The Home Tour - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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We’ve all become an eyewitness to history – and with it, grappling with a cultural shift on the back of the coronavirus lockdown where most people are expected to work from home where possible. The sporting calendar has also been decimated, but then again, it is not so easy for sporting stars to work from home. However where there’s a will there’s a way, and the two notable exceptions highlighted recently in the media were darts and chess.

Magnus Carlsen’s new sponsor, Unibet, was instrumental in setting up the PDC Home Tour, as for the first time – thanks to video cameras, split screens and a strong wifi (or not, in one notable default case!) – professional dart players took to the ‘oche’ from their spare rooms, bedrooms and kitchens for a novel new televised tournament with 32 of the world’s top players.

But chess has a long and very established history of online tournaments, and it really surprised no one when Carlsen himself was quick off the mark to announce his initiative of ‘The Magnus Carlsen Invitational’ hosted on Chess24, making this one of the strongest and richest online super-tournaments in history.

The eight players – Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura and Alireza Firouzja – are all competing from their homes, the only inconvenience being that the games start at different times of the day. For the European players, a 4pm CET start time is normal for an elite tournament, but for Caruana and Nakamura in the US, it means an unconventional early start time of 9/10am, and for Ding Liren, a late evening 10pm start in China.

The preliminaries will see the players battle to make it into the Final Four, and the staggered time zones and playing from home – not to mention the unconventional longer online time controls in the 4-game rapid matches – could explain some of the scrappy play in the early rounds. But at the end of the first two days of play, MVL, Caruana and Ding Liren hold the advantage with match wins respectively over Giri, Nepomniachtchi and Firouzja.

But not so lucky was Carlsen. Coming off his recent Banter Blitz Cup final loss to Firouzja, the world champion had much to prove but was still misfiring, and after a a series of mutual blunders against Nakamura that saw the match tied at 2-2, it went down to an armageddon decider that Carlsen won.

Round 1 Standings:
1. MVL, Ding, Caruana 3; 4. Carlsen 2; 5. Nakamura 1; 6-8. Firouzja, Nepomniachtchi, Giri 0. (Scoring is 3 pts for a match win; 2 pts if an armageddon win)

Photo: There’s not a dull moment in online chess, as Alexander Grischuk joins the commentary team with Magnus Carlsen on the ropes | © Chess24.

GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Magnus Carlsen
Carlsen Invitational Preliminary, (1.2)
Ruy Lopez, Modern Archangel
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 The Archangel proper is 6…Bb7 but the ‘Modern Archangel’ with 6…Bc5 – a sort of Møller Variation – became popular in the 1980s after being championed by Alexei Shirov. It’s a way of avoiding the Archangel proper with 6…Bb7 7.c3 Nxe4 that’s been analysed to a near-death by the computers. 7.a4 Rb8 8.Nxe5 Nxe5 9.d4 Bxd4 10.Qxd4 d6 11.f4 Nc6 12.Qc3 Ne7 13.axb5 axb5 14.e5 Ne4 15.Qf3 This looks the most natural move, but for some reason apparently 15.Qe1 is the standard retreat. 15…Nc5 16.Ba2 0-0 17.Be3 Bb7?! It’s the most obvious Archangel-type hit by putting the bishop on the long b7 diagonal – but as Carlsen is soon to discover, his king lacks cover. With that in mind, perhaps the most critical move is 17…Bf5!? offering that kingside cover, and if 18.b4 Na4 19.Bb3 Qd7! and Black’s pieces seem better placed. 18.Qh3 Also good looked 18.Qg4!? where Black has to react accurately with 18…Ng6 19.Nd2 Qe7! (If 19…Ra8 20.Nf3 and with the knight heading to g5 attacking f7, Black faces a tough defence.) 20.Nf3 Ne4 21.exd6 Nxd6 22.Rae1 Qf6 (22…Rbe8 23.f5) 23.c3 with a complex struggle ahead – certainly one where Black has to tread with more care. 18…Ne4 19.Nc3 The “correct” knight move looked like 19.Nd2 but after 19…Nxd2 20.Bxd2 Bd5! Black has really quelled the White attack – and for this reason, Nakamura opts to “mix it” with his choice of 19.Nc3. 19…Nxc3 20.bxc3 Bd5 21.f5 Bxa2 The position has become double-edged, and Carlsen misses his moment with the very accurate 21…Ra8! 22.Bxd5 Rxa1 23.Rxa1 Nxd5 24.f6 Re8! 25.Bh6 dxe5! 26.Bxg7 Nf4 27.Qg4 Ng6 28.h4 h5! 29.Qxh5 Qd2 and Black seems to have more than enough resources to save the game, one likely engine scenario playing out with 30.Bh6 Qxc3 31.Rd1 Qg3! 32.Bg5 Nf4 33.Bxf4 exf4 34.Qxb5 Re1+ 35.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 36.Qf1 Qxh4 37.Qb5 Qxf6 38.Qb8+ Kg7 39.Qxc7 and a drawn position. 22.Rxa2 dxe5?! Carlsen had to play carefully – his best chance to stay competitive was with 22…Nd5! 23.f6 Re8! 24.Bh6 dxe5! 25.Bxg7 Nf4 26.Qg4 Ng6 27.h4 h5! and a similar line as noted above. 23.f6! gxf6 It’s all just beginning to get a little sticky for Carlsen – the best way to defend was to stay active with 23…Nd5! 24.fxg7 Re8 25.Qf3 f6 26.Bh6 Qd6 and Black, if anything, seems a little better now. But then again, all of this is easy to see when you have an engine supporting your calls! 24.Bh6 Watching the game unfold live, I thought the testing move was the obvious try of 24.Ra6! as there’s no …Rb6 with Be3 – but after 24…c6 Black seems to have enough resources, according to the engines. If 25.Ra7 (Alternatively 25.Qh6 Qd5! Black seems to have everything co-ordinated.) 25…Ng6 26.Rd7 Qc8 27.Qf5 Nh4 28.Qg4+ Ng6 29.Qf5 Nh4 is just a repetition. 24…Re8 25.Ra6! Rb6?! We’re reaching critical mass in the position, and Carlsen – with a lot of time on his clock – inexplicably starts to go astray. He had to find 25…c6!? 26.Rxc6! Rb6! (Of course, you can’t take the rook: 26…Nxc6?? 27.Qg4+ Kh8 28.Qg7#) 27.Rcxf6 Rxf6 28.Rxf6 Qd1+ 29.Rf1 Qd6 30.Qg4+ Qg6 and an equal game. 26.Rxb6 cxb6 27.Qg3+ Ng6 28.h4! With the Bh6, there’s no saving resource now of …h5, and so Black has to lose a piece. 28…f5 29.h5 f4 30.hxg6! [see diagram] It’s the sort of position Nakamura must dream of, offering the sacrifice of his queen against Carlsen. 30…hxg6 The queen is taboo: 30…fxg3?? 31.gxf7+ Kh8 32.fxe8Q+ Qxe8 33.Rf8+ easily winning. 31.Qg4 Qc8? The losing move, as Carlsen is not left for dead quite yet – he simply had to find the only saving move of 31…Qd6! 32.Rd1 (32.Qh4 f6 33.g3 Qc5+ 34.Kh2 Kf7! and it is not so clear if White is winning anymore.) 32…Qe6 33.Qg5 Qc6 34.Rd3 Qc5+ 35.Kh2 Qe7 36.Qg4 Qe6 and there’s a lot of work still needing to be done for White to show he’s winning. 32.Qh4! The omnipresent threat now of Bh6-g5-f6 and Qh8 mate proves decisive. 32…Qc5+ If 32…Qe6 33.Bg5 (threatening Bf6 and Qh8 mate) 33…f5 and now 34.Rd1! and White will soon find a way to crash through with his extra material. 33.Kh2 Qd6 34.Bg5 f5 35.Rf3! The final nail in Carlsen’s coffin, as there’s no way to meet the mating threats on the h-file after Rh3. 35…e4 36.Rh3 f3+ 37.Bf4 Qd7 38.Qh8+ Kf7 39.Rh7+ Ke6 40.Qe5# 1-0

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