It’s now officially a brand new season, as the $100,000 Skilling Open is underway – the event that fires the starting pistol for the newly-branded $1.5 million Champions Chess Tour (formerly the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour) from the Play Magnus Group, a series of ten online super-tournaments, the big aim being to bring elite-level chess to a much wider audience than ever before.
All eyes are on inaugural tour champion Magnus Carlsen, but the world champion didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts, being hit by a brace of Russian losses on the opening two days of the preliminaries, to Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepominiachtchi – the latter of which is the crucial difference between Dutchman Anish Giri being at the top of the standings and not hot-favourite Carlsen, as the Norwegian had what proved to be a costly mouse-slip in a clearly winning position.
With a frustrated “Grrr…” of anger, Carlsen saw almost immediately that he’d lost his queen, so accepting that mouse-slips were now just part of the game, he said he felt compelled to resign on the spot rather than leaving a surprised Nepo wondering whether he should be offering a sporting draw under the circumstances.
But Carlsen quickly recovered from the setback with three straight wins to keep pace with sole leader Giri. Now going into Tuesday’s final day of the preliminaries, the big question is which eight of the original 16-player starting field will not make the cut to go forward into the business end of the knockout stage? Surprisingly facing elimination by being stuck at the foot of the table is Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the young Pole whose stock was rising after recently ending Carlsen’s record-breaking 125-game unbeaten streak in last month’s Norway Chess Tournament.
Commentary in ten languages – to tap into a wider online audience – is being broadcast on chess24.com; four in English, ranging from experienced players to one specifically designed for novices and newcomers to the rapidly expanding online chess-viewing experience.
There’s also live TV coverage in Norway and cable TV on Eurosport from 18:00 CET (10:00 EST | 07:00 PST).
1. Anish Giri (Netherlands), 6½/10; 2-4. Ding Liren (China), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA), 6; 5-7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Ian Nepominiachtchi (Russia), 5½; 8-9. Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), David Anton (Spain), Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), 5; 11-13. Le Quang Liem (Vietnam), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), 4½; 14. Peter Svidler (Russia), 4; 15. Santosh Vidit (India), 3½; 16. Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), 3.
GM David Anton – GM Magnus Carlsen
Skilling Open Prelim., (4)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Rather than some slick, theory-laden big mainline action, Anton opts for a quieter life – but that sort of plays into Carlsen style of game. 5…Nbd7 6.Be2 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.Qc2 b6 9.e4 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 dxe4 11.Qxe4 Bb7 12.Rd1 Qc7 13.c5?! This just looks strange and took me by surprise when I saw it being played, as I almost had to have a double-take. Carlsen has a simple plan of playing …c5 with a comfortable game; but certainly, Anton’s ‘adventurous’ 13.c5 cuts across this, but at the expense of a pawn – and you really don’t want to be giving the world champion easy pawns. I thought the obvious plan was 13.Bd3 g6 14.Qh4 c5 15.Be4 Bxe4 16.Qxe4 and equality. 13…bxc5 14.dxc5 Nxc5 A pawn is a pawn. 15.Qc2 Rad8 The simple 15…h6 preventing Bg5 or Ng5 looked better. 16.Bg5! Now Anton has genuine play for the pawn. 16…Be7 17.Rxd8?! Not the best – now was the time to be brave and bold and play 17.b4! Na6 18.a3 and it is not easy to see how Black is going to untangle his pieces here, and with it that will make big targets for white of the weak pawns on c6 and a7. 17…Rxd8 All Anton has achieved is to take a little pressure off of Carlsen’s awkward position. 18.Rc1 Rd5! Carlsen now takes the upper-hand with his rook taking a more dominant role in the game. 19.Be3 Nd7 Carlsen ruthlessly begins to consolidate his position – and with it, Anton rapidly capitulates. 20.Nd4 Capturing the a-pawn is the more edgy, though dangerous option. After 20.Bxa7?! c5! 21.Qa4 (If 21.b4 Bc6! 22.Bxc5 Nxc5 23.bxc5 Black has the subtle 23…Qa7! and White is in trouble, as not only will the c5-pawn fall, but Black also will have the bishop-pair and more active pieces.) 21…Bc6 22.Qa6 Rd6! 23.Qa3 and White will have to tread carefully now, as 23…e5! opens the game up for Black to launch an easy kingside attack. 20…Bc5 21.Nb5? In a difficult position, and playing the world champion, Anton blunders big-time. He had to play 21.Qc3 Qe5 22.Nb3 Qxc3 23.Rxc3 Bb6 and it is not easy for Black to convert his material advantage, as his fractured queenside pawns will not be easy to defend. 21…cxb5 22.b4 Anton has miscalculated, thinking he’s just going to re-gain his piece – but he’s missed something. 22…Qc6! [see diagram] Threatening …Rd1+ mating on g2, so forcing… 23.Bf3 Bxe3 24.fxe3? Anton is in a bad way, but this makes things worse for the Spaniard. He had to try his best to hang on with 24.Qxc6 Bxc6 25.Rxc6 Bb6 26.Bxd5 exd5 27.Rc8+ Nf8 but in the long-run, Carlsen would have no difficulties converting with the minor pieces and that big passed d-pawn. 24…Qb6 25.Bxd5 Qxe3+ 26.Kh1 Bxd5 0-1 Anton resigns, as now Carlsen has a very active queen, and even trying to trade them doesn’t work, such as 27.Qc3 Qf2! 28.Qg3 Qd2! and due to the back-rank threats and the omnipresent g2 mating issues, White is set to lose his b4-pawn with a hopelessly lost position.