After failing to capitalise on his sizzling start to the 51st Accentus Biel Masters in Switzerland, a dejected Magnus Carlsen could only look on in agony as he was overshadowed by a resurgent Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as the Azeri’s brilliant, virtuoso performance saw him turning in a career-best victory. Carlsen had to be content with a ‘disappointing’ second-place podium finish – but there’s barely time for the world champion to lick his wounds, as he’s back in action soon with the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis now looming large on the horizon.
This year, Carlsen declined an invite to defend his Grand Chess Tour title, opting to forgo the many rapid and blitz events in the schedule – such as the upcoming Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz at Rex Sinquefield’s fabled Saint Louis Chess Club – and instead play in as many elite-level events as he could, ahead of what’s now set to become a very busy year, elite tournament-wise, for the world champion in a crucial title-defence year.
But just who could refuse a GCT wildcard spot for the Sinquefield Cup? Carlsen couldn’t, and there’s an added edge to this year edition of the Sinquefield Cup, that runs through 17-28 August, as also in the regular GCT field will be his US title-challenger, Fabiano Caruana – and this clash on the challenger’s home turf will be the last meeting ahead of their November World Championship Match in London.
And just as Carlsen was finishing his campaign in Biel with a streaky last round win against Swiss tailender Nico Georgiadis, Agon/World Chess finally announced details of the London venue for the Carlsen-Caruana match. Streaming live from the World Chess Club bar in Moscow, World Chess CEO, Ilya Merenzon revealed that The College, 12-42 Southampton Row in Holborn, London, will stage the match.
Formerly the home of the internationally renowned Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design before the famous fashion college moved to a new home in King’s Cross in 2011, The College is a large site with period Victorian halls and interconnecting rooms and is now being utilised as a space to hire for major international events, such as the Carlsen-Caruana match.
The match will run 9-28 November at The College, London – and tickets are due to go on sale from today, Friday, August 3 at Ticketmaster. Prices will range from £45 ($58.85 / €50.63) to £100 ($130.73 / €112.47).
Photo: Podium-finishers (l-r) Carlsen, Mamedyarov & Vachier-Lagrave | Lennart Ootes / Biel Chess Festival
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Nico Georgiadis
51st Accentus Biel Masters, (10)
Sicilian Defence, Zvjaginsev Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Na3!?! What can I say? This very unconventional move is, in fact, a speciality of the enterprising young Russian GM, Vadim Zvjaginsev – and he soon found an enthusiastic follower in GM Boris Savchenko. The knight makes space so that all White’s options in the centre remain open – c3, d4 and f4 all frequently follow. It also overprotects the b5-square, which is useful in many lines when the white bishop appears there. Not convinced? Yes, I’m not so sure either – 2. Nf3 is somehow more appealing… 2…g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.c3 d5 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.Bc4 Qe4+ 7.Kf1! Setting Black some immediate tactical issues that need to be resolved. For obvious reasons, Carlsen doesn’t want to see the early trade of queens with 7.Qe2 Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 (If 8.Kxe2?! a6! Black has easy equality.) 8…Nf6 9.d4 cxd4 10.Nb5 0-0! 11.Nbxd4 Nd5 which shouldn’t give Black any problems. But with 7.Kf1, now Black has to defend against the immediate threat of Bxf7+! due to the embarrassing knight fork on g5. 7…Be6 8.Qa4+ Nd7 9.d4 Ngf6 10.Bg5 Bxc4+ 11.Qxc4 Qd5 Black has achieved easy equality here: He’s exchanged off White’s potentially troublesome light-squared bishop, the queen trade really can’t be avoided, and his pieces are fully developed. 12.Re1 e6 13.Bxf6 Nxf6 14.Qb5+ Nd7 15.Ne5 a6 The playing engines all go for the easy pawn grab 15…Bxe5!? 16.dxe5 Qxa2 17.Qe2 (There’s no time for 17.Qxb7 Rb8 18.Qe4 otherwise the Na3 is lost 18…Rxb2 19.Nc4 Rxf2+ 20.Kg1 0-0 winning.) 17…0-0 18.h4 but it takes strong nerves to have the confidence to opt for this against the World Champion. 16.Qc4 Nxe5 17.dxe5 Rd8 18.Qxd5 Rxd5 The queens have been traded, as has several minor pieces – and with it, Georgiadis has emerged with the better ending with the bishop and also the rook dominating the d-file. 19.f4 g5! 20.fxg5 Ke7 21.h4 Rxe5 22.Rxe5 Bxe5 23.Ke2 b5 24.Nc2 Rd8 25.Ne1 The position is not as easy for White as it looks, as Carlsen can’t immediately challenge the d-file with 25.Rd1 as 25…Rxd1 26.Kxd1 Bg3 will win a pawn with a won ending. 25…c4 26.Nf3 Bg7 27.Nd2 h6! 28.Ne4 Black’s 27…h6 was nicely timed, as now 28.gxh6 Bxh6 29.Nf3 f5! stops g4 mobilising the pawns, and Black will follow up with …Rd3 or even simply …Rd5, with a very strong position. 28…hxg5 29.hxg5 Rd5 30.a3 Carlsen needs to tread carefully here. If 30.Rh7 Kf8 31.Rh4 Re5 32.Rf4 a5 33.Ke3? f5! wins due to 34.gxf6 Bh6. 30…a5 31.Re1 Be5! Black’s pieces are now all centralised for the ending, and the immediate threat is …Bf4 winning the g5 pawn. 32.g3 Kf8! Georgiadis clearly has the upper-hand here, and now the simply king walk Ke7-f8-g7-g6 will tie Carlsen down to defending his g-pawn. 33.Kf3 Kg7 34.Kg4 Kg6 35.Rf1 Rd3 Now it is getting really awkward for Carlsen, as the big threat that has to be prevented at all cost is …Re3 threatening the knight and the little matter of …Rxg3 mate, should it move. 36.Rf3 Rd1 An understandable move, but better was 36…Rd8!? with the idea of …b4, as capturing twice will allow …Rb8, after which b4, b2 and the two kingside pawns on g3 and g5 will be vulnerable to attack by Black’s very active rook and bishop. 37.Rf2 Rd5 38.Nd2 This will have come as some relief to Carlsen, as now the Nd2 stops the strong possibility of …b4 and …Rb8 as mentioned in the note above. 38…Bc7 Defending g5 and stopping the bishop returning again to e5 to threaten …b4 etc. 39.Nf3 Bd8 40.Nh4+ Kg7 41.Nf3 Black continues to hold the advantage in this ending – the only hope White has is the rooks being traded off and possibly the knight causing a problem for the queenside pawns, as they will be difficult to protect, particularly the b- and c-pawns. 41…Bb6 42.Re2 Bc7 43.Re4 Bd6 Carlsen is over the worst of it, and now there’s a little chink of light at the end of the tunnel if he can trade rooks. Better was 43…Bb6! as now trading rooks is dangerous, one example being 44.Re5 Rxe5 45.Nxe5 Be3! 46.Nc6 a4 47.Kf3 Bc1 48.Nd4 Kg6 49.Nxb5 Kxg5 50.Nd6 Bxb2 51.Nxc4 Bxc3 and White has a difficult defence, as the endgame will come down to B+N with Black having a 2-1 pawn advantage on the kingside. 44.Rd4 Rxd4+ 45.Nxd4 Trading rooks has, at a stroke, eased Carlsen’s game – and the possibility of an unlikely White win can’t be ruled out now, particularly if Black’s pawns get fixed on white squares. 45…b4 46.a4 [see diagram] The game is heading for a draw – a result that really is only avoided by one side making a monumental blunder now. 46…b3?? Well, Carlsen probably couldn’t believe his luck here, as Georgiadis cracks at the final hurdle by miscalculating the ending, leaving the c-pawn vulnerable to the simple Nf3-d2xc4 – and once the c-pawn falls, the b-pawn also falls. He had to play 46…Be5! 47.Nc2 bxc3 48.bxc3 Bxc3 49.Na3 Be5 50.Nxc4 Bc7 51.Kh5 and an easy draw, as White’s king can never move away from the vicinity of the g-pawns. 47.Nf3 1-0 Georgiadis resigns, as he’d probably miscalculated only after the fact that he can’t play the trick of 47…Ba3 48.bxa3 b2 as it backfires after 49.Nd2! with the knight also covering the all-important b1 queening square. And with …Ba3 not available, there’s nothing Black can do to stop Nf3-d2xc4-d2xb3 winning two pawns. A sad end for the Swiss tailender, who fully deserved what would have been a second draw against the World Champion.