The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, gave the passionate home crowd something more to cheer about by adding yet another world title – albeit of the “unofficial” variety – to his already much-laureled name, this time by beating America’s Hikaru Nakamura, in their intriguing Fischer Random Match that concluded yesterday at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Høvikodden, outside Oslo, Norway.
At the end of the five-day, sixteen-game match, Carlsen beat the “reigning” unofficial champion Nakamura, 14-10, to take the title. The prize-fund was a 60/40 split, with Carlsen winning 900,000 Norwegian krone ($115,00) and Nakamura taking home 600,00 ($76,000) – but the biggest winner overall could well be Fischer Random Chess itself with a major spike in interest in Bobby Fischer’s brainchild throughout the match.
Kudos goes to the Norwegian organizers for putting in a big PR effort into promoting the match and taking the variant more mainstream. Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg made the ceremonial first move. And despite a clash with the Winter Olympics, the match was closely followed throughout by winter sports-loving Norway with live coverage by NRK, the state broadcaster – and it was also followed with great interest throughout the rest of the world with online live coverage and commentary.
This was the first serious Fischer Random/Chess960 event since Nakamura beat Levon Aronian in 2009 in Mainz to capture the unofficial crown – and before that, Peter Svidler, the Russian eight-time champion, was the three-time unofficial Fischer Random World Champion before losing to Aronian. But now many believe this could well be the ideal time for a proper world championship cycle for Fischer Random/Chess960.
Nakamura has often called for this, and now new champion Carlsen has also endorsed its future, commenting: “This match showed that it’s not too weird and it leads to exactly what you want, which is chess without theory and still at a reasonable level. I think those terms the match was definitely a success and I think we’ll all strive to get better.”
Carlsen won the match 14-10 with a 9-7 win in the rapid (counting double points over the blitz) and 5-3 win in the blitz – but the match was perhaps closer than the final scoreline reflected. Nakamura missed several chances in the match, but over the piece, it was Carlsen who looked the more likely winner, and he only seemed to gain in confidence the more games he played.
And many of those games took some very dramatic wild turns as they players tried to adapt as best they could to their strangely-placed back-rank pieces – and for novelty value alone, look no further than game 3 of the blitz, as both players staunchly adhered to the golden principle of chess by castling early and often with 1.0-0! 0-0!!
Photo: Magnus Carlsen, the new unofficial World Fischer Random Champion | © Lennart Ootes (Official site)
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Fischer Random Blitz, (1)
1.a4 The “joys” of Fischer Random means that normal openings and occupation of the center is not the primary aim! Here, the question is how to best develop the Qa1, and Carlsen does this with the threat of a4-a5 with the threat of a6 to start weakening Nakamura’s king. 1…e6 I imagine that if Nakamura played the “normal” occupation of the center following a flank opening, Carlsen would play 2.b4 and gain a tempo with the hit on the e5-pawn. 2.a5 a6 3.e4 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.Nf3 f6 6.exf6 gxf6 7.Ne3 Nxe3 8.fxe3 Bg6 9.b4 Be7 10.Bh4 Carlsen is just looking to complete his development and looking to castle kingside – and he’s left plenty of scope to develop his queen from the awkward a1 starting position. For Nakamura, despite having a solid position, his play is blighted from start to finish with his problems developing his queen due to the Carlsen’s early a4-a5-a6 push. 10…Rf8 11.Be2 Nc6 12.Qc3 b5 13.0-0 0-0-0 14.d4 Carlsen has clearly won the Fischer Random “opening” as Nakamura is lumbered with what to do about the hapless Qa8 for now. 14…Bh5 15.Qd2 d5 It doesn’t help the plight of the Qa8, but Nakamura had to stop Carlsen’s threat of d5 and c4 blowing open the queenside. 16.c3 Bxf3 17.Rxf3! Stronger than 17.Bxf3, as now Carlsen has designs on Rh3 targeting Black’s vulnerable h-pawn. 17…f5 18.Rh3 Rd7 19.Bg3 Bg5 20.Bf4 Nakamura’s position has been “compromised” – he still can’t develop his entombed Qa8, meanwhile, Carlsen is ready to exchange pieces off to prey on Black’s vulnerable pawns in the endgame. 20…h6 21.Bxg5 hxg5 22.Rh6 Re7? Ultimately the wrong move for many reasons, not least because it walks into a hidden tactic. The consensus was that Nakamura should have gone for 22…Nd8 that covers all the pawn weaknesses and offers the queen a way into the game via c6. But Nakamura is now felled by a hidden tactic – but with the volatile cocktail of Fischer Random and blitz, you just can’t see everything! 23.e4 dxe4 24.Qxg5 The Qa8 remains haplessly entombed on its starting square, and now with the Nc6 defending the Re7, the knight can’t move to allow the queens access to c6 – so Nakamura tries to bring his queen into the game via another route. But that connect between the Nc6 and the Re7 should have been sending alarm bells ringing in Nakamura’s head by now. 24…Kb7? 25.d5!! With one move, Nakamura is doomed – and it all boils down to him not being able to quickly resolve how to get his queen into the game. 25…exd5 26.Rxc6 Ref7 27.Rc5 Carlsen’s rook now looks “trapped”, but there’s plenty of weaknesses around Nakamura’s king for a breakthrough sacrifice. 27…Rd7 Marginally better, but still ultimately hopeless was 27…c6 28.Bh5! Rc7 29.Rf1 Qc8 30.Bg6 Rg7 31.Rxf5! Rxf5 32.Qxf5 Qg8 33.g3! and Black can’t take on g6 as Qd7+ is easily winning. 28.Qg6 Qd8 29.Qc6+ Ka7 30.Bxb5! axb5 31.Rxb5 Qc8 32.a6 1-0