Pushing the Envelope - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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One thing we’ve come to expect with the coronavirus pandemic is to expect the unexpected, as things tend to change very quickly when you are dealing with Covid-19. None more so than the impossible task of trying to arrange a ‘live event’, as the Dutch organisers of the 83rd Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee discovered on the eve of the latest edition of the first major of the year.

Two of the original starting field already had to pull out of the tournament due to coronavirus restrictions, and at the last minute, the organisers were further hit by the unexpected news that Daniil Dubov regretfully had to pull out, after the young Muscovite came into close contact back home with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

All the correct protocols were observed by player and the organisers, and the young German #2, Alexander Donchenko, received a dream call-up as Dubov’s replacement. But it was always going to be a big ask for the young German to fill Dubov’s shoes, and he’s got off to the worst possible start by losing his first two games.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen relentlessly pushed the envelope against the young pretender to his crown, Alireza Firouzja, to get off to a flying start in Wijk with an unlikely win. A notoriously slow starter, Carlsen has a streak of seven straight opening round draws at Wijk, his last first round victim being the late Vugar Gashimov, back in 2012.

Carlsen admitted he probably risked far too much with his speculative pawn sacrifices, but by continually pushing the envelope, the changing dynamics of the game clearly ruffled Firouzja, who in time trouble blundered badly at the most critical phase of the game to gift the world champion an unlikely full point.

Despite Carlsen’s fast start, he was held to a draw with Spain’s David Anton in round two, and surprisingly Nils Grandelius, one of the Norwegian’s Nordic neighbours has the early sole lead, with the Swede channeling homeland hero Ulf Andersson, the 1970s and ’80s elite legend, with a perfect start of 2/2.

Standings:
1. Nils Grandelius (Sweden) 2/2; 2-4. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 1½; 5-10. Pentala Harikrishna (India), David Anton (Spain), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Radslow Wojtaszek (Poland), Andrey Espenko (Russia), Jorden Van Foreest (Netherlands); 11-13. Alireza Firouzja (FIDE), Jan-Krzysztof Duda (Poland), Aryan Tari (Norway) ½; 14. Alexander Donchenko (Germany) 0.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alireza Firouzja
Tata Steel Masters, (1)
Queen’s Gambit Declined
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 Be7 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.Bxe7 Qxe7 9.e4 Nxc3 10.bxc3 0-0 11.Bd3 c5 12.0-0 cxd4 13.cxd4 b6 14.a4 The best try to squeeze something out of the opening, as 14.Qe2 e5! and Black has all but equalised, as White can’t play 15.d5 as 15…Nc5 with a strong knight outpost, and the threat of …Bb7, …Nxd3 and …f5 and lots of good counter-play. 14…Bb7 15.a5 bxa5 16.Rxa5 Nf6 Carlsen’s position looks strong, but he can’t make any headway due to his vulnerable hanging pawns on d4 and e4. If it was easy to defend them, then he would have relentlessly tortured his opponent into defending his own vulnerable a-pawn. 17.Re1 Rfd8 18.Qa1 Qc7 19.h3 a6 20.Rc5 Qf4! In an ideal world, Firouzja was most likely patting himself on his back with his attack on Carlsen’s pawns, and probably felt he’d done more than enough for a draw offer coming very soon. 21.Re5 Nd7 22.Ra5 Nf6 23.d5!? And just when Firouzja’s mindset was probably expecting a repeat of moves with 23.Re5 Nd7 and a draw, Carlsen decides to alter the balance of the game with a typical pawn sacrifice in such positions. 23…exd5 24.e5 Ne4 25.Qd4 Rdc8 26.Raa1 a5 27.Rab1 Bc6 28.e6 Carlsen continues to push that mythical envelope just that little bit further! 28…fxe6 29.Ne5 Qf6 Firouzja has handled the change in the dynamics to the game well, playing all the right moves – and the expectation was that Carlsen would soon realise it was time for the bailout. However…. 30.f3!?! Just when we were expecting the game to fizzle out with something like 30.Bxe4!? dxe4 31.Nxc6 Rxc6 32.Qxe4 the point being that 32…Rca6 is nicely answered by 33.Rb6! a4 (If 33…Rxb6?! 34.Qxa8+ Kh7 35.Qxa5 and White has a very minuscule of edges due to the e6-pawn.) 34.Rxa6 Rxa6 35.Qc4 Ra8 36.Rxe6 and a draw, Carlsen decided he wants to play ‘Postman Pat’ a bit further! 30…Ng5 31.Rb6 Be8 32.Qe3 a4! Seems to me like a good idea – that a-pawn is running, it’s going to be fast, and looks very dangerous. 33.Ng4 Qd8 34.Rxe6 Nxe6 The automatic answer – but short on time, Firouzja didn’t have the time nor the inclination to complicate matters further with 34…a3!? ignoring the capture of the rook, as the a-pawn continues to run worryingly up the board. It forces 35.f4 Nxe6 36.Qxe6+ Kh8 37.Qf5 Qb6+! 38.Kh2 Bg6! 39.Qxg6 Qxg6 40.Bxg6 Rf8 41.g3 a2 42.Ra1 h5!? 43.Ne5! (The only move. If 43.Bxh5? Rfb8 44.Bg6 Rb2+ 45.Kg1 Ra3 and Black wins.) 43…h4 44.Nd7 hxg3+ 45.Kxg3 Rfc8 and I presume White will probably find a way to hold the balance, but it all looks dangerous what with Black’s active rooks and that big a-pawn on a2. But as I say, with the flag on Firouzja’s digital clock metaphorically hanging, “automatic” was the very human reaction here. 35.Qxe6+ Bf7?? Oopsie! Down to one minute for 5 moves, Firouzja cracks under the pressure with a huge blunder, walking right into a forced mate. He had to play 35…Kh8! 36.Qf5 Qb6+ 37.Kh1 Bg6 38.Qxg6 Qxg6 39.Bxg6 a3 40.Ra1 a2 41.Ne5 Rcb8 42.Kh2! (Just in case there’s any tricks with a back-rank check!) 42…Rb5 43.Bd3 Rb3 44.Bg6 and a slightly lesser version than the note above, with White’s ace being the threat of a back-rank mate that should mitigate that big a-pawn. 36.Nxh6+! [see diagram] Boom! Suddenly, Firouzja has realised to his horror that he’s walked right into a mating net. 36…gxh6 37.Qxh6 Qc7 38.Qh7+ Kf8 39.Qh8+ Bg8 40.Qh6+ 1-0 Firouzja resigns, not wishing to be mated by the world champion with the king hunt 40…Kf7 41.Bg6+ Kf6 42.Be8+ Kf5 43.g4#.

 

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