Qxc1 Rxe4 30. c8=Q+ Nxc8 31. Qxc8+ Kg7 32. Qc5.
The game’s 26…cxb6 27. Rc7 Qf6 28. Qxb4 leaves White a pawn up and with strong pressure on the seventh rank, while Carlsen’s pieces clutter up the kingside. When Black misses his best chance to fight back (the counterattacking 38…Ne2+ 39. Kf1 Qa3! at least complicates White’s task), Pantsulaia relentlessly infiltrates Carlsen’s position, with the opposite-colored bishops actually helping White’s task.
The end comes on 44. Qf7 Nd4 (see diagram) 45. Nf6! Bg7 (Nxb5 46. Ng8 mate) 46. Qxg7+!, and White has an easily won ending after the forking line 46…Kxg7 47. Ne8+ Kf7 48. Nxd6+ Ke6 49. Be8 Kxd6 50. Bxh5; Carlsen resigned. The Norwegian champ bounced back with two consecutive victories and still has time to make up ground in the 15-round event that ends Dec. 30.
One last Eastern Open reminder as play gets underway Tuesday, Dec. 27 in the Washington area’s traditional holiday season spectacular. The 43rd annual Eastern, a seven-section Swiss tournament, is being held once again at the Doubletree Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland. Some of the country’s top grandmasters and rising junior stars are expected to compete.
Watching is free, and there will be chess books and paraphernalia on sale at the site. For more information, check out http://easternopenchess.com.
Happy New Year to all our readers, and may everyone’s rating soar in 2017!
Pantsulaia-Carlsen after 44…Nd4