We’re all an eyewitness to history through these unprecedented times of a fast-moving coronavirus pandemic – a time where a new era for chess is emerging through the global crisis as over-the-board battles can’t be held for the foreseeable future, but where now instead the ancient game of kings can still flourish and prosper online with the help of rivalling platforms and the star attraction of the biggest names in the game.
This week it was the turn of the FIDE/Chess.com Online Nations Cup, where double Olympiad champions China dominated to capture the inaugural title on tiebreak following their Superfinal 2-2 draw with USA. Next comes the FIDE Online Steinitz Blitz Memorial hosted on Chess24 from May 15-17 to celebrate and honour the life and career of the 1st World Chess Champion Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), with a €30,000 prize fund and a 10-player field headed by Carlsen, the heir to Steinitz’s throne.
And today Magnus Carlsen also revealed his $1 million vision for the new normal for elite-level chess with the ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’ and a bumper summer for chess fans of four online super-tournaments hosted Chess24 – which the Norwegian is the co-owner of – that will culminate in a Grand Final in August.
It was all built on the resounding success of the ‘Magnus Carlsen Invitational’ that saw Carlsen winning his own signature event in early May, and that first novel lockdown online super-tournament will now serve as the opening leg of the tour, followed by three further $150,000 legs of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge (May 19 – June 3), Online Chess Masters (June 30 – July 5), Legends of Chess (July 21 – August 5), and then the $300,000 finale of the Tour Final (August 9-20).
The top four players of each tournament are guaranteed a place in the next leg. The Grand Final will be played between the winners of the individual tournaments. The combined prize fund is $1 million, making it the highest-ever in online chess. First up will be the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge that will feature four returning players from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Ding Liren, and Alireza Firouzja, who will be joined by Wesley So, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Levon Aronian, Wei Yi, Daniil Dubov, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, and Yu Yangyi.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Carlsen said: “The Invitational was a lot of fun and we heard great feedback from the players, our broadcast partners and the viewers. While physical chess tournaments and sports are still either cancelled or postponed, bringing an entire chess tour online is what I feel is right for chess now.”
Although Team USA’s Fabiano Caruana took the overall FIDE/Chess.com Online Nations Cup MVP award with his impressive undefeated score of 7.5/9, not far behind was China’s MVP Yu Yangyi who scored 7.5/10 – but his most important win of all proved to be his Superfinal clash with Wesley So that ultimately won China the title.
GM Yu Yangyi – GM Wesley So
FIDE/Chess.com Online Nations Cup Superfinal
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 d5 The Ragozin variation – named after the leading Soviet player and opening theorists of his day, Vlacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) – is a very flexible, solid and a reliable system against the QGD that found a new lease of life through the publication of the 2011 New in Chess book, The Ragozin Complex, by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.Qb3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.c6 Qa5 9.Bd2 bxc6 10.g3 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Be7 12.Bg2 0-0 13.0-0 e5 14.Qc2 Qc7?! Bereft of a clear plan, So position starts to deteriorate with this queen retreat. However, his position wasn’t really as bad as it looked, and he should have played 14…f5!? 15.Qb3+ Kh8 16.Qc4 (White can’t play 16.Ng5? due to the simple answer of 16…h6! 17.Nf7+ Kh7 where the complications work out well for Black after 18.Bxc6 Rb8 19.Qd5 Qc7! 20.Nxe5 Rd8 and loses a piece.) 16…e4 17.Nd4 Bd7!? 18.Nxc6 Qc7 19.Qxa6 Bxc6 and Black has good counter-play for the pawn with his more active bishop-pair – and certainly he stands no worse despite being a pawn down. This wound have been more preferable than what happens now in the game. 15.Qe4! The powerful queen cuts right across Black’s plans of trying to complete his development. 15…f6 16.Qc4+ The point to Yu’s queen sally of Qc2-e4-c4+ – Black’s light-squared bishop has become a problem piece, as right now it has to defend the awkwardly-placed …Na6. And to do something about it, So has to waste valuable time and tempi. 16…Kh8 17.Be3 Further denying So the c5 square for his knight – if he could have got …Nc5 in, then he would have been OK, but now he is in deep trouble as Yu begins to pile on the pressure. 17…Nb8 A clear admission from So that he’d gone wrong – or, as Magnus Carlsen more directly put it during his commentary: “Wesley has screwed up royally.” 18.Rfd1! Another excellent move, as Yu simply ignores the e2-pawn by getting on with the job of fully activating all his pieces. 18…Ba6 19.Qe6 Bxe2 20.Rd2 Ba6 21.Nh4 Bc8 22.Qc4 The engines will tell you that this position is near to equal, but any human can see and sense that Black is going to be walking a tightrope where one little slip, and White’s more active pieces will be crashing through – and that’s just what happens in the game. 22…f5 23.Nf3 h6?! The last try to attempt to untangle was with 23…Nd7!? 24.Ng5 (After 24.Qe6?! Bf6 25.Qxf5 Nb6 26.Qh5 Nc4 Black’s back in the game.) 24…Bxg5 25.Bxg5 though the Black position is still under a lot of pressure; it is just not easy to complete his development. 24.Rad1 Kh7 25.h4 Rf6 26.Ng5+!? It’s not necessarily winning outright, but it creates enough confusion to flummox So. 26…hxg5 27.hxg5 Rg6? So finally cracks under the strain. It’s looking desperate, but certainly not hopeless, but he simply had to try 27…Ba6! 28.Qh4+ Rh6 29.Qa4 Rg6 30.g4! and attempt to weather out the storm with 30…Bc8 but after 31.gxf5 Bxf5 32.Qh4+ Rh6 33.Qc4 Black faces a very difficult time of it. 28.Bd5! [see diagram] The pièce de résistance of Yu’s online masterpiece – but you can almost telegraph a stunning move like this when you see all of Black’s queenside pieces still at home, all ready set-up for the next game! 28…f4 The (full) point is that now 28…Ba6 29.Bg8+ Kh8 30.Qf7! and Black is lost. 29.Be4 Bxg5 30.Rd6 Bf6 31.Kg2! “Let’s invite everyone to the party!”, as Dr John Nunn would say about such attacking positions. With So paralysed, Yu intends Rh1 killing – and there’s nothing he can do about it other than to throw in a couple of spite checks to delay the inevitable. 31…f3+ 32.Kxf3 Bg4+ 33.Kg2 Bxd1 34.Rxd1 1-0 Beautifully played by Yu – with the …Rg6 pinned, and the g8 square covered by the White queen, So has no answer to Rh1 mating.