John Henderson
By John Henderson

Finally. Finally after enduring a barren six-month period of not winning a tournament of any description since he turned 30 late last November, the natural order of things have been restored as Magnus Carlsen claimed his first Tour title, as the Norwegian dominated to beat arch-rival Hikaru Nakamura to win the New in Chess Classic, the fifth leg of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group.

“I’m really, really relieved,” a delighted and smiling Carlsen commented in his post-victory presser after he finally got the monkey off his back of the birthday hoodoo, to win his first Tour title at the fifth time of asking. “I sort of felt after yesterday that I’d gotten away with one, but I knew it would still be difficult today, and no, I don’t think any of us played a particularly good match, but I don’t care about that right now. I’m just so happy to have won one of these tournaments and it feels really, really good!’m just so happy to have won one of these tournaments and it feels really, really good!”

But as Carlsen pointed out, he “got away with one” in the opening day of the New in Chess Classic Final. It started off with two tough draws with Game 3 looking to be heading in the same direction, and all the expectations were that this could turn into an epic match between these two longtime rivals and now chess influencers, that could go to the wire of a deciding blitz and armageddon tiebreaker.

But just when the game looked to be destined for a draw, Nakamura erred badly to gift Carlsen an unexpected big advantage, which the Norwegian duly converted to strike the first blow – and he followed up with a win in Game 4 to take the first set. But Nakamura never gives up without a fight, and the US speed maven fought his way back into the match by winning the opening game of the second set – but he lived to regret taking a draw in a better position in Game 2.

This allowed Carlsen to hit back as only Carlsen can, and the world champion struck back brilliantly in Game 3, leaving Nakamura needing to win on-demand with black to take the match into the tiebreaks. But Carlsen was by this time re-energised and back to his dominant best, leaving Nakamura hopelessly lost in Game 4, only to be offered a draw in a lost position that allowed Carlsen, with a 2-2 score, to nick the NiC title.

But the Tour is all about points and current standings and not more bragging rights for beating a lifelong rival. And with Carlsen winning the preliminary stage (now all five of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour) and also winning the the knockout final, he not only boosted his prize-money earnings by $30,000, he also earned a bonus perfect 10 points (1st in the prelims) + 40 points (winner of the knockout) to take a maximum 50 points to leapfrog Wesley So to now lead the overall Tour standings. Meanwhile, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, playing in his first Tour event, beat Levon Aronian in the 3rd place playoff to now jump into the Top 10.

Tour standings (Top 10):
1. Magnus Carlsen ($95,000), 185-points; 2. Wesley So ($90,000), 145; 3. Teimour Radjabov ($83,500), 109; 4. Anish Giri ($75,000), 105; 5. Ian Nepomniachtchi ($60,000), 83; 6. Levon Aronian ($66,500), 81; 7. Hikaru Nakamura ($45,000), 73; 8. Maxine Vachier-Lagrave ($46,500), 54; 9. Daniil Dubov ($25,000), 23; 10. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ($13,500), 21.



GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Magnus Carlsen
New In Chess Classic | Final (2.3)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Janowski Variation
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 a6 It’s a blast from the past, as Magnus Carlsen re-affirms his faith in the all-but forgotten Janowski Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined that he’s been experimenting with and added to his repertoire. Named after the early 20th century Polish-French title-challenger David Janowski, its generally considered as a solid line, but recent games have shown that things can also get spicy pretty fast. 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bf4 Nf6 6.e3 Bd6 7.Bxd6 Qxd6 8.Bd3 Bg4 9.Qb3 Nc6 10.h3 “We’re in unchartered territory,” as the talking heads on the Chess24/Tour commentary team observed, with games normally seeing 10.Qxb7 Rb8 11.Qxa6 0-0 (or even 11…Nb4) and Black has compensation for the pawn. 10…Bh5 11.Nge2 Bxe2 12.Nxe2 0-0 13.Rc1 Nd8 Not just defending b7, as the from d8 the knight can make its way over to the kingside via e6, and lots of attacking potential. 14.Qa3!? Also an option was 14.0-0 – but you could detect that Nakamura sensed the potential dangers, and although trading queens might have been the last thing on his mind, he feels this was the best way to continue . 14…Qd7 Carlsen wants to keep Nakamura “dangling” for now. The safe call was 14…Qxa3 15.bxa3 c6 but after 16.Ng3 endgame-wise, the doubling of the a-pawns not being that much of a handicap for White – and indeed, after a regrouping with Kd2, Rcb1 and Rhc1, White is looking good. 15.0-0 g6 16.Nf4 Re8 17.Bc2 Better looked the pure minority-attack approach that’s typical of this position, with 17.Rc2 c6 and 18.b4. 17…c6 18.Nd3 Ne6 19.f4 Ng7 Looking to put the knight on f5 to further target e3, and also falling back to d6 that not only defends b7, but also provides a counter-balancing outpost for the Black knight on e4. 20.f5 Boldly strange in many ways, as the obvious move everyone was expecting was 20.Ne5!? indirectly defending e3, and more or less forcing 20…Qe7 21.Qa5 Nf5. 20…g5 Of course, if 20…Nxf5 21.Nc5! Qc8 22.Bxf5 gxf5 23.Rc2! and with the rook set to swing over to f2, Black has major problems down the semi-open f-file. 21.Ne5 Qc7 22.h4 Nakamura has never been one to hold back, and he attempts to cut to the chase with a daring kingside attack – but it’s all a tad too hasty, and Carlsen soon exploits the kingside opening up. He would have been better first preparing the ground for h4, with 22.Rf3 followed by Qa3-c3-e1 to transfer over to the kingside to exploit the dark-square weakness. 22…g4 23.Qc3 Ngh5 It’s an ominous warning sign for Nakamura, as Carlsen’s pieces now begin to exploit the holes created on the kingside. 24.Qe1 Rxe5! [see diagram] Carlsen has his killer touch back, as he ruthlessly pounces with a strong exchange sacrifice that leaves Nakamura hopelessly clinging to the wreckage of his position. 25.dxe5 Qxe5 26.Qc3 Qg3 Carlsen is genuinely spoilt for choice of how to continue, as even 26…Qd6 was good with …Re8 and …Ne4 coming that will cut off the support for the weak f5- and h4-pawns – but the queen cutting right into the heart of Nakamura’s position was by far the very human first-choice. 27.Qe1 A sure sign that Nakamura is floundering, as his position is so compromised he has to resort to returning his queen to e1 in a desperate attempt to see the queens being traded. 27…Qd6! And now Carlsen gets his queen on its best square with the gain of a move – all of which means Nakamura is doomed. 28.Qf2 Re8 Carlsen is in no rush with Nakamura’s position shattered, and his bishop on c2 effectively cut out of the game, so he just builds up his position. 29.Rcd1 Qe5 30.Rd4 c5! Much stronger than 30…Qxe3 31.Qxe3 Rxe3 32.Kf2 which only eases White’s difficulties. And also a typical Carlsen-like move, as he gradually pushes his American foe off the board. 31.Rd2 Ng3 32.Rfd1 Kf8!!? It’s like a cat playing with a captured mouse: Carlsen’s position is so dominant, he even play a nonsensical and random king move, and Nakamura’s is so paralysed there’s nothing he can do about his wretched position even with the extra move! 33.Rd3 Nfe4 This had to be pure agony for Nakamura – so bad I’ve seen opera heroines dying a less agonising, less painful death than he’s now having to suffer. 34.Qe1 Qf6! And as h4 falls, Nakamura king falls with it. 35.Rxd5 Qxh4 36.Bxe4 Qh1+! 37.Kf2 Nxe4+ 38.Ke2 Qxg2+ 39.Kd3 0-1 And Nakamura resigns rather than seeing the hopelessness of 39…b5 40.Rb1 Nf2+ 41.Kc2 Qe4+ 42.Kc1 Qc4+ 43.Qc3 etc. 43…Qxd5


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