Last week, world champion Magnus Carlsen suffered a devastating defeat in the first round of the Stavanger super tournament when he lost on time to Topalov, in what had been a winning position for the champion. This contradictory outcome lent wings to the Bulgarian grandmaster, who then stormed to one of his greatest tournament triumphs.
The normally irrepressible Carlsen, clearly unnerved by this unfortunate accident, went on to lose a further three games from the remaining eight, with just two wins to his credit.
Inevitably this once again prompts questions about Carlsen’s actual strength. True, he has achieved the highest rating of any player in history but there are those who explain this away, including Viktor Korchnoi, who ascribes the champion’s success to hypnotic power. Leaving such suggestions aside, titans of the past, such as Lasker, Alekhine and Botvinnik, would be turning in their graves at the catastrophic errors our champion is capable of making.
Topalov-Aronian: Norway Chess, Stavanger 2015 (Diagram 1)
The endgame appears to be tenable for Black but Topalov’s dynamic continuation allows him to energise his rooks in dramatic fashion. 38 b4 cxb4 39 Rc8 Black is now forced to give up material to counter White’s mating threats. 39 … Nd8 40 R1c7+ Ke8 41 Nc5 Rxc5 Otherwise Rd7 is coming. 42 Rxc5 b3 43 Rc1 Kd7 44 R8c7+ Ke8 45 Rc8 Kd7 46 R8c3 Ke7 47 Rd3 Nb7 48 Rdc3 Nd8 49 f4 f6 50 Rc7+ Ke8 51 Rxg7 fxe5 52 Rcc7 Well calculated by Topalov. The Black b-pawn looks dangerous but White’s rooks are too strong. Instead 52 fxe5 b2 53 Rb1 Nf7 gives Black decent chances. 52 … Kf8 53 Rh7 Kg8 54 Rcg7+ Kf8 55 Rd7 Kg8 56 Rxh6 Nf7 57 Rg6+ Kh8 58 Rf6 Black resigns White’s last is the most accurate. Now if 58 … b2 59 Rfxf7 Rb8 60 Rh7+ Kg8 61 h6 forces mate.
Hammer-Carlsen: Norway Chess, Stavanger 2015 (Diagram 2)
In an effort to complicate the game Carlsen had tried a very risky opening. He has had to give up rook for bishop but would be okay here after 27 … c5 28 Ne6 Bxb3 since his queenside pawns provide adequate compensation. 27 … Rd8 This is a horrible blunder after which White can decisively activate his rooks. 28 Ne6 Rd2 29 Rc3 Re2 30 Nf4 Rb2 This is hopeless but White should also win after 30 … Re5 31 Nxg6 hxg6 32 Rxc7 Bxb3 33 Rxb7 Nb5 34 Nxb5 axb5 35 Ra1. 31 Nxg6 hxg6 32 Rxc7 Rxb3 33 Rd1 Nc6 34 Rdd7 Black resigns