The Chess Lady® Reminds You to Practice Online!

John Henderson
By John Henderson

The pandemic-forged, renewed online rivalry both on- and off-the-board between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura shows no letting up, as the two top chess earners and influencers shared the title at the recent ‘Chess 9XL’, the Saint Louis Chess Club’s own spin and branding on Chess960/Fischer Random and hosted on the Lichess platform.

Finishing tied for first on 6/9 in the all-star ten-player field, Carlsen and Nakamura pocketed the lion’s share of the prize fund, each receiving $31,250. Unfortunately, there was no tiebreaks nor Armageddons this time, so they finished honours even – but both squandered golden opportunities in the final round against Levon Aronian and Peter Svidler respectively that could have secured either outright first.

The innovative and lively tournament had non-stop thrills ’n’ spills interlaced with several ‘mouse-slips’ and one that led to a very memorable ‘pre-move’ mishap from Garry Kasparov, which resulted in a cruel reversal of fortunes for the former chess superstar against Fabiano Caruana. “Computers hate me!” said an angry Kasparov, who famously lost to IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997. Kasparov went on to finish in eighth place.

Despite the tied-title, Carlsen now further adds to his amazing haul of online tournament earnings throughout the coronavirus global crisis, with his $31,250 from the Saint Luis 9XL taking his total earnings now since April to $425,750 – and with it, the Norwegian pulling even further away from his Fortnite and Call of Duty competitive e-sport counterparts, as the world’s top-earning ‘gamer’.

9XL Final Standings:
1-2. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 6/9; 3-4. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 5.5; 5. Wesley So (USA) 5; 6-7. Leinier Dominguez (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4; 8. Garry Kasparov (Russia); 9. Peter Svidler (Russia) 3; 10. Alireza Firouzja (FIDE) 2.5.

And Carlsen can further add to his remarkable winnings haul with the second part of the Saint Louis Chess Club‘s online Chess Showdown doubleheader getting underway on Tuesday, with the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz that comes with a $250,000 prize fund. There’s no Garry Kasparov this time, but the field is just as impressive, featuring: Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, Alireza Firouzja, Pentala Harikrishna and Jeffery Xiong.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Peter Svidler
St. Louis Chess 9XL, (7)
(See diagram for starting position)
1.d4 d5 2.Nbc3 c6 3.e4 b6 4.0–0 Ba6 5.exd5!! The ‘random’ joys of Chess 9XL!  Carlsen is very alert to the early-doors exchange sacrifice – and the world champion’s judgment proves spot-on, as the positional compensation and his active minor pieces prove too much for Svidler to deal with, as the Russian was forced early into the ‘tank’ and subsequently burnt up a lot of time on his clock to stay in the game. 5…Bxf1 6.Qxf1 0–0 After 6…cxd5 7.Nxd5 Qd7 8.g3 Nbc6 White can play 9.Qb5, 9.c3 or even 9.N1e3 e6 10.Qh3 attacking h7. 7.g3 e6 8.dxc6 Nbxc6 9.d5 exd5 10.Nxd5 Ne6 11.N1e3 Rd8 12.Qc4 Ne7 13.Nxe7+ Qxe7 14.Nd5 Qd7 15.Be3 Rfe8 16.a4 g6 17.c3 Bg7 18.Bf3 Another nice little prophylaxis touch from Carlsen: Just getting the excellent bishop off of h1, in case a Kg2 is needed to stop a back-rank ‘happening’. 18… Rc8 19.Qb5! Carlsen is quick to spot that the trade of queens will be in his favour. 19…Red8 The dilemma for Svidler is that if 19…Qxb5 20.axb5 then a7 will fall, and with it, b6 now vulnerable and indefensible. 20.Qb4 Not only threatening Ne7+ winning back the exchange, but also suddenly switching the queen to the kingside also to probe for weaknesses. 20…Nc5 21.a5! Carlsen had to be in his element here, able to probe weaknesses on both wings of the board. 21…Nd3 22.Qh4 Ne5 23.Bg2 Rc4 24.Qe7 Qxe7?! Svidler really had to bite the bullet here with 24…bxa5!? The point being that 25.Rxa5 Rc7! 26.Qh4 Re8! 27.Qa4 (The rook is taboo: 27.Nxc7?? Qd1+ 28.Bf1 Nf3+ forks king and queen) 27…Qxa4 28.Rxa4 Rd7 and Black has a position he can fully expect to hold. 25.Nxe7+ Kf8 26.Nd5 Nd7 27.axb6 Nxb6 28.Nxb6 axb6 29.Bxb6 Rb8? Under extreme pressure, Svidler starts to crack. Instead, 29…Rd2 30.Ra8+ Ke7 and the fight continues. 30.Bd5! Carlsen is clearly on top with his menacing bishop-pair, the attack on f7, and the long-term threat posed by the passed queenside pawns. Just not so easy for Svidler to fathom a way through the many problems. 30…Rcc8 31.Ra7 Rb7?? 1-0 It was a mouse-slip from Svidler, who intended 31…Rxb6 – but even then, after 32.Rxf7+ Ke8 33.Rxg7 Rd8 34.Rg8+ Ke7 35.Rxd8 Kxd8 36.b4 the passed pawns are now running, and all White needs to do is centralise his king to help usher them further up the board to convert the endgame win.

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