The veteran world championship contender, Victor Korchnoi, has accused the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of hypnotising his opponents. Plainly unimpressed by the overall quality of Carlsen’s play, the ever-controversial Korchnoi ascribes Carlsen’s successes to mental influence rather than superlative moves. In the past, similar accusations were levelled against Alekhine, when he beat Bogolyubov in 1934, and against Tal, when he won the Candidates tournament in 1959.
Winning streaks often come in sixes and sevens. Fischer defeated Taimanov and Larsen by six to zero in each case, in his celebrated run in 1971. Meanwhile, Fabiano Caruana reeled off seven consecutive wins in St Louis last year, while at the recently concluded Tata Steel Tournament in the Netherlands, Carlsen, whether by hypnosis or just good play, won six games in a row against world-class opposition. His victims included the current world ranked no. 2, Caruana himself. There follow some notes to that game.
Caruana-Carlsen: Tata Steel, Wijk aan Zee 2015; Sicilian Defence
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 g6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 5 d3 Bg7 6 h3 Nf6 7 Nc3 b6 8 Be3 e5 9 0-0 Hypnosis or too much trust in the opposition. After the obvious pawn grab 9 Nxe5 Nxe4 10 Qf3, Black’s position is precarious and probably already lost. Inexplicably the world no. 2 ignores this golden opportunity. 9 … 0-0 10 a3 Qe7 11 Qb1 Nh5 12 b4 White has conceived of an artificial plan to attack Black’s weakened queenside pawns. However, Black is able to counter-punch on the opposite wing against White’s King. 12 … f5 13 bxc5 f4 14 Bd2 bxc5 15 Qb3+ Be6 16 Qa4 Rac8 17 Qa5 g5 18 Na4 g4 19 hxg4 Bxg4 20 Qxc5 Qf6 21 Nh2 f3 (see diagram 1) Sacrificing a piece to break up White’s kingside. There is no way that White can retain his extra material. 22 Nxg4 Qg6 23 Qe7 fxg2 24 Rfb1 Qxg4 25 Qg5 Qe2 26 Qe3 Qg4 27 Qg5 Qxg5 28 Bxg5 Nf4 29 Bxf4 Better is 29 Kh2 Kh8 30 Re1 h6 31 Bh4 Bf6 32 Bg3 Rg8 33 Rg1 Rg5 34 Rxg2 Rcg8 35 Kh1 Nxg2 36 Kxg2 with a likely draw, since it is difficult for Black to penetrate the White camp. 29 … exf4 30 Kxg2 f3+ 31 Kf1 (see diagram 2) 31 … Rf4 Instead of grabbing the rook, Carlsen cleverly introduces the threats of… Rh4 and … Rh1. 32 c3 Rd8 33 d4 Bh6 34 Ke1 Rxe4+ 35 Kd1 c5 The final blow since after 36 Nxc5 Re2, White no longer has the defence Rb2. 36 Kc2 cxd4 37 Kd3 Re2 38 c4 Rxf2 39 Rd1 Re2 White resigns
As I write, the American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has also won his first six games at the Tradewise Tournament in Gibraltar. The conclusion of his game against the former Fidé champion Topalov forms the topic of this week’s puzzle.