Chess has become one of the most popular games during the pandemic lockdown, with analytics showing that it has been a mainstay over several online platforms thanks to a combination of popular streamers such as Hikaru Nakamura on Twitch, and Magnus Carlsen with the World Champion’s initiative of his signature chess tour – and we’re set for a bout of frantic fan frenzy, with yet another prospect of a pulsating clash between the two long-time rivals on Saturday.
The $150,000 Chessable Masters staged on Chess24 is the third leg of the $1m ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’, and the elite-level 12-player field, including 8 of the top 10 and the complete top 6 on the world rating list, have been split into two groups for the preliminary stage, played on alternate days, with three games shown live each round with an A-list cross-platform commentary team.
We get off with a bang on Saturday’s opening day, with the first round pick of the pairings in the A Group seeing yet another Carlsen-Nakamura showdown. Also in the same group is Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk, Vladislav Artemiev and Pentala Harikrishna. The B Group, taking place on Sunday and Tuesday, features Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri.
Each player plays each other twice, with eight players (the bottom two from each group being eliminated) going forward to the ‘business end’ of the quarterfinal knockout stage. Play 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.
Also making his tour debut and looking for victory for a spot in the tour grand final in August is Fabiano Caruana, who last weekend just lost out in the Saint Louis Chess Club’s Clutch Chess International Final to Carlsen, despite winning the penultimate clutch game to take a 2-point lead.
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Magnus Carlsen
Clutch Chess International Final, (11)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e5 4.0-0 Bd6!?! Straight out of the Magnus Carlsen playbook of crazy chess, but this sort of zany …Bd6 idea is also seen in the Spanish Four Knights – and indeed, the game soon transposes into a Ruy Lopez where Black moves this bishop twice but saves a little time by not having played Nc6-a5-c6 to get …c5 in. 5.c3 a6 6.Ba4 b5 7.Bc2 Nge7 The more natural 7…Nf6 only runs into trouble against 8.d4! cxd4 9.a4! and things are opening up just a little too quickly for Black. 8.d3 The slower approach from Caruana seems the wisest choice. If 8.d4 exd4! 9.cxd4 cxd4 10.a4 (The …Nge7 comes into its own as it stops 10.e5 as now 10…Nxe5 11.Nxd4 Qc7 12.Nc3 N5g6 and Black is more than okay.) 10…b4 Black has equality. 8…Ng6 9.Be3 0-0 10.Nbd2 Be7 11.Bb3 d6 12.Bd5 Qe8 Carlsen wants to keep Caruana guessing about where he’s going to develop his light-squared bishop – but most players I guess would have opted for the simple and good. 12…Bd7. 13.d4 exd4 14.cxd4 Rb8 15.Rc1 Nb4 Also a reasonable, Lopez-like try was 15…c4!? the point being that if White attempts to unlock the c-file for his rook with 16.b3, then now 16…Nb4! 17.bxc4 Nxd5 18.cxd5 f5! and the game is starting to open up to Black’s advantage. 16.dxc5! Caruana just has a little advantage; nothing much, but boy, how he builds on the hole left on c6! 16…dxc5 17.Bxc5 Nxd5 18.exd5 Bxc5 19.Rxc5 Bb7 20.Nb3 Qd7? The critical moment as the game starts to shift dramatically in Caruana’s direction. It was best to look at undermining the d-pawn with 20…Rd8! 21.Na5 Ba8 22.Re1 (If 22.Nc6 Bxc6! 23.Rxc6 Nf4 24.Re1 Qd7 transposes to the line below.) 22…Qd7 23.Nc6 Bxc6! 24.Rxc6 Nf4 25.Ne5 Qb7 26.Rc5 Nxd5! 27.Nc6 Rde8! and Black emerges with full equality, thanks to the back-rank mating threats. 21.Na5 Ba8 22.Nc6 The difference is that the Nc6 prevents …Rbd8 building pressure on the d-pawn – and the d-pawn and the Nc6 now becomes a bone stuck in Carlsen’s throat. 22…Rbe8 23.Nfd4 Pure power-play chess from Caruana, as he just heaps further pressure on Black’s creaking position – and with it, it is unclear how Carlsen can unravel without compromising his position. 23…Qd6 24.b4 Re4 No better is 24…Nf4 25.Nf5! Qf6 26.Ne3 and with the Ne3 defending d5 and g2, White will soon be following up with Qd2 and Rfd1. 25.Qf3 Rfe8 26.Nf5 Qd7 Carlsen is barely hanging on here – and indeed, Caruana has such an overwhelming position that he can pick his moment for the unlikely winning blow of Nb8. 27.g3 h6 28.h4 Kh8 This and …Kg8 was a sure sign Carlsen knew he was in a bad way. His last try for something, anything perhaps more manageable, was 28…Rc4 – but White can simply ignore the trade of rooks for now and plays 29.Rd1! Ne5 30.Nxe5 Rxe5 31.Rxc4 bxc4 32.Ne3 c3 33.Qe2 Bxd5 34.Qd3 and Black is no better off with the pinned bishop set to be lost. 29.Ne3 Kg8 30.Rfc1 Nf8 31.Nf5 Nh7 Carlsen is reduced to making a series of “nothing” moves, as he can only wait helplessly for Caruana to come in for the kill. 32.Kg2 Just preventing any …Re1+ awkwardness – and with it, Caruana is now ready to finally strike the fatal blow. 32…Kh8 33.Nb8! [see diagram] And here it comes, as Carlsen is left clinging onto the wreckage of his wretched position. 33…Qd8 34.Nc6 Qd7 35.Nb8 It’s an old Soviet trick: When you have your opponent paralysed, you twist the knife by prolonging the agony a little longer by repeating moves. 35…Qd8 36.Nxa6 Bxd5 37.Nc7 Bb7 38.Nxe8 Re7 39.Qxb7! Rxb7 40.Ned6 Nf8 1-0 Carlsen has seen enough and resigns, not wanting to play out 41.Rc8 Qd7 42.Rxf8+ Kh7 43.Rcc8 and Black is set either to be mated or face an even heavier loss of material.