Magnus Carlsen was back to ‘beast mode’ both on and off the board this week, as he not only put in a sublimely masterful performance to take the early lead over world #2, Fabiano Caruana, in their latest clash in the quarterfinals of the $150,000 Chessable Masters – the third leg of the $1m Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour hosted on Chess24 – but the world champion also returned once again to the top of the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) ahead of 7.5 million rivals.
Soccer returned to the UK after its long Covid closedown, and with a flurry of games in the mad-dash to complete the season over the past week, with it Carlsen – with many of his FPL picks coming from Liverpool FC, who had a stellar season that saw the Merseyside club last night clinching the Premier League Championship for the first time in their long and storied history – jumped from 17th spot to claim the top spot by just a single point.
This is the second time that Carlsen has held the FPL No.1 spot, the previous occasion being December 2019. And jokingly laughing off his return to the top spot, he tweeted: “It’s hard goddamn work keeping this bio updated.” And indeed, such are the vagaries of the ever-changing FPL leaderboard with each and every game, not long after he had updated his Twitter profile page, he had to do it all over again on Thursday evening after he beat Caruana, as he slipped back down the standings to fourth place.
The Saint Louis Chess Club’s Clutch Chess International Final between Carlsen and Caruana earlier this month proved to be an engrossing tight affair, but the opening match of their Chessable Masters’ quarterfinal clash instead proved to be a rather one-sided affair, as the Norwegian was in ‘beast mode’ as he ruthlessly pummelled his American rival, winning the opening two games and drawing the third for a comfortable 2½-½ victory to take the opening set in the best-of-three-sets match.
In the other quarterfinal match-up in the same side of the brackets, the all-Russian encounter between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladislav Artemiev saw the former also running up a decisive 2½-½ victory. In today’s matches, US speed maven Hikaru Nakamura suffered a setback by losing the first set 2½-1½ to Ding Liren. Meanwhile, in the only opening set to go the distance of the Armageddon-decider, where after a string of six draws, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk drew a seventh straight game – but with Giri having Black, the Dutchman very narrowly clinched the opening set.
The Carlsen-Caruana second set (and Nepo-Artemiev) gets underway on Saturday (the live-action starting at 07:00 PST | 10:00 EST | 16:00 CET) with the cross-platform commentary team of GMs Peter Svidler, Yasser Seirawan & WGM Anna Rudolf.
Carlsen 1-0 Caruana
Nepomniachtchi 1-0 Artemiev
Ding Liren 1-0 Nakamura
Grischuk 0-1 Giri
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Fabiano Caruana
Chessable Masters Quarterfinals, (1)
Queens’ Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 a6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be6 7.e3 Nbd7 8.h3 Bd6 9.Bd3 c6 10.Bf4 Qc7 11.Bxd6 Qxd6 12.0-0 0-0 Both players had this position recently, but Carlsen comes up with an effective little novelty. 13.Qb3N We saw 13.Qc2 g6 14.Rfc1 Qe7 15.Na4 Ne8 16.b4 Nd6 17.Nc5 Nb6 18.Nxe6 Qxe6 19.Nd2 f5 20.Re1 Nbc4 in the Carlsen-Caruana Clutch Chess Int. Final. 13…Rab8 14.a4 Rfe8 15.Qa3 Qc7 This just plays into Carlsen’s hands, as it allows him to ratchet up the pressure on the queenside. With it being the first game of the match, there was no pressure to win and there didn’t look anything wrong with the safety-first option of 15…Qxa3!? 16.Rxa3 a5 where White still has a little pressure on the queenside, but nothing Caruana shouldn’t easily be able to deal with. 16.Rfc1 Nb6 17.b4 Ra8?! This is was a sure sign that Caruana had “lost his way” and is going to be in for a painful experience after rejecting the opportunity to trade queens. His best option was to go for 17…Nc4!? 18.Qb3 b5 and there doesn’t seem to be anything – if much at all – in the position. And indeed, Black could also be following up with …Ne4!? with a very competitive position. 18.a5! Nc8 Caruana has walked right into a missed tactical shot – and he couldn’t prevent it by now playing 18…Nc4? 19.Bxc4 dxc4 20.Nd2 because, with Na4 coming, Black can’t defend the c4-pawn. 19.b5! Now it only becomes clear to Caruana that his position is doomed – and he’s well an truly now ruing that wasted opportunity of just a few moves back to trade the queens. 19…axb5 20.Nxb5 It’s turned into a sort of Queen’s Gambit Exchange Variation with a boosted minority attack with a6 looming, as Black can’t prevent the collateral damage coming to his queenside pawns. And from here, it’s simply a positional masterpiece from Carlsen, which some commentators were already a-liking to a similar Fischer masterclass against Spassky in what proved to be the turning point of game 6 for the American during their epic Reykjavik 1972 World Championship Match. 20…Qd8 21.Nc3 Nd6 22.Qb4 Qe7 23.a6 bxa6 24.Rxa6 Rxa6 25.Bxa6 Ra8 This is simply a nightmare position for Caruana to have to defend – and all the more of a nightmare as Carlsen doesn’t make a false move with his execution of a near-perfect win. 26.Bf1 Nc8 27.Qb2 Nd7 28.Ne2 The crux of the position is that, if …c6 falls, Black’s position is likely to implode with it. 28…Rb8 29.Qc3 Rb6 30.Qa5 Caruana’s position is hanging by a thread – but it takes an expert squeeze from Carlsen to push his opponent over the edge. 30…Qd6 31.Nf4 Ne7 32.Nxe6! [see diagram] The most efficient way to break Black’s position down, as Carlsen exposes what proves to be a decisive second pawn weakness. 32…fxe6 33.Ne5 Carlsen shows no mercy as he undermines the fact that too many Black pieces are overworked, trying to hold his position together. 33…Rb8 34.Qa7 Nxe5 35.dxe5 Qd8 36.Be2! Another class move, but it’s the raison d’être of Carlsen’s very accurate play in this game, as he now threatens to exploit a further weakness in the Black camp with Bg4 hitting the e6-pawn. 36…Kh8 37.Bg4 Now there’s chronic pawn weakness on both c6 and e6 – and if either falls, Black’s position is set to fold like a sheet of A4 at an origami contest! 37…Ng6 38.f4 Ra8 39.Qc5 Now something has to give, and Caruana is resigned to, well, er, resigning! 39…Qe8 40.Qxc6 Qxc6 41.Rxc6 d4 42.exd4 Nxf4 43.g3 Nd3 44.Bxe6 The game is effectively over now, as Carlsen relentlessly pushes his central passed pawns up the board. 44…Ra1+ 45.Kg2 g6 46.Bc4 Nb4 47.Rc8+ Kg7 48.d5 1-0