A Wee Half - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


No visit to Scotland would be complete without sampling a ‘wee half’ of uisge beatha or ‘the water of life’ …the name given by the ancient Celts to the fiery amber nectar we now call Scotch whisky. And for Magnus Carlsen, it’s not so much a case of sampling a wee half, as now becoming the custodian of his very own barrel (maturing in three years), as that was the world champion’s first prize reward was for winning the Lindores Abbey Stars tournament staged at the historic Lindores Abbey whisky distillery in Newburgh, Fife!

With Carlsen, five-time ex-champion Viswanathan Anand, the 2016 defeated title challenger Sergey Karjakin, and the Chinese world #3 Ding Liren completing the field, this was the strongest tournament ever assembled in Scotland. In many ways, the Lindores Abbey Stars resembled another Scottish one-off 4-player Grandmaster event that Carlsen’s first coach, Simen Agdestein, played in: the 1995 Isle of Lewis tournament in Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides, that also included Judit Polgar (who won the event), Nigel Short and Paul Motwani.

The most famous and historic of all the Scottish tournaments is the Dundee International of 1867, held just a few miles from the Lindores Abbey Stars, that featured soon-to-be first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz, who was beaten into second place by Gustav Neumann. One hundred years later, in 1967, there was also a commemorative Dundee International Centenary tournament, won by Svetozar Gligoric, ahead of two other Nordic stars in Bent Larsen and Fridrik Olafsson.

Dundee 1867 is regarded in the annals as the fourth ever chess international tournament of modern times – and it also proved to be a landmark event for the evolution of chess praxis, as this was the first tournament where a draw officially counted as a half-point in a tournament. Before Dundee 1867, the draw didn’t count for scoring purposes, and players had to play endless games until a game was won.

And as luck would have it, a couple of ‘halfs’ came to the rescue for Carlsen in Scotland! Two very resourceful and highly-entertaining draws – against Karjakin and Ding Liren respectively – in the final rounds proved a deciding factor in the Norwegian winning not only his sixth straight tournament victory but also now a maturing barrel of his very own uisge beatha!

Photo: A victorious Magnus Carlsen interviewed by GMs Danny King and Genna Sosonko | © Lindores Abbey Stars

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Sergey Karjakin
Lindores Abbey Stars, (5)
Queen’s Pawn, Lasker variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.c3 Not a Catalan, but a simple system that was championed in the 1920s by the second world champion, Emanuel Lasker, to avoid the growth of opening theory that he thought was making the game too “systematic”. 6…Nbd7 7.Bf4 c5 8.Ne5 Qb6 9.Qb3 cxd4 10.Qxb6 Nxb6 11.cxd4 Ne4 12.Rc1 If Carlsen is allowed to get in Rc7, then Karjakin will be in deep trouble. 12…Nd6 A cunning idea that indirectly prevents Rc7, which would be strongly met by …Nb5! 13.Nc3 Be6 14.a4 a5 15.h4 Rfc8 Carlsen has a small edge – but Karjakin has all but achieved equality. 16.b3 Not just supporting the a4-pawn, but also stopping Karjakin establishing a knight on c4. 16…Rc7 17.Nb5 The only way for Carlsen to try and make something, anything, out of this position. 17…Rxc1+ 18.Rxc1 Nxb5 19.axb5 Rc8 20.Rc5 Again, the only possible way for Carlsen to try to squeeze something out of the position – and what comes next, may well have been heavily influenced by what was happening in the Ding Liren-Anand game. With Ding Liren and Carlsen tied for first, at this moment, it looked as if the Chinese world #3 had a winning position, so Carlsen may have felt obliged to roll the dice here to try to win to keep pace with his co-leader. Of course, Ding made a serious blunder and duly lost – but Carlsen wasn’t to know that, so he tried to find a way to complicate the game in an effort to win. 20…Kf8 21.e4 Although it involves a degree of risk, this certainly unbalances the position – just what Carlsen was looking for! The safer option was the obvious 21.e3 followed by trading rooks and playing Bf3, which will most likely peter out to a draw very quickly. 21…a4! 22.exd5!?! With 21…a4!, Karjakin has found the right way to neutralise Carlsen’s play, and the logical conclusion now should have been 22.bxa4 Nxa4 23.Rxc8+ Bxc8 24.exd5 Nc3 25.b6 Na4 26.Bd2 Nxb6 27.Ba5 Nd7 and a draw. However, at the time, it is not known whether Carlsen was still pushing the envelope to try to keep pace with Ding (who was still better against Anand), or he simply overlooked Karjakin’s …a3. Either way, it at least allows all the coming fun and shows that a draw – which originated in Scotland as an official score – can be an entertaining part of the chess scoring system! 22…Rxc5 23.dxc5 a3! 24.dxe6 a2 25.Nd7+! If Carlsen was pushing the envelope, then he had to have seen all the coming complications, as, without them, he’d be totally lost. 25…Ke8 The only move, as 25…Nxd7?? backfires spectacularly to 26.exd7 a1Q+ 27.Kh2 Qd4 28.Bd6!! winning. 26.Nxb6 a1Q+ 27.Kh2 Be5! Also possible was 27…fxe6 28.c6 bxc6 29.bxc6 Be5 30.c7 Bxc7 31.Bxc7 Qa7! 32.Na8 Qxf2 33.b4 Qb2 34.Ba5 which should also draw, as White’s pieces are awkwardly placed, and it will be difficult to advance the b-pawn. That said, Karjakin’s move is clearly better and safer. 28.Be3! [see diagram] There’s no time to capture on b7. If 28.Bxb7 Bxf4 29.gxf4 Qf6! 30.Bc6+ Kd8 31.exf7 Qxf4+ 32.Kg2 Qxf7 33.Bb7 Qf5 Black probably has the better side of a draw. With 28.Be3!, Carlsen is still looking to squeeze something out of the position – but Karjakin again stops this from happening. 28…fxe6 29.Bxb7 Bd4! If not now, then Carlsen could well be winning. 30.Nc4 For the purists, the correct continuation was 30.c6! Bxe3 31.c7! Bxf2 32.c8Q+ Kf7 33.Qc7 Qg1+ 34.Kh3 Bxb6 and a draw with opposite bishops and both kings vulnerable to a perpetual. All the engines believed Carlsen had made an “error” with his 30.Nc4, and started to show Black close to winning at -2 – but the engines can’t see – or assess – the fortress that the human eye can see. 30…Bxe3 31.Nxe3 Qb2 32.Kg2 Qxb3 33.b6 Qb5 34.Bf3! Kd8 Even after 34…Qxc5 35.b7 Qb6 36.Nc4 Qb5 37.Na3 Qb2! (Black has to be sure where he puts his queen, as there’s still one trick left in the position. After 37…Qb3?? 38.Bc6+ Kf7 39.Nb5 the pawn passes. But with the queen on b2, it can track back to e5 to stop the pawn.) 38.Nc4 Qb5 39.Na3 Qb2 40.Nc4 Qb5 the game will end in a draw, as neither side is able to make any progress. 35.b7 Kc7 36.c6 Qb4 37.g4 Qd4 38.Nf1 h5 39.gxh5 gxh5 40.Ng3 e5 41.Ne4! Qc4 42.Ng5 Kb8 43.Be4 This completes the fortress – the draw will soon come now. 43…Qe2 44.Bf5 e4 45.Nxe4 Qc4 46.Ng3 Qxc6+ 47.Be4 Again, the engines still don’t see it and gives Black a big -1.50 advantage – but no-one can make any progress now. 47…Qf6 48.Nxh5 Qxh4 49.Ng3 ½-½ A highly-entertaining draw from the land that brought you the ‘wee half’ and the draw counting as a score in chess! Neither side can make any progress: The Black king is stopping the pawn from queening, and White can’t move his knight over to the queenside, as his king will be exposed to a perpetual. All White will do now is oscillate his bishop from e4 to f3.


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