Since the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders began in March, an unlikely winner through the global crisis has proved to be chess, with the ancient and cerebral game going through something of a remarkable digital renaissance that’s seen viewership of live chess games soaring with big online initiatives coming from Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura.
And the two chess and now online business rivals get set for another big clash this weekend, as they head the field for the 10-player Champions Showdown invitation double-header organised by Rex Sinquefield’s Saint Louis Chess Club that will run through 11-19 September.
First up comes the ‘Chess 9LX’, the Saint Louis Chess Club’s own spin and branding for Chess 960, also known as Fischer Random, with a $150,000 prize fund – and there’s an intriguing sub-plot to the Carlsen-Nakamura rivalry with retired chess legend Garry Kasparov also making a rare cameo appearance! It will then be immediately followed by the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz with a $250,000 prize fund.
Chess 9LX (11-13 Sept.): Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, Peter Svidler, Alireza Firouzja and Garry Kasparov.
Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz (15-19 Sept.): Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, Alireza Firouzja, Pentala Harikrishna and Jeffery Xiong.
Now aged 57, Kasparov takes on the reigning champion in a generational clash of the two best players of all time. It’s also the first time the two have faced each other since the 2004 Reykjavik Rapid, in their only other previous meeting: Carlsen was aged 13, and Kasparov 41, just a year prior to his sudden and dramatic retirement announcement at the conclusion of the 2005 Linares super-tournament.
Sixteen years ago when they last met, it was billed as ‘Boy meets Beast’ with the dream first-round pairing where Carlsen wasn’t even a GM nor an IM facing the chess legend, and although he was steamrolled in the second game, he had Kasparov on the back-foot in the drawn first game (see video clip from Prince of Chess directed and produced by Oyvind Asbjornsen), where we could clearly see the young Norwegian was indeed a big potential for the future.
Magnus Carlsen – GM Garry Kasparov
Reykjavik Rapid 2004, (1.1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Cambridge Springs Defence
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5 Although first played by Emanuel Lasker in 1892, the nomenclature of this opening derives from the 1904 tournament held in the small northwestern Pennsylvania town of Cambridge Springs – the first major international tournament to be held in America in the twentieth century – and famously won by Frank Marshall, where the opening gained popularity after it was used several times there. 7.Nd2 Bb4 8.Qc2 0-0 9.Be2 e5 One of the reasons why the Cambridge Springs still retains popularity at club level is that it is very simple to play, coming with easy development and clear tactics, and the fact that Black can quickly start the process of breaking down the White centre and trading pieces. 10.0-0 exd4 11.Nb3 Qb6 12.exd4 dxc4 13.Bxc4 a5 14.a4 Qc7 15.Rae1 h6 16.Bh4 Bd6 17.h3 Nb6 18.Bxf6 Nxc4 It would, of course, be a huge blunder to grab the other bishop: 18…gxf6?? 19.Qg6+! Kh8 20.Qxh6+ Kg8 21.Qg6+ Kh8 22.Qxf6+ Kh7 23.Re4! and Black can resign. 19.Ne4! Without this move, Kasparov would have had easy equality. 19…Bh2+ 20.Kh1 Nd6? Not for the first time in his life, Kasparov was trying to intimidate a young upcoming pretender to the chess crown, hoping to confuse him into making a mistake as the game gets complicated. But he simply had to play 20…Nb6! and accept he comes off worse from the forced sequence 21.g3! Bxh3 22.Be5 Qd8 23.Kxh2 Bxf1 24.Rxf1 Nd5 although after 25.Nd6 f6 26.Nxb7 Qb6 27.Bd6 Qxb7 28.Bxf8 Kxf8 29.Rc1 White holds a persistent edge due to the weak c6- and a5-pawns. 21.Kxh2 Nxe4+ 22.Be5 Nd6 23.Qc5 It’s a Carlsen-type move we’ve come to associate with the Norwegian through his reign at the top, but if he was looking for a famous victory against his great predecessor opponent, then he had to be brave and go for the jugular with the immediate 23.d5! and Kasparov would have been struggling to hold the game. After 23…Qd7 24.dxc6 bxc6 25.Qc3! Black is in trouble with the kingside under attack and the c6- and a5-pawns equally vulnerable. 23…Rd8 24.d5 Qd7 25.Nd4 Nf5! [see diagram] Kasparov begins the process of dodging a bullet, where he sacrifices a pawn to trade down to an ending where the opposite-coloured bishops should easily hold the draw for him. 26.dxc6 bxc6 27.Nxc6 Re8 28.Rd1 Qe6 29.Rfe1 Perhaps the only way to try and force an advantage for Carlsen was with 29.Bc7!? but after 29…Qb3! 30.Nxa5 Qxa4 31.b4 Ba6! you get the feeling Black has generated enough counter-play to hold the balance. 29…Bb7 30.Nd4 Nxd4 31.Qxd4 Qg6 32.Qg4 The trade of queens only helps Kasparov secure the draw – but even after 32.Bg3 Re4! 33.Rxe4 Qxe4 34.Qxe4 Bxe4 35.Rd4 Bc2 it’s much the same as in the game with the opposite-coloured bishops and White’s queenside pawns under attack. 32…Qxg4 33.hxg4 Bc6 34.b3 It’s the fact that White’s pawns are on b3 and a4 – the same coloured squares as Kasparov’s bishop – that denies a young teenage Carlsen what would have been an epic victory. 34…f6 35.Bc3 The last chance to try and squeeze for more was with 35.Rd6!? Bb7 36.Bc3 Rxe1 37.Bxe1 as the rook is slightly better placed on d6 – but after 37…Be4 38.f3 Bc2 39.Rb6 Ra7 was just going to get the same scenario playing out as in the game. 35…Rxe1 36.Rxe1 Bd5 37.Rb1 With the rook on b1, Black can easily draw by activating his pieces. 37…Kf7 38.Kg3 Rb8 39.b4 axb4 40.Bxb4 Keeping a set of rooks on is Carlsen’s only slim chance to try to win – but it will take several mistakes from Kasparov for this to happen. 40…Bc4 41.a5 Ba6 42.f3 Kg6 43.Kf4 h5 The more pawns that are now traded, the easier it will be to draw, as in the worst-case scenario, as Black looks to trade all the kingside pawns, he can then sacrifice the bishop for the a-pawn for a technically drawn R+B v R ending – but Kasparov will have no need for this. 44.gxh5+ Kxh5 45.Rh1+ Kg6 46.Bc5 Rb2 47.Kg3 So why not push the g-pawn? The simple answer is that 47.g4 Ra2 48.Bb6 Ra3! 49.Re1 Kf7 50.Re3 g5+ 51.Ke4 Bb7+ 52.Kd4 Rxe3 53.Kxe3 Ke7 54.Bd4 Kf7 and simply by oscillating the king between f7 and e7, White will not be able to make any progress being tied down to defending f3. 47…Ra2 48.Bb6 Kf7 49.Rc1 g5 50.Rc7+ Kg6 51.Rc6 Bf1! And just in the nick of time before Carlsen gets in a potentially game-winning Bd8, Kasparov hit on g2 cancels the game out. 52.Bf2 ½-½