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December 13, 2012

Taking strong steps toward victory

— Magnus Carlsen continued to dominate the chess world by winning the prestigious London Chess Classic this month. Vladimir Kramnik, who is ranked second in the world after Carlsen, placed second. In the fourth round Carlsen defeated the world’s third-ranked player, Levon Aronian.

This week’s position is from their game. Carlsen is white; Aronian, black. Aronian’s bishop cannot capture white’s rook on e6 because the bishop stops white’s g7 pawn from promoting. Carlsen could move his king to f3, thwarting a check from f2 by the black rook and improving white’s position. Carlsen, however, spotted an even more powerful move. It threatens mate, which, although easily prevented, secures a won endgame. With this hint in mind, please try to find what Carlsen played and why.

Even though white’s rook is well placed and immune from capture, stepping over to f6 threatens mate, as the rook eyes f8. Black has two options: check white from f2 with its rook or move the rook to e2. Aronian opted for the latter.

If the rook checks from f2, white’s king attacks the rook by retreating to e3. Black’s rook then captures white’s knight so black’s king can escape a rook check from f8 and move to e7, which the knight guards. White’s rook captures black’s rook.

From here, white’s rook prevents the advancement of black’s a3 pawn until white’s king can move over to b2. Now white’s rook in combination with its extra pawns overwhelms black’s bishop and pawns.

Aronian instead moved his rook to e2. Carlsen immediately checked Aronian from f8 with his rook. Aronian resigned rather than stop the mate by moving his rook to e8.

This is because Carlsen would have delivered the knockout blow by having his knight capture black’s d6 pawn.

The knight threatens black’s rook. Black’s rook cannot capture white’s rook without having it being captured by white’s pawn, which then promotes to a queen. If black takes the knight with its c7 pawn, white’s c6 pawn checks black from c7.

If black takes the c7 pawn, white’s rook takes black’s rook and has time to stop the promotion of black’s a3 pawn. White’s king then maneuvers toward its g7 pawn and prepares its promotion. Black’s bishop can sacrifice itself on g8, but it will be too little too late.

Alternatively, if black ignores the c7 pawn and protects its rook by moving to d7, white’s rook takes black’s rook. Black must either take white’s rook, which allows the c7 pawn to promote, or take the c7 pawn. This leads to the same line as taking the c7 pawn immediately.

Carlsen has achieved the highest rating in chess history: 2857. His rating is six points higher than the best rating for Gary Kasparov, who was king of the chess world from 1985 to 2000.

Carlsen is expected to soon snatch the crown of world champion from Vishy Anand.

Anand competed with Kasparov but was always one step behind. Carlsen’s footsteps must sound familiar.

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