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John Henderson
By John Henderson

With computers that can play at near-to-world-champion level, the game, some commentators contend, has lost a lot of its mystique. Fischer Random, the brainchild of Bobby Fischer, the enigmatic former world champion, with 960 possible starting positions, is looking to bring it all back again by creating a new dimension that is intriguing top players, commentators and fans alike.

All this week at the Henie Onstad Art Center in Høvikodden, just outside the Norwegian capital of Oslo, a little bit of history is being made with four elite-level contestants doing battle for the inaugural FR world championship. The perennial favourite and unofficial defending champion is Magnus Carlsen – and playing on his home turf, the No1 showed his prowess at FR as he romped to an emphatic victory over his old rival, Fabiano Caruana, by claiming victory without the need of their match going to the final rubber of the four-game blitz session.

Carlsen cruised to victory with a day to spare, and looks determined to add yet another global title to his trophy cabinet. Standing in his way will be another American, as Wesley So similarly crushed Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi without the need of going to the final blitz rubber, to now set-up a best-of-12-game final against hot favourite Carlsen.

The final (and the match for third place) kicks off on Thursday October 31, with the same format used in the semi-finals — the first two days the players will play ‘slow rapid’ games, with 45 minutes for the 40 first moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game. There’s full coverage beginning at 9:30 a.m. Pacific (17:30 CET) on Chess.com/tv and Twitch.tv/chess.

Clearly delighted to win the match against his old rival with a day to spare, Carlsen singled his game 6 win (see below) out as providing a euphoric rush of enthusiasm for FR: “I was really thinking this is why we play Fischer Random; you play g5, h5 and suddenly your position is great. It adds a new dimension…that shows why this game has a right to exist at the very highest level!”

Semi-final scores:
Carlsen* 12½-7½ Caruana
So* 13-5 Nepomniachtchi

Photo: New dimension, same old title-hunter as Magnus Carlsen crushes Fabiano Caruana | © Lennart Ootes / frchess

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
World Fischer Random Ch., semi-final (6)
(See diagram for starting position)
1. g3 d5 2. b3 e6 3. Qh3 g5 4. Bxh8 Rxh8 5. O-O h5 As Carlsen noted in his presser, where else but Fischer Random do we get the chance to add a new dimension to the game by playing g5 and h5 as Black so early in the game? And it works, as Caruana seems to get bamboozled by the early problems of the advancing wing pawns. 6. c4 d4 7. e3 Nc6 8. Ne2 d3 9. Nec3 N8e7 10. Ne4 Qh6 11. f4 g4 12. Qg2 h4 13. Nbc3 O-O-O 14. Ng5 Rdf8 15. b4 Carlsen has a squeeze on the position with the pawn wedged on d3 – and rightly, Caruana feels he has to try to break out by sacrificing a pawn for some freedom 15…hxg3 16. hxg3 Nxb4 17. Rb1 Nbc6 18. Kf2 f5 19. Rb3 e5! A very precise move that just highlights how bad Caruana’s position has now become, as he can’t take on e5 and allow …Nxe5. 20. Nd5 e4 The position has gone from a squeeze to a total strangulation now. And with it, Caruana makes the only practical call he can under the circumstances. 21. Nxe4!?! This is the only slim hope of surviving the coming carnage down the h-file. 21…fxe4 22. Qxe4 Qh2+ 23. Bg2 Nf5 24. Qe6+ Kd8 The only move, as 24…Kb8?? is hit by 25.Qxc6! and Black would have to bail-out with a repetition with 25…Qxg3+ and …Qh2+ etc. 25. Rxd3 Qxg3+ 26. Kg1 It still looks as if Carlsen has to settle for the perpetual – but Carlsen has a hidden, winning resource. 26…Ncd4! 27. Rxd4 Qh2+ 28. Kf2 Qh4+! Very important, as now there’s no saving check on e7 for Caruana! 29. Kg1 Nxd4 30. exd4 b6 Late in the game, Carlsen finally frees his bishop from its FR corner starting square – and with deadly effect, as Caruana can’t allow him to play a …Bxg2 as there will be a mate down the h-file. 31. Qe5 Rh7 32. f5 g3! The end is near, as Carlsen prevents Caruana’s king from escaping to freedom. 33. Re1 Rhf7 34. Re4 Qh2+ 35. Kf1 Rxf5+ 36. Rf4 Rxf4+ 0-1 Caruana resigns, as the newly freed bishop delivers the fatal blow after 37. Nxf4 Qxg2+! followed by …Qxf4 etc.

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