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John Henderson
By John Henderson

The US champion Wesley So has hit a purple patch and now in pole position at the top of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour (MCCT). After his trouncing of World Champion Magnus Carlsen in last weekend’s Opera Euro Rapid final, So regained the tour top spot over third-placed finisher Teimour Radjabov by the very narrowest of margins. theboard,

So and Radjabov – who won the Airthings Masters last month –  both have 108 points after 3 legs of the MCCT, but the former now takes the top spot in the tour standings by virtue of his brace of victories in the season-opener of the Skilling Open, also at Carlsen’s expense, and now the Opera Euro Rapid.

In third place now is defending tour champion Carlsen, who despite getting off to the best possible start against So in the final – see today’s game – has to be somewhat concerned by still being plagued by his wildly erratic play that has (so far) denied the Norwegian a Tour title this season.

Meanwhile, as Carlsen struggles at the board, in the boardroom his Play Magnus Group was proving somewhat more adept than their star frontman with the latest business acquisition being the Dutch publishing house New in Chess, publisher of the internationally renowned New in Chess, hailed by many to be the world’s leading chess magazine.

This weekend there’s “corporate captures” of another sort, with the first online Fide World Corporate Championship that has attracted a huge entry of 284 teams, many of them famous names, from 78 countries. The innovative – and much-welcomed – event is the brainchild of Arkady Dvorkovich, the new Fide president.

Carlsen himself is taking part in the team-event, representing Kindred, the Norwegian parent company of his sponsor Unibet. “This tournament will be a fun break from my own daily tournaments and I look forward to represent Kindred Group in the games toward some of the biggest companies and brands in the world,” commented Carlsen.

Among a slew of titled players taking part, other big-name grandmasters include Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladislav Artemiev, (representing Russian firms of SBER and Aeroflot respectively), plus Anish Giri, representing Optiver, the Dutch No 1’s long-time sponsor whom he’s also a brand ambassador for. The event also has a serious side to it, with the merging of chess alongside some of the world’s top companies.

There’s full details of the inaugural online Fide World Corporate Championship at Chess24 who will also be providing live coverage throughout.

 

GM Wesley So – GM Magnus Carlsen
Opera Euro Rapid | Final (1)
Two Knights Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 The venerable Two Knights Defence arguably became famous during a mid-1960s battle in the 5th World Correspondence Championship between Russia’s Yacov Estrin and American Hans Berliner, who went on to clinch the title by winning one of the most famous correspondence games. The subsequent loss inspired Estrin to write a very instructive and influential opening book of that era, The Two Knights Defence, that just about everyone in the game from beginner to grandmaster learned from. 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 The standard reply – for those that like to live dangerously, then there’s always the ‘Fried Liver Attack’ (the clue is in the name, really!) with 5…Nxd5?! 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 etc. 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Bd3!? As far as my dusty old blue hardback copy of Estrin’s book is concerned, 8.Be2 is the standard reply.  But the current US champion follows in a line that comes with an impeccable pedigree, by being championed by two multi-time US champions in Bobby Fischer and Hikaru Nakamura! 8…Nd5 9.Nf3 Bd6 This is the nub of the Two Knights Defence: White may well have the extra pawn, but Black has the better and easier development with his pieces firmly aimed at the kingside. 10.0-0 0-0 11.Re1 f5 In reality, Carlsen’s job is the easier, as the attack more less plays itself by this stage, so he’s not bothered so much about throwing a second pawn onto the fire to keep the momentum. 12.Nxe5 Qf6 13.Nf3 g5 14.c4 A brave move from So. Also an option was 14.c3!? offering a ready central outpost for the knight on d4, so that now 14…Nf4 15.Bf1 g4 16.Nd4 and another interesting struggle ensues. 14…Nf4! It really has to be the most obvious and natural square for the knight, as the f4 outpost is too tempting. 15.Bf1 g4 16.d4 gxf3 17.Qxf3 Ne6 18.Qc3 Nb7 19.c5 Bc7 20.b4!?! We reach the critical stage of the game, and one where So misses a key move that would have eased the attack with the trade of queens, with 20.d5!? cxd5 21.Qxf6 Rxf6 22.Nc3 Ba5 (Not 22…Nbxc5? 23.Nxd5 Rf7 24.Bc4 and Black’s in trouble with the bishop skewer.) 23.c6 Nbd8 24.Nxd5 Bxe1 25.Nxf6+ Kf7 26.Nxh7 Nxc6 27.Ng5+ Kf6 28.h4 and another interesting struggle ahead; Black has the extra piece, but White has three good pawns and a solid position. 20…a5! As the game opens up, Carlsen’s extra piece and activity will come to the fore. 21.b5 Qxd4 Decisions, decisions, decisions. Also possible was the option 21…cxb5 22.Bxb5 a4!? The vacated a5 square comes in handy for the bishop or the knight. Now if 23.Bb2 Rd8! 24.Na3 (It’s dangerous to try 24.d5 Qxc3 25.Bxc3 Nexc5 26.Re7 Ba5! 27.Rg7+ Kf8 28.Rxh7 Rxd5 29.Rh8+ Ke7 and Black looks to be on top of the complications.) 24…Qxd4 25.Qxd4 Nxd4 26.Bxd4 Rxd4 27.Bc6 Ba5 28.Re8+ Kf7 29.Nb5 Rd3 30.Re3! Rxe3 31.fxe3 Ra6 and try to squeeze the win out of this position. 22.Qxd4 Nxd4 23.Bc4+ Be6 24.Bxe6+ Nxe6 25.Rxe6 Nxc5 Carlsen has opted to return his extra piece, looking instead to cash in by taking advantage of So’s lack of development and vulnerable back-rank – and it pays off. 26.Re2 No use was 26.Rxc6 as 26…Be5 27.Rxc5 Bxa1 28.Bh6 Bg7! and Black’s rooks are going to sweep up in the ending. 26…Rfe8 27.Nc3 Kudos to So for battling here, but a price will have to be paid for the lag in development. 27…cxb5 28.Be3 Be5 29.Bxc5 Bxc3 30.Rxe8+ Rxe8 31.Rb1 The tension has eased somewhat for So, but he’s left with the handicap of having to deal with Carlsen’s queenside pawns running up the board – and it is not so easy in the endgame with his king cut-off from the queenside, nor the bishops being the same colour. 31…b4 32.Kf1 Re5 33.Be3 a4 34.Rc1 Ultimately the wrong decision in a difficult position. The radical saving try was 34.Rd1!? b3 35.axb3 axb3 36.Bd2 Rd5 37.Ke2 b2 38.Bxc3 Rxd1 39.Bxb2 Rb1 40.Bd4 and Black has a lot of work still to do to realise his endgame advantage, especially with White’s pawns being solid and all the action restricted to one wing of the board. 34…a3 Time trouble in rapid is not your friend in these technical endgames. A better try was 34…Re8! with the idea of playing …Ra8 and …b3. 35.g3? So was more in time trouble, and it’s perfectly understandable that he wants to stop …f4 so that he can bring his king into the game via e2 – but he missed his chance, as the stiffer defence was 35.Rc2! Ra5 (There’s no threat with 35…f4 as 36.Bd2! Bxd2 37.Rxd2 Rb5 38.Ke2! and the R+P endgame looks drawn, as the White king now races over to the queenside in time; and if 35…Kf7 36.Bd2! and once more the R+P endgame looks to be a draw.) 36.Ke2 and with the White king now free, the draw looks more obtainable. 35…Rb5 36.Rc2 b3 37.axb3 Rxb3 38.Kg2 By wasting time playing 35.g3, Carlsen has a better way of stopping So’s king crossing over via e2, as now 38.Ke2? Rb2 39.Kd3 a2 wins easily. 38…Kf7 39.Bd2 Too late now, as there’s no immediate need to exchange bishops – and it doesn’t help that White’s king is now so far away from where it needs to be for the R+P ending, over on the queenside. 39…Be5 40.Bf4 Bxf4 Carlsen goes for the simple R+P ending now that So’s king is over on the kingside, but equally winning was 40…Rb2! the point being that 41.Rc4 a2 42.Ra4 Black has the winning resource 42…Bd4! picking up the f2 pawn. 41.gxf4 Rb7! [see diagram] Carlsen is in his element in these simple endings, rightly retreating his rook to protect his own seventh rank (to stop Rc7+ and Ra7, the best square for the rook to defend against a big passed pawn, by being right behind it) and going behind the a-pawn – and with So’s rook now having to stop the a-pawn from a very passive post, Carlsen’s king nicely triangulates to force the win. 42.Ra2 Ra7 43.Kg3 Ra4 44.Kh4 Kg6 45.Kg3 Kf6 46.h3 h5 So is effectively in zugzwang, as he’ll eventually run out of moves. 47.Kh4 Kg6 48.Kg3 Kg7 49.Kf3 White can’t keep oscillating his king on g3 and h4, as 49.Kh4 Kg6 50.Kg3 Kf6 51.Kh4 as now 51…Rxf4+ wins following 52.Kxh5 Rf3 53.Kh4 Ke5! 54.Rd2 Ke4 55.Kg5 Rxh3 56.Re2+ Kd3 57.Ra2 Kc4 and the king races over to b3 to convert the win. 49…h4 With the kingside blocked out now for So’s king, Carlsen’s king waltzes up the board to pick-off all the marooned kingside pawns 50.Ke2 Kf6 51.Kd1 Ke6 52.Kc1 Kd5 53.Kb1 Ke4! 54.Rd2 Kf3 55.Ka2 Kg2 0-1 And So resigns, faced with losing all his kingside pawns.

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