Let’s just cancel 2020 altogether and fast forward to 2021, shall we? With the sporting and cultural calendars abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic, chess-wise the Candidates has been suspended, and this week the latest Covid-19 casualties have been the Grand Chess Tour season and the Grenke Chess Classic.
And with the Dubai Expo set to be postponed until 2021, the next World Chess Championship Match looks set to be similarly put on hold for a year…but fear not chess fans, because coming to the rescue is Magnus Carlsen!
The world champion launched this week ‘The Magnus Carlsen Invitational’ to fill the over-the-board void, with an innovative new online super-tournament with a record prize fund of $250,000, where the Norwegian will do battle with seven of his main rivals, including the world Nos 2 and 3, Fabiano Caruana of the US and Ding Liren of China. Running 18 April to 2 May, the eight-player field – yet to be finalised – will compete over a shorter-paced time control. The format will be an all-play-all group stage of four-game Rapid mini-matches; the top four players in the round robin going on to compete in the ‘business end’ knockout stage for the $70,000 first prize.
Chess24 is part owned by Magnus Carlsen’s company Play Magnus, and the world champion commented: ”This is a historic moment for chess, and given that it’s possible to continue top professional play in an online environment, we have not only the opportunity, but a responsibility to players and fans around the world when no other live, competitive sport is being played.”
While Magnus’ tournament is stronger and richer, there is a world champion-named and inspired online parallel from one of his ‘great predecessors’, Garry Kasparov, that was held at the height of the dotcom bubble in early 2000. The Kasparovchess.com Grand Prix had an impressive line-up led by Kasparov, that also featured Alexander Morozevich, Peter Svidler, Nigel Short, Mickey Adams, Boris Gulko, Ivan Sokolov, Miguel Illescas, Loek Van Wely, Jeroen Piket, Yasser Seirawan and Nick DeFirmian.
To ensure fair play throughout that online knockout tournament (G60 x2), the organisers placed independent arbiters at each player location. It didn’t quite go to script though, as Dutchman Piket scored a big unexpected victory by beating Kasparov in the final to capture the $20,000 first prize.
If you are looking for some instructive ‘fun’ during the pandemic lockdown, then there’s no better entertainment than tuning in to the Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup, where you can follow and also hear the inner-thoughts of Carlsen’s progress, where the world champion looks to be on a collision course to meet newer-generation 16-year-old rival Alireza Firouzja in the final.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ivan Cheparinov
Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup, (4)
Ruy Lopez, Fianchetto Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 g6 It was probably Vasily Smyslov who is best known for developing the theory of the Spanish fianchetto defence (with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6), which is now widely regarded as one of Black’s most solid choices. But the latest wrinkle is to play it with the interpolation of 3…a6 attempting to avoid some of the critical lines – namely 4.Nc3 – normally associated with this system. 5.c3 There’s also the more ‘trickier’ option of 5.d4 exd4 6.c3!? dxc3 7.Nxc3 which also seems to score well for White. 5…Bg7 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd4 b5 8.Bc2 d5 More usual is 8…d6. 9.exd5 Nce7 10.0-0 Nf6 Black’s whole rationale with 8…d5 is to recapture on d5 with his knight. 11.Re1 0-0 12.Bg5 Nexd5 13.Nc3 h6? Whoops! Black has missed a tactic – an easy mistake to walk into in a three-minute game, and from here, Carlsen ruthlessly goes for the jugular. What was needed was 13…Qd6 14.Ne5 Be6 and taking the battle from here with not much in the position for either side. 14.Nxd5! hxg5 What Cheparinov had overlooked was that 14…Qxd5 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 walked into 16.Be4 skewering queen and rook. 15.Ne7+ Cheparinov is just lost – but Carlsen show no mercy with an almost clinical kill. 15…Kh8 16.Nxg5 Bg4 17.Qd3 Bh6 18.h4 Also crashing through was 18.Nxf7+! Rxf7 19.Nxg6+ Kg8 20.Bb3 Nd5 21.Qg3! Qg5 22.Ne5! and Black faces a heavy loss of material, with goodness knows how many pieces being forked, skewered and pinned! 18…Qd6 19.Nxg6+! [see diagram] All roads lead to Rome. Alternatively, and as noted above, there was also 19.Nxf7+! Rxf7 20.Nxg6+ Kg8 21.Bb3 Nd5 22.Qe4! Bf3 23.gxf3 c6 24.Qg4 Rg7 25.Re6 easily winning. 19…fxg6 20.Qxg6 Bg7 21.Re5! Qxd4 Cheparinov is well and truly busted. If 21…Bh5 22.Nf7+ Rxf7 23.Rxh5+! is killing. 22.Re7 Rg8 23.Nf7# 1-0