The final round of the preliminaries for the ‘Magnus Carlsen Invitational’ witnessed all eight players in action on the same day for the first time in the novel $250,000 pandemic lockdown online super-tournament – but it turned out to be nothing more than a ‘dead rubber’ for all concerned, as the placings for the ‘Final Four’ of Magnus Carlsen’s signature event, hosted on Chess24, was already decided by the end of the penultimate round.
The world’s top three players of Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren and online speed maven Hikaru Nakamura couldn’t be caught in the standings, and the quartettes now automatically go forward the knockout stage with the overall winner receiving $70,000. The only thing left to play for in the final round was the bragging rights for who would top the standings and who-plays-who in the semifinals.
A powerhouse performance by Ding Liren saw the Chinese world #3 crush Carlsen 3:1 – and that result meant both would play each other in Saturday’s second semi-final, with the first semi-final on Friday seeing the intriguing all-American clash between Caruana and Nakamura.
Some have commentators have been critical of Carlsen’s misfiring form in his own signature event, especially with a couple of notable opening meltdowns against Ian Nepomniachtchi and the bad side of a King’s Gambit gone horribly wrong against Ding Liren – but at least the semi-final match-up with Ding offers the world champion the chance revenge, and Carlsen himself seems to relish this prospect as the tournament reaches its ‘business end’, telling Norwegian TV media: “Now it’s dead serious. From now on you will see me from a completely different side.”
Over the years, no adventure in chess has got as bad a press as the romantic King’s Gambit; the history of which is almost as old as modern chess itself. A century ago, Siegbert Tarrasch said, “It is almost madness to play the King’s Gambit.” Sixty years ago, Bobby Fischer professed to having refuted it – but the swashbuckling opening from a more romantic era in the game simply refuses to die out completely.
Fischer’s famous ‘bust’ was borne out of necessity after he lost to arch-rival Boris Spassky in a famous duel, one of the few defeats the American published in his classic timeless tome My 60 Memorable Games. Spassky was the only modern-day reigning world champion to dare play the King’s Gambit, but Magnus Carlsen followed in his predecessors footsteps by deploying the venerable opening in a desperate must-win scenario in an attempt to bamboozle Ding Liren, but it spectacularly backfired with the current world champion instead being the one who ended up being bamboozled!
Preliminary Final Standings:
1-2. H. Nakamura (USA), Ding Liren (China), 15-points; 3-4. M. Carlsen (Norway), F. Caruana (USA), 13; 5. A. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), 8; 6-7. A. Firouzja (FIDE), A. Giri (Netherlands), 7; 8. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 6.
Nakamura v Caruana – Friday, 1 May
Carlsen v Ding Liren – Saturday, 2 May
Photo: Romantic, but dangerous, as Magnus plays the venerable King’s Gambit | © Chess24
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ding Liren
Magnus Carlsen Invitational, (13.4)
King’s Gambit Accepted, Schallop defence
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nf6 The underrated Schallop defence is actually a very reliable way to battle the King’s Gambit, the idea being to entice e5 as …Nh5 defends the f4-pawn. 4.e5 Nh5 5.Qe2 Carlsen has probably strayed into the danger zone very early with this move, getting mixed up as 5.d4 d6 6.Qe2!? is definitely playable, but not the immediate 5.Qe2. In fact, in King’s Gambit maven John Shaw’s labour of love latest book on the subject, the Scottish GM recommends 5.Be2! (the exclam mark is his, not mine) 5…d6 6.0-0 Nc6!? (Shaw also indicates that the simple solution might well be: 6…dxe5 7.Nxe5 Bc5+ 8.Kh1 Nf6 9.c3 Nbd7! with equality.) 7.d4 g6! solid and good. 8.Nc3 Bg7 9.exd6 cxd6 10.d5 Ne5 11.Nd2 Nf6 12.Rxf4 0-0 and Black’s position is perfectly developed and organised, while White’s piece-placement is somewhat clumsy, and he does not have anything remotely resembling an attack. 5…Be7 6.d4 0-0 Ding just gets on with getting his king to safety and the development of his pieces, with …d6 coming next – and compare the logic in Black’s set-up with the awkwardness of White’s pieces, and the contortions he goes through to complete his development. 7.Nc3 d6 8.Bd2 Bg4! The pin is all the more powerful, as Carlsen can’t play h3 due to …Ng3! winning. 9.0-0-0 Nd7 We are only 9 moves in, and already Carlsen faces having to defend a very difficult position, as he still needs to unravel to complete his development. 10.Qe1 How else are you going to develop the bishop? 10…c6 A natural enough move, but Black might well be able to strike quicker with 10…c5!? opening the game up for his better developed pieces. 11.Be2 Re8 12.g3!? With Ding opting for safety-first, Carlsen has managed to battle his way back into the game – but the position is still fraught with danger for the world champion. 12…dxe5 13.Nxe5? But not after this blunder! Carlsen simply had to recapture with 13.dxe5 fxg3 14.hxg3 as 14…Qb6 15.e6!? fxe6 16.Ne5! Nxe5 17.Bxg4 Nxg4 18.Qxe6+ Kh8 19.Qxg4 Nf6 20.Qf3 with equality – but by this stage of the match, being 2:1 down, Carlsen had gone for bust with his provocative choice of the King’s Gambit in a valiant effort for a do-or-die win to take the match into the “Armageddon” decider. 13…Nxe5 14.dxe5 f3! This just wins. 15.Bd3 Qd4! Now comes the double whammy, as this threatens …f2 and stops White’s only threat in the game with Qe4. 16.Qe4 Qxe4 17.Nxe4 f2 The gambited f4-pawn comes back to haunt Carlsen. 18.Rdf1 Bf3 19.g4? There’s nothing but pain in this position for Carlsen, but this hastens his demise. He could try 19.Nxf2 Bxh1 20.Nxh1 g6 21.Nf2 and try to hold on as best he can in a lost position. 19…Bh4! [see diagram] Ding is in no rush to take the material being offered, as the rook isn’t exactly going anywhere. 20.gxh5 Rxe5! Ding continues to pile on the pain for Magnus with a clinical piece sacrifice that will soon force the world champion into a miniature-esque resignation. 21.Ng3 Rae8 22.Bc3 It all ends now anyway. If 22.Rxf2? Bxh1! and the Rf2 is pinned. 22…Bg5+ 23.Kb1 Bxh1 0-1 And Carlsen throws the towel in now rather than face 24.Bxe5 Rxe5 25.Be2 Bf3! 26.Rxf2 Bg4!! 27.c4 Be3 28.Rf1 Bxe2 29.Nxe2 Rxh5 30.Rf3 Bc5 31.h3 Re5 and an agonising slow death.