The Final Countdown - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The final of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge – the second stop of the pandemic lockdown-inspired online $1m ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’ from the Norwegian World Champion, hosted on Chess24.com – between Carlsen vanquisher Hikaru Nakamura and Daniil Dubov is set to go to the distance of a third and final set on Wednesday, as both players had what proved to be contrasting days of fortune and misfortune.

On Monday’s opening day, five-time reigning US champion Nakamura – still on a high after finally getting the better of Carlsen – was on fire with an almost flawless performance that left the young Russian looking dazed and confused, and almost consigned to the prospects of an early exit from the ‘best-of-three-set’ final.

Nakamura left Dubov for dead with his fast start, as he brutally dominated his opponent once again to race to an almost unassailable 2-0 lead. And once Nakamura took the lead, there was no looking back, as he closed out the first set with a draw to take a storming 1-0 early lead.

But the tense final was thrown wide open by the end of day 2 on Tuesday, as former World Rapid champion Dubov – once again rediscovering his form from the recent FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial and his underdog semi-final defeat of world #3, Ding Liren – was able to strike back with a brave comeback, as he took control of the second set by winning the first game, and then going on to edge out Nakamura 2.5-1.5 to force a third-day decider.

The stage is now set for the final countdown between Nakamura and Dubov, with the third set between the two deciding not just the $45,000 first prize but also going on to join Carlsen with an automatic spot into the 4-player $300,000 Ground Tour Final in August.

All the action starts at 16:00 CEST (10:00 EST, 07:00 PST) and can be viewed online free with live multi-lingual grandmaster commentary on the official Chess24 site by clicking here.

GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Daniil Dubov
Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge Final, (1)
Philidor’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 Dubov keeps faith with the venerable Philidor’s Defence that he used to good effect to beat Magnus Carlsen in the preliminaries. 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 The prefered modern-day recapture – but back in the mid-19th century, when the Philidor’s Defence was all the rage, Paul Morphy always recaptured with 4.Qxd4. 4…Nf6 Another good line is 4…g6 that takes the game into a sort of hybrid Sicilian Dragon. 5.Nc3 Be7 6.Bc4 This is the best way to take the Philidor’s Defence on – Carlsen played 6.g3 against Dubov, but he failed to generate any sort of cohesive plan. 6…0-0 7.0-0 c6 8.Re1 a5 9.a4 Na6 10.Bf4 Nc5 11.Nb3 Ne6 12.Bg3 g6 13.e5! Nakamura moves swiftly before Dubov can play …Nh5 with equality, as it forces the trade of his dark-squared bishop. 13…dxe5 Black could try instead 13…Ne8 but keeping the queens on the board only helps White, and after 14.exd6 Nxd6 15.Bxe6 Bxe6 16.Nc5! Black faces mounting problems. 14.Bxe5 Qxd1 15.Raxd1 The queens may well be traded, but Nakamura still has a dangerous initiative with his better-placed pieces, lead in development, and a pair of dominant central rooks. 15…Rd8 Dubov has to tread carefully, as he urgently seeks further trades for some relief, otherwise, his position will collapse. 16.Nd4 Ne8 17.Nxe6 Bxe6 18.Bxe6 fxe6 19.Ne2 Nakamura looks to hit the weak e6-pawn with Nc3-e2-f4 – but better was the more direct 19.Ne4! simply denying Dubov the f6 (and d6) square for his pieces. Certainly, Black faces some tough choices trying to hold the line here. 19…Bf6! Dubov seizes his chance to challenge the authority of the dominant Be5 – and with it, he’s now so close to achieving equality. 20.Bxf6 Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Nxf6 22.f3 Kf7 23.Nf4 There’s really not that much in the position now following the multiple trade of pieces. And if Dubov can now find a way to exchange the final set of rooks, then the draw looks the most likely result. 23…e5 24.Nd3 Re8 25.Re1 e4? Was this simply nerves showing from Dubov? He was so close to equality, and it is hard to figure out how he could have missed the better 25…Nd7! just holding the line by defending e5 and preventing White from playing Nc5. It’s certainly difficult to see how White can possibly believe he is winning this position. 26.Nc5! Whether Dubov simply missed this possibility or perhaps he underestimated it we’ll not know – but it was a costly oversight, as Nakamura just wins a rock-solid pawn. 26…b5 The problem for Dubov is that 26…exf3 allows White to clear up in the ensuing knight endgame after 27.Rxe8 Kxe8 28.Nxb7 fxg2 29.Nxa5 Kd7 30.Kxg2 with the queenside pawns winning the day. 27.Nxe4 Nxe4 28.Rxe4 Rd8 29.axb5 cxb5 30.Kf2 Rd2+ This move is a waste of time, as White wants to play Re2 anyway, as from there, the rook defends the vulnerable second rank pawns and also shields the king getting to e3 and threatening to make the cross over to the queenside. It would have been marginally better to have gone immediately for 30…Rd1 31.Re1 Rd5 32.Ke3 a4 33.c3 Kf6 34.Re2 b4! 35.cxb4 Rb5 and Black stands a good practical chance of drawing the R+P ending if he can trade off all the queenside pawns and deal to be left with the 3 v 2 pawn majority on the kingside, which should be a textbook draw with the rooks on the board. 31.Re2 Rd1 32.Ke3 Ke6 33.c3 Rh1 34.g3 Kd5 35.f4 h5 36.Kd3 a4 37.Rf2 Rd1+?! Again the wrong rook move – and they are all mounting up to spell trouble for Dubov, as again Nakamura wants to play Kc2 anyway to defend b2 – and from this point, Dubov is in deep trouble. The move to play was the immediate 37…Rg1! 38.Kc2 (If 38.f5 gxf5 39.Rxf5+ Kc6 40.Re5 h4! 41.gxh4 Rg2 42.Re2 Rg4 and Black has excellent chances to draw this R+P ending due to his more active rook and the vulnerability of the h- and b-pawns.) 38…Ke4! and it is increasingly looking like Black has more than enough activity to hold for a draw. 38.Kc2 Rg1 39.f5! Vive la différence, as the French would say! Recapturing the f-pawn with check turns this R+P ending from a likely draw to a sure-fire win. 39…gxf5 40.Rxf5+ Kc4 41.Rf4+ Safeguarding the win, as it forces the Black king out of the danger zone of perhaps getting to b3. 41…Kc5 42.Rh4 The h5-pawn falls, but more critically, White can now defend his h- and b-pawns. 42…Kd5 43.Rxh5+ Kc4 44.Rh4+ Kc5 45.Rd4! [see diagram] Wonderful endgame technique from Nakamura! This is the final regrouping he needs to convert the win, as the simple plan is Rd4-d2, push h4, then Rh2 and further push, push, push the h-pawn. 45…Rg2+ 46.Rd2 Rg1 47.h4! We’re now treated to a very instructive R+P masterclass from Nakamura, as the US champion effortlessly shows how to convert the win. It’s easy when you see it being demonstrated, but the extra pawns make all the difference, as he’s willing to sacrifice one to reach a textbook-winning position of putting his rook behind the h-pawn and then pushing it as far up the board as he can to force the rook to have to defend against it from h8. 47…Rxg3 48.Rh2 b4 This is Dubov’s only chance to try and draw – if he can liquidate the queenside pawns, then he should reach a drawing R+P as he can hold up the h-pawn and then bring his king over to the kingside. 49.cxb4+ Kxb4 50.h5 a3 51.Rh4+ And there just one little finesse now from Nakamura needed to win. 51…Kc5 52.b4+! With Nakamura’s king easily dealing with Dubov’s a-pawn, the b-pawn is still on the board and simply pushing the h-pawn wins now. 52…Kb5 53.h6 Rg2+ The alternative was 53…Rg8 54.h7 Rh8 55.Kb3 and the a-pawn falls, leaving a simple win. 54.Kb1 Ka4 55.h7 Rg1+ 56.Kc2 Rg2+ There’s no salvation whatsoever for Dubov, as there’s also the little matter of his king being caught in a mating net after 56…a2 57.h8Q a1Q 58.Qe8+! Ka3 59.Qa8#. 57.Kd3 1-0 Dubov resigns, as the queening h-pawn covers Black’s a-pawn now from queening.

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