28 December 2016

Carlsen's Queen Sacrifice

I practice tactics with the computer and so on, in order to keep learning.
Magnus Carlsen*

A few weeks ago, the director of Inland Chess Academy inquired whether the classes for this year's Holiday Chess Camp could be based upon the recent World Championship Match won by Magnus Carlsen over Sergey Karjakin. I embraced the idea, offering two classes on imbalances from games of the championship, a class on the Berlin variation of the Spanish, and one called "Carlsen's Queen Sacrifice."

A Chess.com video inspired me. Sam Copeland's "Magnus Carlsen's World Championship Winning Move" speculated where Carlsen might have seen a sacrifice similar to the one that he played in the final tie-break game to end the match. Copeland identified and walked his viewers through several similar combinations, and then offered the challenge to find more examples. They are easy to find, but Copeland's examples have more elements in common with Carlsen's winning combination than those that I selected for my class.

For my students, I created a worksheet with six positions. My instructions on the worksheet read:

Each of the positions below might appear in a set of chess problems on a computer, in a book, or as part of a worksheet. Train with these to play like Magnus. White to move in 1-4; Black to move in 5-6.

1. White to move
From Fischer -- Kelley, Houston 1964.

2. White to move
From Spassky -- Ciric, Amsterdam 1970

3. White to move
From Hesse -- N.N., Bethlehem 1803

4. White to move
From Fairhurst -- Menchik, Margate 1935

5. Black to move
From Neumann -- Anderssen, Breslau 1864

6. Black to move
From Schulten -- Kieseritzky, Paris 1844

At the start of the class, I had the position below on the demo board. The students tried to find the best moves for both sides, and we ended up following the moves actually played in the game. In this case, the thematic sacrifice did not work and White had a better move.

White to move

The game is Arnous de Riviere -- Morphy, Paris 1858.

The purpose of the class was to suggest in agreement with Sam Copeland that Carlsen was able to play his sacrifice quickly due, in part, to pattern recognition. Seeing the pattern is one thing. Calculation is necessary as well, which was the point of the Morphy game. Practicing calculation skills was a primary focus through this class.

In my concluding remarks, I mentioned several resources for practicing tactics, including Laszlo Polgar, Chess Training in 5334 Positions (1994). This book contains a selection of 600 miniatures in the back of the book organized by sacrifices on six pair of squares, f2/f7, g2/g7, etc. Sacrifices on h3/h6 are one of the six.

*Colin McGourty, "Carlsen and Aronian: A Tandem Interview" Chess24 (27 June 2014), https://chess24.com/en/read/news/carlsen-and-aronian-a-tandem-interview.

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