Magnus Carlsen tied for second in Linares. Photo M.Peterson
by Macauley Peterson
"I will be happy with second place," said Magnus Carlsen on Thursday, the final rest day in Linares. With two rounds to play he trailed tournament leader and perennial favorite, Vishy Anand by a half point. One or both of them held the lead the entire tournament.
It's an interesting dynamic when you consider that Magnus is the youngest player ever to compete in Linares, while Anand, though not the oldest ever by a long shot, is, with Vassily Ivanchuck, the elder statesman of this year's eight-man field.
Carlsen was realistic about his chances to catch Anand who was all but certain of a first place result by finishing draw/draw in the final two rounds. Still, Carlsen aims high, and pointed out in an interview with a Spanish T.V. crew that if he could manage to win a game in the home stretch he could catch the Indian grandmaster.
Carlsen survived his black against Topalov on Wednesday, about which he had said the day before, "there is probably nothing more difficult." He forced the Bulgarian to take a repetition in a dynamic middlegame.
Topalov is one of those players who tends to remain at the board and often appears to be concentrating fiercely (a model for scholastic players), and yet, I had the impression that he was even more focused than usual against Carlsen, as if to say, "whatever you do, don't lose (again) to the kid."
Topalov has been in a bit of a rut these past few weeks. Always a competitor, always dangerous, particularly with white, he is nevertheless disappointed with his play here in Linares. How could he not be? After tying for first in Wijk aan Zee just weeks ago, he finds himself here in the doldrums. He didn't lose to Carlsen on Wedneaday, but did fall in round 13, after a marathon endgame, to the red hot Morozevich, whose +4 score in the Linares half of the tournament turned his Mexico result on its head, and got him a share of second place.
Morozevich told me that in a way he never knew his queen and pawn ending with Topalov was winning. "I was just making moves…it should be a draw but I was just trying," he said. The eighty move win was by far the longest game of the tournament, lasting well into the seventh hour.
He credits aggressive risk taking and a bit of luck for his turnaround. "I think I was playing more or less okay in Mexico but it was such bad luck there – I spoiled two absolutely winning positions there…here I wouldn't say I played considerably better but for some reason I had more energy and more luck at the end. I used practically all my chances." Moro, on a roll, busted Svidler on the black side of a French, Steinitz variation this afternoon, ending the latter's chances to reach the podium.
Svidler made few waves this year, finally breaking an incredible streak of draws – eleven in all – on Wednesday with a win over the lagging Peter Leko, but he gave the point back in the final round to finish on an even 7.0, tied with his friend, Levon Aronian. The pair was frequently to be seen with their seconds taking a warm-up stroll in the park adjacent to the playing hall during the ten minutes or so before each round.
Despite Anand's impressively consistent play result, and clear first by a full point, the story of the tournament remains Carlsen. Few people expected he could compete this well with this group of players particularly after lackluster performances at the Tal Memorial in Moscow and at Corus in January. His second here, the Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen, explained his take on Carlsen's sudden success. "It sounds strange but you could actually argue he's sort of matured, although there's only been a couple of weeks between the tournaments...he's not making a lot of these stupid mistakes which he made in Wijk, or a lot of impulsive decisions."
Carlsen himself echoed Nielsen's sentiment, saying simply, "I think the main difference is that I've done fewer serious blunders."
Nielsen added, "he suffered at other tournaments, but he also realized that chess-wise, he's not that much worse than these guys, if worse at all." "So far here he's proved it."
Even after Carlsen's loss to Peter Leko in the final round today, Susan Polgar said on Chess.FM , "Magnus is definitely the real thing. He has all the potential in the world." She singled out Carlsen's big win over Ivanchuck in round 11, observing, "he made it look so simple."
Anand coasted into first with a round 11 win over Carlsen, followed by three draws. "It's very difficult to compare across generations because of course fifteen in Bobby Fisher's time is not exactly fifteen today," said Vishy, at his press conference following Carlsen's resignation against Leko. "Clearly the sport is getting younger."
The highest praise Anand could bestow on the young Norweigian surely came when he said, "it's impossible to believe he won't be world champion some day."
1- 8.5 GM Viswanathan Anand (India 2779)
2-3 - 7.5 GM Magnus Carlsen (Norway 2690) and GM Alexander Morozevich (Russia 2741)
4-5 - 7.0 GM Levon Aronian (Armenia 2744) and GM Peter Svidler (Russia 2728)
6- 6.5 GM Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine 2750)
7-8- 6.0 GM Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria 2783) and GM Peter Leko (Hungary 2749)
Macauley Peterson can be reached at MacauleyPeterson.com.