To adapt for the chess world Gary Lineker’s most famous and oft-used football quote after England were knocked out by Germany in the semi-finals of the Italia ’90 World Cup in a penalty shootout: Chess is a simple game. Two players move 32 pieces around a board in classical, rapid and blitz – whether over-the-board or now online during a pandemic lockdown – and at the end, Magnus Carlsen wins.
And just like Germany in football, regardless of the format, even despite looking down and out, you somehow just know that Carlsen will find a way to come through any adversity and adversary to claim victory. It’s what the World Champion “does” and he did it once again at the weekend, with a dramatic comeback to claim victory in the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial hosted on Chess24.com.
Looking a bit out of touch, though narrowly leading after the opening day of play, Carlsen had what proved to be a disastrous day two where he looked to be cracking under the pressure as he lost back-to-back games to the Russian duo of Daniil Dubov and Peter Svidler – and with Dubov beating Carlsen, Svidler and rising young US star Jeffery Xiong, the 2018 World Rapid Champion moved into a slender half-point lead at the top, going into the final day.
But fear not, because with Sunday being Constitution Day in Norway (the equivalent of July 4 in the USA), the tournament being shown live on TV across his homeland, the Norwegian rallied to produced a patriotic fightback to go on to win the tournament with a round to spare, with Carlsen’s final tally of 12/18 enough to secure the title with a comfortable two-point margin of victory over Dubov, the 2018 World Rapid Champion.
Carlsen was far from happy with his play in the tournament that paid tribute to his great predecessor and first official World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), as the current reigning champion readily admitted that his play was terrible, from start to finish…but the final result somehow worked in his favour.
“Frankly this whole tournament was a slog for me,” said a relieved Carlsen. “I played really slowly and every one of my losses [was] thoroughly deserved. Even the times that I sort of played a good game I feel like I messed it up with bad technique, so what can I say? Not very happy, but I’ll take the first.”
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 12/18; 2. Daniil Dubov (Russia) 10; 3. Peter Svidler (Russia) 9½; 4-6. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Jeffery Xiong (USA), Liem Quang Le (Vietnam) 9; 7-8. Bu Xiangzhi (China), Anton Korobov (Ukraine) 8½; 9. David Anton (Spain) 7½; 10. Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 7.
Photo: Magnus Carlsen grabs a third successive online lockdown victory | © Chess24.com
GM Magnus Carlsen- GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial, (3)
London System/Mason Attack
1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 The Mason Attack is named after the 19th-century Irish master and Steinitz contemporary, James Mason, who made his mark in the chess world after he and his family immigrated to America to escape the Great Potato Famine in the early 1860s – and his opening is similar in many respects to the London System that Carlsen soon transposes into. But, by delaying the development of the king’s knight, it offers White other options rather than going for the full London with an h3. 2…Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Nf3 Bd6 5.Nbd2 0-0 White isn’t worried about the doubled f-pawns after 5…Bxf4 6.exf4 as this only helps control the vital e5-square for a knight outpost and/or attacking chances on the kingside with a timely f5 push. 6.c3 b6 7.Ne5 c5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.h4 With 9.h3 we’d have a typical London System set-up – but by delaying h3, and with Shakh already having castled, Carlsen can push on with the more aggressive h4 thrust to gain space and momentum for his kingside attack. 9…Nc6 10.Qf3 Rc8?! This is a bit iffy. Black really has to now play 10…Bxe5 11.dxe5 Nd7 12.0-0-0 Ndxe5 13.Bxh7+ Kxh7 14.Bxe5 Nxe5 15.Qh5+ Kg8 16.Qxe5 Qb8! for a safe and equal game, as it’s a bit risky not to trade queens and go for 17.Qg5 d4 18.exd4 cxd4 19.cxd4 Rd8 where Black is the one with good play and attacking chances. 11.h5! The kingside attack is now inevitable – and with it, Shakh goes downhill rapidly. 11…h6 12.Qg3 Ne8 13.Bxh6! cxd4 14.Bxg7 Nxg7 15.h6! Qf6 Black can’t take the knight as 15…Bxe5 quickly succumbs to the inevitable mating attack of 16.Bh7+ Kh8 17.hxg7+ Bxg7 18.Bc2+ Kg8 19.Rh8+!! Kxh8 20.Qh2+ Qh4 21.Qxh4+ Bh6 22.Qxh6+ Kg8 23.Qh7#. 16.hxg7 Qxg7 17.Bh7+ Kh8 18.Nxf7+! [see diagram] Rather than a mating attack, this time all the tactics work in Carlsen’s favour. 18…Rxf7 19.Bg6+ Kg8 20.Bxf7+ Kxf7 21.Qxd6 dxc3 22.bxc3 Black is completely busted, with the end coming sooner rather than later. 22…Ne5 23.0-0 d4 The only chance, but it is living on a prayer that Carlsen misses a “happening” down the long a8-h1 diagonal. 24.f3 dxe3 25.Ne4 All roads lead to Rome, but stronger and simpler was 25.Rae1! Rxc3 26.Rc1! Rxc1 27.Rxc1 Bc6 28.Qc7+ Kg8 29.Qxg7+ Kxg7 30.Nc4 Nd3 31.Rc2 Nb4 32.Rb2 Nd5 33.Rb3 e2 34.Kf2 and White will soon be picking up the e2-pawn. 25…e2 26.Rf2 Kg8 The king is in the path of any potential …Nxf3+ swindles – but Shakh doesn’t have the time nor the position to remove his king from the fray in hope of a miracle. 27.Qxe6+ Kh8 28.Qh3+ It’s hard to be critical with Carlsen opting for the simple path to victory, but for the purists’, the clinical win was 28.g4! revealing the mega threat of the sudden rook swinging over to h2 mating. 28…Kg8 29.Rxe2 With all the swindles covered, Carlsen now comfortably converts his big material plus. 29…Rf8 30.Qe6+ Kh8 31.Ng5 Nxf3+ 32.Nxf3 Bxf3 33.Rf2 Qxc3 34.Raf1! 1-0 The cruel twist, in the end, is Carlsen ruthlessly exploiting the pin down the f-file.