Magnus Carlsen does not have an ambitious opening repertoire. Rather, he consistently reaches a playable middlegame outside of any deep opening preparation of his opponent and then plays chess until there are no resources left in the position. Today, he employed the London System against Evgeny Tomashevsky and won an instructive game.
This position merits inclusion in middlegame collections, such as can be found in books like GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2001)by Rashid Ziyatdinov, and Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book (2000).
White to move
All of the pieces remain on the board and chess engines regard the position as approximately equal. Nonetheless, according the the World Chess Champion, Black has already committed the error that will give him a very uncomfortable game. The novelty was played by White on move 11 and this position is after Black's move 12.
This morning I opted not to blog while watching the games live, deviating from my practice through the first five rounds of this year's Tata Steel Chess Tournament. I watched as many games as I could and watched most of the game commentary. My inclination had been to blog Hou Yifan's game against Wei Yi. Hou has been playing well in this tournament (Wei Yi's game against Carlsen was my focus in round three). That game would have been an excellent choice. She seemed to get an adavnatge and was pressing, but Wei found some clever defensive resources. That game was the last one to finish. As the games began and I made coffee, fed the dogs, and turned on my computers, I also grew interested in Wesley So's battle with Fabiano Caruana. They played the Italian Opening and all the bishops left the board by move 12. As several of my students routinely play this opening, that game could prove instructive for their lessons.
There were several other exciting games that the commentators moved among. Today, IM Robert Ris joined Yasser Seirawan as co-host; Ris conducted the postgame interviews. He seemed particularly excited about Carlsen's game, mentioning that the London System is something that he recommends to his students. In the fantasy variations that he and Seirawan played out on the analysis board, there were many instructive checkmate combinations, including one with White's knight on h8 to cover f7 while a queen and rook battery on the h-file do the rest.
After the broadcast concluded, I watched two videos on Chess.com: Maxim Dlugy, "Best Blitz Openings: The London System," and Eugene Perelshteyn, "Gems from the 2012 US Championship -- Part 2." Armed with quick analyses of two of Gata Kamsky's nice wins with the London System, I played a couple of games of blitz. I was able to use the London system as White twice and once as Black, going 3-0 in these games.
Here, then, is Carlen's inspiring win.
Carlsen,Magnus (2844) -- Tomashevsky,Evgeny (2728) [D02]
Tata Steel Chess Wijk aan Zee (6), 22.01.2016
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 b6 4.e3 Bb7 5.h3
Tomashevsky faced 5.Bd3 in another loss 5...c5 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.c3 0–0 8.Qe2 Nc6 9.a3 Rc8 10.e4 d6 11.0–0 Qc7 12.h3 e5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.Bh2 Rcd8 16.Nc4 b5 17.Nxe5 Bd6 18.f4 c4 19.Bc2 Rfe8 20.Rad1 Ba8 21.Bg3 Qc5+ 22.Kh2 Bf8 23.Bh4 Be7 24.Bg3 Qb6 25.Rfe1 Qe6 26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.Nf3 Nh5 28.Nd4 Qg6 29.Qf3 1–0 Radjabov,T (2784) -- Tomashevsky,E (2738) Moscow RUS 2012.
Already, Tomashevsky is starting to burn time, using 3.5 minutes for this move.
Black used 3 minutes
7.0–0 c5 8.c3 Nc6
The Russian champion used more than five and one-half minutes for this move. Carlsen's longest move time so far was 64 seconds for 5.h3.
One of Kamsky's wins continued 8...cxd4 9.cxd4 Nc6 10.a3 d5 11.Nbd2 Rc8 12.b4 Bd6 13.Ne5 Ne7 14.Qa4 a6 15.Rac1 b5 16.Qb3 Ne4 17.Qb2 f6 18.Nef3 Bxf4 19.exf4 Qd6 20.g3 g5 21.fxg5 Nxg3 22.gxf6 Rxf6 23.Rxc8+ Nxc8 24.fxg3 Qxg3+ 25.Kh1 Rh6 26.Nh2 Qxd3 27.Ndf3 Nd6 28.Qc1 Nf5 29.Qc7 Rg6 30.Rg1 Rxg1+ 31.Kxg1 Qe3+ 32.Kf1 Qd3+ 33.Kf2 Qe3+ 34.Kf1 Qd3+ 35.Kg1 Qe3+ 36.Kh1 Qf2 37.Qb8+ Kg7 38.Qxb7+ Kg6 39.Ne5+ Kg5 40.Nhf3+ 1–0 Kamsky,G (2762) -- Leko,P (2732), Beijing CHN 2012.
White to move
9.a3 has been playd by Kamsky and others.
Nearly ten minutes thinking time for Tomashevsky on this move.
This position appears in 22 games in my database. Tomashevsky used fifteen minutes for this move.
In the highest rated precedent, 11.Bxd6 was played. 11...Qxd6 12.dxc5 bxc5 13.e4 White nursed a small edge, but did not find a win in Potkin,V (2646) -- Kurnosov,I (2676), Moscow 2010 (drawn in 62 moves).
The beginning of a faulty plan.
While watching, I was thinking about 11...Bxf4 12.exf4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 (13.cxd4 Qd6 14.f5 exf5 15.Bxf5) 13...Nxd4 14.cxd4. There may be a reason that Tomashevsky rejected such ideas.
See diagram at top of article.
After the game, Carlsen suggested that this move was misguided as it gives White firm control of e5.
13.Bxg6 hxg6 14.Bxd6 Qxd6 15.Ne5
Black to move
There are probably dozens of books on my shelves that discuss the merits of such a fine knight outpost, but I usually think about Peter Romanovsky, Chess Middlegame Planning, trans. Jimmy Adams (1990).
Carlsen's pawn sacrifice elicited a good deal of excitement among the broadcasters and on Twitter.
Black to move
Ris and Seirawan concluded that Black could not open the f-file in this manner. Stockfish 7, however, considers it among its top three choices. Later, after the knight returned to f6, this Nd7 move was criticized. Stockfish prefers it.
18...gxf6?? 19.Qg4+ Kh7 20.Rf1 e2 21.Qxe2 Ba6 22.Qh5+ Kg7 23.Rf4 Be2 24.Qh4 Bd3 25.Qxf6+ Kg8 and checkmate is a few moves away. Carlsen said that he didn't need to calculate much in considering these possibilities, as he always has a draw by repetition.
19.Rxd2 Qe7 20.Rf4 White has plenty of compensation for the pawn.
18...Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qc7 20.Rxf4 f5 21.Rh4 Qxe5 22.Ne4
19.Qh4 Qd8 20.Rxf4 Ne4 21.Nxe4
21.Ndf3? Qxh4 22.Rxh4 and suddenly Black is better.
Black to move
And the rest is a matter of technique, as they say. Studying Carlsen's technique will help the developing player.
23.dxc5 bxc5 24.Rd7 Rab8 25.b3
Black to move
Black is very nearly in zugzwang.
25...a5 26.Rc7 a4 27.bxa4 Ba8 28.a5 Rb7 29.Rxc5 Ra7 30.Nc4 1–0
Carlsen joins Caruana and Ding Liren in first place after six rounds.
Standings after six rounds.