Raymond Keene


Text settings

Various champions have been accused of hypnotising their opponents, including Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and, not least, the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen. The respective accusers were the grandmasters and world-title candidates, Efim Bogolyubov, Pal Benko and the relatively recently deceased, Viktor Korchnoi.

The latter was an adept in the dark arts of presumed parapsychology; indeed Korchnoi’s 1978 challenge for the chess crown was dominated by suspicions of paranormal activity. It was evident that Korchnoi simply could not comprehend the magnitude of Carlsen’s successes, finding the quality of his play incompatible with his superlative results.

The most likely explanation for Carlsen’s victories from unpromising situations is undoubtedly not supernatural intervention. Instead the source emanates from his fierce and intimidating will to win, combined with astoundingly accurate endgame technique, which can extract a win from even the most barren and unpromising of scenarios.

This week, we track Carlsen’s wins from his victory last week at Wijk Aan Zee. They show immense resilience, winning when he was a piece down against the British champion, and taking the all-important tie break against Anish Giri, to seize the top honours from a seemingly arid ending.

Carlsen-Jones; Wijk aan Zee 2018

(diagram 1)

Here Black should block up the position with 22 ... Bf8 23 Qf2 g5 when it is very difficult for White to demonstrate any serious compensation for the piece. 22 ... Qb6 23 g5 Carlsen immediately ensures that the kingside is forced open. This move relies on the tactic 23 ... Qxc5 24 Nxc5 Re7 25 Nxb7 Rxb7 26 Rxd5 winning. 23 ... hxg5 24 Qa3 Now the position has become complicated as White has pressure on both sides of the board. 24 ... Rb8 25 b3 Qd8 26 Qxa7 gxh5 This speeds up the white invasion. 26 ... Qc8 was best. 27 Rxh5 Rg6 28 Rxg5 Rxg5 29 Nxg5 Qc8 30 Rg1 Now White is winning. 30 ... Ra8 31 Qb6 Ra6 32 Qc5 Qd7 33 Ne4 Kh8 34 Qf2 Qe7 35 Bxa6 Bxa6 36 Qh2+ Kg8 37 Qh6 Qa7 38 Qe6+ Kf8 39 Rg5 Ne3 40 Qd6+ Kf7 41 Nc5 Bc8 42 Rxg7+ Black resigns.

Carlsen-Giri; Wijk aan Zee Play-off 2018

(diagram 2)

This bishop ending looks drawn, since 43 Bxg7 fails to 43 ... Kf7. However, Carlsen manoeuvres and uses zugzwang plus the threats of simplifying to a won pawn ending to undermine Black’s resistance. Giri, I think, was both astonished and bitterly disappointed, having played the tournament of his life, that he was unable to hold this simple endgame. 43 Bc5 Kd7 44 Kb4 Bd2+ 45 Ka4 Kc7 46 b4 Bf4 47 Bf8 Kb6 48 Bxg7 Bg5 49 Bf8 Bf4 50 Be7 Bg5 51 Kb3 Kc7 52 Kc4 Kd7 53 Bc5 Kc7 54 Kd3 Kd7 55 Be3 Black resigns After 55 ... Bxe3 56 Kxe3 Kd6 57 Kd4 Kd7 58 Kc5 Kc7 59 a4, Black will have to give way.