Magnus Carlsen just proved he is the best chess player

Sunday marked the end of the most important chess tournament of the year, the London Chess Classic. The tournament was the third and final stop on the Grand Chess Tour, a newly formed circuit of three premier chess events. Seven of the eight highest ranked players in the world competed in London.

The ten players represented a total of nine countries, with only the United States fielding two players. Four of the participants are 25 years of age or younger. Gaming has favored the younger generation with the rise of computer engines and available online resources.

I have had the pleasure of playing against four of the tournament participants in the past. An important lesson I learned was to play future world champions like Magnus Carlsen as many times as possible when they are (very) young. It allowed me to score 50% against Magnus in our three games. Today’s chess elite don’t have the same luxury!

Three way tie

The tournament was slated for a dramatic end. As the 9th and final round approached, Grandmasters Giri and Vachier-Lagrave led with five points in eight games. Carlsen, Grischuk and Aronian followed them by half a point. The round started with four draws.

The only remaining game, Carlsen-Grischuk, did not disappoint.

Both players had to win to catch up with the two leaders. Magnus Carlsen is the current world champion and has been in a league of their own for some time. However, 2015 saw Magnus move closer to its peers in terms of results. Alexander Grischuk is always an exciting player to watch and never shies away from complications.

The game was full of fireworks. For a detailed recap, scroll to the bottom of this article. **

Magnus pulled out a few feats in the last round, which meant that there was now a three way tie for the first place between Carlsen, Giri and Vachier-Lagrave.

Playoffs would be needed to determine the winner. Carlsen had the best tiebreaker of the three, which meant both Giri and Vachier-Lagrave would play in the first round of mini-matches.

The winner would then face Carlsen for the title.

Playoffs

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Magnus Carlsen makes a move as he plays against Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who notes his final move, at the start of the London Chess Classic earlier in the tournament.

PA


Those who watched Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave play were overjoyed. Anish managed to win the first game of the two-man game and did so with the black pieces. This meant that Maxime had to win the next game with black.

Maxime did just that to force the Armageddon tie-breaker.

The “Armageddon game” in chess guarantees a decisive result if white has more time on the clock but black wins the game if the result on the chessboard is a draw. Anish got the white pieces and six minutes against five minutes for Maxime. For the third straight playoff game, Black managed to win. With that, Maxime qualified to play Magnus for the title.

Games of chess at the highest level are extremely exhausting.

Up to this point, both players had a one-day roller coaster ride. Magnus tied for third place. Maxime came back from the dead after losing the first game of the playoffs to Anish. Now was the time for these two players to fight for the first time.

The first match between Magnus and Maxime seemed to be heading for a draw. However, Magnus, as white, continued to create problems for his opponent. Maxime made several inaccuracies which led to a lost lap final.

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Final position after 57.Rf3 of white.

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Black has resigned because his king is cut from line f and he has no way of preventing white from running his pawn with the help of the white king. White can continue with Kh5, g5 and g6 on the next moves.

Nothing prevents the only remaining pawn from deciding the game.

Maxime found himself on familiar ground, having to win the second game of the mini match. Despite Maxime’s best efforts, Magnus managed to keep a draw in a fierce battle.

With this, Magnus ended the tournament victory.

Screenshot 2015 12 14 at 11:45:59 a.m.


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Final classification of the London Chess Classic

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World chess champion Magnus Carlsen (C) stands with other super grandmasters for a photocall ahead of the London Chess Classic tournament.

Getty Images


In addition to the tournament victory, Magnus also clinched first place in the Grand Chess Tour with a total of 26 points, 3 points ahead of his closest rival, Anish Giri. Magnus finished another year as the best chess player in the world, although he did not have the best year of his young career.

Magnus still plays chess relentlessly, beating the best chess players in the world in long and grueling encounters while continuing to put pressure on his opponents. Every player who sits across Magnus’s board knows he’s about to fight, regardless of the outcome.

Why chess draws are a major problem

One major problem with high-level chess these days is draws.

Of the 45 matches played in London, 35 matches (78%) were drawn. As a spectator, this is not ideal. Imagine watching the NHL and 78% of games end in a tie. And, there is no overtime or shootout!

Chess organizers have attempted to reduce this percentage by imposing a minimum number of strokes before draw offers and even changing the scoring system of some events to that used in football (from a point for a win and half a point for a three-point draw and one point). While these initiatives are a good start, they have a limited impact.

The reason for the large number of draws between elite players is simple: the players are very good and are exceptionally well prepared. The theory of the opening and the preparation for the opening have improved considerably over the years, generally resulting in the logical conclusion of draws between the best tied players in the world. Interestingly, six of London’s ten players haven’t lost a single match in standard play; Caruana and Adams have each drawn all of their plays.

Chess could benefit greatly from its own version of the NHL shootout: the Armageddon tiebreaker. As mentioned above, the tie-break guarantees a tie-break result if white has more time on the clock but black is victorious if the game ends in a draw. From the viewer’s perspective, the games of Armageddon are the most entertaining form of chess. Viewers are never disappointed. In fact, they might start hoping for more draws in the initial game!

For this decisive game to take place, an alternative scoring system must be introduced. My suggested scoring system would have 3 points for an outright win, 1.5 for an Armageddon tie-break win, 1 for an Armageddon tie-break loss, and 0 for an outright loss.

Players may show some resistance to this change. However, sports and games change and evolve. The NBA introduced the three-point line, the NHL introduced the shootout, and football introduced the offside.

It’s time for chess to follow the most spectacular sports and make the royal game more exciting for all its fans.

** Below is an account of the moves that led to a three-way tie for first place at the London Chess Classic, which kicked off the playoffs to determine the ultimate winner.

The position after Black’s 30th move brought white into the black camp from the queen side while black went directly after the white king.

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Position after black’s 30th move.

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At this point, Magnus decided to exchange his rider for the mighty black bishop with 31.Nxe5. Alexander played 31… dxe5, recapturing the knight with his pawn. Alexandre missed his opportunity. Instead, 31… Qe1 + (check) would have moved the game in a very different direction.

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Potential position after 31… Qe1 + of black.

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If White plays the logic 32.Rf1, Black can force a draw after 32… Rxg2 + 33.Rxg2 Qg3 + 34.Kh1 Qxh3 +, leading to perpetual failure with Qg3 + and Qh3 +. If white tries the brave 32.Kh2, black can win with strong 32… Nf4, threatening 33… Rxg2 with mate.

If White responds with 33.Qxf4, he is mate with 33… Qg3 + followed by 34… Qxg2 mat. If White plays 33.Ng4, White has a powerful 33… Ne2, with a checkmate forced. A possible mat can be represented by the variation 34.h4 Qg1 + 35.Kh3 Qh1 + 36.Nh2 Qxg2 mat.

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Potential position after mate 36… Black’s Qxg2.

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After Alexander continued play with the logical 31… dxe5, Magnus replied with 32.xe6, reestablishing his queen in the heart of the black camp and producing the next position.

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Position after white’s 32.Qxe6.

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Now, Alexander could have complicated the game with 32… Qg5, threatening mate with 33… Qxg2 and probably continued the counterattack with 33… Nf4. However, Black continued with 32… De1 + 33.Kh2 Rxg2 + 34.Rxg2 Qxd2 +, hoping to draw a draw with perpetual failures. The game ended with 35.Kg1 De1 + 36.Rf1 De3 + 37.Rf2 De1 + 38.Kg2.

This ended with Alexander resigning from the post below:

Screenshot 2015 12 14 at 9.58.18 AM


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If black plays 38… Qx4 +, white escapes the checks with 39.Kh2, winning the game.

Mark Bluvshtein is a great teacher.


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