The Ugly Win - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


Needs must, and sometimes you have to dig deep just to get the job done as best you can. Sports commentators like to call it “winning ugly” – and this was a concept coined from the title of the 1993 tennis book, Winning Ugly, by Olympic gold medalist, coach and ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert.  And this often-turned phrase can be found in every sphere of sport today, including chess!

Magnus Carlsen came close to being eliminated in his tense Skilling Open quarterfinal match-up with his great social media rival Anish Giri, as the Dutchman proved to be a tough opponent for the world champion – but a stroke of good fortune allowed Carlsen to eke out an unlikely endgame win where the Norwegian was a pawn down.

Carlsen later described it to be “winning ugly in a very tough fight.” And, with seven draws, that ugly win proved to be the deciding factor in Carlsen’s victory. “I have to commend Anish on a very tough fight,’ added a relived Carlsen at the end of the match. “It was never easy for me at any moment and the whole match just came down to one game.”

On Friday and Saturday Carlsen now meets Ian Nepomniachtchi in the semis, after the Russian came from behind to edge out Levon Aronian as their match went to a deciding blitz tiebreaker. The other semifinal battle will be an all-American affair between Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura, as both staged even more dramatic comebacks with respective victories over Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave that also went to deciding tiebreaks.

Play in the semifinals starts on Friday and Saturday from 18:00 CET (12:00 EST | 09:00 PST), with live commentary in ten languages – to tap into a wider online audience – is being broadcast on; four in English, ranging from experienced players to one specifically designed for novices and newcomers. There’s also live TV coverage in Norway and cable TV on Eurosport throughout.

The winners will go on to contest the final of the $100,000 Skilling Open, the first leg of ten of the newly-branded $1.5m Champions Chess Tour, launched by the Play Magnus Group, the successor to the hugely-popular pandemic lockdown-inspired Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour that concluded in August with Carlsen taking the inaugural title.

GM Anish Giri – GM Magnus Carlsen
Skilling Open Q/finals, (1.4)
Giuoco Piano
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 The name Giuoco Piano – one of the oldest recorded openings in chess, recognised in the 16th century – means ‘quiet game’ in Italian. And like its name, it is initially very quiet with a slow build-up as both sides position their pieces for the middlegame battle. 3…Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 h6 This set up against the Giuoco Piano with 3..Bc5 is a particular favourite of Carlsen’s, though he likes to switch and change his options. In the Kiva Tour Finals s/final against Ding Liren in August, Carlsen opted for 6…a6 7.Re1 h6 8.a4 0-0 9.Nbd2 Re8 10.h3 Be6 and went on to win. 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.Re1 a5 9.Nf1 Be6 10.Bb5 Ne7 11.d4 Ba7 12.dxe5 Ng4 The hit on f2 offers Carlsen good counterplay for the pawn. 13.Be3 Nxe3 14.Nxe3 dxe5 15.Nxe5 Ng6 16.Nxg6 fxg6 17.Qxd8 Raxd8 Carlsen has the pressure for the pawn, with his rooks active on d- and f-files, the bishop-pair and the X-ray attack on f2 – but a pawn is a pawn, and Giri is going to try doggedly to hang on to it. 18.Re2 Bxe3 A little puzzling from Carlsen, as the obvious plan looked to be 18…Rf4 19.f3 Rd6 20.Kf2 g5 with the idea of …g4 to bring the kingside pawns up, and active play for the pawn. However, never in his wildest dreams could Carlsen have anticipated what now comes from Giri! 19.fxe3? For the life of me, I just can’t understand this move, as recapturing this way is just so wrong on just so many different levels. It was almost as if Giri was seeing ‘ghosts’ with Carlsen’s rook coming to the seventh, as he gifts the world champion hope of an unlikely win by targeting those vulnerable isolated double e-pawns – but the simple solution was just 19.Rxe3! Rd2 20.Re2 Rfd8 21.Rxd2 Rxd2 22.b3 g5 Now, admittedly Black’s dominant rook is a handful, but with the extra pawn, there are no chances of Giri losing here, unlike in the game. 19…Kf7! Carlsen cuts straight to the chase – what the hell is Giri going to do about the Black king easily getting to e5 to dominate those double isolated e-pawns that’s going to become a millstone around the Dutchman’s neck? 20.Ba4 Ke7! What’s not to like here? Carlsen has all his pieces working in unison here: his rooks dominate the only open files on the board, he has the better bishop, but more crucially, his king is now a fighting piece in the middle of the board – and the king move isn’t as innocent as it looks, as Carlsen sneaks in the scenario of a wicked tactic. 21.h3 Giri has to waste a move when he can least afford to, but at least he sensed the dangers of Black playing …Bc4 22.Rc2 Bxa2! and the bishop is taboo due to an unexpected back-rank mate with …Rd1 mate! 21…Bc4 22.Rc2 Rd3 23.Re1?! Carlsen turns the screw, and Giri cracks – the Dutchman simply had to play 23.Bb3! and White has all the bases covered. 23…Kd6 The king is heading for e5 where, like some sort of chessic Pac Man, he’s simply going to gobble up both the e-pawns. 24.Bb3 Ba6 It looked simpler just to play 24…Bxb3 25.axb3 Ke5 26.Ra1 Kxe4 as Black’s rooks and king look to be quite a handful to contain. 25.Rcc1 Ke5 26.Rcd1 Rfd8 27.Rxd3 Another little error from Giri, and now they are all beginning to mount up. Best was 27.Rf1! threatening to chop on d3 and Rf7 with a countering active rook, ad forcing 27…Rxd1 28.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 29.Bxd1 Bd3 30.Kf2 and despite the endgame being a little uncomfortable, White should be holding safely enough. 27…Bxd3! This way of recapturing keeps the pressure up, as Giri can’t get his rook into the game now. 28.Kf2 Rd6 The latter part of this game proves to be a Carlsen masterclass on his speciality of squeezing the very life from his opponent, as he now threatens …Rf6+ cutting White’s king off from protecting the e-pawns, following up with …Kxe4 etc. 29.Bd1 As noted above, Giri is in a bind and feels he has to stop …Rf6+ with Bf3, avoiding the scenario of 29.h4 Rf6+! 30.Kg1 Rb6! 31.Rd1 Kxe4 32.Re1 a4 and White’s position is coming close to the tipping point. But it is all too late now, as Carlsen has a winning plan. 29…Bc4! 30.b3 Rd2+ 31.Kg3 Giri is doomed either way. If 31.Be2 Bd3! and it’s coming close to Zugzwang. 31…Be6 32.Rf1 Rxa2 Carlsen’s rampant rook wrecks havoc on the seventh. 33.Bg4 Bxb3 34.Rf8 Kxe4 Now all of White’s pawns are falling like leaves in the Fall. 35.Rc8 Kxe3 36.Rxc7 Bd5! Carlsen is in his element here, as he forces a trade down to what proves to a very instructive winning R+P ending. 37.Bf3 Bxf3 38.gxf3 Rb2! [see diagram] Another fine endgame finesse from Carlsen, as his rook takes up its optimum outpost to convert the win. 39.Rxg7 There’s nothing else. If 39.Rc5 a4 40.Ra5 b5 white’s rook is effectively cut out of the game, and he’s forced into 41.c4 bxc4 42.Rxa4 c3 with no stopping the c-pawn. 39…Rb6 From here, the rook decides the game: it defends b7 and g6, meanwhile, the big threat is to push the a-pawn up the board, safe in the knowledge that if White gets behind the a-pawn with Ra8, then …Ra6 wins. 40.c4 Kd4 41.Rc7 a4 42.c5 Ra6 Now the a-pawn runs, and with it, Carlsen gives an instructive lesson on the technique of winning by using the a-pawn to deflect the White rook out of the game. 43.Rxb7 Kxc5 44.Rc7+ Kb6 45.Rc1 If 45.Rg7 a3! 46.Rxg6+ Ka5 and the pawn can’t be stopped. 45…a3 46.h4 a2 47.Ra1 Ra4! Its a free and very instructive endgame lesson from the world champion! With Giri’s rook effectively out of the game on a1, Carlsen methodically goes about the process of denying the white king from crossing over via f4-e5-f6 – not only that, but it also fixes white’s pawns. 48.f4 The real point of Carlsen’s instructive play is that 48.Kf2 quickly loses to 48…Rxh4! as now 49.Rxa2 Rh2+ picks up the rook. These are all invaluable endgame lessons from the world champion for every club-level player. 48…h5 With the pawns fixed, Carlsen’s king now waltzes over to the kingside. 49.Kf3 Kc5 50.Ke3 Kd5 51.Kf3 Ke6 0-1 Giri resigns, as once Carlsen’s king gets to f5, the f4 and h4 pawns will quickly fall.




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