Rapid re­verse as Carlsen tries to de­fend an­other ti­tle

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - DAVID R. SANDS 284 points David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

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

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