Ahead of the return on Saturday of the Magnus Invitational that started the pandemic-inspired online professional tour from the Play Magnus Group almost a year ago, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour announced a new partnership link-up with the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, the philanthropic vehicle of tycoons Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sergey Brin (Google), Jack Ma (Alibaba) and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
And it is out of this world, as the fourth leg of the 10-tournament $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour takes on a space-themed appearance by promoting the Breakthrough Initiatives in space exploration and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global research competition for secondary school students, which will celebrate the 60th anniversary of human space flight pioneered by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on his Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961.
The eight players that top the Tour standings were automatically invited to the fourth leg of the series: Wesley So, Teimour Radjabov, Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Daniil Dubov. Two spots were based on popular vote, with Anish Giri and David Anton getting the largest amount of support from the public; being the MCI, Carlsen himself invited four wildcards: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Alireza Firouzja, Sergey Karjakin and Jorden van Foreest; while Alan Pichot and Nils Grandelius qualified earlier this week through an online contest.
It all kicks-off on Saturday 13 March at 16:00 GMT (17:00 CET, 11:00 ET, 08:00 PT) with the world champion’s opening day opponents being Tata Steel Masters dark-horse Dutch victor Jorden van Foreest, France’s No 1, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Iranian exile teenage star Alireza Firouzja, and Dutch No.1 and social media rival Anish Giri. There’s a full multi-lingual commentary throughout, with the main studio commentary team being Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska.
Carlsen and Firouzja both went head-to-head in late February in two marathon bullet encounters on Lichess. The games came fast and furious as befits a bullet contest, with Carlsen crushing the young pretender to his throne by a brace of big one-sided scores of 23.5-7.5 and 21.5-11.5 – and there was one game in the bullet dual duel with a nostalgic theme and a brutal finale caught my eye and had many of the online fans drooling over.
The moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.f4 is known as the Grand Prix Attack and became very popular among club players through the 1980s – and it has a very British pedigree and history to it. The nomenclature is almost exclusively due to the late, great FM David Rumens, who deployed this offbeat opening system as his weapon of choice against the omnipresent Sicilian Defence, en route to winning the UK-wide Cutty Sark Grand Prix series of weekend tournaments during the 1970s and 80s.
It was soon coined the “Grand Prix Attack” by Leonard Barden, the veteran Guardian chess journalist who also played a vital role behind the scene of running and administrating the Grand Prix series of tournaments. Another leading English player, GM Mark Hebden continued the trend by using a more refined version of the Grand Prix Attack (with Bb5) as he followed in Rumens’ Grand Prix-winning footsteps.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alireza Firouzja
Magnus-Alireza Bullet, (31)
Sicilian Defence, Grand Prix Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Bent Larsen was the first elite player to venture playing the Grand Prix Attack, but the great Dane favoured it with an early 2.f4. However, it didn’t take long to find an excellent counter-gambit continuation, as Mikhail Tal uncorked his “Tal Gambit” with 2…d5!? (see Hartston-Tal, Tallinn 1979) that more or less soon put 2.f4 out of commission. 2…d6 3.f4 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bc4 This is in the spirit of Rumens, who would follow-up with the caveman-like pawn sacrifice with f5 as he bludgeoned his way through to the Black king. 5…Nc6 6.a3 e6 7.0-0 Nge7 8.d3 0-0 9.Ba2 Rb8 10.Qe1 b5 11.f5!? With a lot of care and not to mention a sensible time control to navigate through the complications, Black players of the Sicilian should be able to avoid what next comes for Firouzja – but in bullet, the caveman-antics and tactics makes the Grand Prix Attack an ideal weapon! 11…exf5 12.Qh4 I can’t begin to tell you how many times through the 1980s in junior events, league, club and weekend tournaments I’ve witnessed this brutal mating attack. I can’t be sure, but for Firouzja, it could well be that this might have been the first time of facing this very aggressive line of the Grand Prix Attack – and if this is the case, then Magnus certainly picked his moment to give his young pretender a real baptism of fire! 12…Ne5?? The position is a potential minefield for Black, and Firouzja has just stepped on one! The key square for a knight is f5 rather than e5, and although it looks risky, Firouzja had to play 12…fxe4!? 13.Ng5! Bd4+ 14.Kh1 h5 15.Nxf7! c4 16.Nh6+ Kh7 17.Rf7+ Rxf7 18.Nxf7 Qf8 19.Nxe4 Nf5 and deal with this double-edged position. 13.Bg5! Carlsen brutally cuts to the chase, as the unstoppable threat of Nd5-f6+ is crushing. 13…Rb7 14.Nd5 Re8 15.exf5 Black is lost already, and Carlsen is spoilt for choice as 15.Nf6+ Bxf6 16.Bxf6 h5 17.Nxe5 dxe5 18.Bxe5 was just as good a way to win. 15…Bxf5 16.Rae1 [see diagram] Carlsen now has all his pieces involved in the attack – and I can tell you Firouzja is in good company here, as many victims at all levels, from club player to grandmaster, has fallen just as easily in the Grand Prix Attack as he does here. 16…h6 17.Nf6+ Kf8 Firouzja likely could have limped on a few moves longer with 17…Bxf6 18.Bxf6 Ng4 19.Bc3 but ultimately black is barely hanging on by the thinnest of threads, and his king is soon going to be ripped apart. 18.Bxh6 Ng8 Not so much a blunder from Firouzja, but more a case of opting for voluntary euthanasia! 19.Nh7# 1-0