Lessons From Carlsen: The Draw Problem

Lessons From Carlsen: The Draw Problem

| 55 | Strategy

The recent super-tournament in Bilbao is a part of chess history already. It will be remembered for many different things. While Hikaru Nakamura will always cherish the memory of his first win over Magnus Carlsen, many chess enthusiasts will complain for years about the many draws in the tournament. Here is what GM Murtas Kazhgaleev wrote on Facebook: "Very disappointed by a chess super tournament in Bilbao. Only 7 decisive games out of 30."

Kazhgaleev's brief post started a lengthy discussion on the popular Russian website Even the elite GM David Navara weighed in on the problem of draws in the recent super tournaments. Russian GM Andrey Deviatkin thinks that the only solution to this problem is Chess960. While many suggestions make sense, I wonder why we need to make any changes or switch to Chess960 when Magnus Carlsen shows us that play can be found in all manner of positions?

The tournament was a true one-person show and the world champion never let his fans down. We already discussed one of his games in this article. Yes, the world championship preview game between Carlsen and Karjakin was very exciting, but Carlsen's game that made the biggest impression on me was his first ever win over GM Anish Giri.

Carlsen facing down (not literally at the moment) Giri in Bilbao.

Look at the following position:

When I saw this position shortly after the beginning of the game, my first thought was "et tu, Magnus?". It looked like Carlsen had finally succumbed to the virus of pacifism and a draw was imminent. Try to guess the world champion's next move:

So, what's going on there? Nothing special, Magnus just gains some space on the queenside. He actually loves to do that.

Now try to guess Carlsen's move in the following position from the same game versus Giri:

Now Carlsen gains some space on the kingside. These two little ideas (a4! and h4!) didn't win the game by force. Moreover, I don't even think that they gave White any advantage. However, that's how Carlsen creates imbalance in positions that look as dry as the Sahara Desert.

Even deserts have oases!

Now look at the whole game.

In my old article, I demonstrated how Carlsen uses ideas from classical games, and I think he just did it again. That said, I think you'll find White's move in the following two positions quite easily.

Yes, GM Bent Larsen was well known for his penchant for moving rook pawns. Tigran Petrosian was so impressed by 11.h4!? that he said, "I will write an article about this tournament, and there is going to be just one diagram!" Here is how Larsen's game ended:

The legendary Bent Larsen was sporting a well-groomed before it was cool.

I have no doubt that Magnus Carlsen knew this famous game by Larsen so it was easier for him to play his brilliant, space-grabbing moves. There was another moment in the game where lessons from classical games could have helped Magnus.

If you found White's idea, you should be very proud of yourself since even Magnus Carlsen missed it in his game. The idea is very unusual and the closest example I remember is from another classical game where the undefended pawn bravely moves forward when it can be captured by three different ways!

While Ivanchuk sacrificed the pawn to clear the c4-square for his knight, the idea of the combination in Carlsen's game is to clear the sixth rank for the rook.

I hope you enjoyed the games that we analyzed today and learned a trick or two from the chess stars of the past and present!

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