Only last week, the media buzz was sensationalising on how Magnus Carlsen lost to 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja in the Chess24 Banter Blitz Cup Final. But the Norwegian didn’t need to wait long for a chance of exacting revenge on his newer-generation wannabe rival, as both came head-to-head once again in day three of the ‘Magnus Carlsen Invitational’ hosted on Chess24, the new pandemic lockdown online super-tournament initiative from the world champion.
After comfortably winning game 1 of the four-game preliminary match, and in a commanding position in game 2, the natural order of things looked as if they had been restored for Carlsen – but just when a virtually unasailable 2-0 lead looked like a formality, there came a dramatic twist as Firouzja stunned Carlsen with a “fantastic swindle” according to commentator Alexander Grischuk, that allowed the Iranian teenager to tie the match.
Despite the setback swindle, Carlsen – who described his teenage opponent to be “very, very slippery” – bounced back in what yet again was proving to be another intriguing match-up between the two new rivals, as the world champion won game 3 and then comfortably drew game 4 to win the match 2.5-1.5, to take the maximum 3-points on offer to shoot-up the preliminary standings.
And with Fabiano Caruana beating Ding Liren on day four, the US world #2 joined the world champion at the top of the preliminary standings, and now both old rivals and former title combatants are set for a big day five clash, with the winner of the match now virtually guaranteed a spot in the Final Four.
1-2. M. Carlsen, F. Caruana, 5-points; 3-5. H. Nakamura, M. Vachier-Lagrave, Ding Liren, 4; 6. I. Nepomniachtchi, 2; 7-8. A. Firouzja, A. Giri 0. (In the preliminaries, a normal match-win counts for 3-points; a 2/1-point split if the match goes to an Armageddon decider)
Photo: Despite facing a “slippery” opponent, Magnus Carlsen prevailed to take maximum points | © Chess24
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alireza Firouzja
Carlsen Inv. Prelim, (2.3)
Queens’ Gambit Declined, Ragozin variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 Firouzja keeps his faith in the Ragozin variation that served him well against Carlsen in their recent Banter Blitz Cup Final. 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 Carlsen doesn’t make the same mistake twice! In the first game of the aforementioned Banter Blitz Cup Final, Carlsen walked into 6.Bg5 0-0 7.e3 h6 8.Bh4 Bf5 9.Qb3 Bxc3+ 10.Qxc3 g5 11.Bg3 Ne4! and easy equality for Black. 6…0-0 7.e3 Bf5 8.Qb3 Nc6 9.Nh4 If this is the best White can do, then Black is doing more than OK in the Ragozin! 9…Be6 10.Bd3 a5 11.0-0 Nh5 12.Bg3 Nxg3 13.hxg3 Be7 14.Nf3 Nb4 15.Be2 c5! Instant equality. 16.a3 c4 17.Qd1 Na6 18.b3! White has to try and undermine Black’s queenside as quickly as possible, not giving the chance to consolidate. 18…Nc7 19.bxc4 dxc4 20.a4 Stopping …b5 – and now the whole game turns into a battle of who reacts best on the queenside. 20…Bb4 21.Qc2 Bxc3 22.Qxc3 Nd5 23.Qa3 Rc8 24.Rfc1 Nb4 25.Rc3 Nd5 26.Rcc1 Nb4 27.Ne5! Forcing Firouzja into a committal move to defend the c-pawn. 27…c3 28.Nd3 It is very easy to overlook that hastily snatching the pawn with 28.Rxc3? losses to 28…Nc2! 28…Qb6 29.Rab1? It’s the critical phase of the game, and both players miss big key moves that would have swung the game their way. Carlsen missed the obvious way to “quarantine” the troublesome Black c-pawn with 29.Nc5! c2 30.Bd3! and the c-pawn is lost, leaving Black to limp on with 30…Qd6 31.Bxc2 Nxc2 32.Rxc2 Bd5 (If 32…b6 33.Nxe6 Qxa3 34.Rxa3 Rxc2 35.Nxf8 Kxf8 36.g4 Ke7 37.f3 Kd6 38.e4 and White will eventually win the R+P ending with the central passed pawn.) 33.Rc3 b6 34.Nd3 Qd7 35.Nf4 and White has a winning advantage. 29…Bf5? And likewise Firouzja misses his “moment” also – but there’s a tough move Black will have to see through in the heat of battle, and this probably explains why both players might not have seen that 29…c2! 30.Rb2 Qa6! the tough move to spot, as you willingly put your queen into a self-imposed discovered attack with the bishop, but White can’t profit from it, as 31.Nf4 (There’s no time for 31.Nxb4 as Black has 31…axb4! 32.Qd3 (The alternative was no better: 32.Bxa6 bxa3 33.Rxb7 a2! and White can resign.) 32…Qxd3 33.Bxd3 b3 with a big winning advantage.) 31…Bc4! and now the pendulum has swung firmly in Black’s favour with the c-pawn now a potential game-winner. 30.Rb3 Bxd3 31.Bxd3 c2 32.Rxc2! The b-file pin on the queen allows Carlsen to now easily pick-off the problematic pawn. 32…Rxc2 33.Bxc2 Qc6 34.Bf5 Qd5 35.Bg4 With the rook swiftly coming to c3, Carlsen has a technically won game, and from here he makes no mistakes in finishing off the young pretender to his throne. 35…Nc2 36.Qb2 Nb4 37.Rc3 b6 38.Be2 The only potential problem Carlsen has is the a4-pawn, but now the bishop heads to b5 to secure it. 38…Qf5 39.Rc1 g6 There’s no time to try and challenge the c-file with 39…Rc8? as there now comes 40.e4! and the central pawns are running, as the overworked Black queen has to defend the rook and the back-rank mating threats on c8. 40.Bb5 Rc8 41.Rxc8+ Qxc8 42.Qd2 Qf5 43.f3 Helping to support e4 – and once the central pawns start pushing up the board, Firouzja is dead. 43…Qg5 44.Kf2 Nd5 45.Qd3 h5 46.e4 Nb4 47.Qe3 The rest is really a formality now for Carlsen. 47…Qf6 48.Qc3 Kh7 49.f4 Qe6 50.Qc4! (see diagram) Forcing Firouzja to either take the pawn and risk his king or be squeezed off the board with the White pawns running. 50…Qxe4 Rather than seeing the pawns push up the board, the only chance Firouzja has is the hope Carlsen might go wrong and he can somehow escape with a perpetual – but Carlsen makes no mistakes. 51.Qxf7+ Kh6 52.Qf6 Threatening Qh8 mate! 52…Kh7 53.Qe5 Qc2+ 54.Kg1 Qd2 55.Kh2! Stopping in its tracks any possibility of …h4 and …Qe1+, and now resignation looms for Firouzja. 55…Nc2 56.Qe7+ Kh6 57.Qf8+ Kh7 58.Bc4 1-0 Firouzja resigns, as there’s no escaping the mate after 58…Ne3 59.Qg8+ Kh6 60.Qh8#