Dead Heat - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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There seems to be something of a bad pattern developing in top online tournaments of late: the Fide Online Olympiad ended in the farce of shared gold for Russia and India due to a global internet outage, the Saint Louis Chess 9XL ended in a tie between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, and now the second part of the Saint Louis Chess Club‘s $400,000 online extravaganza, the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz also finished in a dead heat between Carlsen and Wesley So, with both sharing the title and splitting $90,000 between them.

But the final day almost turned into a complete disaster for overnight leader Carlsen. Just a half-point ahead of So, he admitted he had slept badly the night before, as he turned up rushed and flustered over a minute late(!) while still pulling his shirt on for his first blitz game of the day against arch-rival Nakamura…and then proceeded to crash to arguably the worst defeat of his career, going down in just 23 move

It only added to the high drama, as that set up a showdown with his – once again – co-leader So, where a typical Carlsen grind-o-rama proved enough for the Norwegian to edge his way back into the lead again.  But So never gave up hope, never let up, and going down the home stretch he struck back to win his last three games to sensationally catch up with Carlsen, with both tying for first place with scores of 24/36.

Reflecting on his comeback after losing to Carlsen, a delighted So commented (see video): “I’ve had a lot of experience in these events from the Grand Chess Tour and I tend to lose one game after another; if I lose one game, it can snowball to a second or third loss, so I was trying to avoid that at all costs. It is often hard to compete against Magnus for first place and generally, in these blitz games a lot of things can happen very quickly so I’m grateful for today’s win.”

“Obviously, I am happy to win anything that I play,” added Carlsen in his end-of-tournament interview. “I thought overall the rapid portion was successful with many good moments and I congratulate Wesley So on a fantastic tournament, he played solidly throughout, especially with his three consecutive wins. It was an overall amazing performance that you can only tip your hat to.”

Despite a second successive tied-title, Carlsen has now won 8 out of 9 major online tournaments through the pandemic lockdown period – the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, Steinitz Memorial, Saint Louis Clutch Chess Int., Chessable Masters, Legends of Chess, MCT Grand Final, Saint Louis Chess 9XL, and now the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz – with the additional $45,000 taking his prize money haul since April to a staggering $470,750, allowing the Chess #1 to pull even further away from his Fortnite and Call of Duty competitive e-sport counterparts, as the world’s top-earning ‘gamer’.

Final standings:
1-2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA) 24/36; 3. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 21; 4-5. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 18.5; 6. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 18; 7-8. Pentala Harikrishna (India), Jeffrey Xiong (USA) 15.5; 9-10. Leinier Dominguez (USA), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE) 12.5.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Wesley So
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, (21)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 A particular Carlsen favourite. 5…0-0 6.e3 Nbd7 7.Be2 dxc4 8.0-0 c5 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Bxc4 Qxd1 11.Rfxd1 b6 12.Ne5 There’s not much in the position after the early queen trade, but Carlsen has a little grip with the knight on e5 – and relentlessly grinding away with such a small edge has been bread and butter to Carlsen. 12…Bb7 13.f3 Nh5 Carlsen doesn’t fear the coming …Nxf4, as long-term, the total control of the e5 square with the knight outpost there makes up for ceding the bishop-pair. 14.b4 Na6 15.a3 Bf6 16.Bxa6 Bxa6 17.Ne4 Rfd8 18.Rxd8+ Rxd8 19.Rc1 Bb5 Challenging White on the c-file with 19…Rc8? runs into a tactical snafu after 20.Rxc8+ Bxc8 21.Nxf7! Nxf4 22.Nh6+! gxh6 23.Nxf6+ Kf7 24.Ne4 Nxg2 25.Nd6+ Kf6 26.Kxg2 and Black will face serious endgame challenges with his crippled kingside pawns. 20.g4 Nxf4 21.exf4 Bh4 22.Kg2 The bishop-pair usually dominates knights in any endgame scenario, but here White has the space advantage and a set of dominant knights right in the middle of the board. But this shouldn’t really be enough for Carlsen to win – it’s going to take a little help from Wesley So! 22…f5 23.Ng5 fxg4 24.fxg4 Rd2+ 25.Kh3 Bxg5 26.fxg5 There’s just nothing in this position now, but Carlsen, thanks to So’s back-rank weakness, gains a valuable tempo to get his rook to the seventh. 26…Kf8 27.Rc7 Re2 28.g6! [see diagram] An ingenious intermezzo from Carlsen that gains a vital tempo to push hard for the win, as capturing the knight will lose on-the-spot to gxh7 queening the pawn. 28…h5!? Unfortunately for So, capturing the pawn with 28…hxg6 runs into 29.Nxg6+ Kg8 30.Rxa7 not only winning a pawn but threatening Ne7+ and then Nc8 picking off the b6-pawn to boot – and as if that’s not enough, White also has mating threats with Kh4-g5. All very uncomfortable for Black. That said, many thought So should have gone for 28…h6 but it is not entirely clear if this is any better, as White has 29.Rf7+ Ke8 30.a4! Re3+ (Taking the pawn is bad, as 30…Bxa4? loses to 31.Nc4! and there’s no stopping Nd6+ and Rxg7.) 31.Kh4 Rxe5 32.axb5 Rxb5 33.Rxg7 Rg5 34.Kg3! Kf8 35.Rf7+ Ke8 36.Rxa7 Rxg6 37.h4 at least for Black it’s a R+P ending with equal pawns and hopes for a draw, but White has the much better position with the rook on the seventh, more space and three vulnerable isolated pawns to target. 29.Nd7+ Ke7? So really had to bite the bullet and take his chances with the awkward R+P ending after 29…Bxd7 30.Rxd7 hxg4+ 31.Kxg4 Rg2+ 32.Kf3 Rxg6 33.Rxa7 this at least is a better R+P ending to defend than the one in the note above. 30.Nxb6+?! Carlsen is too hasty, but this is blitz, and both players did have mutual time issues here. A pity, as Carlsen missed the further intermezzo 30.gxh5! that leads to the study-like win 30…Bxd7 31.h6! gxh6 32.Rxd7+! Kf8 33.Rxa7 Re5 34.Kh4 Rg5 35.g7+ Kg8 (The K+P ending after 35…Rxg7 36.Rxg7 Kxg7 loses to 37.a4! and the a-pawn can’t be stopped.) 36.a4 e5 37.b5! Rg6 38.Re7 and with Black paralysed, White has a winning R+P ending. 30…Kf6 31.Rxa7 Re3+? Missing the saving resource of 31…Kg5! simply denying the White king getting to h4. 32.Kh4 hxg4 33.Kxg4 Kxg6 34.a4 Admittedly, pushing the passed pawns is the automatic human reaction here, but better was first getting the king centralised with 34.Kf4! Re2 35.Ra5 e5+ 36.Kg4 Bc6 37.Rc5 Bh1 38.Nc4 e4 39.h4 White should easily be winning this with his running passed pawns on the queenside and his better-placed plus more co-ordinated pieces. 34…Re4+? So was drinking at the last-chance saloon – he had to find the critical ‘only move’ that saved, and that was 34…Bd3! 35.Rc7 (The Black pieces working together put’s White in danger, as 35.b5?? e5! springs a nasty mating net on the stranded White king.) 35…Bf5+ 36.Kf4 Re4+ 37.Kg3 Rg4+ 38.Kf2 Rxb4 and a draw. 35.Kg3 Rxb4 36.axb5 Rxb5 37.Nc4 It’s no easy win with the extra piece, especially with this being blitz, but if So can somehow trade the kingside pawns, then we enter the realms of it being a technical draw. 37…Rb3+ 38.Kg2 Rc3 39.Ne5+ Kf6 40.Ra5 Kf5 41.Nf3+ Kf4 42.Ra4+ Kf5 43.Ra7 Kf6 44.Ra6 Rc4 45.Kg3 Rb4 46.h4 Rb3 47.Kg4 Rb4+ 48.Kg3 Rb3 49.Ra4 Despite Carlsen being down to well under a minute on his clock, the task to win is easy, as he begins the process of ushering his king further up the board. 49…e5 50.Kg4 Rb6 51.Ng5 Rc6 52.h5 Rb6 53.Ne4+ Ke6 54.Ra7 With Black’s g-pawn now successfully annexed, Carlsen moves in for the kill. 54…Kd5 There’s no hope. After 54…Rb4 55.Ra6+ Kf7 56.Kf5 Rb1 57.Ng5+ Ke8 58.Kg6 Rg1 59.Re6+ and the e- and g-pawns must fall. 55.Ng5 e4 56.Rxg7 The win is now relatively simple, as the e-pawn is going nowhere. 56…e3 57.Re7 Kd4 58.Ne6+ Kc3 59.Nf4 Kd2 60.Kf3! If the e-pawn falls, Black can resign – and despite having just 20 seconds or so on his clock – an eternity for players of this level – Carlsen clinically finishes off the game with a touch of endgame elan with a mating net. 60…Rb3 61.Rd7+ Ke1 So can avoid the mate with 61…Kc2 but now 62.h6 Rb8 63.Kxe3 Rh8 64.h7 and it won’t take more than a few seconds for Carlsen to mate the bare king. 62.Ng2+ 1-0

 

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