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Out of adversity there has to come inspiration, and the pandemic global lockdown led to Magnus Carlsen and his Play Magnus Group creating what’s now become the very successful and hugely popular $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. But before the unwelcome arrival of Covid, all the focus chess-wise was on another Tour, namely the Grand Chess Tour, which is now set to return to live action again following its enforced one-year hiatus.

The first in a circuit of international tournaments is the Superbet Chess Classic Romania, which will take place from June 5-14, 2021 at the Sheraton Bucharest Hotel. The tournament is a Classical ten-player all-play-all, headed by the US world #2, Fabiano Caruana. Hungary’s Richard Rapport was also confirmed as a full tour player to replace China’s Ding Liren, who would have had trouble travelling due to the international Covid protocols.

However, at the last minute – as we’ve come to expect with Covid – Rapport had to withdraw and he was replaced by local player Bogdan Deac. The full line-up is now: Fabiano Caruana (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Wesley So (USA), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Bogdan Deac (Romania) and Constantin Lupulescu (Romania).

The 2021 Grand Chess Tour has a prize fund of $1.275m and comprises the following five tournaments: Superbet Chess Classic Romania, June 5 – 14, Bucharest; Paris Rapid & Blitz: June 18 – 22; Croatia Rapid & Blitz, July 7 – 11, Zagreb; St Louis Rapid & Blitz, August 11 – 15; and concluding with the Sinquefield Cup (Classical) August 17 – 26, St Louis.

There’s no Magnus Carlsen nor his upcoming title challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, as “regulars” in the Grand Chess Tour, but it is widely anticipated that one or both of the title combatants could well make wildcards appearances for one-off specific events.

GM Wesley So – GM Magnus Carlsen
FTX Crypto Cup Final, (1.3)
Giuoco Piano
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 So keeps faith with the Max Lange-type Modern Italian that’s become something of a pet-line for the US champion. 6…d5 7.Bb5 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 0-0 10.Be3 Bg4 11.h3 After losing with his experiment in his previous White game (see our last column, Three’s a Charm) with 11.Qc2, So reverts back to 11.h3 that he had success with against Carlsen in their Opera Euro Rapid final in mid-February. 11…Bh5 12.Rc1!? It soon becomes clear that So has done work in this sideline. 12…Ba5N A novelty from Carlsen, who attempts to bring his bishop to a better outpost rather than have it being locked in. That said, I prefer 12…Nxc3 13.bxc3 f6!? looking to open the game up and breaking down White’s central pawn chain. 13.0-0 Bxc3 14.bxc3 Na5 According to the talking heads on the commentary team, this was Carlsen’s big idea with his novelty, looking to swing his knight into the c4-square – but it all looks far too slow, and better was 14…f5!? (or even 14…f6!?) looking to open the kingside up. 15.g4! So moves quickly to expand on the kingside, and Carlsen begins to realise that his plan with …Nc4 is far too slow. 15…Bg6 16.Ne1! Strategically retreating the knight with a long-term plan of expanding further with f4. It was around now that Carlsen realised he faced some difficult choices. 16…f6 The alternative was no better. After 16…f5 17.Ng2! c6 18.Bd3 Nc4 19.Bxc4 dxc4 20.f3 Ng5 21.Bxg5 Qxg5 22.f4! Qe7 23.Re1 and White dominates. 17.f3 c6 18.Bd3 Ng5 19.Bxg6! A strong move that renders Carlsen helpless, as he’s now lumbered with those tripled, isolated pawns. 19…hxg6 20.Bxg5 fxg5 21.Qd3 Nc4 In a state of discombobulation, Carlsen opts to sacrifice a pawn in an effort to try to stay in the game. 22.Qxg6 Qe7 23.Rf2! So comes up with the accurate reply to Carlsen’s attempts to generate some play for his pawn. 23…c5 It’s all painfully too slow for Carlsen, but he has to seek counter-play somehow. 24.Ng2 Rac8 25.Rcf1 cxd4 26.cxd4 Rc6 27.Qd3 Ra6? Carlsen position dramatically collapses now. His last chance to seek survival was looking to trade off the queens with 27…Qa3! but even then, simply 28.Qxa3 Nxa3 29.f4 Nc2 30.f5! Rc3 (There’s no time to snatch the d-pawn. After 30…Nxd4 31.Rd1 Nb5 32.Rxd5 Nc3 33.Rd7 Ne4 34.Re2 Nc5 White is in total command and looking to push for e6, rendering Black helpless. 35.Rd5) 31.Rd2 Rfc8 32.Kh2 Ne3 33.Rff2 and White is in command, but there’s still work left to do to convert his big advantage. 28.f4 Ra3 29.Qg6! Rxh3 If 29…gxf4 30.Nxf4 and all Black achieves is to bring all of White’s pieces in for the final attack. 30.f5 Kh8 31.f6! [see diagram] So makes no mistake with his well-calculated breakthrough that leaves Carlsen dead in the water. 31…gxf6 32.exf6 Qh7 33.Qg7+! 1-0 Carlsen resigns, as he loses a rook after 33…Qxg7 34.fxg7+ Kxg7 35.Rxf8 etc.

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