I’ve played in Biel six times before (last in 2012), and it is good to back for this 51stBiel Chess Festival. I have many pleasant memories from the earlier editions, starting in 2005 with the far strongest tournament I had played at that age. 

I have won twice (2007 and 2011) and generally performed well, always enjoying the restaurants and the location next to Bielersee with high hills to the west.

The organizers have put together an interesting and strong field. My opponents are Mamedyarov, Vachier-Lagrave, Svidler, Navara and Nico Georgiadis (one of the strongest Swiss GM’s, who did very well last year in Biel).

My ambition prior to the tournament was to fight hard in every game and to come up with some creative and interesting ideas. Having won both as white against Navara and black against Lagrave, I’m of course highly satisfied with the first two rounds. A lesson learned from Norway Chess is anyhow to be a little less panegyric than I was after three rounds in Stavanger (after which there wasn’t much to brag about on my part). 

I have played quite well so far, but the most important game is always the next one. That is how it should be throughout the tournament.

 

In round 1 Navara surprised me with Nxc5 in the opening, and I didn’t manage to get much of an opening advantage. After 14.e5 I had the choice between a very drawish continuation or the slightly speculative queen sacrifice which I ended up chosing to obtain imbalance. It was definitely not better for white, but it wasn’t easy for black to claim an advantage either. 20.Bf3 was a mistake I discovered a few seconds too late. I shouldn’t have had any problems after f4 instead. Fortunately Navara seemed to underestimate his position and chose 31... Nc4 to enter a drawish ending. I made a last attempt at maintaining the imbalance with Rd7, but the resulting queen versus rook, knight and pawn ending looked very drawish as well. 

Navara had played a good game until move 40, and I was surprised to see him advancing his g-pawn. Suddenly the position got very tricky for black, and after some maneuvering my e-pawn started to roll. He had to sacrifice his queen for my rook and knight, and the pawn ending was winning for white (by one tempi).

I was nearly as surprised to get winning chances today against Lagrave. I surprised him with the Pirc, and he avoided the sharpest lines. After the exchange of queens the ending looked fairly balanced. When he allowed Bc5 and the exchange of both bishops, the double rook ending was suddenly uncomfortable for white. Black is more active, but it was very hard to tell if there were real winning chances during the game. We both had plenty of time and really needed it after the first time control. Double rook endgames without king protection are notoriously difficult, and my opponent is maybe the best in the world in these kind of positions. At a crucial point I had missed his Rg8-Rd8 idea and seemed to have allowed him back in the game. It was however still extremely difficult for him to defend. In the end I managed to win what was one of the most challenging and rewarding games I’ve played in recent years! 

Both Mamedyarov and Svidler have won against Georgiadis and share 2ndwith 1.5 points. I’m white against Svidler in Round 3 Tuesday at 2pm. 

Magnus Carlsen, Biel, July 23rd 2018    "