The sports world is beginning to make a tentative comeback after a long enforced hiatus due to the global pandemic, with 2020 having hit a lot of industries very hard – but not esports. The lockdown has brought huge growth in viewers to professional gaming for the first time as millions flock to watch the world’s best players in action, the only live-action available during the coronavirus crisis.
It has also proved to be a boom period for chess with many new innovative tournaments taking place, as the world’s elite battle it out online for major prize money. New research published at the weekend for esports bookmakers Unikrn shows how much the top 25 esports stars have made in prize money – and for the first time, two chess players appear on the list.
Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have taken home – well, strictly speaking not really ‘home’, as they have been playing from home! – over $100,000 each in prize money. This was calculated before Carlsen further boosted his winnings by an additional $75,000 after beating former title rival Fabiano Caruana in the Saint Louis Chess Club‘s ‘Clutch Chess International Final’ at the weekend.
And Carlsen and Nakamura have a chance to move up the esports top 25 earners list with the first ‘Chessable Masters’, the second leg of the $1m ‘Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour’, broadcast on Chess24.com and running from June 20 to July 5 that features a 12-player field battling it out for the $150,000 prize fund and a spot in the tour final in August.
Carlsen will renew his rivalry with double tour defeated American finalist Nakamura – who is also making a name for himself as a popular Twitch TV streamer, while the winner of the last tour leg, Russia’s in-form Daniil Dubov, will try to crash the party and make it onto the top 25 list himself. Also making his first tour appearance will be American world #2 Fabiano Caruana, who lost to Carlsen in the recent Clutch Chess International Final.
The full line-up is: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ding Liren (China), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Vladislav Arteimev (Russia) and Daniil Dubov (Russia).
Play gets underway on Saturday (06:30 PST | 09:30 EST | 15:30 CET) with the Chess24 commentary team of Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Fabiano Caruana
Clutch Chess International Final, (3)
Mason Attack/London System
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 It’s ‘back to basics’ for Carlsen, who after starting the final with the English Opening against Caruana, returns to his favourite of the Mason Attack/London System set-ups. 2…d5 3.e3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Nbd2 Nh5 If you are going to kick the Bf4, then this is the time to do it as White still hasn’t played h3 to create a bolthole for the bishop on h2, and there’s no Bxb8 possible. 6.dxc5 Nxf4 7.exf4 Qa5 8.Bd3 Qxc5 9.0-0 g6 10.Nb3 There’s nothing in the position: The only advantage Carlsen has is a slight lead in development – but with simple and instructive play, he manages to make the most out of this small advantage. 10…Qd6 11.Qd2 Bg7 12.c3 Just keeping a firm grip on the d4 square and preventing Caruana from pushing on with …d4. 12…0-0 13.Rfe1 Bg4 14.Qe3! The only positive Black has is his bishop-pair – but with 14.Qe3 threatening Ne5, Caruana feels obliged to trade on f3. 14…Bxf3 15.Qxf3 e6 16.h4! Just gaining a bit more space on the kingside, and with it, threatening h5 to chip away at the Black defences. 16…h5 17.g3 Rfe8 18.Rad1 Carlsen has achieved his desired position with his rooks on their best central squares – and taking a leaf out of Carlsen’s simple play, I thought the time was right for Caruana to do likewise with …Rac8, a move he soon comes to regret that he didn’t play. 18…a6 19.Nd2 b5 20.Ne4! It looks strong, but it is just a good and obvious move that shouldn’t see Black’s position collapse as rapidly as it does. The collapse could be down to the fabled Carlsen ‘fear factor’, but the whole point is that Black can’t capture the knight as Bxe4 comes with a double attack on the queen and the …Nc6. 20…Qd7 21.Ng5 Rad8 Too slow. Caruana had to react more energetically, and he should have made his move on the queenside with 21…b4!? as White can’t play 22.c4? because of 22…Bxb2 and Black has a big advantage. 22.Bc2 b4 23.Ba4 It’s just a series of annoying moves play from Carlsen, but they all quickly add up and suddenly Caruana finds himself in deep trouble. 23…bxc3 24.bxc3 Qc8? A costly slip in a difficult position, but for very natural reasons Caruana removes the wrong piece from the pin. There’s really not much in the position if Black plays 24…Rf8!? to bolster the kingside defence and remove the right piece from the pin, the point being that after 25.g4 (Note that 25.f5 is ruled out now as 25…exf5! is good.) 25…Ne5! this simplifying resource keeps Black in the game. Now we could see 26.fxe5 Qxa4 27.Rd4 Qc2! A vital move, as from c2 the queen can trackback later to cover g6 and now 28.gxh5 gxh5 29.Qxh5 f6! 30.exf6 Rxf6 31.Ne4 Rh6 32.Qg4 Kh8! and with …Rg8 looming, Black seems to have enough resources to save the game. 25.f5! Carlsen didn’t need to think long and hard to make this move. 25…gxf5 Caruana’s position is now doomed with the kingside defences crippled – but it could have been worse, as 25…exf5? 26.Rxe8+ Rxe8 27.Qxd5! and Black is set for a heavy loss of material. 26.c4! As the …h5 pawn isn’t going anywhere, Carlsen leaves that for “afters” as he shows no mercy whatsoever by systematically ripping the position wide open, exposing multiple problems on both sides of the board for Caruana. 26…Nd4 A desperate try, but the only chance now, as Caruana couldn’t just meekly sit back and allow Carlsen to take on d5 as his position would implode with it. 27.Rxd4! The logical follow-up. 27…Bxd4 28.Bxe8 Rxe8 29.Qxh5 Qc7 30.cxd5!!! [see diagram] Simply remarkable! The unheralded triple exclam is just for having the cojones in a crucial match – and against your main rival – to allow the potentially heart-stopping (for many, at least) …Qxg3+. Not many would be brave enough to play this in the heat of battle, but by now Carlsen was in his pomp. 30…Re7 Pure desperation. If 30…Qxg3+ Carlsen was just going to calmly play 31.Kh1 and Black has no more checks for the follow-up, and after the humbling retreat 31…Qc7 there comes 32.dxe6 and Black can resign. 31.dxe6! Carlsen still doesn’t give a fig about …Qxg3+. 31…f6 32.Qg6+ Kf8 33.Nf3! Now the Qg6 covers against …Qxg3+ and Black’s left with a totally lost position. 33…Bc3 34.Rc1 Caruana is being systematically stretched like a victim on the torture rack. 34…Rxe6 35.Nd4! Carlsen now moves in for the kill, as the knight stops Caruana defending the pinned bishop with …Rc6. 35…Rb6 36.Qh6+ Kg8 37.Qe3! 1-0 Simple, but effective – and with it, Caruana resigns as there’s no way to defend the pinned bishop as 37…Bxd4 38.Qe8+ Kg7 39.Rxc7+ not only wins the queen, but is also mating.