The Meltwater Champion Chess Tour Final was billed as being a straight fight between Magnus Carlsen and his nearest rival in the regular season tour standings, Wesley So – and with both comfortably winning their opening round matches against Jan-Krzystof-Duda and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov respectively on Saturday, it became even more of a two-horse race between the tour top two.
That’s because the $300,000 grand final sees the players carrying over a ‘weighted’ bonus from the regular season. But Carlsen struck a blow in the race to take the tour title by storming into a 6 point lead after the Norwegian battled back twice in a rollercoaster match with Mamedyarov, before going on to win the blitz tiebreak, while US champion So crashed to a heavy defeat against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
With Carlsen extending his lead at the top, his lead looks virtually unassailable now, but So was at least sanguine about his defeat, with lots still to play for in the remaining seven rounds despite the uphill climb, commenting: “I just want to take it one round at the time, the tournament is very long.”
One of the great levellers in chess is that you don’t necessarily need to be a superstar like Magnus Carlsen to receive immortality in the game – all you need is the ability to hitch your name to a popular opening system. One of the very few genuine amateur players with an opening variation named after him is the humble British railway’s clerk Vernon Dilworth.
Dilworth single-handedly rehabilitated an old line of the Ruy Lopez Open in the war years 1939-1941 in correspondence games. His analysis was published in BH Wood’s Chess magazine and caught the eye of the great Mikhail Botvinnik, who used the tricky line based on Dilworth’s analysis as a surprise weapon against rival Vasily Smyslov in the 1943/44 Moscow Championship.
And with it, Dilworth became famous overnight, and the variation eponymously named after the railway clerk – who remained faithful to his pet-line right up to his death in a Cheshire nursing home in 2004, aged 88 – in recognition of all his pioneering work. On a personal note, I got a great insight into this fun line from the maestro himself, as we both represented Britain in the 1980 Railways Olympiad in Børas, Sweden.
Even to this day, the big main line, the ‘Dilworth Ending’, has never been refuted, and it still proves to be difficult for White to meet in praxis. The Dilworth is often rare at top-level, but a sometime-favourite of Mamedyarov, who uncorked it against Carlsen in their epic and entertaining round two clash.
1. M. Carlsen (Norway), 21½; 2. W. So (USA), 15½; 3. L. Aronian (Armenia), 12; 4. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 8; 5-6. A. Giri (Netherlands), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 7½; 7. H. Nakamura (USA), 7; 8. V. Artemiev (Russia), 5½; 9. J-K. Duda (Poland), 3; 10. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 1½.
Live coverage of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final is available with commentary at www.championschesstour.com and chess24’s Twitch and YouTube channels. All games will be played in the chess24.complayzone.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, (2.2)
Ruy Lopez Open, Dilworth Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 It was the late, great Danish legend Bent Larsen, I believe, who suggested that the Open Variation was the only ‘correct way’ for Black to play against the Ruy Lopez. 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 Bc5 10.Nbd2 0-0 11.Bc2 Nxf2!? Vernon Dilworth’s famous calling card! 12.Rxf2 f6 13.Nf1!? Looking to avoid the troublesome, so-called ‘Dilworth Ending’ after 13.exf6 Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 Qxf6 15.Nf1 Ne5 16.Be3 Rae8 and strong pressure down the e- and f-files, that’s proved problematic for White in praxis. 13…Bxf2+ 14.Kxf2 fxe5 15.Kg1 Bg4 16.Ne3 Be6 17.b3 Kh8 Perhaps too cautious. Black has the better development and should move swiftly with 17…e4!? 18.Nd4 Nxd4 19.Qxd4 (If 19.cxd4 Qd6! Black stands well with …Rae8 coming.) 19…Qd6! and Black is doing OK with …c5 in the air as well as …Rae8(or d8). 18.Ba3 Rf4 19.Bc5 There’s a tactical try with 19.Nxe5!? but after 19…Nxe5 20.Qh5 Qh4! 21.Qxe5 Qf2+ 22.Kh1 Bf7 again Black has a lot of pressure with …Re8 coming next. 19…d4? Premature, as all Black achieves is opening up lines for White’s minor pieces to thrive in. Better was keeping the tension for now with 19…Qf6 20.Qe1 (The pawn is taboo. After 20.Nxd5?? Bxd5 21.Qxd5 Rd8 and the queen is embarrassed for squares in the middle of the board!) 20…d4!? and only now play this. 20.cxd4 exd4 21.Qd3 I can’t blame Carlsen for this natural looking move, but the engines think that stronger was 21.g3! Rf7 22.Qd3 as the solid …Bg8 is not available. 21…Bg8! Super-solid, and not weakening Black’s king safety with …g6, which will eventually be hit by a tactical happening on d4. 22.Nf5 Qd5 23.Ba3 Capturing on d4 only helps Black. After 23.Bxd4 Nxd4 24.N3xd4 Qe5! 25.Rc1 (The pin on the rook helps Black get his forces in order, as the immediate 25.g3?? Rxf5! wins.) 25…g6 26.g3 Rxf5 27.Nxf5 gxf5 28.Rf1 Rf8 29.Rxf5 Rxf5 30.Qxf5 Qxf5 31.Bxf5 and a draw coming. 23…Re8 A hallmark of the Dilworth is Black’s rooks exerting strong pressure down the e- and f-files. 24.Rd1 Rfe4?! Stronger was 24…Rg4!? looking to follow up with …Ne5. As it is, Mamedyarov just gets his rooks into a pickle. 25.Ng3 Re3 26.Qd2 R3e6? It’s all getting difficult for Black now, and you know just how bad when the engine suggests that the best try is 26…Be6 27.Nf1 Rxf3 28.gxf3 Qxf3 29.Re1 Bf7 30.Rxe8+ Bxe8 but after 31.Bb2 White does seem to be in full control with his active bishop-pair. 27.Bb2! The d4-pawn is doomed – and when it falls, White’s minor pieces will take full control of all the open lines. 27…Rd8 28.Nxd4 Qc5 29.Ne4 Even stronger was 29.Ngf5! Rf6 30.Rc1 Qd5 31.Qe3! Nxd4 32.Nxd4 and Black is in trouble. 29…Qe7 30.Qe3?! It is just so hard in chess for a player to admit they were wrong, and for that reason Carlsen probably rejected the much stronger 30.Ng3! and head for the wonderful Nf5 outpost, where Black’s king is surely going to suffer a tactical mishap. 30…Nxd4 31.Rxd4 Rxd4 32.Qxd4 c5 33.Qc3 c4? Mamedyarov misses the opportunity to unleash ‘Harry’, with the better 33…h5! and not only looking to push on with h4-3 to break open the defences around Carlsen’s king, but also opening up the annoying option of …Bh7! bringing the bishop to life on the h7-b1 diagonal. 34.bxc4 bxc4 35.h3 There was no danger, and Carlsen could have played the immediate 35.Qxc4 that was stronger, but he’s just taking a safety-first option by creating a little escape square first for his king. 35…h6? Never miss a check, as the old adage goes, and here stronger was 35…Qa7+ 36.Kh1 Re7 and Black has a more resourceful position, because if the Ne4 moves, then …Qf2 becomes a problem. 36.Qxc4 Rb6 37.Qc3 Bxa2? The position is becoming critical for Black, and Mamedyarov may well have not realised he can’t snatch the a-pawn, and had to somehow try to survive with 37…Qb7 38.Nc5 Qc7 39.Qa5 Rc6 40.Qd2! Bh7 (Definitely not 40…Rxc5?? 41.Qxh6+!) 41.Bxh7 Kxh7 42.Qc2+ Kh8 43.Bd4 and White should be on the road to converting this after Qc3. 38.Ng3! [see diagram] Now Carlsen realises the power of the Nf5 outpost and retreats his knight, and with it, White is easily winning. 38…Bg8 39.Nf5 Qf6 40.Qxf6 gxf6 41.Bd4 With the queens off, it’s just a matter of technique, as Carlsen arranges his minor pieces to convert the win. 41…Rc6 42.Be4 Re6 43.Bd5 Re8 44.Bc6 The engine will scream to you that 44.Bxf6+ Kh7 45.Nd6 Re1+ 46.Kf2 Bxd5 47.Kxe1 Bxg2 48.h4 is just the easiest of wins – but in praxis, with so few pieces and pawns left on the board, you can’t be too careful, and for this reason Carlsen takes the ‘scenic’ route to victory by keeping the pieces on the board. 44…Re6 45.Bd7 Re1+ 46.Kf2 Rd1 47.Ke2 Bb3 48.Bxf6+ Kh7 49.Nd4 Kg6 50.Be5 Kf7 51.Be6+! 1-0 The tactical finale from Carlsen forces Mamedyarov’s immediate resignation, with his rook lost and a hopeless ending.