As everything culturally and sports-wise had shut-down by late March due to the coronavirus, an unlikely pandemic success story emerged amidst all the uncertainty through one of the world’s oldest board games. Evolving in the unlikeliest of circumstances, online chess not only survived, but it thrived – and the catalyst proved to be the imagination and breath-taking speed in which Magnus Carlsen and his management team moved to get his $1m Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour up and running.
Carlsen beat rival Hikaru Nakamura in the Grand Final of his own signature tour to bank the $140,000 champion’s purse and bring his total Tour winnings to $315,000, making him in the process the world’s top e-sports earner. And with no live sporting events to broadcast, the instant success story saw the Tour being distributed across Europe and Asia and was covered live on Norway’s biggest commercial channel TV2, Russia’s biggest sports channel MatchTV, the Spanish football league’s LaLiga TV, and DAZN globally.
Now, after winning the richest and most-watched online chess event in history – with an estimated 70 million+ viewers – there’s no stopping Carlsen now nor his signature tour! Just 24 hours after winning the Tour title, Carlsen and his Play Magnus Group announced the return of the Tour, starting in November 2020, and this time with an even bigger prize fund.
“It has been a dream come true to see the growth of chess and the fans embracing online chess as a thrilling spectator sport,” said Carlsen in the official statement. Arne Horvei, Tournament Director of the Chess Tour 2021, also revealed that the top players from the 2020 season will be invited to return, and there will be new faces competing, with spots being determined through the chess24 Banter Series in September and many more qualifying events throughout the year, alongside the addition of a Women’s and a Junior Tour.
“Establishing a full year-long season of chess will provide a platform for the players to regularly compete at the highest level, for record prizes, and for fans to follow exciting chess throughout the year,” added the World Champion.
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Magnus Carlsen
Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Final, (6.4)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 d6 From the Berlin Defence, we’ve gone into a sort of pseudo-Steinitz Defence that normally adopts a Modern/Pirc Defence set-up. 5.c3 g6 6.0-0 Bg7 7.Re1 0-0 8.Nbd2 Re8 9.Nf1 a6 10.Ba4 h6 11.Ng3 Also to be considered is 11.h3 first – but regardless of which option, with a slower White set-up, Black often or not changes the tempo of the game with a central …d5 thrust. 11…d5 12.h3 b5 13.Bc2 Be6 14.Bd2 Qd7N A new idea from Carlsen. Previously played here has been 14…dxe4 15.dxe4 Qe7 and that solid Modern/Pirc Defence set-up we mentioned. But Carlsen has a more aggressive idea in mind, as he attempts to rustle up a kingside assault. 15.a4! This is the correct response to Carlsen’s kingside-attacking ambitions, as the softening up of the queenside will leave Black compromised if he throws everything into the kingside attack. 15…Rad8 16.axb5 axb5 17.b4 d4 18.Qc1 dxc3 19.Bxc3 Nh7 20.Qb2 Qd6 This game is nicely poised with both players having their own agendas. 21.Ne2 Ng5 22.Nd2 Bc8 23.Ra8 This more or less takes the sting out of Black’s game – now if major pieces start to be traded, Black will be the one with the more vulnerable pawns on e5 and b5 to protect. 23…Bf8 Sensing the danger, Carlsen attempts to tie Nakamura down to defending his only true weak spot on b4. 24.Rb1 Bd7 25.Ra6 The obvious move was the trade with 25.Rxd8 Rxd8 – but Nakamura feels he still has a little skin in this game, so he rightly opts for the more aggressive move. 25…Ra8 26.Rxa8 Rxa8 27.h4! There’s not much in the game, but you get the feeling Nakamura believes the chances are with him – and that’s probably right. 27…Ne6 28.Nf3 Bg7 29.Bb3 Out of nowhere, suddenly Nakamura’s bishop-pair are beginning to look very dangerous. 29…Ncd4 30.Nfxd4 Nxd4 31.Bxd4?! A little puzzling; I thought the clear plan Nakamura had in mind was the other recapture with 31.Nxd4 exd4 and 32.Bd2 and go for Rc1 with play down the c-file. 31…exd4 32.f4 Bg4 A move that makes sense if you start to worry about White pushing on with h5 – but, in fact, there’s nothing to worry about, that is if we trust the engine’s assessment of the situation. It wants to play 32…Bf8! 33.Qxd4 (If 33.h5 simply 33…gxh5 34.Nxd4 Qxb4 35.Nf3 Qd6 36.Ne5 Be8 and although a little disjointed, Black has everything under control and remains a pawn ahead, though there’s not much chance of ever winning this with White’s active pieces and better pawns.) 33…Qxd4+ 34.Nxd4 Bxb4! 35.Bd5 (White has to be careful. If 35.Bxf7+? Kxf7 36.Rxb4 c5! will win material.) 35…Ra4 36.Nc6 Bd6 37.Rxb5 Bxf4 and the game should peter out to a draw with so few pawns remaining on the board. 33.e5 Qe7 The h4-pawn is a tempting target – but there doesn’t seem to be an attack to go with it. 34.Nxd4 Qxh4 35.Rc1? Just one of those moments where Nakamura readily admitted that he simply “forgot about” Carlsen’s next move – and with it, it’s quite a dramatic turnaround as his game rapidly deteriorates. The move to play was 35.Qf2! Qd8 and now 36.Rc1 and Black is in a little trouble and will have to work hard to achieve a draw. 35…Rd8 “Maybe there are some chances to hold the game but the winning chances are completely gone. A very disappointing finish,” Nakamura ruefully commented on his Twitch channel. 36.Qc3?? By now, I think Nakamura had lost the thread of the game completely, perhaps more reflecting on previous moves missed. If there was any chance to hold for Nakamura, then he simply had to find the obvious trick of 36.Bxf7+! Kxf7 37.Qa2+ Kf8 38.Rxc7 where, despite Black being a piece up, he now has to bail out quickly with 38…Qe1+ 39.Kh2 Bd7 40.Ne6+ Bxe6 41.Qxe6 Qh4+ 42.Kg1 Qe1+ and a perpetual – and this would have been the more fitting ending to the tense struggle in this game. 36…Qg3! [see diagram] And with one bound, not only is Carlsen free, but he’s now easily winning! And all self-inflicted by Nakamura, so no sympathy. 37.Qxc7 Rd7 38.Qc8+ Kh7 39.Ra1 Dejected, Nakamura opts to hang for the sheep rather than the lamb. 39…Rxd4 40.e6 Rxf4 0-1