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Positional Methods From Carlsen's Play, Part 4

  • WIM energia
  • | Jan 10, 2014
  • | 9688 views
  • | 33 comments

Today's article is inspired by a trend in media posts - calling Carlsen's play in the World Championship match “nettlesome” - his opponents tend to make more mistakes when playing him compared to their play vs. the other opponents. Originally, the term was coined by Ken Regan, a professor of computer science, who does an incredibly interesting research on chess players' performance using a metric called Intrinsic Performance Rating (IPR). Back in 2010 in a comments section for The Chess Mind blog, Ken commented:

“...such partial quantitative work as I've done so far indicates that the right word for Carlsen is ‘nettlesome’, especially when he's a half-pawn or so behind. Since no one says "Fischer fear" is at work, he must be doing something on the board to induce such inexactness from his opponents...”

This term gained popularity especially during the recent World Championship match and I am afraid that it will stick for a while as it seems to be rather to the point when describing Carlsen's style. No doubt the Norwegian is by far the best chess player nowadays and having a style that is unpleasant for your opponents should not be taken as an offense. The moves that might not be objectively best but pose the most problems to the opponents can be considered nettlesome moves.

This aspect of chess is still not that well developed; at least from my experience I haven't had too many lessons in nettlesomeness (considering I come from having a classic chess education). GM Jonathan Rowson in his recent excellent article for the Herald and reprinted at ChessBase highlighted several characteristics of nettlesome play. Here is his list:

  • First, avoid errors yourself.
  • Second, play relatively quickly.
  • Third, see complexity where others assume simplicity.
  • Fourth, develop exquisite timing for when to change the nature of the position.
  • Fifth, navigate towards positions where there are no obvious moves.
  • Sixth, believe in your opponent's greater and ultimate fallibility.
  • Seven, keep going relentlessly.
  • Eight, be ever ready to pounce.
  • Nine, kill them without mercy.
  • Ten, smile for the cameras.

Today we will look at examples from Carlsen's game where in my opinion he played some of the nettlesome moves and thus posed problems to the opponents that were hard to resolve over the board. Particularly, pay attention to the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth points from the above list as they will reappear in the examples below many times.

The first game is very interesting as Carlsen starts this endgame in a worse position. The weakness on a5 and Black's control of the d-file constitute Black's advantages. Rc5 is also well-placed attacking the a5-pawn and at the same time defending the e-pawn. White cannot get his hand yet on Black's weaknesses: the b4-pawn and e-pawns. Instead of holding on to the a-pawn and ending up in a position without counterplay, Carlsen opts for a pawn sacrifice but gets a position with plenty of play. Then, the maneuvering part starts where I think Aronian is made to believe that his position is very safe and only he can play for a win. A pawn is a pawn after all, right? With few inaccuracies from Aronian, Carlsen turns the table and ends the fight brutally fast.

The next game is a bit of a mystery to me as Kramnik lost it with two bad moves that happened between moves 42-44. When playing Carlsen in a slightly worse position my guess is that it feels quite terrible. First of all, one realizes that he will play it for another 100 moves and will try to squeeze the smallest advantage. Then, one will figure out that Carlsen is in such an optimal physical form that getting tired is something unthinkable for him. Then, he will not agree to a draw when a position is slightly better, such as a starting position we consider here in the game against Kramnik.

Carlsen has the better pawn structure and an extra pawn. It seems that Kramnik could have held it with patient defense. However, the Russian opted for a forced series of moves liquidating into a bishop endgame, where he eventually ended up being two pawns down. I think Kramnik must have been pretty tired by the end of the game to play a move like h4, as he normally does not make moves like these, especially in endgames - where his technique is impeccable.

The third position is from a blitz game between Caruana and Carlsen, hence the end of the game features some serious blunders, probably due to time scramble. Nevertheless, we can still learn from the game as it features some nettlesome moments.

For a King's Indian player like myself the initial position is probably equal, however Houdini will always like it for White. Carlsen makes a brilliant move 15...Bd7!? as if he exchanged the bishops. White would have gotten clear play along the d-file. Whereas now, White has to come up with some queenside attack to compensate for Black's expanding attack on the kingside. Black had some other plans at his disposal but Carlsen chose a kingside attack because especially for a blitz game it is the hardest plan to deal with and in the end Caruana did blunder terribly which led to a checkmate.

In the last position we see that move after move, Carlsen leaves Hammer with a wide choice of replies. There were plenty of forced continuations that Carlsen could have taken but he opted for maybe second best lines that left White with more choices and possibly more chances for mistakes. At no point however, Carlsen lost the advantage, even after the unfortunate 27.Nb5? - we are talking about the difference between the first and second line we talk about + or - 0.2 or so. After all it is a strength to believe in the opponent's, as Rowson put it, "greater and ultimate fallibility".

We shall continue exploring Carlsen's arsenal of positional ideas next week.


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Comments


  • 11 months ago

    IoftheHungarianTiger

    Excellent article Iryna!  An interesting twist on the topic of Carlsen, going beyond just the book or computer moves! Smile 

    I especially liked the line you provided in the blitz game with Caruana following the possible 35. b6 move!  Thank you for including that!

    I confess I was slightly puzzled in the first game why after 56. Ne1, Aronian didn't play 56.... Rd1. It took me longer than it should have to find the obvious 57. Nxc2, Rxa1; 58. Nxa1 continuation that would have followed. Embarassed

    @MindWalk: I'm far from an expert in the game, so I really can't give a definitive answer.  But I think that it's because after Nxd4, then 31. ... exd4; 32. Nd1, Rxc1, and white's pawn structure starts to disintegrate, or else 32. Nc4, Nxc4; 33. bxc4, Rxc4 - although IMO black doesn't appear too bad off here either.  Just my thoughts on the position.  Someone else can feel free to correct me on it.

    @Marcokim: Even if some/many of the intricacies are being missed, I still believe the author has more than sufficient chess knowledge to pull useful information from these games - information that I don't think her readership would be able to find on our own.  No, she is not a 2600 level GM, but nor are most of her readers 2200 master level players (I know I'm certainly not).  I don't believe one has to absorb every nuance of a position to be able to learn from - or teach from - said position.  Just my thoughts - but I do agree with you that the article was entertaining! Smile

     

  • 12 months ago

    MindWalk

    I still don't know why 31 Nxd4 would have been bad in the first (Aronian) game.

  • 12 months ago

    Marcokim

    As Kasparov said in his blog, a sub-GM player studying Carlsens games is a like "wanting to be an electrical engineer by studying an I-phone". The positional ideas are too subtle and advanced to be any useful to most sub-GM players let alone amaterurs like us. With due respect to WIM Energia, I saw GM Jan Markos youtube analysis of the Carslen-Aronian game and there are many more positional intricacies that even the 2600 GM was struggling to fathom.

    But there is some entertainment value so not all is lost.

  • 12 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Stevie, in the book "Emmanuel Lasker, 2nd World Champion", by Isaac and Vladimir Linder - (The World Chess Champion Series), published by Russell Enterprises (http://tinyurl.com/k8dnd25),
    it is pointed out that instead of the move (20.Qe3?!), " 20.Nxc6 Bxc6 21. Nd4 Be8 22.Qa5 is more critical, but Black has good chances to defend in any case."

  • 12 months ago

    StevieBlues

    @Kamalakanta

    Oh dear god that sack was insane, and the attack to follow! I now have to live the rest of my days in eternal fear of the positional queen sack. aha. Very instructive and beautiful, thanks. No wonder he was Tal's trainer..

    Still interested in some specific analysis of that lasker queen sack/trade if anyone is so inclined!

  • 12 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Stevie, chek out this game from Nezhmetdinov....

    http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1260278

    It was played in the early rounds of a team competition in the Soviet Union.

    It is traditional that players will submit their best games in a tournament, for condideration for the Brilliancy Prize. Legen has it that after this game was played, none of the players submitted their games, because they knew this game was the winner!

  • 12 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Stevie, I have no idea if I qualify to be called "well educated", but I'll tell you this: From what I have observed, the "value" of the pieces is a relative quantity, based on mobility, but it changes according to the position. Thus, sometimes a knight can be more powerful than a rook, and one or two minor pieces more than a Queen. It all depends on the position. The value is theoretical, the position is practical. If the position fits the "normal" values, fine, If not, other factors afect the so-called value of the piece.

    So, to sum up, the "value" is not set in stone, but rather it depends in part on the position.

  • 12 months ago

    doublebruce

    This is realy nice.

  • 12 months ago

    StevieBlues

    @Kamalaakanta

    After the Queen "trade/sac", Zhenevsky claims the win, supported by houdini's 2/3 of a pawn advantage(.65) - yet the Queen was traded for 1 pawn, 1 rook, and 1 bishop, all while securing the bishop pair!!!

    This is pretty significant, considering the fact that I have been told a Queen is worth 9 points and I would expect black to have a slight advantage here(of the bishop pair)

    So as far as i'm concerned, either the queen is worth 10 points, or rook pawns are worth half a pawn in the middlegame.

    I'd love a reply from any well educated player on this, thanks!

    -Stevie

  • 12 months ago

    Ricardoruben

    There should be a 11th: If nothing is working, start standing up, turning your chair on your opponent, in general finding ways of destroy your opponent concentration, so stop being a gentleman since the objective is winning at any cost (Carlsen rules there too).

  • 12 months ago

    MindWalk

    Why would 31 Nxd4 be bad in the first game (the Aronian game)?

  • 12 months ago

    ZarkoUcinci

    i've read a lot of articles calling Carlsen boring and so on. the way i see it: yes, it is boring when your oponent plays better and you can't do anything about it.

    then the articles/coments saying that in the wc match the won games were due to blunders. and what about Tal's won games?

    Some articles were  also saying that as a world champion, Magnus has to entertain the public, and he is not doing it. Well... it is very hard for me to agree with this. he is not some kind of clown, he is a serious chess player, as a world champion what he has to do is to play good chess.

    Calling Carlsen boring, or calling Petrosian boring is just too easy. Personally i didn't study Carlsen, but i saw many games from Petrosian. My opinion is that at some level you can learn more than for instance with Tal's games. Playing a non-professional level and wanting to "imitate" Tal means not more than this: playing a lot of horrific blunders.

  • 12 months ago

    chessbhanu

    Carlsen is excellent who faced chess grandmaster like Kasparov in the age of even 13!!!!Smile

  • 12 months ago

    kamalakanta

    Definitely a strong similarity with Lasker is felt in Carlsen. Like Lasker, he is a supreme fighter....a great endgame player, an opportunist (in te highest sense of the term).

    To show Lasker's strength as a chess psychologist, one can give no greater example than his win against Ilyin-Zhenevsky in Moscow, 1925. At the time Lasker was 57 years old, and Ilyin Zhenevsky ws 31. Ilyin-Zhenevsky had just defeated Capablanca with a brilliant Queen sacrifice in the previous round.

    http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1100030

    Let us see the game with Lasker....


    To quote Bronstein: "Chess is not a battle of ideas. Chess is a war of nerves!"

    It is amazing that Carlsen displays such cunning at the age of 22.....

  • 12 months ago

    Red-Ear-Slider

    I have never read these before, but now I see the quality of these articles. Very good by the way.

  • 12 months ago

    NM GreggStanley

    This quality of Magnus Carlson has been around for awhile.  Lasker was said to of had something like this, where his opponents were uncomfortable in their positions.  At the time it was subscribed to inducing positions that did
    not to suit the psychology of his opponents.  Perhaps.  More telling are some positions that computers evaluate.
    Two positions may be called equal, but for experienced players, they know these positions are not equal to play.  In one it is easy to find moves, but in another position that is also called equal, the only move may be very hard to find!  And the next move too!  This may be a quality of 'complicated positions' but not all complicated positions are hard for both players. 

    Rather than 'nettlesome' I have used the term 'Jeopardy' to define what Carsons opponents are facing. 

  • 12 months ago

    NM GreggStanley

    This quality of Magnus Carlson has been around for awhile.  Lasker was said to of had something like this, where his opponents were uncomfortable in their positions.  At the time it was subscribed to inducing positions that did
    not to suit the psychology of his opponents.  Perhaps.  More telling are some positions that computers evaluate.
    Two positions may be called equal, but for experienced players, they know these positions are not equal to play.  In one it is easy to find moves, but in another position that is also called equal, the only move may be very hard to find!  And the next move too!  This may be a quality of 'complicated positions' but not all complicated positions are hard for both players. 

    Rather than 'nettlesome' I have used the term 'Jeopardy' to define what Carsons opponents are facing. 

  • 12 months ago

    chuckchess

    You would almost be a horse's ass to be a half a knight behind.

  • 12 months ago

    limitless2000

    The article was very insightful, sometimes we beat opponets of simmilar expertise because we are their kryptonight by default (do to our particuliar style of play). Sometimes we intuitively sense a players weakness  and what better way to slip them some kryptonight than by luring them in with a false sense of security. 

  • 12 months ago

    riverlewis

    @rranjann is right, the list is just la-ame. It leaves out 11. get a prostitute and 12. smoke a cigarette.

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