Fischeresque! - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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In this difficult, unprecedented time of coronavirus pandemic global lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing seeing the sporting and cultural calendars decimated for the foreseeable future, likewise over-the-board chess has similarly ceased with it – but the ancient game of kings has the perfect digital-age loophole with a record captive audience set to tune-in for an April cram-packed with big online events to fill the void for chess fans worldwide.

The biggest by far is the new initiative from Magnus Carlsen, ‘The Magnus Carlsen Invitational’, that will see the Norwegian world No1 facing seven of his elite rivals – including world No’s 2 and 3, Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren – in a two-week, $250,000 battle that starts on April 18 on Chess24.com.

But that’s not the only online show in town. Chess.com also announced this week a potential clash with the Abu Dhabi Super Blitz Challenge, a 12-round event for all titled players with a total prize fund of $10,000, with early entries including Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alexander Grischuk.

Another major – and fun to watch – ongoing online battle is the $50,000 Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup competition that reaches its climax in April, as the September 2019 starting field of 132-players (that included 109 grandmasters, 69 of which rated 2700 or above) approaches its final. Magnus Carlsen has been in impressive form in the Banter Blitz Cup with some big one-sided winning score-lines. There are times when some players seem unbeatable; and currently, Carlsen also has an over-the-board unbeaten streak record of 121 games (including three wins in the Norwegian Chess League against amateurs, which Carlsen himself only prefers not to count) that’s still live for when the world does eventually return to normality.

A long, unbeaten streak is impressive at the top-level – but what about a big winning-run streak?

The most memorable belongs to Bobby Fischer. During the 1963/64 US Championship, Fischer turned in a perfect 11-0 title-winning score – very impressive, but then came his even more remarkable winning run en route to capturing the world title from Boris Spassky in 1972. Fischer won his last seven games at the 1970 Interzonal at Palma de Mallorca, then followed with two unprecedented Candidates match shutouts of Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen by 6-0 scores. He then won the first game of the 1971 Candidates Finals with Tigran Petrosian before losing the second. That left Fischer with the modern-day, elite-level record of 20 straight victories.

Any such winning run since then has often been described as being “Fischeresque”, and that’s just the superlative that was used by many commentators when Carlsen majestically swept the Russian grandmaster Sanan Sjugirov 9-0(!) in their semifinal match-up earlier this week in the Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup.

That powerhouse sweep puts Carlsen into the final and now the exciting prospect of a possible Easter Sunday showdown with his newer generation wannabe rival, Alireza Firouzja, should the 16-year-old Iranian exile now beats – as he’s expected to – the young Indian grandmaster Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan, in Friday’s second semifinal clash.

GM Sanan Sjugirov – GM Magnus Carlsen
Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup semi-final, (8)
Ruy Lopez, Archangel Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 This very sharp line against the Ruy Lopez was developed in the early sixties by players from the north Russian port town of Archangelsk, which it is named after – though in the west, it is more commonly known as the “Archangel Defence”. With 6…Bb7, Black looks to exert pressure against the opponent’s centre, in particular e4. White must decide whether to protect this pawn solidly with 7.d3 or head towards the complications after 7.c3 Nxe4 that’s become the tabiya of the Archangel. 7.d3 Carlsen’s blast from the past gamble pays off, as Sjugirov balks from playing the most critical line with 7.c3 that’s been analysed to a near-death by the computers – and for this reason, this is why most player instead opt for the route 6…Bc5 followed by …Bb7. 7…Bc5 8.c3 d6 If Black players could be guaranteed that White will play 7.d3 in every game, with the free and easy development, then the Archangelsk would be everyone’s favourite weapon against the Lopez. 9.Nbd2 h6 10.Re1 Bb6 11.Nf1 Ne7! The knight is heading for g6 and then f4 with attacking, active play. 12.Ng3 Ng6 13.a4 0-0 14.h3 Re8 15.Nf5 d5 Now the game opens up, and with it, good attacking chances for both sides. 16.axb5 axb5 17.Rxa8 Bxa8 18.Bxh6! A nice practical shot from Sjugirov that possibly should have at least stopped Carlsen’s winning streak in the match. 18…gxh6 19.Qd2 Nf4 The only winning try. If 19…Nh5? 20.Qxh6 Ngf4 21.Ng5 Qf6 22.Qh7+ Kf8 23.h4! and the Black king is in trouble. 20.Nxe5!? You got to love the wonderfully rich tactics that come for both sides in the Archangelsk! 20…N6h5 21.Nxh6+ Kf8 22.Nhxf7 Qh4 23.d4?? Sjugirov has overlooked a big game-deciding tactic. His only chance for survival was 23.Re3! Bxe3 24.Qxe3 dxe4 25.d4 and, despite the material disparity, White is still in the game as the Black king is vulnerable. Note that with White threatening to play g3, extra rook or no extra rook, Black will have to tread carefully now. 23…Rxe5!! [see diagram] A nice tactic from the World Champion that unleashes the potent power of the dark-squared bishop…and it suddenly all sunk in for Sjugirov with his banter comment of: “If it works it’s simply brilliant… absolute genius!” 24.dxe5 Sjugirov is well and truly busted, and he opts to go down the “sporting” way by demonstrating the genius of Magnus’ sacrifice. If, instead 24.Nxe5 then 24…Qg5 wins the house with the duel threats of …Qxg2 mate and …Nxh3+ winning the queen – and there’s no way to cover both threats. 24…Qg3! 0-1 There’s no stopping …Qxg2 mate now, so Sjugirov resigned.

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