16 November 2013

Carlsen's First Chess960 Move?

While I was working on this post, Magnus Carlsen, playing Black, beat Vishy Anand in the sixth game of their World Championship match, giving him a 2-0 lead with six games to play. Not many observers would now rate very highly Anand's chances of retaining the title. It might seem opportunistic to point out that Carlsen Played Chess960, but so he did, if only for a few games.

The first game mentioned in the 'Carlsen Played' post -- 'McShane' vs. 'Magnus' -- was played in September 2004, the year Carlsen became a grandmaster at age 13. It was played at a blitz time control of three minutes per player plus an increment of one second per move. I can't imagine that anyone would play chess960 for the first time at a bullet or blitz control, so it's entirely possible that Carlsen had already played chess960 before this first recorded game.

The start position was SP317 NQRBKRBN, and after 1.e4 c6, the players reached the position shown in the top diagram. I don't really like Carlsen's first move, 1...c6. Although it opens diagonals for the Queen and Bishop, it neglects the center, allowing White to play 2.d4 with impunity, which he did.

After the following moves, 2...Nb6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 e6 5.Ng3 f6 6.f4 f5 7.Be3 Bf7 8.Rc2 Qc7 9.Nb3 Nc4 10.Bc1 Ng6, the players reached the position shown in the bottom diagram. The blocked Pawn center, which could easily arise after 1.d4 in traditional chess, looks better for White because of the space advantage. Both players now castled O-O, and White won on move 44.

After this game, ICC returns only two more Carlsen games, both played against 'JonLudvig' (probably Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer) in 2007. It's fair to say from this small sample that Carlsen was not overly impressed by chess960. Which strong players compete regularly at chess960 on ICC? The answer is on a list at Highest ICC ratings, where chess960 is the last section on the page. I'll take a closer look at this resource in a future post.

1 comment:

HarryO said...

What was Carlsen thinking with 6...f5?! moving the pawn twice when he could have opened up the f-file and had a real game going?

The game shows to me that Carlsen is the ultimate pragmatist-realist. Since it was a blitz game he didn't want to take risks, played a very conservative game but lost anyway.

On another thought. The fact that top rated players are not playing Chess960 on ICC is not telling the true story of what is going on in my opinion.

The 2100 players are probably highly talented people that just don't want to or don't have the time to dedicate to opening and end game theory. They also might be in transition to a higher rating as well and are using Chess960 to help them.

But once players are in the 2400 range they have probably committed so much time to standard chess that they have a strong emotional investment NOT to play Chess960 which renders obsolete a lot of their hard won efforts.

But when you climb higher than 2400 up into the 2600+ you get players starting to return to interest in Chess960 again as you see with Nakamura, Svidler, Aronian, Navara because these players are on the top of the mountain and want to explore further.