Who could have predicted that a simple chess sets might become as rare to gift this year as the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of Christmas 1983? Inspired by the recent Netflix hit The Queen’s Gambit, millions of people are getting into chess. Between that and the pandemic lockdown-inspired Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, chess websites, content creation, selling of equipment, and online tournaments are booming.
Last week, Magnus Carlsen’s online super-tournament domination suffered a setback with the world champion losing on his 30th birthday to Wesley So, in the final of the $100,000 Skilling Open, the opening stop of the new Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group. But revenge is a dish best served cold, and Carlsen could be on a pre-Christmas collision course with either So or another of his leading US rival, Hikaru Nakamura, in a rivalling ongoing major online event.
In a tough Chess.com 2020 Speed Championship quarterfinal pairing with Russian Vladislav Artemiev earlier this week, Carlsen laboured out a close 13.5-9.5 victory in a match-up he was expected to easily win. Conversely, in a very one-sided affair, blitz world #1 and defending champion Nakamura started with a perfect 9-0 en route to steamrolling his Russian opponent, Vladimir Fedoseev, by the lopsided score 21.5-9.5.
Back in mid-November, Wesley So dispatched Jan-Krzysztof Duda by the relatively comfortable margin of 16-10 over the young Pole, and now the red-hot Filipino-born US champion faces Nakamura in the all-American semifinal clash. In the other quarterfinal match this week, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave just managed to edge out Levon Aronian in a thriller, 14.5-12.5, and he now meets Carlsen in a semifinal showdown.
Carlsen v. Vachier-Lagrave. Nakamura vs. So. That’s the A-list opposing brackets now set for the early pre-Christmas present for chess fans of the Speed Chess Championship finals weekend on December 11 through 13! So remember to clear your diary for December 11 through 13 so as not to miss any of the chess action that will be broadcast for free live on chess.com/tv!
GM Vladislav Artemiev – GM Magnus Carlsen
Chess.com 2020 Speed Ch. Q/final, (2)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Nd2 Bg7 6.Ngf3 0-0 7.0-0 A pre-emptive anticipation of White having to play b3 in this system. 7…a5 8.b3 a4 9.Ba3 Re8 10.e3 Bf5 Black is on easy street here, as he gets excellent squares to complete his development, the idea being to dominate the vacant e4 square. 11.Qe2 Ne4 12.Rfc1 Nxd2 13.Qxd2 Be4 Black has easy equality, as he challenges the potential of White’s fianchettoed bishop to hit d5. 14.Qb4 axb3 15.axb3 Qc8 16.Bb2 Rxa1 17.Rxa1 c5! Carlsen takes full advantage of the x-ray attack down the long h8-a1 diagonal. 18.Qb5 dxc4 More accurate was 18…Qc6 first. 19.bxc4 Qc6 20.Ra8 It’s the very human move to make, but Artemiev missed a trick with 20.Ra5! b6 21.d5! Qxb5 22.Rxb5 Nd7 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.Nd2 Bxg2 25.Kxg2 Ra8 and White has slightly the better of the equal position. 20…Rf8! Not the most obvious move to make, but just removing the rook from the pins puts White in a dilemma as the inevitable trade of pieces come. 21.Ne1 Bxg2 22.Nxg2 cxd4 23.Bxd4 This is the correct call from Artemiev, as 23.exd4 Qxb5 24.cxb5 Nd7! 25.Ra7 Rb8 26.Ne3 Nb6 and the pinned Bb2 just makes it harder to defend the isolated and weak b- and d-pawns. 23…Bxd4 24.exd4 Qxb5 25.cxb5 Nd7 26.Ra7 Artemiev is handicapped in the ending with the weak b- and d-pawns, and I can understand why he might have wanted to keep the rooks on the board, but perhaps it would have been an easier prospect to defend by trading with 26.Rxf8+ Kxf8 27.Ne3 and playing Kf1-e2-d3? The ending is still difficult for White, but you feel with the rooks off it should be easier to hold. 26…Rb8 27.Nf4 Nb6 28.Nd3 Nc8 29.Ra5?! A little miscue that only gifts Carlsen a vital tempo to play a move he wanted to play anyway. It was better to try 29.Ra1 Nd6 (If now 29…b6 30.Ne5! and White is safe.) 30.b6! and with Nc5 coming, it is difficult to see how Black can ever win this ending. And if now 30…Rc8 31.Rc1! Rxc1+ 32.Nxc1 Nc4 33.Nb3 Nxb6 34.Na5 and an easy draw with b7 falling. 29…b6 30.Ra4 Nd6 31.Rb4 Rc8 32.Ne5 Rc1+ 33.Kg2 f6 34.Nd7 Nc8 35.Ra4 Rc7 36.Nb8 Nd6 37.Ra8? [see diagram] The pressure is mounting, and with it, Artemiev cracks under the strain. The position was tough admittedly, but the only chance for the Russian was to try and hang in there with 37.Rb4 to defend the crucial b-pawn, but Black will simply bring his king into the game now with 37…Kf7 38.Nc6 e6 and White is still in a fix, as the main threat is …Ke8 and …Nxb5, forcing 39.Rb3 Rc8 40.Rc3 h5 41.h4 Ra8! positioning the rook on the open a-file, while White has to defend b5, and now 42.Rb3 Ke8! followed by …Kd7 and now something has to give in the White position, as b5 will eventually succumb to a …Nxb5, the engine running the scenario 43.Rd3 Nxb5 44.d5 Kd7! 45.Rf3 Nc7 46.Nb4 Ra4 47.dxe6+ Kxe6 all of which just not a prospect you want to have to face Carlsen with little or no time on your clock, hence the blunder under pressure. 37…Rc8! Now White is completely lost, as not only does b5 (and likely d4) fall, but the self-inflicted pinned Nb8 is also doomed. 38.Kf3 Nxb5 39.Ke3 Nd6 40.d5 Kf7 41.Kd4 b5! 0-1 Artemiev resigns as there’s no way to stop the b-pawn running up the board without losing the hapless Nb8.