The original term “fantasy chess” was first given to us by children’s author Lewis Carroll in 1871 when he wrote about a further imaginary journey of a certain young girl in Through the Looking-Glass, the sequel to his acclaimed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, only this time instead of playing cards, chess became the main theme for Alice’s follow-up adventure as the 7-year-old steps through a mirror to discover a fantastical world populated by anthropomorphic red and white chessmen.
Nowadays, like most sporting events, “Fantasy Chess” is the fun pastime where you can make selections of how a player will score and perform in every round of a tournament, such as the one currently running for the Legends of Chess, the fourth and final leg of the $1m Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour hosted on Chess24.com.
One of the fantasy fan-favourites is always Magnus Carlsen – and the World Champion himself was looking to be a fantasy king, only its Premier League fantasy football, as going into the season’s final round on Sunday afternoon, he was placed fourth out of 7.6 million players worldwide, just 12 points behind the overall leader.
Just like chess, Carlsen treats football simulation as a game of strategy – and he’s made some brilliant moves in what turned out to be a memorable season. Some of the star names in his team – called “MCT 50% mgfl.bass” – include the Manchester City and Manchester United strikers Raheem Stirling and Marcus Rashford, his virtual captain. But he narrowly missed out on the silverware and £35,000 ($45,000) first prize, finishing in a very creditable eleventh place.
But before Carlsen had to sweat over his fantasy football team on the final day of the season, there was the little matter of sweating it out over the 64-squares in the Legends of Chess, where his opponent, Ding Liren, sportingly agreed to play their match earlier to allow the Norwegian to follow all the football results as they came in.
The normally solid Ding Liren has been in a slump of late in the Legends of Chess, and the Chinese world #3 couldn’t shake off his bad form against Carlsen in their rearranged match, as he crashed to yet another defeat, going down 2.5-1.5; the key game being game two, where Carlsen commented that Ding “…didn’t really get out of the opening at all.”
And Carlsen’s red-hot streak continues. The only game he’s lost so far was in round 5 to Vasily Ivanchuk, but he managed to tie the match and then win the Armageddon-decider to take two match-points – the only point he has dropped so far in the tournament.
And after beating Peter Svidler in round 7, Carlsen reclaimed the sole lead going into the final two rounds of the preliminaries, where he’s already guaranteed a place in the ‘business end’ of the semifinals that will ultimately decide the four-player field for the tour Grand Final in August.
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 20/21; 2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 18; 3. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 14; 4. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 12; 5. Peter Svidler (Russia) 11; 6. Vasily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 9; 7. Boris Gelfand (Israel) 7; 8. Viswanathan Anand (India) 6; 9. Peter Leko (Hungary) 5; 10. Ding Liren (China) 3.
Video: A red-hot Magnus Carlsen goes over the key moments from his latest match victory over Peter Svidler.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ding Liren
Legends of Chess | Prelims, (6.2)
Semi-Slav Defence, Anti-Moscow Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 Rather than 6.Bxf6 and the Moscow Variation, White opts for the Anti-Moscow Variation with the critical line seeing White willing to sacrifice a pawn for active play. 6…dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 The Anti-Moscow Variation is a newer, and more positional – and also more subtle – line than the outrageous Botvinnik Variation we normally used to see in the Semi-Slav after 5.Bg5. But like the Botvinnik, it can share some of its directness by being a tactical-infused game. 8…b5 9.Be2 When the Anti-Moscow took off in the 1990s, the interest was in 9.Ne5 – but 9.Be2 has now become a crucial battleground. 9…Bb7 10.0-0 Nbd7 11.Nd2 Again, as in the previous note, 11.Ne5 is seen as the ‘crunch line’ – but you should always be wary of Magnus Carlsen playing a quieter line. All Carlsen wants to do is try to undermine Black’s position for his active pieces to flow – and against Ding, a little slip and that’s just what happens. 11…Qb6 12.a4 a6 13.e5 Nd5 14.Nde4 Another thing to be wary about when you face Carlsen, is how quickly he’s playing – and up to move 17, his moves were coming in rapid succession, and that’s a sure sign that this line is in the vaults of his deep opening preparation. 14…c5?! It’s now a double-edged position, and this move is not to be recommended. Previously, we’ve seen 14…0-0-0 15.Bh5 Nf4 16.Bxf7 Nxe5 17.Bxe6+ Kb8 18.Ne2 Bg7 with a mutual tactical mess and any three results possible, as witnessed in Mamedyarov-Gelfand, Russia 2008. 15.Nxd5 Bxd5 16.Nc3 cxd4 17.Nxd5 It was only now that Carlsen started to think seriously. 17…exd5 18.Bh5 Black has two pawns, but White is threatening to blow the game wide-open with e6. Danger lurks, and Black has to tread carefully – but Ding inadvertently steps on a landmine. 18…Nc5? A fatal error – 18…Bg7? has also been tried before in praxis and failed, but apparently the critical key move is the unlikely 18…Be7! 19.e6! Qxe6 20.Re1 Qf6 21.Bg4 0-0! 22.Bxd7 Bd6 and an intriguing struggle ahead: White may have an extra piece, but Black has three good pawns and a threatening phalanx of queenside pawns quickly coming down the board – not an easy position for either side to accurately calculate. 19.Qxd4 It’s the easy winning move, as now e6 with the discovered attack on the h8 rook is a major threat and has to be stopped. 19…Qe6 Ding attempts to hold his position together – but Carlsen has just too many open lines for him to be able to survive. 20.Bg4 Nb3 21.Qd1 Qc6 22.axb5! Qxb5 Just as bad was 22…axb5 23.Rxa8+ Qxa8 24.e6! and Black’s king is about to be fatally exposed to the elements. Ding is hoping that perhaps the hit on the a1 rook will help save his king – but Carlsen has no desire to slow down the attack! 23.e6! [see diagram] Something now has got to give for Ding – his position is hanging by the barest of the thinnest thread, as Carlsen just continues to prise open the position further. 23…fxe6 No better was trying to use White’s own e-pawn as a defensive shield with 23…f5 24.Bxf5 Bb4 25.Qh5+ Kd8 26.Rfd1! Ra7 (If 26…Nxa1 27.Qf3! Ra7 28.Rxd5+ wins the queen and probably more material, given the precarious state of the Black king.) 27.Qe2! threatening Qe5 and Rxd5+ forcing 27…d4 28.Qe4 Ke8 29.Rxd4! Nxd4 30.Qxd4 Qxf5 31.Qxa7 and the Black king is a dead man walking. 24.Bxe6 Ra7 25.Bxd5 Nxa1 26.Qf3 1-0 Ding throws in the towel with Bc6+ threatened and also Re1+ – either way, it’s double regicide with both Black king and queen goners.