Magnus Carlsen's Unfinished Masterpiece
Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova /

Magnus Carlsen's Unfinished Masterpiece

| 45 | Tactics

People who followed the 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz will forever remember the last day of this super-tournament.

First the live transmission brought us a strange five-move draw played by the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. Then we saw photos of Carlsen on a couch, visibly suffering from pain.

It made headlines all around the world. I felt very sorry for Carlsen because it looked like the tournament that he started so well was already over for him. Indeed, look at this "game":

If Magnus Carlsen had to make a short draw like this, it meant that due to the pain he was simply unable to play chess at that moment. By the way, we have to give credit to Vidit Gujrathi for not trying to take advantage of Carlsen's miserable condition. 

Carlsen day 1 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & BlitzCarlsen at the 2019 Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

I was sure that the tournament was over for the world champion. Yet somehow Carlsen managed to recuperate quite quickly, and pretty soon we saw the usual unstoppable powerhouse. Moreover, one of Carlsen's games was especially remarkable.

Can you guess Black's move in the following position?

What did Black get for the sacrificed knight? Just a pawn? Well, the open position of White's king, the strong bishop on g7 and the f4 pawn that seriously cramps White's position give Black decent compensation for the knight.

How could Carlsen correctly evaluate all the positional benefits of the sacrifice in a blitz game where thinking time is very limited? Well, actually he didn't have to, since this particular sacrifice is very common in the King's Indian Defense.

Here are a couple of classic examples:

Let's get back to the game So-Carlsen.

After the Nf4 sacrifice, White's position kept deteriorating with every move, and very soon So found himself in a critical situation. The American grandmaster is known for his resourcefulness and therefore I doubt that Carlsen expected an easy win.

Nevertheless an unexpected sacrifice by So took the world champion by surprise. Try to find the best move for Black in the following position:

Magnus Carlsen didn't find the best move. (Remember, it is a blitz game!)

In the final position where a draw was agreed, it is White who has a huge advantage. I guess So was happy to save a lost position and therefore, psychologically, he wasn't ready to play for a win.

It is a shame that Carlsen didn't win this game, since it would be an excellent addition to the collection of Nf4 sacrifices in the King's Indian Defense. I hope that you will be more successful with this sacrifice, especially if you play the King's Indian Defense for Black. 

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