Sliding Doors - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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In the 1998 hit movie Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a woman in her twenties for whom life could go one of two ways, defined by a chance event – a closing Tube door. In the scenario where she manages to board the carriage, she catches her boyfriend cheating and changes her life for the better. In the one where she misses that train, she arrives later, stays in the relationship – and things go rapidly downhill from there.

At the recently concluded FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Magnus Carlsen’s “sliding doors moment” came when he unwisely pushed the envelope just a little too far in his speed tiebreak playoff game against 23-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda, where like Paltrow, the world champion likewise went downhill, as the determined young Pole not only beat the top seed and favourite with a stylish win, but he then proceeded to demolish Sergey Karjakin in the final to become the big dark horse winner of the behemoth knockout tournament.

Carlsen also faced an earlier potential sliding doors moment with a close quarterfinals match against another rising young star, in nineteen-year-old Russian Andrey Esipenko – and the rise of Duda, Esipenko and also eighteen-year-old Alireza Firouzja is to be welcomed, as this could well signal the trio supplanting the “old guard” in the world’s top 10 before the year is out, and with it, potentially for Carlsen, a newer-generational threat to his crown for the first time.

Duda was rightly hailed as a new national hero on his victorious return home to Poland on Sunday, while Carlsen can only reflect on not being on the right side of those mythical sliding doors, as this was by far the best chance the Norwegian has had in four attempts to capture the one remaining major title that so far has eluded him. And rather than celebrating a World Cup win, Carlsen’s only consolation after his near month-long tough campaign was winning his third-place playoff match by beating Russia’s Vladimir Fedoseev to take home $48,500 for his efforts.

But with this emphatic 2-0 victory, Carlsen was at least rewarded with an additional bauble, the Gazprom Brilliancy Prize, a special trophy awarded to the best games from the FIDE World Cup (with beaten finalist Aleksandra Goryachkina also having the consolation of being the equivalent winner in the Women’s World Cup for her fourth round game against Antonietta Stefanova) – a masterclass of a game that’s destined to appear in his best games anthology.

GM Vladimir Fedoseev – GM Magnus Carlsen
FIDE World Cup third-place playoff, (1)
King’s Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4!? Fedoseev reaches early doors for ‘Harry the h-pawn’ – the hyper-aggressive Anti-Grünfeld Systems popularised in tournament praxis by his fellow countryman, Alexander Grischuk. 3…Bg7 Rather than risking the Grünfeld, Black generally goes for Benoni setups against 3.h4, but can also opt for the King’s Indian, as Carlsen does here. 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Nc6 6.d5 Ne5 7.Be2 h5 Just preventing any plans of a pawn storm on the kingside. 8.Bf4 0-0 9.Nf3 Nxf3+ 10.gxf3 c6 11.Qd2 cxd5 12.cxd5 Kh7 13.a4 Nd7 14.a5 f5 Carlsen has emerged from the opening with the better counter-attacking prospects – but it is how aggressively he conducts the next stage of the game that is so impressive. 15.Ra3 Ne5 16.Be3 f4! 17.Bxf4 Bd7 18.Nd1 Rxf4! A very clever positional exchange sacrifice that instantly discombobulates Fedoseev, as he never recovers from all his pieces becoming very awkwardly placed. 19.Qxf4 Bh6 20.Qg3 Qf8 Securing the all-important f4-square for the influential bishop. 21.Ne3 Bf4 22.Qg2 Rc8 23.Rc3 Rxc3 24.bxc3 Qc8 25.c4?! This is when it all starts to go pear-shaped for Fedoseev, as Carlsen cleverly opens up the game. It’s not an easy position for the Russian, but his best – and only – chance to stay competitive was 25.Kd2! Nc4+ 26.Bxc4 Qxc4 27.Rg1! and with the hit on g6, it looks like Black has to bail-out now with the perpetual 27…Qa2+ 28.Kd3 Bb5+ 29.c4 Qa3+ 30.Ke2 Qb2+ 31.Kd1 Qd4+ 32.Ke1 Qa1+ etc. 25…b5! Suddenly the position begins to blow open for Carlsen’s active pieces. 26.axb6 axb6 27.Qg1?! It’s just all so awkward for Fedoseev to try to unravel his pieces – and you begin to see just how awkward, with the engine recommending that the best way ahead is with 27.Kf1 b5! 28.Qg1 Bh3+ 29.Rxh3 Qxh3+ 30.Qg2 Qxh4 31.cxb5 Qf6!? but even here, despite the relief with the trade of pieces, the White queen is dangerously offside and out of play. 27…Qa8! We now witness a ‘Magnus masterclass’ on how best to squeeze the life out of your opponent’s awkward position with his queen and rook effectively out of the game. 28.Kf1 Qa2! Stopping the king running to a safe haven on g2 with the Be2 attacked (and also possible …Bxe3 threats). 29.Ng2 Qa1+ 30.Ne1 Qb2 31.Ng2? Fedoseev has opted to order more drinks from the last chance saloon – he simply had to play 31.Nd3 Nxd3 32.Bxd3 Qd2 33.Bb1 and with the king now ready to bolt to g2 and White’s pieces unravelling, Black again has to bail-out now with 33…Bg4!? 34.Kg2 (There’s no difference between this and 34.fxg4 Qd1+ 35.Kg2 Qxg4+ as the end result is also a perpetual.) 34…Qe2 35.fxg4 Qxg4+ and a perpetual. 31…Qc1+ 32.Ne1 The pain is all self-inflicted by Fedoseev, so no sympathy! 32…Qd2 33.Qg2 Kg7! [see diagram] With Fedoseev effectively constrained by his self-induced piece-paralysis, Carlsen is in no big rush to move in for the kill, as he takes the ‘time-out’ to remove his king from the danger zone. 34.Rg1 Kf8 35.Qh1 e6 36.Rg3 No better was 36.dxe6 Bxe6 as White is reduced to sitting in “Death’s Waiting Room” for the killing blow to come – one amusingly being a long king march with 37.Qg2 Ke7! 38.Rh1 Kd8 39.Qg1 Kc7 40.Qg2 Kc6 41.Rg1 Kc5 42.Qh1 Kd4 43.Qg2 (If 43.Ng2 Nd3! leads to a forced mate.) 43…Kc3 44.Qh1 Qa2! 45.Qg2 Bxc4! and Black wins. 36…exd5 37.exd5 The alternative recapture fared no better, as 37.cxd5 b5! and the b-pawn runs unchallenged right up the board. 37…Bf5 It’s a little like a cat playing with a mouse before becoming bored and killing it! Carlsen sees no need to capture the rook, as Fedoseev still can’t do anything other than wait helpless for the fatal blow to come – and by putting his bishop on f5, it defends g6 and frees up Carlsen’s knight to swing round to a more deadly square. 38.Rg1 Kf7 39.Rg3 Nd7 40.Rg5 If 40.Ng2 Qc1+ 41.Ne1 Nc5 42.Kg2 Bd2! soon wins a piece and the game – but Fedoseev has decided he’s had more than enough by now. 40…Bxg5 41.hxg5 Ne5 0-1 Fedoseev throws the towel in, with no way to stop …Qc1 followed by …Nd3.

 

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