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Magnus's Method in Dubai: Play Fast & Don't Blunder Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
June 23, 2014
GMs Carlsen and Grischuk, Photo Cathy Rogers

Spanish Grandmaster Paco Vallejo spoke for many when he tweeted that he knew that Magnus Carlsen was better than everyone else but, unlike in the Kasparov era, he did not know why.

Carlsen had just won the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai to complete a trifecta of world titles.

Unlike Bobby Fischer when he won the first (unofficial) world blitz title in Yugoslavia in 1970 by 4.5 points ahead of a stellar field, Carlsen had to struggle to win each event, but - as he almost always does - he found a way to finish ahead of his rivals.

Hikaru Nakamura had entered both tournaments as top seed (using the new FIDE blitz and rapid ranking lists) but, after a modest rapid event, the US star could only chase Carlsen and Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi to the finish line in the blitz tournament to end tied for second place with Nepomniachtchi.

A remarkable field turned up at the Dubai Chess and Culture Club to compete for the two titles. Carlsen's comment that these were clearly the strongest Swiss system tournaments of all time was hyperbole - some of the 1990s Interzonals, including the PCA version, contained a larger percentage of elite players - but with almost 100 Grandmasters, including 11 of the top 20 and of course the World Champion, this was a formidable field.

At first the locals seemed rather uninterested in the Championships taking place in the chess palace near Dubai airport - one of the biggest in the world -  but on the final day - the last 10 rounds of the blitz tournament - serious crowds arrived and, with many of the locals wearing headdresses, made watching the top games a privilege available only to basketball players.

The tournaments were played at extremely fast versions of rapid and blitz chess; 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move for rapid and 3 minutes plus 2 seconds per move for blitz.
GM Magnus Carlsen faces off vs. GM Le Quang Liem, Photo Cathy Rogers

So Carlsen's explanation for his success made sense: "It's not rocket science. Part of the secret is just to play quick and make few blunders."

However two examples show that there is something more.

First of all Magnus never stops trying.

World Blitz Championship Round 7
White: M.Carlsen
Black: Le Quang Liem
Position after White's 101st move

Carlsen had tried everything to win this position - manoeuvring his king to b4 (impossible to achieve) and then to h8 (achieving little) but now he has created a threat, one which defending World Blitz Champion Le failed to notice.

After 101...Bc4! 102.Bb7 Bb3! 103.Ba6 Ba4 White would again be unable to make progress.
Analysis position after...Ba4

102.Bb7! Bc4 103.Ba6! 1-0??

Black has no defense against 104.a4, but that doesn't mean Le should have resigned. For at this moment Black could stop the clocks and claim a draw by the 50 move rule! It is true that neither player has kept score - after all the last 50 moves were played at an average of 2 seconds per move! - but it was worth a try, and the arbiters could have confirmed it through the automatic transmission boards.

[Update 6/30/14- As a reader has pointed out, this part of the article is misleading as Le did not actually resign - unable to find a playable move in 7 or 8 seconds he lost on time. He needed to claim a draw and stop the clocks before his time expired for a 50 move claim to be valid. IR]

Carlsen's other great asset is his ability to find chances where others might become depressed. This was the quality that was most important in winning Carlsen his world rapid title.

In the 11th round, the first of the final day of the World Rapid Championship, Carlsen was lucky to escape defeat against world #2 Levon Aronian and then Carlsen lost his first and only game of the tournament - by blundering a piece in a drawn endgame - to the player he had dethroned as World Champion, Viswanathan Anand.

In the penultimate round, Carlsen ran into more trouble, against Alexander Grischuk.

Dubai World Rapid Ch. Round 14

White: M.Carlsen
Black: A.Grischuk
Opening: King's Indian Defense

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0-0 6.Be3 a6 7.Nge2 c6 8.c5 b5 9.cxd6 exd6 10.Nf4 Re8 11.Be2 b4 12.Na4 Nd5! 13.Bc1 Nb6 14.Nxb6
14.Be3 might be best but was not an option for Carlsen.
14...Qxb6 15.Be3 d5 16.Qd3 dxe4 17.fxe4 a5 18.Rd1 Ba6 19.Qc2 Bxe2 20.Nxe2 Nd7 21.0-0 Nf6 22.Ng3 Ng4 23.Bf2 Rad8 24.e5 c5 25.dxc5 Qc7
When the diagrammed position was reached, both players had about six minutes left on the clock, and then Carlsen started to think, and think, and think...

I felt that I should be slightly worse and then I thought for a few minutes and I realised that my position is not slightly worse at all, it is just in complete ruins. Then I sat there thinking until I had 20 seconds left and I realised that there was absolutely nothing there but I kept fighting.
26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.Ne4 Bxe5 28.g3 Nxf2 29.Kxf2 Qc6! 30.Re1
 Right idea, wrong move order. After 30...f5! the White knight has no good squares, e.g. 31.Nd2 (On 31.Qc4+ Kg7 32.Ng5 Bd4+ 33.Ke2 Qg2+ wins) 31...Bd4+ 32.Ke2 Qg2+ 33.Kd1 Bf6! With a deadly pin on the knight to follow, e.g. 34.Kc1 Bg5 35.Rd1 Qxh2 36.c6 Rxd2 37.Rxd2 Qh1+ 38.Qd1 Qxc6+ with a trivially winning queen ending.
31.Kf1 f5 32.Nf2! Bxc5 33.Re5 Qa6+ 34.Kg2 Qb7+?! 35.Kh3 Bd4 36.Rxa5 Ra5.jpg
Regaining the pawn would have been a relief for Carlsen. Even though his problems are not entirely over, Grischuk too was now down to under a minute and would soon also be surviving on 10 second increments. "Suddenly it was anybody's game and when I had the chance I felt I had to play for a win, to use that momentum," explained Carlsen. "I'd already been short on time for such a long time that there was no need to fear that anymore and I thought there was a realistic chance to win so I needed to use it."

36...Qb6 37.Qc4+ Kh8 38.Rb5 Qf6 39.Nd3 g5 40.Rd5 Rxd5 41.Qxd5
The rest of the game is a masterclass in piece coordination by Carlsen, who manages to keep his exposed king covered, mobilize his a pawn and activate the knight more or less simultaneously.
41...Kg7 42.Nxb4 Bxb2 43.a4 f4 44.Kg2 Bc3 45.Nd3 fxg3 46.hxg3 Qe7 47.Nf2 Qe5 48.Qf3 Bd4 49.Qb7+ Kg6 50.Qc6+ Kg7 51.Ne4 h5 52.a5 h4 53.g4 Be3?
Admittedly nobody on 10 seconds per move is going to find the wonderful saver 53...Bc5!!, clearing the road for a check on b2 while preventing the queen exchange idea played in the game.
54.Qd7+ Kg6 55.Qd6+ Qxd6 56.Nxd6 Kf6 57.a6 Ke6 58.Nb5 Ke5 

Any normal human would play safe with 59.Kh3 and win without the need to calculate anything, but Carlsen isn't a normal human**.
59...Bb6 60.a7 Bxa7 61.Nxa7 1-0

Carlsen's famed positional judgment failed him only once during the tournament - when he stood, holding an opened can of Coke, too close to an Australian who was about to start celebrating a World Cup goal against the Netherlands.

Fast chess seems to bring out strange habits from normally well controlled players. Bologan's reaction to his own blunder was at least understandable but what happened to Anand's brain here?

World Blitz Championship Round 18
White: H.Nakamura
Black: V.Anand
Position after White's 41st move

Both players had about 8 seconds on the clock and here Anand picked up his king and was about to place it on f6 when he hesitated, kept his hand on the piece and then firmly played...

41...Kg6?? 42.Ne5+ Kf6 43.Nxc4 Bxc4 44.Kg4 1-0

That piece of luck, and an endgame blunder by Aronian, helped Nakamura forget about his nightmare loss to overperforming Russian GM Sergei Yudin and finished only a point behind Carlsen.
GMs Anand and Nakamura, Photo Cathy Rogers

Nakamura spoke afterward of satisfaction with his five days, which earned him just under $30,000. "I didn't deserve more in the rapid - I just didn't play well," said Nakamura after the event. "In the blitz I gained bonuses against Anand and Aronian which made up for the wasted point against Yudin - overall maybe I should have had a half point more. But Carlsen deserved to win.

"I was happy with the organization but not so much the down time between rounds." (Especially during the rapid, players often had to wait in the club for half an hour or more, waiting for the next round. With only a bowling alley nearby and 40 degree heat outside, many players felt rather claustrophobic by the end of the day.)

At the closing ceremony FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov described Carlsen as "the unique strongest player of the world," so when he and Carlsen exchanged words on stage there was little doubt about the subject for discussion.
Closing ceremony, Photo Cathy Rogers

An hour earlier at the post-event press conference, the reigning World Champion had firmly ruled out attempting either correspondence or bullet chess world titles and, with a singular lack of imagination, Carlsen had talked only about winning the same three titles again. However Iljumzhinov no doubt set him straight; he was to be mankind's representative in a match against the people Iljumzhinov
credits with the invention of chess - aliens.

Why else would Carlsen be unable to stop grinning as he held the trophies aloft after those few words from Iljumzhinov - unless he realised that Method 3 should actually read 'Be Magnus Carlsen'.

** Not being a normal human probably will not rule Carlsen out for the upcoming Intergalactic Championship, though Viswanathan Anand should be on standby pending a definitive ruling from FIDE's Aliens Commission.

GM Hikaru Nakamura and Steven Breckenridge
World Rapid Championship

Leading final scores:

1.Carlsen(Nor) 11/15;

=2.Caruana(Ita), Anand(Ind), Aronian(Arm), Morozevich(Rus) 10.5...
=24. Nakamura(USA) 8.5...
=99. Breckenridge(USA) 5.5.

World Blitz Championship

Leading final scores:

1.Carlsen(Nor) 17/21;

=2.Nepomniachtchi(Rus), Nakamura(USA) 16;
4.Le(Vie) 14;
=5.Mamedyarov(Aze), Aronian(Arm), Anand(Ind), Mamedov(Aze) 13.5...
=76.Breckenridge(USA) 9.5.