The FTX Crypto Cup proved to be third time lucky for Magnus Carlsen, as the world champion finally ended Wesley So’s successful run of winning their previous two Meltwater Champions Chess Tour titles, as he overcame the US champion in a dramatic and thrilling finale to the world’s first bitcoin tournament.
So had gone 29 games undefeated – 15 in the prelims, plus two comfortable KO mini-match victories over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and world championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi respectively – en route to the showpiece final between the two Tour pacemakers. But his streak came to a spectacular halt, as Carlsen turned in a supremely smooth win in the opening game of the match.
But So soon hit back to split the opening set in what soon turned out to be a close contest that went the distance of an Armageddon-decider, which ended with an emotional and fist-pumping Carlsen turning on the style once again when he needed it, to win not only the title but also the largest prize pot ever offered in an elite online chess event.
Carlsen’s more energetic chess just tipped the balance in the see-saw match-up between the two Tour pacemakers, as he took home the $60,000 first prize plus a 0.6 bitcoin bonus ($23,938.81) offered by the cryptocurrency derivatives exchange sponsor FTX. “It’s pretty sick! I came back five times when I needed it, and I also lost twice,” said a relieved Carlsen in victory. “It’s absolutely insane. I am just so happy to have pulled through. It’s a massive, massive relief.”
So has emerged as Carlsen’s most dangerous rival in the Tour, beating him in the Skilling Open and the Opera Euro Rapid events. But now with victory in the FTX Crypto Cup, Carlsen not only got revenge over for those previous two defeats, but he now also stretches his lead at the top of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Croup.
There are now only three more Meltwater Champions Chess Tour tournaments before the Tour final in San Francisco in September. The top eight finishers in the overall Tour standings will go forward to San Francisco to contest the final.
Tour Standings (Top Ten):
1. Magnus Carlsen, 271 points ($155,000 + 0.60 BTC); 2. Wesley So, 203 ($130,000 + 0.40 BTC); 3. Teimour Radjabov, 133 ($98,500 + 0.15 BTC); 4. Anish Giri, 121 ($85,000 + 0.10 BTC); 5. Ian Nepomniachtchi, 115 ($85,000 + 0.25 BTC); 6. Hikaru Nakamura, 85 ($55,000 + 0.10 BTC); 7. Levon Aronian, 81 ($66,500); 8. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 64 ($56,500 + 0.10 BTC); 9. Daniil Dubov, 23 ($25,000); 10. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 21 ($13,500).
GM Wesley So – GM Magnus Carlsen
FTX Crypto Cup Final, (1.1)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 This has become something of a pet-line of late for So. 5…exd4 6.e5 It looks a little like the venerable Max Lange Attack – named after the 19th-century German analyst, Max Lange – that has largely fallen out of fashion in contemporary master praxis; but only here with a more modern twist, as we’ll soon see. 6…d5 7.Bb5 Sensibly transposing into the Two Knights Modern, as the interpolation of c3 rather than 0-0 sees the double-edged and tricky Max Lange approach with 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7 Rg8 favouring Black. 7…Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Be3 Bg4 11.Qc2 So diverges from his successful Opera Euro Rapid final against Carlsen back in mid-February, which went 11.h3 Bh5 12.Qc2 Bg6 13.Qb3 Ne7 14.0-0 c6 15.Bd3 Nf5 and the US champion going on to win that game and Tour title – but only after Carlsen, after easily achieving an equal position, somehow managed to press the self-destruct button. Carlsen would have been very happy with a redux of that position, so hence the reason for So’s tweak, looking to deny Black’s knight the convenient f5 square. 11…Bf5 12.Qb3 Ne7 13.0-0 c6 14.Be2 So’s tweak has given him a slightly better version now of their Opera Euro Rapid Final game noted above. 14…Rb8 15.Na4 Bc7 16.Nh4 f6 17.Bf3?! Better was 17.f4 looking to follow-up with Nc3 and a very minor edge. But with So’s inaccurate move, Carlsen pounces quickly to emerge with the better prospects. 17…b5! 18.Nc3 Nxc3 19.exf6? So has clearly lost the thread of the game with this further inaccuracy – he’s obviously missing something in his analysis, as he had to accept he was worse now and play 19.Qxc3 b4 20.Qc1 fxe5 21.dxe5 Bxe5 22.Nxf5 Rxf5 23.Bg4 Rf8 24.g3 and perhaps hope he can generate some activity for the pawn with his bishop-pair. 19…Be4 20.bxc3 Qd6! It’s amazing just how quickly Carlsen’s attack comes crashing through – and how! 21.g3 Bxf3 22.Bf4?! The series of bad calls are mounting up now for So – better was 22.fxe7! Qxe7 23.Nxf3 Rxf3 24.a4 a6 25.axb5 axb5 26.Qd1! The strategic queen retreat allows White to exploit the light-square weakness in the Black camp. 26…Rff8 (If 26…Rbf8? 27.Bf4! R3xf4 28.gxf4 Bxf4 29.Qg4 Qe4 30.Qg2 White has everything under control.) 27.Qg4! with excellent practical saving chances. 22…Qxf6 23.Bxc7 Rb7 24.Be5 Qf7 25.Nxf3 Qxf3 26.Qb4 So would ideally like to play 26.Qd1 but after 26…Qxc3 27.Qg4 Rf7 Black has an extra pawn and all his bases covered. Mind you, that may well have been better than what now befalls So! 26…Nf5 27.Qc5 Rbf7 I’m not going to quibble here, but the quicker clinical kill was the immediate 27…h5! with ..h4 being the winning follow-up. 28.Rae1 h5! 29.h3 What’s not to like here for Carlsen? The attack practically plays itself, with 29.h4 crashing to the spectacular sacrificial attack 29…Nxh4! 30.gxh4 Qg4+ 31.Bg3 Rxf2!! 32.Qd6 R8f3! 33.Rxf2 Rxg3+ 34.Kh1 Rh3+ 35.Qh2 Qg3! 36.Re8+ Kh7 37.Re5 g6 38.Re7+ Kh6 39.Qxh3 Qxh3+ 40.Kg1 Qxc3 easily winning. 29…h4 30.Qxc6 Nxg3! [see diagram] I believe the correct technical term in chess for this sort of move is ‘Splat!’ 31.Bxg3 Black quickly mates after 31.fxg3 Qxf1+ 32.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 33.Kg2 R8f2#. 31…hxg3 32.Re8 g2 33.Rxf8+ Rxf8 0-1 So resigns with no way to stop the double threat of 34…Qxf2+ and 34…gxf1Q+; and if that’s not enough to worry about, then there’s always …Qxh3 followed by…Qh1 mate.