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John Henderson
By John Henderson

Chess continues to boom on the back of the mainstream media attention it has received through the unlikely twin online success of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour and Netflix’s global hit, The Queen’s Gambit – and not without some mirth! The inevitable Elizabeth Harmon (@Chess_Beth) parody account appeared on Twitter this week, and one of her early tweets being “Glad to hear the Magnus guy wasn’t just invented for storytelling’s sake.”

I’m sure Magnus and Beth are destined to become a chess match made in heaven!  Joking aside though, the digital success from both 64-square stars has led to an unprecedented global purchase of chess sets, downloading of chess-playing apps, not to mention thousands upon thousands of new subscribers to all the leading chess-playing sites, such as Chess24.com and Chess.com – and there’s no letting up also with the big elite action on both rivalling platforms.

Chess24 gets set to host the first leg of the rebranded Carlsen tour launched by the Play Magnus Group, the $1.5 million Champions Tour, with the first leg, the Skilling Open, seeing latest big-star names of Peter Svidler, Hikaru Nakamura and teenage wannabe Alireza Firouzja revealed as the final three pieces of the jigsaw.

The full line-up (in current Fide rating order) in the 16-player tournament that kicks off on Sunday is: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Ding Liren (China), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Wesley So (USA), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Alireza Firouzja (Fide), Peter Svidler (Russia), Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Vidit Gujrathi (India) and David Anton (Spain).

Meanwhile, the episodic Chess.com 2020 Speed Championship saw its first quarterfinal match-up on Thursday evening, with Wesley So, thanks in large to an incredible 3+1 performance (8-1) proving the big difference, as he beat Jan-Krzysztof Duda 16-10 to advance to the ‘Final Four’ of the knockout competition.

He will now meet the winner of the Hikaru Nakamura-Vladimir Fedoseev quarterfinal tussle on December 3. Other quarterfinal matches pit Magnus Carlsen against Russian Vladislav Artemiev and Armenian No. 1 Levon Aronian against Maxime-Vachier Lagrave of France.

GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Wesley So
Chess.com 2020 Speed Ch. Q/finals, (10)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Rubinstein Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 The Rubinstein Variation, named after the great Akiba Rubinstein – who first brought this line into praxis against Alexander Alekhine, during the famous St. Petersburg International of 1914 – is one of the most critical of White responses against the uber-solid Nimzo-Indian. 4…0-0 5.Bd3 d5 This is the more common response popularised during the golden era of chess through the 1950s – but equally popular is the alternative that came to the fore in the 1960s, with 5…c5 6.Nge2 d5 7.a3 Bxc3+ 8.bxc3 dxc4 9.Bxc4 Qc7 10.Ba2 b6 that we witnessed back in August during the epic Magnus Carlsen Tour Final between Carlsen and Nakamura that was brilliantly won by the world champion. 6.cxd5 exd5 7.a3 Bd6 8.Nge2 Re8 9.Qc2 a6 Given a free rein, Black would like the set-up of …b6, …Bb7, …Nbd7 and options to play for either …c5 or …Ne4 – but White does at least get some moves to influence what goes on! 10.h3 I’m not convinced this is needed, and it could be a waste of time, almost as if Duda gets his plans mixed up – which can happen even at top grandmaster levels. More usual in the Rubinstein Complex is the set-up Ng3, Bd2, 0-0, Rae1 and pushing for e4. 10…b6 11.b4 Nbd7 12.0-0 c5! So has taken full advantage of Duda’s crucial waste of time with 10.h3 – and it is amazing just how quickly now the newly-crowned US champion demolishes his opponent’s kingside with a vicious assault. 13.bxc5 bxc5 14.Rb1?! Duda has totally lost the plot now, with yet another moves that is a waste of time – and So doesn’t miss a beat now with his crashing kingside attack. 14…c4 15.Bf5 g6 16.Bxd7 Bxd7 17.g4? It’s a bad day at the office as it is, but Duda clearly wants to leave the building early, as evident by his somewhat desperate 17.g4 shot – he really has to try and hang in there with the awkward 17.Ng3 Rb8 18.Rxb8 Bxb8 and hope that Black’s bishop-pair doesn’t rip his kingside open. 17…Nxg4! [see diagram] And with that, “Splat!”, as they say. With all So’s pieces loitering with intent on the kingside, this sacrifice really isn’t all that difficult to spot. 18.hxg4 Qh4 19.Ng3 We could be generous and give Duda the benefit of the doubt that he simply missed something – but I doubt it. I think he might well have realised that the jig was up and he didn’t much fancy trying to desperately hang around with 19.f4 Qxg4+ 20.Kf2 Be7! as there are just too many weaknesses in White’s position with his king wandering dazed among the razor wire of no-man’s land trying to survive the coming onslaught. 19…Bxg4 20.Rb6 Bf3! 0-1 As I said, we could be generous and say that Duda missed that 21.Rxd6 Qh3! is an unstoppable mate.

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