Today's article is a continuation of my series on positional play from the current World Champion's practice. Carlsen is a brilliant chess player and uses diverse positional weapons to win his games. In the first installment we saw his mastery in pieces improvement, especially along the diagonals. The second article featured rook pawn moves as ways to either limit his opponent's play or activate his own army.
Today we will study some of Carlsen's games where he had a bishop over the opponent's knight and where the bishop was a dominant piece. Carlsen has a great feel for the bishop's strength and is extremely good at creating active play for his bishops with the help of pawn advances. He is also a master in transferring the bishop from one side of the board to another, if needed using a transition square on the first or last rank of the board. Let us get to the examples where the discussed strengths show up.
In the following position Carlsen has a bishop, which is potentially very strong considering Black's dark-squared weaknesses in the centre and on the queenside. First, he uses his a-pawn to fix Black's queenside pawns on the light squares and then he maneuvers to create a second weakness in the opponent's position. After the bishop is done with its job on the queenside, Carlsen transfers it to the kingside where it participates in a decisive attack.
In the second example we see that Carlsen's rooks are more active and his pawn structure is better. Moreover, he has a bishop, which is in hiding for now as Carlsen is deciding where to deploy it. Black's position is slightly better, however to increase the advantage Carlsen needs to open up the position to get more space for the bishop. After that the World Champion slowly improves his pieces and uses passed pawns to create a completely dominating position. He uses an exchange sacrifice to preserve his bishop and to have two strong central pawns that eventually decide the game.
In the following example Carlsen again sacrifices an exchange to preserve his pair of bishops. Ftachnik, in his comments for ChessBase, writes: "Sporting the best rating in the world does not come cheap. Carlsen has to try for a win even against the very good opponents. Breaking the balance with the help of an exchange sacrifice fuels the tension in the position."
The next position is of a such nature that a knight can be better than a bishop. Both of white knights have good active squares, whereas Bf6 is cut out from the game by the pawn half-wedge b2-c3-d4. To undermine the d4-pawn one needs to get to the base of this half-wedge: the b2-pawn. Thus, the a4-a3 push looks natural here. Moreover, after White's b-pawn moves forward, the c3-pawn becomes weak and Black can get to it with the bishop. Carlsen masterly maneuvres in this level position to get a slight edge, which was probably not enough for victory but both opponent made mistakes. It was a rapid game, but this does not make it less valuable.
Generally, a tandem of queen and knight is stronger than queen & bishop. This is true when the queen and the knight are well coordinated to attack the opponent's king. In the following position the knight does not really have active prospects and it is tied to the defense of the e4-square. Carlsen is in control of the d-file but otherwise, as Ftachnik puts it, "for most mortals the chances would seem fairly even, but Magnus is envisaging a pawn advance on the queenside."
We will continue exploring Carlsen's mastery of positional concepts in the new year. Happy New Year to everyone!