Luke McShane

A good year for Carlsen

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Magnus Carlsen is the star attraction at this year’s London Chess Classic. The festival, now in its 11th edition, runs from 29 November to 8 December at the Olympia Conference Centre in Kensington. The World Champion will play in the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour, in a four-player knockout event with a $350,000 prize fund which begins on Monday 2 December. He will be joined by Ding Liren, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

‘The Classic’ as the festival is affectionately known, features a wide variety of events, including a Fide-rated Open tournament, weekend events, and a ‘Super Blitz Open’ on the final Sunday. I will be playing in the British Knockout Championship, along with all the other members of the England squad who won bronze medals at the European Team Championships earlier in November. Attendees can also enjoy discounted tickets for Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, a play which opens at the Hampstead Theatre on 29 November. More information and tickets are available at

This has been a good year for Magnus Carlsen, even by his own standards. He has shown particular dominance in classical (slow) events, taking first place in each of Tata Steel (Wijk aan Zee), Shamkir, Grenke, Altibox (Stavanger), and the Zagreb leg of the Grand Chess Tour. The latter performance in July took his international rating in classical chess back to 2882, matching the all-time record he set in 2014. Since then, he has extended his unbeaten streak in classical chess beyond 100 games.

Carlsen had some less convincing results in the second half of the year. He was crushed by Wesley So in a match of Fischer-Random chess in Oslo a month ago. (In that format, the starting positions of the pieces on the back row are chosen at random). But you could almost hear a roar of determination at the Kolkata leg of the Grand Chess Tour. He utterly dominated the rapid section, scoring 7.5/9.

I was most impressed by this game, which demonstrates how the very best players can make chess look easy. In the early middlegame Carlsen secures the advantage by exchanging knight for bishop and clamping down on the weak d6 pawn. In the diagrammed position he creates a powerful passed b-pawn. ‘Nepo’, a famously resourceful player, is hardly permitted a shred of counterplay.

Magnus Carlsen–Ian Nepomniachtchi

Kolkata Grand Chess Tour, November 2019

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Nd7 4 d4 cxd4 5 Qxd4 a6 6 Be2 Ngf6 7 O-O e5 8 Qe3 Nc5 9 Nfd2 Perhaps the only unnatural move of the game. Carlsen wants his pawn on c4 and b1-knight on c3, to secure an outpost on d5. But first the e4-pawn must be defended. 9…b5 10 c4 bxc4 11 Nc3 Bb7 12 Bxc4 Be7 13 b4 Ne6 14 Nb3 Rc8 15 Na5 Qd7 16 Qd3 O-O 17 Be3 Bd8 18 Nxb7 Qxb7 19 Nd5 Nc7 20 Nxf6+ Bxf6 21 Rab1 Rfd8 22 Rfd1 h6 23 f3 This harmonious move prepares to drop the bishop back to f2 in the event of Bf6-g5. It also defends the e4 pawn, in preparation for White’s next. 23…Qc6 24 Qb3 Qe8 25 a4 Rb8 26 b5! This passed pawn will decide the game. 26…axb5 27 axb5 Ne6 28 b6 Bg5 29 Bf2 Nd4 30 Bxd4 exd4 31 Rxd4 Rdc8 32 b7 Rc5 33 Bd5 Qe7 34 Rc4 Qc7 35 Rxc5 dxc5 36 g3 There is no hurry. Carlsen secures the dark squares around his king before moving in for the kill. 36…Bf6 37 Kg2 Qe7 38 Qb6 Be5 39 Qc6 Kh7 40 f4 Bd4 41 Qc8 Qd6 42 Qf5+ Kh8 43 Kh3 Qa6 44 e5 Black resigns