There’s cruising in chess, and then there’s Carlsen cruising! One of the benefits of lockdown chess online for the elite stars is the ability to just about play from anywhere, and for the early rounds of the Legends of Chess, the fourth and final leg of Magnus Carlsen’s $1m signature tour hosted on chess24.com, the Norwegian world champion is playing while cruising on the Mediterranean Sea!
And Carlsen has been cruising during his cruise, first with a resounding match victory over his social media ‘frenemy’, Anish Giri, 3-1, followed by a relatively comfortable win over his Indian predecessor, Viswanathan Anand, 2.5-1.5, in today’s marquee match-up, to once again take maximum points. And with one more day left at sea during his annual summer break, Carlsen shares a three-way tie at the top on 6/6 with ‘legends’ Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler.
Gelfand, 52, the oldest player in the field, has shown that age counts for nothing when you have a wealth of experience to fall back on. After a surprise opening-round rout of one of the pre-tournament favourites, Ding Liren, the Israeli former world title challenger followed up with a narrow 2.5-1.5 win over fellow legend Vasily Ivanchuk. For Svidler, though, it proved to be more of a battle as both his match wins over Anand and Peter Leko came from bad positions when the Russian’s hopes were being written off.
This leg of the tour effectively decides two spots for the Grand Final in August. The winner of the Legends of Chess – assuming it isn’t Carlsen – will get that position. The last spot will go to the tour player with the most points based on their finishes throughout the series.
Right now, with Ding’s shockingly poor start with a brace of uncharacteristic losses, that’s US champion and Twitch chess superstar Hikaru Nakamura, who was the defeated finalist in the first two tour legs (to Carlsen and Daniil Dubov). However, if Carlsen does win a third tour leg, Nakamura will be a shoo-in for the Grand Final and Ding just scraps in for the fourth and final spot with his three semi-final placings. Anyone else other than Carlsen, and Ding’s out unless he can stage a remarkable comeback.
1-3. Boris Gelfand (Israel), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Peter Svidler (Russia) 6/6; 4. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 5; 5. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3; 6. Peter Leko (Hungary) 2; 7-8. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Vasily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 1; 8-10. Viswanathan Anand (India), Ding Liren (China) 0.
*The top four from the preliminaries will go forward to contest the ‘business end’ of the finals.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
Legends of Chess | Prelims, (1.2)
Queens’ Gambit Declined, Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 The Renaissance of the Ragozin has proved a tough nut to crack – but here Carlsen just takes a club to its head with a dangerous early novelty. 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bd2 0-0 7.g4!?N A new move that immediately impressed guest commentator Alexander Grischuk, who observed: “Not so easy to come up with a novelty in the Ragozin. Especially such an aggressive one. Amazing!” All true, but not really all that amazing, when we consider that 7.g4!? is definitely in the spirit of its über-aggressive cousin, the Shabalov-Shirov Gambit in the Semi-Slav – the idea being to use the sacrificed g-pawn as a Caveman ‘tin-opener’ to bust open all the lines to the Black king. 7…Bxc3 Just as in the above mentioned Shabalov-Shirov Gambit, accepting the pawn with 7…Nxg4 sees 8.Rg1 and Black faces a very difficult defensive task. All that said, the rule of thumb when you face a quick flank attack is to counter-attack in the centre, and for that reason, I thought we’d see the immediate 7…c5!? coming from Giri – and this certainly looks better than what he plays, which in many respects shows too much of a fear factor when being hit over the head by an aggressive new Carlsen novelty. 8.Bxc3 Ne4 9.Qc2 c5 10.dxc5 b6?! This counter-sacrifice doesn’t look right, and sure enough, Carlsen quickly shows why. Better was 10…Qc7 or even 10…Qe7 with the queen at least better ready to play a more active part in the game. 11.g5! Ready or not, here I come! 11…hxg5 12.h4 g4?! Giri is now acting like the proverbial rabbit caught in the coming headlights. The position has become very dangerous, very early, but the Dutchman had to try 12…Nxc3 to at least remove the dangerous bishop, when now 13.bxc3 g4 14.Ng5 f5 15.Bg2 Na6 16.cxb6 Nc5!? Black at least has some sort of activity and the White king now has to find safety. One scenario playing out now is 17.Rd1 Bb7 18.cxd5 exd5 19.bxa7 Rxa7 Black may be a pawn down, but his pieces have lots of activity and good squares. 13.Ng5 f5 14.Bg2 bxc5? This is just asking for it now, and Carlsen duly obliges by getting his king to safety and bringing his other rook into the game.15.0-0-0! [see diagram] And amazingly, early doors Giri is a dead man walking as Carlsen ruthlessly looks to bust the game open for all his pieces. 15…Nxg5 The point of Carlsen’s play is that the f-pawn is taboo. If 15…Nxf2? 16.cxd5! Nxh1 17.Bxh1 and Black is in dire straits – and not in a good way with either by supporting Mark Knopfler on lead guitar! 16.hxg5 Qxg5+ 17.Kb1 When the dust clears, Carlsen’s bishop-pair, active rooks and the open h-file is going to lead to certain death for Giri’s king. 17…Nd7 18.cxd5 Nb6 19.dxe6 Bxe6 Giri’s only chance is to shed material in the hope of rustling up some counter-play – but Carlsen very efficiently clears things up. 20.Bxa8 Rxa8 21.Qd2! Qg6 You know you are in a bad way when the engine tells you that best now is 21…Qxd2 22.Rxd2 Re8 23.Rhd1 Kf7 24.Rd8 Re7 25.e3 but White should easily find a way to pick off the weak c5-pawn for a certain win. 22.Qd6 It’s a natural human instinct in such a desperate situation to keep the queens on the board to keep any swindling hopes alive, but here all it does is makes White’s task of winning all the easier, as the Black king is in grave danger. 22…f4+ 23.Ka1 Rf8 24.Qe5? With Giri the one all at sea, this is Carlsen’s only misstep of the whole game, as he overlooks a mate-in-four with 24.Rh8+!! Kxh8 25.Qxf8+ Kh7 26.Rh1+ Qh6 27.Qxg7 mate! 24…g3 25.fxg3 Nc4 26.Qh5 Another clinical kill was 26.Qxc5 – but sensing Giri’s despair, Carlsen just opts for safety-first by forcing the exchange of queens. 26…Qxh5 27.Rxh5 Ne3 28.Rg1 Bf5 29.b3 This soon puts an end to any thoughts Giri might have had for a miracle ‘Hail Mary’ save. 29…fxg3 30.Rxg3 Bg4 31.Rxc5 And now Carlsen very efficiently clears up for a resounding win. 31…Rf1+ 32.Kb2 Nd1+ 33.Ka3 Nxc3 34.Rxg4 1-0