How to play against Magnus Carlsen?

Feb 6, 2014
StaffCoachIGMLessenmakers 2379
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After winning the London Classic Hikaru Nakamura now heads the cover of the latest issue of New In Chess magazine. Next to his photo one reads 'I do feel that at the moment I am the biggest threat to Carlsen'. Quite the statement! In the interview itself Nakamura explained his view in more detail but what struck me most was the fact he felt that compared to fellow top players he can 'deal best with the kind of chess that Carlsen plays'. 

In the Sinquefield cup last year, the last time Nakamura and Carlsen met over the board, Nakamura played well and one could even say he had the upper hand though both games were eventually drawn. Just a few days ago the supertournament in Zurich finished. The two met again and once again Hikaru was in full control!

Nakamura, Hikaru - Carlsen, Magnus 

Zurich Chess Challenge 2014

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3

Just like Anand played in game 9 of the World Championship. Though white eventually lost that game, it was surely not because of the opening!

4... d5 5.a3 Be7 ( In the above mentioned game Carlsen chose 5...Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 and after 7.cxd5 exd5 8.e3 c4 9.Ne2 Nc6 10.g4 a sharp battle ensued that, as we all know, ended in Carlsen's favour. In general though this setup is considered to be dubious for black and it is no surprise to me that Nakamura was ready to repeat it.)

6.e4 dxe4 7.fxe4 e5 8.d5 ( Of course 8.dxe5 Qxd1+ 9.Kxd1 Ng4 is out of the question. It is essential for White to keep his centre intact. It does give black the option of placing his bishop on d4 though.)

8... Bc5 (In the following amazing game, Ivanchuk chose the extremely sharp 8... Ng4 9.Nf3 Bc5 10.b4 Bf2+ 11.Ke2 c5 12.Nb5 a6 13.Qa4 axb5 14.Qxa8 and if you thought this was extravagant then take a look at the rest of the game! 14... Bd4 15.Nxd4 cxd4 16.Qxb8 O-O 17.Ke1 Qh4+ 18.g3 Qf6 19.Bf4 g5 20.c5 exf4 21.Qd6 Qg7 22.Bd3 Ne5 23.Kd2 f3 24.Qe7 g4 25.Bxb5 Ng6 26.Qg5 h6 27.Qh5 d3 28.Bxd3 Re8 29.h3 Re5 30.hxg4 Rxh5 31.gxh5 Ne5 32.Rae1 Qg5+ 33.Kc2 f2 34.Rd1 Qe3 0-1 Malaniuk-Ivanchuk, Moscow 1988)


Preventing any knight jumps.

9... O-O 10.Nf3 Bg4 11.h3 Bxf3 12.Qxf3 Nbd7 13.O-O-O Bd4 14.Ne2 c5

I haven't commented much on the previous moves but here it is time to take stock. The kings have castled in opposite directions and white's plan is clear; he is going to push his g- and h-pawns forward trying to go after the king. Black is arguing that he himself can start an attack against the white king.

15.g4 a5?

BD_60_51_0.pngDiagram #1

Nowadays, with engines running in the background, it is rather easy to point out tactical errors made by even the best of players. In this position, however, we see Carlsen making a different kind of mistake. Though his last move looks logical -Black wants to bring the rook in the game via a6- it does not meet the demands of the position. I would even go as far as to say it is the decisive mistake. The position is already very sharp and Black's aim should be to get to the king as fast as possible.

(15... b5?!

BD_60_51_1.pngDiagram #2

is one way to do so, but after for instance 16.cxb5 a6 17.bxa6 Qb6 18.Nxd4 cxd4 19.Rh2 Nc5 20.Bxf6 gxf6 the compensation seems questionable to me. One thing is clear though, black has to try to open lines against the enemy king.

Therefor the more restrained 15... a6 was probably called for. Now black is preparing the b5-break and gets enough counterplay in all lines: 16.Kb1 ( 16.Ng3 b5 17.Nh5 (17.cxb5 axb5 18.Bxb5 Qb6! is simply to dangerous with the f-rook coming to b8.) 17... Qb6 18.Bxf6 Nxf6 19.Nxf6+ gxf6 and I already prefer black.)16... b5! 17.Nxd4 exd4 18.Bxf6 (18.cxb5 axb5 19.Bxb5 Qa5 20.a4 Rfb8! gives black great play for the pawn.) 18... Nxf6

(I like this recapture the most. Of the other two 18... Qxf6 is probably the worst, as the endgame following 19.Qxf6 Nxf6 20.Re1! looks bad. Black is not in time to block the white centre. (18... gxf6!? looks very playable as well though. It get's very sharp and there is plenty of room for exploration: 19.cxb5 axb5 20.Bxb5 ( 20.g5 b4!? 21.gxf6 Kh8 is a sharp alternative.) 20... Ne5 21.Qg3 Qa5 22.a4 Rfb8 23.g5 Rxb5 (or even 23...f5!? with the idea 24.Qxe5 Rxb5!) 24.gxf6+ Kf8 and Black is doing ok!)

19.cxb5 ( The computer suggestion 19.g5 looks fine for Black after 19... Nd7 20.cxb5 axb5 21.Bxb5 Ne5 22.Qg3 Qe7! with such a beautiful knight on e5 what can go wrong?)19... axb5 20.Bxb5 Qa5 ( Qe7 21.Rhe1 Rfb8! may do as well, when for instance 22.Bc6 c4! 23.Bxa8 c3! is getting completely out of hand!) 21.a4 Rfb8 22.Bc6 Qb4 23.Rh2 Rxa4! 24.Bxa4 Qxa4 and Black seems to have fantastic compensation. Should Carlsen have seen all these lines? Definitely not! I've just added them to illustrate the ideas in the position. The main point to make here is that in the long run White will be winning on the kingside. Therefor Carlsen had to open files on the kingside in order to get to the enemy king before it is to late. So, for better or worse, 15...a6 or 15...b5?! had to be played.)

16.Kb1 Ra6 17.Ng3 g6 (17...Rb6 would be calmly met with 18.Bc1 or 18.Rh2 when it is difficult to see how Black can increase the pressure.) 18.h4!

BD_60_51_2.pngDiagram #3

18... a4 19.Rh2

BD_60_51_3.pngDiagram #4

A nice little move. Overprotecting the pawn on b2 as well as preparing to double rooks on the h-file.

19... Qa5 20.Bd2 Qc7 21.g5 Ne8 22.h5

As we mentioned before, Black is, in the long run, defenseless on the kingside. His problem is he has not managed to get sufficient counterplay.

22... Rb6 23.Bc1 Rb3 24.Qg4 Nb6 25.Be2!

BD_60_51_4.pngDiagram #5

25... Nd6 26.Rdh1 ( The computer mentions the fact that 26.hxg6 decides the game faster but I can fully understand Hikaru, who just increases the pressure up to boiling point.) 26... Bxb2 (The best practical chance. A queen-trade with 26... Qd7 would most certainly be declined with 27.Qh4 and White wins along the h-file.) 27.Bxb2 Nbxc4 28.Bxc4 Nxc4 29.hxg6 Qb6 30.g7 (Here 30.gxf7+! 30... Rxf7 31.Nh5 Rxb2+ 32.Ka1 is even more convincing. There is simply no stopping Nf6+! An example is32... Rxh2 33.Nf6+! 33... Kg7 34.Rxh2 h6 35.gxh6+ Kxf6 36.h7 Rxh7 37.Qf5+ Ke7 38.Rxh7+ and wins. Obviously far from trivial!) 30... Rd8 (30... Rxb2+ 31.Ka1 Qb3 threatens mate in 1 but it's white's turn first! 32.gxf8=Q+ Kxf8 33.Qc8+ Kg7 34.Rxh7+ Kg6 35.Qg8# mate!) 31.Qh4 Rxb2+ 32.Ka1 Rxh2 33.Rxh2 Qg6 34.Nf5

Bringing the knight in with tempo, Ne7+ is a threat.

34... Re8 35.Qg4

Now Black has to reckon with Rh6 trapping the queen.

35... Qb6 36.Qh3 Qg6 37.d6??

BD_60_51_5.pngDiagram #6

( So far so good for Hikaru. He has played a model game and can now wraps things up with 37.Qf1 b5 38.Rxh7! when both 38... Qxh7 ( and 38... Kxh7 39.Qh1+ Kg8 40.Qh8#) 39.Nh6+ Kxg7 40.Qxf7+ Kh8 41.Qxe8+ Kg7 42.Qf7+ Kh8 43.Qf8+ Qg8 44.Qxg8# lead to mate. After the game continuation he is forced to start all over.) 37... Nxd6 38.Nxd6 Rd8!

BD_60_51_6.pngDiagram #7

It is not entirely clear to me what Nakamura missed but obviously Black is now back in the game.


BD_60_51_7.pngDiagram #8

(Certainly not 39.Nf5 Rd1+ 40.Kb2 Qb6+ and white get's mated, but 39.Nc8! Rd1+ 40.Kb2 is a better version, now that the knight covers the b6-square. After 40... Kxg7 41.Qh6+ Qxh6 42.Rxh6 Rg1 43.Rb6 Rxg5 44.Nd6! Black has 4 pawns for the knight but due to his fantastic coordination white can still have hopes for more than a draw here.) 39... Qxe4 40.Qh5?

BD_60_51_8.pngDiagram #9

( Mistakes don't come alone is a well known saying. The sudden change in scenery, going from a completely winning to a sharp unclear position, was perhaps too much for white. 40.Ne3 would have stopped the black rook from entering as 40... Rd3 41.Qc8+ Kxg7 42.Nf5+ is too dangerous. If black can't bring the rook into play white should be fine.) 40... Rd3 41.Rh4 Qf5 42.Qe2 b5 43.Nd2 Qxg5 ( There was nothing wrong with Rxa3+ either. But Carlsen stirs the game into a technically winning endgame. The remainder of the game does not require much comments, Black simply has too many pawns!) 44.Qxd3 Qxh4 45.Ne4 Kxg7 46.Qf3 Qf4 47.Qg2+ Kf8 48.Kb2 h5 49.Nd2 h4 50.Kc2 b4 51.axb4 cxb4 52.Qa8+ Kg7 53.Qxa4 h3 54.Qb3 h2 55.Qd5 e4 56.Qh5 e3 57.Nf3 e2 58.Kb3 f6 59.Ne1 Qg3+ 60.Ka4 Qg1 61.Qxe2 Qa7+

White resigned. A game that will leave both players with plenty of questions to think about! Just as in his game against Anand, Carlsen played strategically risky, got a lost position, survived and even won the game! For Nakamura the result must have been extremely dissapointing but he did show he can outplay Carlsen when he gets a dynamic position on the board. 


- You can find the game Anand-Carlsen here!

- Replay the games between Nakamura and Carlsen from the Sinquefield cup

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Chesscoach 16:31 - 6 Feb 2014
My favorite!
awesomedude 12:40 - 7 Feb 2014
fightingfalcon 12:44 - 7 Feb 2014
My favorite also

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