Champion in All Categories

Now only the correspondence world championship is still lacking on Magnus Carlsen’s list of achievements, though I think that he will have little interest in this ailing discipline in which nowadays computer-assisted top players only very seldom win against each other.

There are still some fair sportsmen who can promise each other credibly not to use a computer, but to me the temptation to bend this self-inflicted rule a bit seems overwhelming. How easy it is to say to oneself: “I’m not really using the computer to find moves, only as a blunder-check, and if during this process a good move is suggested, how can I ignore it?”

At the start of the recent world championships in rapid and blitz, held in Dubai, Carlsen said: “It feels strange not to be the number one in rating, it bothers me a bit, and I’m going to change it.” By winning first the rapid and then the blitz world championship, he certainly showed who is the boss, though formally at the live rapid rating list he is still only number two, with two rating points less than Fabiano Caruana. But who would care?

When I saw Carlsen’s blitz game against Laurent Fressinet, where, as Black after 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5, he played 2...Ng8, I wondered if he was having fun, defying his opponent with an outrageous move. Probably I was wrong. The move 2...Ng8, though seldom played at a high level, is not more outrageous that his opening in the game Adams-Carlsen, Olympiad Khanty Mansiysk 2010, which started 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Nf6 3.e5 Nh5, a game in which Carlsen got a decent position, though later he lost. It seems that Carlsen thinks that provoking e4-e5 is worth some time and trouble. If he is right, what to think of Wilhelm Steinitz, who, after 1.e4 e6, sometimes proceeded with 2.e5?

Carlsen’s 2...Ng8, taking back his first move, reminded me of a story that Tim Krabbé tells on his Chess Curiosities website (in the article Het Arafat Gambiet, which is there only in Dutch).

When he was about 17 years old, Krabbé played a match with his junior club against a club of the Amsterdam police. He opened with 1.Na3, and after the reply 1...Nf6, he retracted his first move by 2.Nb1. While his opponent was wondering what to think of this provocation (arrest the young rascal maybe?) and Krabbé was strolling around a bit, a teammate asked him “Why are you doing that?” to which young Tim replied: “I thought the knight wasn’t so well-placed on a3.” In the article on his site he is quite critical of the insolence of his younger self.

After winning two world championships in Dubai, Carlsen made a short tour in Armenia, accompanied by Levon Aronian. Some people were touched by the numbers one and two of the FIDE ranking list travelling around as friends for the good of chess. Indeed, it wasn’t always like that in the turbulent history of chess. I have been told by Dutch chessplayers of an older generation that Alekhine liked to exclaim in the 1930s: “Gentlemen, you don’t want to behave like Capablanca, do you?” I’m not sure who was the primary source of this tidbit of information. Probably Euwe.

The game from Dubai that I want to show here is not by Carlsen, but by the always interesting innovator Baadur Jobava. During this year’s Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee, he had fun telling how easily he often got a decisive advantage after playing an irregular opening where his opponents had to think for themselves. 

One of the lines that he has employed regularly, 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bf4, is sometimes called the “Neo-Veresov Variation.” For didactic purposes I will call it the “Mirrored Italian Game” here. The real Veresov with 3.Bg5 would then be the “Mirrored Ruy Lopez.” 

Everybody knows that in the Italian game f7 is a weak point and this knowledge is so ingrained that no experienced player will fall victim to an early attack against f7. In the mirrored Italian, Black’s weakness is c7. The motive of the possible weakness of c7 when there is a bishop on f4 is also well-known. There is a standard opening trap in the exchange variation of the queen’s gambit, where with a rook on c1 and a bishop on f4,

White can win a pawn by Nc3xd5, because recapturing with c6xd5 would cost Black his queen after Bc7. The great Akiba Rubinstein once fell victim to this scheme against Max Euwe and many other players have followed his example.

Still, keeping an eye on c7 is probably not imprinted on the chessplayer’s mind as strongly as guarding f7. In this game, the punishment for neglecting the possibility of an early attack against c7 is more subtle and interesting than just winning a pawn.

Baadur Jobava-Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

FIDE World Rapid, Dubai 2014. 

Here Black played 7...c5, and after 8.h5 Bh7 8.Nb5 Na6 White’s knight on b5 was unassailable and would decide the game later.

Click to replay the game with Hans' notes.

Baadur Jobava-Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

FIDE World Rapid, Dubai 2014