Learn from Magnus Carlsen - Endgame Technique
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We are already familiar with the art of inducing the opponent's mistake in basically drawn endings from some examples examined in the database dedicated to Ulf Andersson. But now the time has come to examine this method in some more detail, as it is one of Carlsen's trademarks.
I have aimed to illustrate a wide range of endings and organized the examples according to the material on the board. The endings with opposite-colored bishops (with or without major pieces) are known for their drawish tendency, explaining why this category is the best represented below.
Before examining the games, I should explain a few elements explaining Carlsen's "luck" when winning drawn endings. This is the kind of luck he knows how to look for (and deserve) by permanently maintaining a latent tension and a perfect coordination of his pieces, an element of special importance in the endgame. Endgames are only apparently simple; from a practical point of view, decisions are at least as hard to make as in the middlegame. With many pieces on the board, a mistake can always be "repaired" later, while in the endgame any inaccuracy (or, even worse, a series of inaccuracies) can be decisive.
Carlsen's opponents' mistake can be classified according to the following categories:
1) pseudo-activity when a neutral approach would maintain equality;
2) a lack of a resolution when facing a potential threat (this is exactly the opposite of the first category);
3) losing the coordination or misplacing pieces;
4) as a sub-category of the previous, the failure to understand where the king should go to. There sometimes is the mirage of centralization, when actually the king would be needed in some concrete area;
5) gradually slipping from a completely drawn position into slightly dangerous ones and so on.
PREMATURELY FORCING MATTERS
Carlsen - Pelletier
Diagram after 33.Ne3
This is one of the positions which do not require deep knowledge to understand it should be a draw. The knights' presence adds some symbolic tension to the opposite-colored bishop ending, but with equal pawns and a normal black coordination, this should not change much. Moreover, the d7-pawn is more of a burden than strength.
SPOILING THE OWN COORDINATION
Carlsen - Karjakin
Diagram after 19...Rxe8
Despite the rooks' presence, this endgame should end in a draw, too. True, White's bishop is once again more mobile than Black's, but the position is static and Black controls the only open file. True to his ambition, Carlsen starts gaining space on both wings, thus opening new horizons for his king and rook. Little by little, we will feel the principle of two weaknesses in action.
Carlsen - Inarkiev
Diagram after 34.Bxd1
In the presence of queens, the dangers for the defending side are bigger, as the attacker could create mating threats easier.
White has a dangerous passed pawn on the a-file and the black king is vulnerable, so it is easy to establish that his chances are preferable.
THE WRONG SQUARE FOR THE KING
Carlsen - Mastrovasilis
Diagram after 50...f4
Black's position looks promising and if he had time to consolidate with ...h6 and ...g5 his chances would be better due to his space advantage. But Carlsen reacts just in time to open the path for his king and equalize. Later on, he even managed to win since Black didn't position his king in an optimal way.
Carlsen - Aronian
Diagram after 51.g5
We are familiar with this type of endgames from the databases dedicated to Ulf Andersson. The a7-pawn could become dangerous only if White could create some kingside threats. In this position, Black has enough counterplay the hold the draw. Levon Aronian, however, starts his counterplay prematurely. Carlsen wins in a very instructive way.
LACK OF CLARITY AND RESOLUTION
Carlsen - Jakovenko
Diagram after 33.Nd4
White is quite active and Black's kingside pawns are likely to become vulnerable, as they are placed on squares of the same color as the bishop's. But with pawns on both wings, the bishop is more mobile than the knight, which should level the chances.
Black's only real problem is his slight lack of coordination. This can be solved in several ways, but the path chosen by Jakovenko will soon put him in a situation when there will be just one saving move. From a practical point of view, it is quite a risky situation.
THE WRONG KING'S TRAJECTORY
Smeets - Carlsen
Diagram after 46...h5
A typical situation with the bishop more active than the knight. But due to the reduced number of pawns White should count on a draw.
The main theme of this ending is the danger posed by the h-pawn. True, the c-pawn could ensure White some counterplay, but the bishop can deal with it easier than the knight could do it with the h-pawn.
It is obvious that White should initiate a king's march, but the main question is where to?
FAILURE TO ANTICIPATE THE THREATS
Ni Hua - Carlsen
Diagram after 30...Kg8
The position is rather static and even though White has a chronic weakness on e4 he should have no problems maintaining equality. The only thing he should be worried about is Black's plan ...b7-b5-b4, undermining the e4-pawn and sending the knight onto a passive route.
MISPLACING THE QUEEN
Adly - Carlsen
Diagram after 35...a5
Optically, Black's chances are better, due to his mobile queenside majority. But the next strong move weakens the black's king residence, which should ensure a draw by perpetual.
ALLOWING THE KING'S INFILTRATION
Carlsen - Hou Yifan
Diagram after 41...Qf7
In a fashionable yet boring variation of the Petroff Defence the former Women's World Champion held her own against the World Champion quite OK until the time control. This ending looks very much like Carlsen's type, with no objective advantage but some persistent practical chances based on the somewhat exposed black king and the prospects of a queen intrusion to d6 or b8.
In the test section, you will find 30 positions which are taken from the practice of Magnus Carlsen. It is important to know that giving the right answer is not that important. Since the lines are not forced, sometimes, the choice is a matter of taste. These tests will help you to better understand how Magnus deals with strategically complicated endgames. Below, you will find 5 test positions.