The current Netflix must-watch right now is ESPN’s Michael Jordan docuseries ‘The Last Dance’, that chronicles the untold story behind what drove his Chicago Bulls through the tumultuous 1997-98 final season and a sixth NBA title. Millions have been captivated by it, even including the last two world chess champions Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen, who are also big basketball fans.
For Anand, stranded in Germany after a sudden and unexpected early Indian pandemic lockdown, the new hardwood 10-parter classic became one of the five-time ex-champion’s recommended isolation viewing tips. And for Carlsen, not only did the current reigning world champion binge-view it, but he also became part of the sub-story, with a major interview on CNN on Wednesday all about it, and how, just like superstar “Air” Jordan, the Norwegian is also a once-in-a-generation talent looking to revolutionise his own sport.
Interviewed from his Oslo home on the eve of the $150,000 Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge – the second online stop of his signature $1m ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’ hosted on chess24.com – Carlsen is also compared to Jordan, with a loathing for losing that powers his merciless drive. And just like ‘The Last Dance’, the Carlsen CNN interview has to be seen.
Carlsen also talks about how the lockdown has allowed for some bold experiments in the game’s format as he markets his new online tour. One such format change is now in play, with a series of mini-matches with a more a tennis-like scoring-system for the ‘business end’ of the eight-player Lindores Abbey Rapid Knockout Finals.
The first to win in the quarterfinals was Carlsen himself, who comfortably beat US #2 Wesley So, and he now gets ready to tango once more with reigning five-time US champion Hikaru Nakamura, who also comfortably beat Armenia’s Levon Aronian, in what will surely be a fan-frenzied semi-final showdown on Thursday between the two long-time rivals.
The other two quarterfinal match-ups went to a deciding third day/set with Ding Liren narrowly edging out Yu Yangyi in the epic all-Chinese clash that went to the wire of an “Armageddon” tie-breaker, and he’ll now face Daniil Dubov in the second semi-final, after the dynamic young Russian ended fellow countryman Sergey Karjakin’s hopes with an emphatic 3-0 crush in the final set.
The semis start Thursday with the hot-ticket of Carlsen versus Nakamura sure to be on everyone’s dance card. Both start 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 Levon Aronian – GM Hikaru Nakamura
Lindores Abbey Rapid KO Finals,
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 e5 German master Carl Carls’ (1888-1958) system – named after his German hometown of Bremen – that basically leads to a Reversed Sicilian Defence, invariably the Dragon, as White fianchettoes his bishop. 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Nb6 7.0-0 Be7 8.d3 0-0 9.Be3 The all-important square for White is the c5-square. If White can cement a piece here, often it will pose Black major problems. 9…Be6 10.Qd2 Back at the beginning of May, in the final of the online ‘Magnus Carlsen Invitational’, Magnus played 10.Rc1 against Nakamura and after 10…Nd5 11.Nxd5 Bxd5 12.a3 Re8 13.Qc2 the undermining of the c7-pawn proved to be the American’s downfall. Aronian opts though to take his own path; Nakamura, however, doesn’t seem to have any problems dealing with the position. 10…Nd5 11.Rfc1 It’s a well-trodden path in the Bremen System: Left to his own devices, White would like to get in Nc3-e4 (or a4)-c5 for control of the c5-square. 11…f6 12.Na4 Re8 13.Bc5 Bd6 14.a3 Nb6 Nicely timed by Nakamura: a simple move that solves most of his problems. The point being that 15.Bxd6 is well-answered by 15…cxd6! counter controlling the vital c5-square. 15.Qd1 Bd5 16.Be3 Bf8 17.b4 Aronian could try 17.Nc5 but after 17…Bxc5 18.Bxc5 Qd7 Black really has a comfortable game, with nothing to unduly worry about. 17…Nd4 18.Bxd4 If 18.Nxd4 exd4 19.Nxb6 axb6 20.Bxd5+ Qxd5 21.Bf4 c6 Black is in control. 18…exd4 19.Nc5 Rb8 20.Nb3 Aronian has achieved his main objective, namely a double attack on the d4-pawn that forces Nakamura to cede the bishop-pair. 20…Bxf3 21.exf3 This recapture is often seen in certain English-type positions, the idea is not to be left with a backward e-pawn, and then push on to f4 to control the e5-square – but much easier to understand was the simple 21.Bxf3 and an equal game. 21…c6 22.f4 Na4 23.Nd2?! A somewhat perplexing move to understand, as it just gifts the c3-square to Black’s knight. Better was 23.Qc2! threatening Nxc3 and a discovered attack on the …Na4. And if 23…Nc3 24.Nxd4! Qxd4 25.Qxc3 Qxc3 26.Rxc3 Rbd8 and White has the slight advantage in the ensuing endgame being a pawn up, but Black will soon be coming in strong with …Rd4 to double on the d-file to target the vulnerable d3 pawn, and it will not be easy for White to untangle. 23…Nc3 I don’t know what Aronian might have thought he had/saw or even missed here, but the Black knight on c3 soon becomes a bone firmly stuck in White’s throat. 24.Qb3+ Kh8 25.Re1 I wonder if it were simply that Aronian had overlooked that after 25.Ne4?? the fork with 25…Ne2+ is winning for Black? If so, the damage has now been done, as removing the powerful …Nc3 only leaves other problems for Aronian to have to deal with the consequences of his error. 25…Qd7 26.Ne4 Nxe4 27.dxe4 c5! Now the passed d-pawn is Nakamura’s big ace. 28.bxc5 Bxc5 29.Bf1 g6 30.Bb5 Qe6 An amusing insight now into the game, as Nakamura thought he’d just blundered the exchange by not realising that Bb5 pinned queen and rook – but thankfully, as he’d already played …Kh8, he has this resource that saves his embarrassment. 31.Bc4 Qd6 32.Kg2 Re7 33.Qf3 Rbe8 34.h4 a6 35.a4?! A mistake that just hands the initiative to Nakamura. Aronian had to play 35.Bd5 and both sides have chances. 35…Bb4! And with this move, Nakamura begins to take control. 36.Re2 Qc6 37.Bd5 Qc3 Now suddenly …d3 and …d2 is a major threat. 38.Rd1 Qxf3+ 39.Kxf3 Bc3 40.Rb1 Rd8 More accurate, according to the engine, was just 40…f5! – the point being that 41.Rxb7 Rxb7 42.Bxb7 d3 43.Re3 fxe4+ 44.Bxe4 d2! 45.Ke2 Bb4 46.Bc2 Rc8 and White has an uphill defensive task to hang on, as the …d2 pawn cuts him in half. 41.Bc4? It’s all just beginning to fall apart for Aronian, and Nakamura comes in heavy with some very accurate moves now. But it’s a difficult position for White to be in, seeing that the gut-instinct move of 41.Rc2 gets hit again by 41…f5! undermining the Bd5, but it is still not clear how Black wins after 42.Rcc1! 41…d3! Nakamura’s d-pawn is now officially off to the races. 42.Re3? Aronian has now collapsed completely under the relentless pressure from Nakamura. As difficult as the position was for him, he had to find 42.Rd1! d2 43.Re3 Ba5 44.e5! and it is not clear exactly how Black can convert his advantage. 42…d2 43.Bd5 Slightly better would have been 43.Rd3 Rxd3+ 44.Bxd3 with the idea of Ke2 and f3 and trying to consolidate; perhaps even attempting to trade rooks and the hopes of salvation with the opposite-coloured bishop ending. 43…Ba5 44.Ke2 Rc7! Threatening …Rc1 winning, and leaving Aronian with no other option now. 45.Rd1 b5 Nakamura is hoping that the second passed pawn will effectively kill White’s hopes – but for reasons we’ll soon see, there was no rush for this, and more accurate would have been 45…Kg7! just getting the king out of the corner and into the game for the ending. 46.axb5 axb5 47.g4 Bc3 48.Bb3 b4 49.g5! Aronian is still fighting to stay in the game. 49…fxg5 50.hxg5 Rf8 51.Rf3?! So near yet so far for Aronian – the saving follow-up should have been 51.f5! gxf5 (If 51…Rc5 52.Rh1! and now the threat of Reh3 becomes a table-turner.) 52.exf5 Rc5 (And this is the reason why Black should have taken the chance to remove his king from the corner, as 52…Rxf5?? falls into the back-rank mate with 53.Re8+ Kg7 54.Rg8#) 53.Be6 Rcxf5 54.Bxf5 Rxf5 55.Rg1! Kg7 56.Re7+ Kg6 57.Re6+ Kf7 58.Re4 and it is hard to see how Black can win this. But this was a tough position where you have to make a series of accurate moves that the engine easily spots, but not so obvious for the human under pressure. 51…Re7 52.e5 Kg7 53.e6 h6 54.gxh6+ Kxh6 55.Rg1 Rf6 56.Rfg3 The last hope was the difficult find of 56.f5! (engines are really good at spotting miracle saves!) 56…Rxf5 57.Rxf5 gxf5 58.f4 Re8 59.Rg5! and I can’t see how Black can ever win this position. 56…Rexe6+! [see diagram] The best practical winning chance, as it safeguards the Black king and looks to use the d- and b-pawns to force through the win. 57.Bxe6 Rxe6+ 58.Re3 Rf6 59.Re4? [Aronian is now drinking at The Last Chance Saloon. The only way to hang on was by playing 59.Rf3! stopping the b-pawn from moving, and that also now introduces the saving resource of Rgg3 and Rxc3 and a drawn R+P ending – but such niceties get thrown out the window when you have the flag on your digital clock metaphorically hanging. 59…Kg7 60.Rc4?? A final blunder that gift-wraps the win for Nakamura. After 60.Re7+! Kf8 61.Re4 Kf7 62.Rd1 Rc6 Nakamura would still have a lot of work left to do to justify he was winning. 60…Re6+ 0-1 There’s no stopping …Re1 now, and with it, Black’s d-pawn is the game-winner.