Chess and cryptocurrencies admittedly may seem like strange partners, but ironically they do have something in common when they converge, such as with the FTX Crypto Cup, the sixth leg of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group, when both their star attractions in Magnus Carlsen and bitcoin become equally just as volatile with wildly fluctuating performances in the same week!
There’s an online record of a $320,000 prize pot in play, with $100,000 “bonus” set aside in bitcoin – but in the week that the tournament was announced, that was the very moment bitcoin chose to spectacularly crash after a panic sell-off, falling as low as $65,500, and then rallying this week to $85,791.02, according to the tracker conveniently placed on the tournament website.
Yes, prices can go down as well as up, an invaluable lesson learned at school from studying history and the 1929 Wall Street Crash. And just as volatile as bitcoin these days is Carlsen performances, as you never know whether the world champion’s stock is going to go up or down, crash or rise. The last Tour leg of the New in Chess Classic, the Norwegian was riding high; only now, he was on the verge of a dramatic exit by crashing out of the FTX Crypto Cup.
Carlsen had a veritable rollercoaster ride in the prelims: starting well, drawing games he should really have been winning, steadying the ship with one or two sparking games (see Grischuk game below), only to lose momentum and games. And such was his erratic form that even 5 minutes before the end of his nerve-jangling final round 15 match-up with Teimour Radjabov, the game looked to be ending in a draw, a result that would have seen Carlsen failing to make the cut.
But fate and a big blunder from his opponent intervened to turn the game in his favour, and in the end, by the skin of his teeth, Carlsen just managed to make it into the business end of the final eight knockout. “Obviously it’s a massive relief,” said Carlsen almost wiping his brow at the end.
Yet Carlsen’s nightmare performance could inadvertently work in his favour. After barely scraping through to knockout stages, the misfiring Norwegian now finds himself paired in the quarterfinal in a clash with old foe and fellow chess influencer Hikaru Nakamura – the sort of fan-favourite big match-up that tends to rejuvenate Carlsen and brings out the best in both players.
Prelims Final Standings:
1. F. Caruana, 10/15; 2-5. A. Giri, H. Nakamura, M. Vachier-Lagrave, W. So, 9; 6-7. Carlsen, T. Radjabov, 8½; 8-9. I. Nepomniachtchi, L. Aronian 8; 10. S. Mamedyarov, 7½; 11-13. A. Firouzja, P. Svidler, Ding Liren, 7; 14. D. Dubov, 6; 15. A. Grischuk, 5; 16. A. Pichot, 1½.
The FTX Crypto Cup quarterfinals starts at 16:00 BST (11:00 EST | 08:00 PST) on Wednesday 26 May. There’s live commentary with host Kaja Snare, GM David Howell & IM Jovanka Houska on Chess24.com, Twitch, YouTube, and linear TV. The knockout stages will also be available on the Eurosport cable channel.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Alexander Grischuk
FTX Crypto Cup Prelim, (8)
1.b3 Carlsen adopts a flank opening with impeccable Scandinavian roots, with the Nimzo-Larsen Attack first being popularised by the adopted Dane Aaron Nimzowitsch, but it dramatically only came to popular attention through the late 1960s and early ’70s by the great Dane Bent Larsen, one of the world’s best players of the era. 1…e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.c4 Paradoxically this proved to be the pitfall of arguably one of the most famous Nimzo-Larsen Attack, the epic Bent Larsen v Boris Spassky encounter from the USSR v Rest of the World match in 1970 – a game that ended in a brilliant miniature with Spassky (as Black) finding a wonderful sacrificial finale. Carlsen does likewise with a miniature – but with the colours reversed! 3…Nf6 4.Nf3 Carlsen plays it in a more combative way than Larsen when he lost his epic miniature against Spassky. 4…e4 5.Nd4 Bc5 6.Nf5 d5!? Last week, in the 2nd Mr Dodgy Invitational, we witnessed the debacle between Adhiban-Navara, with a shock brevity that went 6…0-0 7.e3 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5?? 9.Qg4 and Black resigned. 7.Nxg7+!? This is all seat of your pants stuff – but Carlsen looks as if he’s seen this possibility from the recent Mr Dodgy Invitational, and “crunched” it with his team and their high-level engines. 7…Kf8 8.cxd5 Bd4 9.Nc3 Ne7 Black can’t snatch the d-pawn. After 9…Nxd5?! 10.Nh5 Qg5 11.e3 Bg4 12.Qc1! Qxh5 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.exd4 and Black is in trouble with Bc4 coming next. 10.e3! Bxc3 11.dxc3 Kxg7 12.c4 Ng6 Carlsen has two pawns for the piece – but the elephant in the room for Grischuk is the seemingly eternal pin down the long a1-h8 diagonal. 13.g4! h6 14.h4 c5 Grischuk is rightly concerned about stopping Carlsen playing Qd4 to pile the pressure down the long diagonal. The problem Grischuk has, is that although 14…Qe7 with the plan of …Ne5 looks “sensible”, there’s still major problems ahead, such as 15.Be2 Ne5 16.Qd4 Nexg4 17.Bxg4 Bxg4 18.f3!! Bxf3 (It’s easy to miss that 18…exf3 loses on-the-spot to 19.Qxg4+! Kf8 20.Qxf3 etc.) 19.Rg1+ Kh7 20.Qxf6 Qxf6 21.Bxf6 Rhg8 22.Kd2 Rxg1 23.Rxg1 Rg8 24.Rxg8 Kxg8 25.Be5 c6 26.d6 Kf8 27.Bd4 a6 (If 27…b6 28.c5! b5 29.Bg7+! and White should be winning.) 28.c5 Ke8 29.Bg7 h5 30.Kc3 and while it could well be a draw with the opposite-colour bishops, defending this will not be easy for Black. 15.Be2 More clinical was 15.f4!? 15…Kg8 Grischuk senses the danger – but this goes down almost without a fight. The online fans were all screaming for 15…Qd6, and I am sure Carlsen would have continued again with 16.Qc2, but such is Black problems here that even the engines start to showboat with the non-human continuation 16.Kd2! Ne5 17.g5 Nfd7 18.Qg1! Kh7 19.Qg3! Re8 (Hopeless is 19…Nf3+?? 20.Bxf3 Qxg3 21.Bxe4+ Kg8 22.fxg3 easily winning.) 20.f4! exf3 21.Bd3+ Kh8 22.Qxf3 Kg8 23.Qf4 h5 24.Raf1 and it is doubtful Black can hold on having to face this relentless attack. 16.Qc2 [see diagram] Carlsen still only has the two pawns for his sacrificed piece – but Grischuk is all tied up in knots, and trying to unravel his pieces gives Carlsen the time needed to calmly get his king to safety and bring his queenside rook into the attack. 16…Rh7 17.0-0-0 Nxg4 It was either this or going down in flames with 17…Qd6 18.g5 Ng4 19.h5 Nxf2 20.hxg6 fxg6 21.Rdf1! Nxh1 22.Rf6! Qd8 23.Rxg6+ Kf8 24.Rf6+ Kg8 25.Bh5 Ng3 26.Bg6 and Black will soon succumb to the relentless pressure of the attack. 18.h5 Nf8 19.Qxe4 f5 20.Qc2 Nxf2 21.Rhg1+ Kf7 22.Rdf1 Qh4 23.Be5?! The only minor flaw in what has been an otherwise sparkling and dynamic game by the world champion. The clean, clinical kill was 23.Rg2! Nh1 (The only square, remarkably. After 23…Ne4 24.Rg4! wins quickly.) 24.Bd3 Ke7 25.Rh2 and White retains the piece while keeping the extra pawns and the raging attack. 23…Qe4? Grischuk was still in with a fighting chance of survival after 23…Qe7! 24.Qb2 Nd7 25.Bf4 Nh3 but after 26.Bg4! Nxg1 27.Bxf5 you can’t see how the Black king will be able to survive in the long-run. 24.Qc3 Nh3 25.Rg4! 1-0 After being systematically “pummelled” by Carlsen, under the relentless pressure Grischuk probably missed this winning move that embarrasses his queen.