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John Henderson
By John Henderson

Amidst all the doom and gloom of Covid, Magnus Carlsen’s signature online tour proved to be one of the few bright spots, being the catalyst for chess having a ‘digital moment’ through the global pandemic lockdown. And now by popular demand, it’s back again – only even bigger and better than ever, and with even greater media exposure by now being available on-demand with live TV broadcasts screening across Europe and Asia!

The first leg in the $1.5m Champions Chess Tour will be the star-studded Skilling Open, sponsored by a leading Nordic trading platform that now has Carlsen its brand ambassador. All games will be online and play begins on the 22nd November and will run to the end of the month. There are 16 elite-stars taking place, and each day a new one will be announced on the Tour site, the first three named this week being: Ding Liren, Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov.

The new seasons will see the Tour comprising of ten tournaments, three Majors and six Regulars, and then on to the season-climax of the Final, beginning on September 25, 2021. There’s also a very generous prize-fund on offer: Each Major has a $100,000 prize fund, Majors $200,000 and the final $300,000. The Tour will also receive unprecedented live TV coverage: Norwegian state broadcaster NRK and TV 2 have jointly purchased the broadcasting rights in Norway. Also, Eurosport will be broadcasting in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German. The live-action will also be available via the Eurosport app and on the host broadcast platform of Chess24.

Currently, the main online attraction right now is the opening stages of the 2020 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship that started on Sunday, 1 November and will run through 13 December. The 16-player knockout features online rivals and influencers Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, and all battling it out for the $100,000 prize fund – and many of these superstars of chess will be making appearances on the Champions Tour.

Earlier this week Carlsen easily got through his first-round match, crushing Parham Maghsoodloo, and the world champion will now be joined in the quarterfinals by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (who beat Nihal Sarin 16.5-11.5), but not so rising star Alireza Firouzja, seen by many as the young pretender to Carlsen’s throne, as the teenager made a shock early exit after being eliminated in a first-round tiebreak thriller by Russia’s Vladimir Fedoseev, as he crashed out 14-15.

GM Vladimir Fedoseev – GM Alireza Firouzja
Chess.com 2020 Speed Ch., (4)
Queen’s Indian Defence, Kasparov/Petrosian Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 The Kasparov/Petrosian Variation is a simple system named after two world champions, no less! Tigran Petrosian who first popularised this system in the late 1960s/early ’70s, and Garry Kasparov, who finely tuned it through the ’80s as a potent attacking weapon. 4…Bb7 5.Bf4 Be7 6.Nc3 0-0 7.d5 One of the key motifs of the system, as the d5 seeks to disrupt and hinder Black’s game. 7…Re8 8.e3 Nh5 9.Bg3 Bf6 10.Be5 Bxe5 Slightly better and more orchestrated was 10…exd5 11.Bxf6 Qxf6 12.cxd5 Nf4! 13.g3 Ng6 14.Bg2 c5 and equality. 11.Nxe5 Nf6 12.Nf3 Equally good was the alternative 12.Ng4 d6 13.Bd3 Nbd7 14.0-0 Qe7 where White’s game is just the easier to play. 12…d6 13.Be2 Nbd7 14.0-0 a6 15.b4! with White’s advantage is that he has the more space and possibilities of a queenside breakthrough. 15…exd5 16.cxd5 b5 17.Qb3 Nb6 18.Rfd1 Ne4 It’s all a little uncomfortable for Black, but perhaps the best way forward was with 18…Rc8!? 19.Rd4 c5 20.dxc6 Rxc6 21.a4 Qc8 22.Rd3 Nxa4 23.Nxa4 bxa4 24.Qxa4 and now 24…Ne4 – certainly Black’s pieces are more active here, but the long-game and the ending is White’s future here, as those vulnerable pawns on a6 and d6 will be easy targets. 19.Nxe4 Rxe4 20.Qc2 The strategical queen retreat targets the backward c7-pawn – but Firouzja was gambling he would get activity with his pieces to offset this handicap. 20…Qe7 21.Rac1 Nc4 22.Nd2! Bxd5 It’s not so easy for Firouzja, and he seeks to ‘mix it’ rather than tamely play 22…Nxd2 23.Qxd2 Re5 24.Qc2! Rxd5 25.Qxc7 Rxd1+ 26.Bxd1 Re8 27.Qb6 and with Rc7 threatened, Black will have trouble to hold his queenside and position together. 23.Bxc4 Rxc4 24.Nxc4 Bxc4 If Firouzja can somehow ‘cement’ his bishop on c4 with …d5, he has good chances of holding the balance – but Fedoseev moves swiftly to give the teenager something extra to worry about, by springing a kingside attack. 25.Rd4! g6 26.h4! d5 27.Qd2 Fedoseev is looking to play e4 that will not only undermine Black’s position but also tees up Qh6 possibilities and a sudden mating attack down the h-file. 27…a5 28.e4 axb4 29.axb4 Ra2 30.Qe3 For reasons we’ll soon note, stronger was 30.Qf4! Qxb4 31.exd5 and a big advantage. 30…Qxb4?! This is the stage of the game when the vagaries of blitz plays a decisive role in the preceding, as Firouzja misses his best chance to stay competitive with 30…Re2! 31.Qf4 Rxe4! 32.Rxe4 Qxe4 33.Qxe4 dxe4 and it is difficult to see how White can stage a breakthrough with Black having …Bd5 and …c6 coming. 31.exd5 Qd6 32.Re1 With no nerves and no worries about the time on the clock, the engine finds the clinical way forward with 32.Qe8+! Kg7 33.Rcd1 Re2 34.Re4 and Black is in trouble, as 34…Rxe4 35.Qxe4 and White will soon be playing Rd4 and h5 to rip a way through to the Black king. 32…h5 This is understandable, as it’s the all too human reaction, as Firouzja begins to panic about his king.  But the engine doesn’t see any immediate danger and wants to simply play 32…Bxd5!? 33.Qe8+ Kg7 34.h5 (The b-pawn is taboo. If 34.Qxb5? Qf6! and there’s a deadly double attack on f2 and d4.) 34…c6 and Black has a solid position with the bishop cemented on d5, and will also soon have …Qf6 possibilities to generate his own kingside attack. 33.Qc3 [see diagram] Teeing up the x-ray winning blow of Re1+, Rxc4 and Qh8 mate – and such threats are never easy to defend against in blitz. 33…Ra8 The direction of travel is clear now, but a better attempt to try to hang on was 33…Qf6!? 34.Qe3 (Definitely not 34.Rxc4?? Qxf2+! and mate next move.) 34…Ra8 35.Re4 Bxd5 36.Re8+ Kh7! 37.Rxa8 Bxa8 38.Qb3 although even here, with correct play from White, Black looks doomed, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to prevent the loss of one of the pawns on b5, c7 or f7 – and likely the best option being c7-pawn, ie: 38…Bc6 39.Rc1 Bd7 40.Rxc7 Qa1+ 41.Kh2 Qe5+ 42.Qg3 and either way, Black looks lost in the long-term. 34.Rde4 Something is going to have to give now, as Black can’t defend his back-rank. 34…Rf8 35.Re8 Bxd5 36.Rxf8+ Qxf8 37.Qxc7 The win is easy now as Black doesn’t have c6 to lock the bishop on d5. 37…Be6 38.Rd1 Qb4 39.Rd8+ Kh7 40.Qe5 1-0 And Firouzja resigns with the returning theme of the unstoppable Qh8 mate.

 

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