1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 The Spanish, regarded over the past 5-10 yaesr as one of the most solid ways to play for Black. Several elite players (eg. Aronian) confidently hide behind its bastions, without any fear at all.
3...a6 4.Ba4 [It ahs been known since time immemorial that the win of the pawn by 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 is only temporary: 5...Qd4 ]
4...Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 But now this is necessary, since Bxc6 and Nxe5 was a threat.
7.Bb3 0-0 Most modern-day players castle with the pawn still on d7. It is always nice to threaten a Marshall, even if one actually intends to play another, quieter line.
8.c3 Vassily is not afraid of anything...
8...d6 Nor is Magnus, but even so, he decides not to risk a theoretical duel. Mind you, one cannot escape from a serious theoretical examination, whatever move one plays here - the Spanish has been analysed deeply in all its variations..
9.h3 [The classical recipe. From time to time, White chooses the more direct 9.d4 allowing the bishop out to g4.]
9...a5 So that's his idea...Excuse my excessive emotion, but when you are expecting to see the main line, on which you have commentated innumerable times before, and then you get a fresh move - well, your eyes light up, the sun shines, and your brain starts to work again. Actually, the move has been known for a long time. It was first played in 1935 by the Swedish master G Stoltz. At the end of the 1940s it was taken up by the likes of Bondarevsky, Bolbochan, Rossolimo, etc. But then its popularity waned, and theory was evidently not convinced of its merits. But lately, it has become popular again. Black prepares to drive the dangerous Spanish bishop off the diagonal by means of a5-a4.
10.d4 Ivanchuk decides not to prevent his opponent's plan, but to get on with his own. [In a clash between two of the line's pioneers, the continuation 10.a4 was tested. After 10...b4 11.d4 bxc3 12.Nxc3 Nxd4 13.Nxd4 exd4 14.Qxd4 Rb8 15.Bc4 c6 16.b3 Nd7 17.Bf4 Bf6 18.Qe3 Ne5 19.Bxe5 Bxe5 20.Rad1 Be6 Black had excellent play (Konstantinopolsky-Bondarevsky, USSR Ch 1948).]
10...a4 [The father of the variation played it differently: 10...exd4 11.cxd4 a4 12.Bc2 Nb4 13.Nc3 Nxc2 14.Qxc2 c6 15.d5 cxd5 16.exd5 b4 17.Nxa4 Bd7 18.b3 Nxd5 19.Qc4 Bf6 20.Bb2 Bxa4 21.Bxf6 Nxf6 22.bxa4 Rxa4 and Black had the advantage (Sir G Thomas-Stoltz, Warsaw 1935).]
11.Bc2 Bd7 Introduced into practice by Smyslov. The bishop develops very modestly. It's main object is not to obstruct the other pieces, and, of course, also to support the pawn on b5.
12.Na3 It seems that Ivanchuk is well acquainted with the theory, although he can hardly have prepared for this variation. He spent some time trying to recall his old knowledge, and then quickly utilises it. [The move 12.Be3 allows Black to exchange the strong Spanish bishop, in the style of Stoltz: 12...exd4 13.cxd4 Nb4! ; Another move which has been played here is 12.Nbd2 One recent example is 12...Re8 13.Bd3 Rb8 14.Qe2 Bf8 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Nxe5 dxe5 17.Nf3 h6 18.b3 Bc5 19.Be3 Qe7 20.bxa4 bxa4 21.Rab1 Rb6 and Black obtained equal chances (G Garcia-Becerra Rivero, USA 2008).]
12...Rb8 Black is prepared for further action on the queenside. [Formerly the main line was considered to be 12...Qb8 This queen manoeuvre becmes possible, thanks to the modest move Bc8-d7. The game Renet-Agdestein, Lyon 1988 continued 13.Bd3 exd4 14.cxd4 Nb4 15.Bb1 Qb7 16.Bg5 Rad8 17.Nc2 Na6 18.Ne3 Rfe8 19.Qd3 g6 20.a3 c5 21.e5 dxe5 22.dxe5 Bc6 23.Qc3 Nd5 and Black won after a sharp struggle.]
13.d5 Apparently a novelty. [The last word of theory here is 13.Bd3 b4 14.Nc4 bxc3 15.dxe5 Nxe5 16.Nfxe5 dxe5 17.bxc3 Bd6 18.Bc2 Bc6 19.Bg5 a3 20.Qf3 h6 21.Bc1 Qe7 22.Ne3 Bd7 23.Bb3 Kh8 1/2-1/2 Yagupov,I (2482)-Zaitsev,I (2417)/Moscow 2000/EXT 2001]
13...Na7 [After some thought, Carlsen retreats the knight deep within its own camp. Of course, a7 is only a temporary post - Black needs to regroup as quickly as possible and advance c7-c6. Thus far, White has not yet definitely seized the initiative. A concrete battle is starting...The clocks times are not surprising: 1.12 - 1.44. On 13...Na5 the reply 14.b4! is unpleasant, eg. 14...axb3 15.axb3 and the threat of b3-b4 gives Black some problems.; The counter-blow 13...b4 does not promise equality: 14.Nc4! Na7 15.cxb4 Rxb4 16.b3 and White can even attack the queenside successfully. 16...axb3 17.axb3 Nc8 18.Ra8 ]
14.c4 The whole times Vassily was thinking, I was studying precisely this move, the sharpest and most aggressive.
14...Ra8 An amazingly quick response, like a table tennis. response. Magnus frees the square b8 for his queen. But this leads us to ask the question: was 12...Rb8 really a good move? Wasn't the more usual 12...Qb8 better? Amazingly quick...Black had a number of interesting moves, the consequences of which were not easy to assess. [In the variation 14...b4 15.Nb1 Qe8 White obtains the advantage by 16.c5! ; Black is simply worse after 14...bxc4 15.Nxc4 Qe8 16.Be3 Nc8 17.Rc1 etc.; It seems to me that the young Norwegian's fighting temperament is suited by the pawn sacrifice 14...c6 15.dxc6 Bxc6 16.cxb5 Nxb5 17.Bxa4 Qd7 18.Nxb5 Bxb5 19.Bxb5 Rxb5 20.b3 Qb7 21.Qe2 Rc8 and a quick central break with d6-d5 will follow. On the other hand, of course, it is always easier to sacrifice somebody else's pawns...]
15.Be3 [Now Black would answer 15.c5 with 15...c6! After 16.cxd6 Bxd6 17.dxc6 Bxc6 he has everything defended, whereas with the queen on e8 (as in the variation above beginning 14...b4), the bishop on d6 would be hanging.; whilst after 15.cxb5 Nxb5 16.Bxa4 Nc3! 17.bxc3 Rxa4 Black would obtain a definite initiative for the pawn.; The modest 15.Bd2 deserves attention.]
15...b4 This is the drawback of 15.Be3. Black now keeps the c-file closed, on which he has a backward pawn on c7.
16.Nb1 c5 Slamming the door!
17.a3 [Note that exchanging a central pawn for a flank pawn by means of 17.Bxa4 Nxe4 would not be good for White.; However, it was possible to exchange central pawns: 17.Nxe5 dxe5 18.d6 although without great effect: 18...Re8 19.dxe7 Qxe7 with complicated play.]
17...b3 The key goes into the lock. Now the queenside is sealed up for good.
18.Bd3 Now all hopes rest on the other side of the board. Possibly the two sides will prepare the corresponding breaks f2-f4 and f7-f5.The position looks about equal.
18...Nxe4 Lightning from a clear sky! Carlsen decisively abandons the slow manoeuvering. However, with a knight on a7, such complications are rarely favourable. Black will regain his piece, of course, but in the subsequently play, the white army should be better coordinated. [At first, the official site showed Black's move as 18...Nxd5 producing shock the whole chess world over. Admittedly, though, even the move 18...Nxe4 can hardly be described as the most normal.; I think that 99 players out of 100 would have played 18...Nc8 aiming to put the knight on b6 and then slowly prepare something on the kingside. The 100th player is carlsen. True, as far as the rating list is concerned, he is closer to first. And the rest of us, we ordinary players, follow at a respectful distance...]
19.Bxe4 [vassily does not need much time to take himself in hand. Weaker is 19.Nxe5 dxe5 20.Bxe4 Bd6 and after f7-f5, Black has a good structure and attacking chances.]
19...f5 20.Nfd2 [A surprise in return. Evidently, Vassily wants to put his queen's knight on d2. I was looking at 20.Bd3 e4 21.Nc3! and in my view, whichever way Black recaptures the piece, he does not obtain equality. White stands much better in the centre.; One mystery remains: why did White not play 20.Nc3 fxe4 21.Nxe4 By comparison with the game, his knightis on f3, instead of b1, which is obviously a significant gain.]
20...fxe4 21.Qh5 I would ask you to bear in mind that I am writing my comments as the game is being played, and before seeing the next move. I have to make a lot of guesses, based on my own understanding of the logic of the position. [Now it turns out that Ivanchuk is not planning 21.Nxe4 on which one can recommend 21...Qe8 and the queen comes to g6.]
21...Be8 [One can well ask what the queen is doing on h5. I prefer the reply 21...Qe8 In the ending, Black puts his bishop on g6 and his knight on b6, although this can hardly lead to any serious disturbance of the equality..]
22.Qe2 Bd7 23.Qh5 Be8 24.Qe2 Bd7 The players are evidently worn out by the stress of the game. After the opening, the battle was very hard and non-standard, and the move 18...Nxe4 was the icing on the cake. 1/2-1/2