Great rivalries help push sports. For every Mohammad Ali, there is a Joe Frazier; for Roger Federer, there was Rafael Nadal; and for Niki Lauda, there was James Hunt; while Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov brought the house down for chess fanatics. And now, as the elite-game goes online through the pandemic lockdown, Magnus Carlsen could at long last discover he does now have a real rival in reigning five-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura.
Back in 2013, Nakamura once famously described Carlsen as “Sauron” in a tweet, and that he was the only one who could bring him down. However, his jokingly likening of Carlsen to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ultimate and virtually omnipotent dark lord with the all-seeing eye from the author’s Lord of the Rings epic fantasy novel series betrayed more than intended. Certainly, it was nothing other than a one-sided rivalry, with Nakamura having an abysmal and embarrassingly lopsided personal score against the Norwegian, that his attempts to ascend Mount Doom were beset by troubles.
And things hadn’t improved in the intervening years. At the start of May, Nakamura lost to Carlsen in the final of his first signature online tournament, the ‘Magnus Carlsen Invitational’. And few would have given the US speed maven much of a chance of surviving to the end of day two of their Lindores Abbey Challenge – the second stop of the Norwegian’s $1m signature ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’ hosted on Chess24.com – semifinal clash, after he’d crashed and burned to a humbling 3:0 sweep on the opening day, following a silky-smooth Carlsen performance.
But stranger things can and often do happen: Carlsen erred badly in the first game of day two, and that costly slip was all that Nakamura needed to sensationally stage a remarkable fightback, as he went on to win the set to tie the match and take their intriguing clash into a third and final deciding set. And as the two rivals traded blows, that set ended tied at 2-2, and Nakamura went on to further benefit from yet another Carlsen blunder in the deciding “Armageddon” game, and he now goes forward to play the exciting Russian Daniil Dubov in the final with its $45,000 first-prize purse.
It was the lord of all comebacks for Nakamura, who had lost 3:0 on the first day and was also close to starting the second day with yet another loss. Slightly stunned but happy, Carlsen’s vanquisher commented in his post-match victory video interview (see below), “It still hasn’t completely sunk in yet but it’s great to beat Magnus – at least one time I found a way, so I’m pretty happy!”
The Nakamura-Dubov Lindores Abbey Challenge Final will once again be the “best of three sets”, and starts on Monday 1 June after a rest day on Sunday, through to a third and final set (if needed) on Wednesday 3 June.
It starts at 16:00 CEST (10:00 EST, 07:00 PST) and can be viewed online free with live multi-lingual grandmaster commentary available on the official Chess24 site by clicking here.
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Magnus Carlsen
Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge S/Final, (3.2)
Ruy Lopez, Open
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 The Open Lopez, championed by the likes of Bent Larsen, Viktor Kortchnoi, Artur Yusupov and Fabiano Caruana, is a more dynamic approach to the normal Closed Lopez variations. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.Qe2 The mainline is 9.c3 but that runs the risk of falling down the rabbit-hole of 9…Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 Nxf2!? and the dangerous Dilworth Attack – named after Vernon Dilworth (1916-2004), the humble Manchester railway clerk, chess amateur and my former railways’ international teammate – one of the most aggressive and interesting lines in the Open Lopez, with 12.Rxf2 f6 13.exf6 Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 Qxf6 that still packs a punch: Black has given up two pieces in return for a rook and a pawn, with excellent attacking prospects. In most cases, White weathers the storm but must then play a complicated endgame. 9…Be7 10.Rd1 0-0 By far the safest move, but if you have a zeal for adventure, Black can also try the tricky 10…Nc5!? 11.Bxd5 Bxd5 12.Nc3 Bc4! 13.Rxd8+ Rxd8 14.Qe3 b4 15.b3! with a complex tussle ahead for both sides. 11.c4 The next sequence of ten or so moves are all standard praxis practice. 11…bxc4 12.Bxc4 Bc5 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.Qxe3 Qb8 15.Bb3 Na5 16.Nd4 c5 17.Nxe6 fxe6 18.f3 c4 19.fxe4 cxb3 20.exd5 bxa2 21.Rxa2 Nc4 22.Qd4 Qb3 23.Nc3 So far so theory. 23…Nxb2?!N Either this is a fingerfehler from Carlsen or he got the theory all mixed up, perhaps even a combination of all of the above. More usual is 23…Rac8!? 24.Rb1 (If 24.dxe6 now 24…Nxb2!? works, leading to 25.Rb1 Qxc3 26.Qxc3 Rxc3 27.Raxb2 Re3 28.e7 Re8 29.Rb8 Kf7 and both e-pawns will drop off.) 24…Nd2 25.Qxd2 Rxc3 26.Qxc3 Qxa2 27.Rd1 exd5 28.Qd4 Qc4! and equality, as seen in Wei Yi-Vidit,S Danzhou 2018. The (half) point is that after 29.Qxd5+ Qxd5 30.Rxd5 Re8 31.Ra5 Re6 32.Kf2 Rb6! we’re going to reach a drawn R+P ending with Black speedily playing Kg8-f7-e6 and White can’t defend both the b- and e-pawns. 24.Rb1 Qc4 It’s too late now to try and get back onto the known path with 24…Rac8 as it walks into 25.Raxb2 Qxc3 26.Qxc3 Rxc3 27.d6! Re3 28.Rb8 Re1+ 29.Rxe1 Rxb8 30.Ra1 Ra8 31.Ra5 and White has a near-winning position already. 25.Qxc4 Nxc4 26.dxe6 It looks like Carlsen has dodged a bullet with Nakamura’s e-pawns doubled and vulnerable – but the US champion has tactics going in his favour that makes Black’s game impossible to hold. 26…Rf5 Alternatively, 26…Nxe5 27.Nd5 Ra7 28.Rba1 Rfa8 29.Ra5 and White has a huge advantage. 27.Nd5 Rxe5 28.Rxa6! [see diagram] This tactical shot allows Nakamura to seize a dramatic winning advantage due to Carlsen’s vulnerable back-rank. 28…Re8 29.Nc7 Rd8 30.Rc6! The knight finds itself somewhat embarrassed for good squares. 30…Ne3 The alternatives faired no better. If 30…Nd6 31.Rxd6 or 30…Na5 31.Rcc1! Rc8 32.Re1! Rxe1+ 33.Rxe1 Rxc7 34.e7 and even 30…Re4 31.Rxc4! Rxc4 32.e7! all winning for White. 31.Rd6! And with the continued back-rank mating threats now allowing the rook to come to d7, Carlsen’s fate is sealed. 31…Rc8 32.Rd7 h6 33.e7 Kh7 34.Re1! 1-0 Carlsen resigns, as there’s no defence to 34…h5 35.e8Q Rcxe8 36.Nxe8 Rxe8 37.Rd3! picking off the knight.