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By John Henderson

The script wasn’t to be for the super-strong FTX Crypto Currency Cup, the sixth leg of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group. Although World Champion Magnus Carlsen beat Teimour Radjabov to safely book his passage into the final, alas Ian Nepomniachtchi, his upcoming title challenger, was comprehensively outplayed and lost to the very much in-form Wesley So, and therefore no big pre-world championship battle between the two title combatants.

After bravely fighting off a mosquito invasion in his Russian playing space, Nepomniachtchi couldn’t quite swat away the more determined and deadlier So, as the reigning US champion turned in yet another smooth performance as he comfortably won both sets to ease his way into the final of the $320,000 cryptocurrency contest, $100,000 of which has been set aside in the volatile and currently live-crashing bitcoin market, with the original eve-of-tournament investment now down to $78,954.56, according to the tracker placed on the official Tour home page.

Although Carlsen let Radjabov off the hook with a bad blunder that allowed the Azeri to tie the opening set their semi, the Norwegian wasn’t quite so accommodating in the second set, being “very satisfied” with his performance, effortlessly winning the first and fourth games to join So in the final – a final that will now see the two runaway Tour pacemakers battle it out not just for the glory of the top prize, but also the added bragging rights of the #1 spot in the overall standings.

Carlsen, the Tour leader, though is up against the man who has beaten him already in two finals: will it prove to be third time lucky for the Norwegian, or will So – who is 29 games unbeaten so far in the FTX Crypto Cup – continue to hold a hex over the game’s top dog for a hat-trick of Tour wins?

The two-day FTX Crypto Cup final starts Sunday 30 May at 17:00 CEST (11:00 EST | 08:00 PST). All games are played in tournament host Chess24.com‘s new online chess playzone with the regular Tour live commentary team of Kaja Snare, GM David Howell and IM Jovanka Houska. There’s also live coverage on Twitch, YouTube, and on the Eurosport cable channel.

 

 

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Teimour Radjabov
FTX Crypto Cup Semifinal, (2.4)
Owen’s Defence
1.e4 b6 Back in the days when Queen Victoria reigned in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, it was the quintessential English theologian, the Rev. John Owen (1827-91), who introduced the Queen’s Fianchetto opening for Black into serious chess praxis. But here for Radjabov, who needs to win ‘on-demand’ to take the match to a blitz tiebreaker, the Azeri provocatively uses it to try to take Magnus out of his comfort zone – but it doesn’t fluster the world champion in the least. 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nf3 d6 5.0-0 Nd7 6.a4 a6 7.Re1 Ngf6 8.Nbd2 Be7 9.Nf1 0-0 10.Ng3 e5 As Carlsen just gets “on with the job” of logically developing his pieces, keeping his options open for now, it’s Radjabov who blinks with a dramatic and metamorphic switch in direction to a sort of Ruy Lopez, Breyer variation set-up; only it is doomed to failure, as he’s a tempo behind with the Breyer set-up. 11.c3 Re8 12.Bd2 Bf8 13.b4 g6 14.Qc1 Bg7 15.a5 b5 16.Bh6 Bh8 17.d5 c5 18.h3 c4 19.Bc2 The struggle now takes on all the hallmarks of the Ruy Lopez, Breyer variation – and one where Carlsen clearly feels the more comfortable, as just needing a draw to get to the final, he doesn’t hold back with his all-out attack. 19…Nf8 20.Qd2 Bc8 21.Nh2 Bg7 22.Rf1! Straight out of the Ruy Lopez playbook, with the rook strategically returning to f1 to smash open the f-file with f4. 22…Bxh6 23.Qxh6 Kh8 24.Qd2 The queen retreats in order to attack, if you follow the logic! 24…N6d7 25.f4! Carlsen just steamrolls over Radjabov from here in. 25…exf4 26.Rxf4 Ne5 The knight taking up the e5 outpost is the only thing Radjabov has got going for him – but Carlsen simply ignores the well-placed steed by playing around it. 27.Nf3 Nfd7 28.Rf1 Nxf3+ 29.R4xf3 Ne5 30.Rf6! [see diagram] Carlsen prepares the groundwork for piling the pressure on Black’s weak kingside. And fearing being rolled over, Radjabov realises how desperate his position has become. 30…Bf5? Radjabov opts to hang for a sheep as a lamb with his panic response – but his position is doomed anyway, for example 30…Kg7 31.Qg5! and in the immortal words of Dr John Nunn, White will simply “invite everyone to the party” with Bd1, R1f4 and Nh5+ etc. 31.exf5 Qxf6 32.fxg6 Qh4 33.Nf5 Qh5 34.g7+ Kg8 35.Nxd6 The two pawns alone would have been compensation for the exchange, but Carlsen has “the cherry on top” with an easily winning attack. 35…Red8 36.Nf5 f6 37.d6! Not just pushing another passed pawn up the board, but more important vacating the d5 square for a winning check. 37…Ra7 38.Qd5+ Rf7 39.Bd1! 1-0 And just when Radjabov thinks he might have a holdable position, and no clear way for White to move in for the kill, Carlsen calmly plays a little retreating move that forces immediate resignation, as the Black queen finds itself short of squares. For example, if 39…Qg6 (Also 39…Qg5 loses in the same way with 40.h4! Qc1 etc. 41.Bh5!) 40.h4 with h5, h6 and Ne7+ coming next.

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