Magnus Carlsen Demonstrates The Power Of Forcing Chess Moves

The position after Gelfand played 20... Qb6
Magnus Carlsen (white) in action vs Gelfand

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In round 10 of 14 in the 2013 candidates tournament, Magnus Carlsen played against Boris Gelfand. The winner of the tournament would earn the right to challenge the current world champion at the time, Anand.

The game was amazing. Some viewers even commented that Carlsen is better than the top computers engines. Humans must admit that nowadays it is almost impossible to beat the top computer engines at normal time controls.

But…

There is one thing that can’t be denied. In a critical position – which the top chess engines declared as being about equal – Magnus Carlsen played a combination of forced moves which gave him a solid advantage. The surprise is that the top computers couldn’t find these powerful moves as quickly as Carlsen did!

Let’s have a look at some of the critical and exciting stages of the game. The position below shows the critical position reached after Gelfand played 20… Qb6.

The position after Gelfand played 20... Qb6
The position after Gelfand played 20… Qb6

In this position, the top computer engines gave the position as almost equal. However, after a series of forced moves, even the computer evaluation had to admit that Carlsen achieved a solid advantage by using a series of powerful forcing moves. This proved that even the best computer engines can in some cases not yet match the positional understanding of the very top human players in the world.

The position after Carlsen played 21.Bd4
The position after Carlsen played 21.Bd4

Carlsen played 21.Bd4. An attacking move that essentially forces the black queen to go to b3.

Gelfand plays Qb3 which, for the time being, seems reasonable since everything else runs into bigger trouble.
Gelfand plays 21… Qb3 which, for the time being, seems reasonable since everything else runs into bigger trouble.

Note that Qxb2 (instead of Qb3) would be punished with the nice discovered attack Nd5! The threats would be Bxb2 as well as Nxe7+ and black would not be able to solve the problems.

carlsen vs gelfand chess match rd3
22.Rd3! The threat is Nd5!

Note how Carlsen keeps on improving the activity of his pieces whilst at the same time forcing black to deal with threats. This is also called initiative and is a very powerful technique in chess.

Qc2. The queen wants to get out of the line of fire of the white Rd3.
22… Qc2. The queen wants to get out of the line of fire of the white Rd3. Note that 22… Qxc4 would run into Bxf6! Bxf6 Rd8+ (with a discovered attack of Bf1 on Qc4)

I find it interesting that Gelfand played all the right moves till now and according to the engines, the position is still equal. However, the engines are wrong about this.

23. b4! The threat is b4-b5 chasing the Bc6 and following up with Ne4, exploiting the pinned Nf6 (due to Qxg7#)
23. b4! The threat is b4-b5 chasing the Bc6 and following up with Ne4, exploiting the pinned Nf6 (due to Qxg7#)

The only way to try delay white’s advance on the queen-side, is to play axb4.

The engines also recommend this move - axb4.
The engines also recommend this move – axb4.

Even though the engines recommend this move too, the engine evaluations are starting to favour white slightly. In other words, the engines now start to see why black may be in trouble.

24. axb4, white recaptures the pawn and renews the threat of b4-b5 followed by Ne4.
24. axb4, white recaptures the pawn and renews the threat of b4-b5 followed by Ne4.

White is again threatening b4-b5. On every move black has to deal with white’s threats! Since black doesn’t have a good way to deal with white’s threat, he goes for a counter-attack.

24... Nh5 attacks Qg3 and defends g7.
24… Nh5 attacks Qg3 and defends g7.

The downside to this counter-attacking move (which is again the engine’s top choice) is that the Nh5 is hanging (undefended.) Carlsen uses this consequence to keep up the threats.

25.Qe5 centralizes the queen and keeps up the threats - Qxh5
25.Qe5 centralizes the queen and keeps up the threats – Qxh5

Black needs to find a good defense since Qxg7# is also a possibility.

25... Bf6! seems to be a tactical resource that helps black regain his footing.
25… Bf6! seems to be a tactical resource that helps black regain his footing.

However, the following exchanges are forced for black. Carlsen keeps it going.

Qxh5 forces black to play Bxd4, else he would lose material.
Qxh5 forces black to play Bxd4, else he would lose material.

This was black’s idea – Bxd4, Rxd4, Qxc3.

Bxd4 seems to save the day for black. But it's not quite good enough.
Bxd4 seems to save the day for black. But it’s not quite good enough.

After the forced moves Rxd4, Qxc3 we reach this position:

After 27... Qc3 it seems that things are equal again. But it's not.
After 27… Qc3 it seems that things are equal again. But it’s not.

Carlsen had yet another forcing move in mind that keeps black on the back foot.

28.Qa5 attacks the Ra8 and at the same time defends b4-pawn. Of course 28... Rxa5? Rd8# would be checkmate.
28.Qa5 attacks the Ra8, threatens Rd8+! and at the same time defends the b4-pawn. Of course 28… Rxa5? Rd8# would be checkmate.

Black is forced to move the Ra8.

28... Rf8 is the best way for black to deal with the threat of Rd8+
28… Rf8 is the best way for black to deal with the threat of Rd8+

Material is equal but white’s pieces are much more active. In this position the engines also agree Carlsen earned a decent advantage. It is worth mentioning that Gelfand played the engine’s top-choice moves throughout, but even so, the engines eventually agreed that this series of powerful, attacking and forced moves resulted in an advantage to white.

Carlsen skillfully continued to work with his advantage and score the full point by focusing his attention on the queen-side pawn majority. (If you’re interested to see the rest of the game, I included the pgn notation below).

[Event “World Championship Candidates 2013”]
[Date “2013.03.27”]
[Round “10”]
[Result “1-0”]
[White “Carlsen”]
[Black “Gelfand”]
[ECO “B30”]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.O-O Nge7 5.Re1 a6 6.Bf1 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.d4 Nf6 9.Be3 cxd4 10.Nxd4 Bd7 11.c4 Nxd4 12.Bxd4 Bc6 13.Nc3 Be7 14.a3 a5 15.Qd3 O-O 16.Rad1 Qc7 17.Be5 Qb6 18.Qg3 Rfd8 19.Rxd8+ Qxd8 20.Rd1 Qb6 21.Bd4 Qb3 22.Rd3 Qc2 23.b4 axb4 24.axb4 Nh5 25.Qe5 Bf6 26.Qxh5 Bxd4 27.Rxd4 Qxc3 28.Qa5 Rf8 29.Qb6 e5 30.Rd1 g6 31.b5 Be4 32.Qf6 h5 33.h4 Bf5 34.Rd5 Qc1 35.Qxe5 Be6 36.Rd4 Ra8 37.Qe2 Kh7 38.Rd1 Qc3 39.Qe4 Ra1 40.Rxa1 Qxa1 41.c5 Qc3 42.Qxb7 Qe1 43.b6 Bc4 44.Qf3 Qxf1+ 45.Kh2 Qb1 46.b7 Qb5 47.c6 Bd5 48.Qg3 1-0

A last note:

I am not trying to prove that humans play better chess than modern chess engines. It is widely accepted that it is nowadays almost impossible to beat the top computers at normal time controls. However, I believe this game proves that a deep understanding of chess is a critical skill which all top players must acquire – and that the very top players can in some cases find better moves than their computer counterparts.