The young stars of chess get a Willy Wonka-like ‘golden ticket’ opportunity to make it into the main show thanks to a new initiative from the Play Magnus Group, with the $100,000 online Julius Bär Chess Challenge Tour getting underway this week that will featuring ten under-18 male players and ten under-25 women players. And it also has two legendary chess icons in Vladimir Kramnik and Judit Polgar doubling up as team captains and online commentators!
The new event sees all 20 players divided into two gender-balanced teams, Team Kramnik and Team Polgar. The four-leg Tour begins with the Polgar Challenge on Thursday. Winners of the individual events will get a rare chance to compete on the elite stage in a Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event, and take on top elite-stars such as World Champion Magnus Carlsen
Uzbekistan’s Nodirbek Abdusattorov, 16, is the top seed in the tour competition, but he could well face a strong challenge from the likes of Germany’s Vincent Keymer and India’s Nihal Sarin, both also 16, and top US junior talent Awonder Liang, 17, from Wisconsin.
Nodirbek Abdusattorov (aged, 16, Uzbekistan); Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (15, India); Dinara Saduakassova (24, Kazakhstan); Jonas Bjerre (16, Denmark); Leon Mendonca (15, India); Lei Tingjie (24, China); Christopher Yoo (14, United States); Olga Badelka (18, Belarus); Carissa Yip (17, United States); Nurgyul Salimova (17, Bulgaria)
Nihal Sarin (aged 16, India); Awonder Liang (17, United States); Vincent Keymer (16, Germany); Gukesh D (14, India); Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (24, Iran); Volodar Murzin (14, Russia); Polina Shuvalova (20, Russia); Zhansaya Abdumalik (21, Kazakhstan); Jiner Zhu (18, China); Gunay Mammadzada (20, Azerbaijan)
The team with highest points tally from the Julius Bär Chess Challenge Tour, will also get to travel to Dubai where Carlsen will defend his World title crown in November. Polgar and Kramnik will also mentor these 20 players during the duration of the Tour. The players will also get additional coaching from former World women’s champion Hou Yifan, Anna Muzychuk, Ju Wenjun, Boris Gelfand, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Arthur Kogan.
There was no ‘golden ticket’ as such for a young Magnus Carlsen, but his next best thing was being dubbed the ‘Mozart of Chess’ for today’s impressive win in the Corus ‘C’ group at Wijk aan Zee back in 2004 – an electric moment that I was lucky enough to witness at first hand at the top Dutch tournament. Carlsen’s penultimate round win over his co-leader secured outright first place in the tournament, with elevation to the ‘B’ group the following year, and then international acclaim.
The rest, as they say, being history.
Magnus Carlsen – Sipke Ernst
Corus Group C, 2004
Caro-Kann Defence, Classical Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 The Classical is a good, methodical approach with simple development that – at club-level at least – will make the White player have to take risks to try to break down. 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nd7 8.h5 The Spassky variation, named after the 10th World Champion, is an aggressive plan that involves making space for a rook lift to h4. However, it can come with long-term risks, because in the endgame, the h-pawn can become a liability. 8…Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 e6 Times have moved on, with refinements discovered – such as the text – but in the early days of this line, Spassky and others scored well with opponents opting for the natural-looking 10…Qc7 only to discover what Spassky’s ‘big idea’ was, namely 11.Rh4! e6 12.Bf4 Bd6 13.Bxd6 Qxd6 and White has more space and more options for his active rooks to operate behind. 11.Bf4 Ngf6 Better is flicking in the more nuanced reply 11…Qa5+ looking to entice white into c3 that prevents queenside castling, and for that reason 12.Bd2 Bb4 13.c3 Be7 with equality is often played. 12.0-0-0 Be7 13.Ne4 Qa5 Also possible is going ‘pawn grabbing’ with 13…Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Nf6 15.Qd3 Qd5 but after 16.Kb1!? Nxh5 17.Bc1 followed by Ne5 gives good compensation for the pawn. 14.Kb1 0-0 15.Nxf6+ Nxf6 16.Ne5 Rad8 17.Qe2 c5? Missing a trick. Better was 17…Qb6 18.c3 c5 with the queen defending the e6-pawn. 18.Ng6 fxg6 19.Qxe6+ Kh8 20.hxg6 Ng8 This is the most resilient defense. Black holds h6 and e7 with the knight’s retreat. 21.Bxh6! gxh6 22.Rxh6+! [see diagram] This is the whole point of the combination, as the enemy king is left dazed and confused in No Man’s Land. 22…Nxh6 23.Qxe7 Amazingly, in his mini-press conference afterwards, a youthful, innocent and very cherubic Carlsen was surprised to hear that the game had, for the largest part, been played before, with a notable grandmaster playing Black! And in front of a large and delighted audience Carlsen showed his game, assisted by the legendary Wijk aan Zee commentator team duo of GMs Genna Sosonko and Hans Ree. 23…Nf7 The only move. 24.gxf7! The aforementioned game, Almagro Llanas vs. Gustafsson (Yes, that Jan Gustaffson of Chess24 commentary fame!), Madrid 2003 continued 24.Qf6+? Kg8 25.Rh1 Nh6 26.Qe7 Nf7 and a draw. But Carlsen belies his young age, having seen just that little bit deeper, and this game went on to make his name by being dubbed the ‘Mozart of Chess’ by the late, great Lubosh Kavalek in his Washington Post column. 24…Kg7 The only other try was 24…Qb6 25.Qe5+ Kh7 26.Rh1+ Qh6 27.Rxh6+ Kxh6 but White is easily winning after 28.Qf6+ Kh7 29.c3 etc. 25.Rd3?! The rook lift looks good with the enemy king defenceless, but it was a tad hasty, as the clinical kill was 25.Qe5+! Kxf7 where now 26.Rd3! would have forced Ernst to play the hopeless 26…Qe1+ to avoid mate. 25…Rd6 26.Rg3+ Rg6 27.Qe5+ Kxf7 28.Qf5+ Rf6 Better to ‘go quickly’ rather than dragging it out to a mate in 15 after 28…Ke8 29.Re3+ Kd8 etc. 30.Qxf8+. 29.Qd7# 1-0