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In 1976, the BBC brought the game to life for millions of global viewers for the first time with ‘The Master Game’, the broadcaster’s innovative televised chess tournament. Now forty-five years later, chess is set to become ‘The Mastercard Game’ with the announcement this week that the financial services giant is making its first sponsorship move into the 64-square game by naming Magnus Carlsen as its global brand ambassador and also new partners of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

In becoming a global brand ambassador, Carlsen joins the ranks of fellow Mastercard partners such as four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka, soccer legends Lionel Messi and Crystal Dunn, and ten-time LPGA champion Annika Sörenstam. Carlsen said: “Expanding the influence of the game of chess has always been close to my heart. To have Mastercard, which brings people and their passions together in meaningful ways, partner with the Tour is very exciting. I’m proud to join Mastercard to bring the sport forward to millions of fans around the world.”

Together with Carlsen and the Tour, Mastercard is curating a wide range of Priceless experiences and exclusive cardholder benefits, via Priceless.com and upcoming promotions to help fans experience what they love about chess. Starting today, cardholders can register on a first come first served basis for the Chess Insights from World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen Experience on October 22nd. Fans will get to join Carlsen during a live, virtual experience, and listen to him speak about his passion for chess, with Carlsen answering select questions from the live audience throughout the digital experience. Those who attend the experience will also receive a one-month premium subscription to chess24.com.

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, continued: “Teaming up with Magnus–widely regarded as the best chess player of all time–and the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour underscores our enthusiastic commitment to providing cardholders with Priceless Experiences that celebrate the physical and mental sport of chess.

“We’re excited to bring the global chess base closer to the game they love and to engage with new enthusiasts.”

Through this partnership, Mastercard will also create a chess-themed curriculum for its signature science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program, Girls4Tech™, continuing the brand’s commitment to promote gender equity and foster a future generation of female chess players.

The big news comes on the eve of the $300,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals with its opening ceremony taking place on Friday, September 24 with round 1 kicking off on Saturday at 17:00 CEST. The round-robin tournament will run until October 4 with a rest day on September 30.

Live coverage is available with commentary at www.championschesstour.com and chess24’s Twitch and YouTube channels. All games will be played in the chess24.com playzone.

Carlsen is the top seed and favourite to win the Tour Final, and the world champion limbered up for the big event by playing for his Norwegian team, Offerspill Chess Club, in the European Club Cup being held all this week in Struga, North Macedonia. Carlsen scored 2.5/3 before returning to Oslo, with his only half point dropped being to another tour finalist, Shakriyar Mamedyarov, with their game going right down to ‘the kings’.

GM Magnus Carlsen – IM Enrique Llobell Cortell
36th European Club Cup, (4)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 The Rossolimo Variation, named after the famous US-French-Greek-Russian GM Nicolas Rossolimo, where White looks to steer the game towards a Ruy Lopez style set-up, and has become something of a favourite pet-line for Carlsen. 3…d6 4.Bxc6+ bxc6 5.e5 dxe5 6.Nxe5 Qd5 7.Nf3 Bg4 8.Nc3 Bxf3 9.gxf3 Qe5+ 10.Qe2 Qxe2+ 11.Kxe2 You may well think that with both sides being handicapped with double isolated pawns that the structural damage is equal – but White just has that little something extra to bite on with Be3 and Na4 making an easy target of Black’s c5-pawn. 11…Nf6 12.d3 e6 13.Be3 Be7 14.Na4 Nd7 15.b3 It’s all very Nimzowitchian from Carlsen, as he first blockades the c4 square in front of the crippled c5-pawn, which will become easy prey for later in the game. 15…0-0 16.Rag1! The c5-pawn is a chronic weakness that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so Carlsen first launches a decoy kingside attack that discombobulates his opponent. 16…Kh8 Just sidestepping the awkward threat of Bh6 without weakening Black’s dark-squares and kingside with 16…g6 17.h4 h5 where it looks as if there’s no danger, but after 18.Bg5! Rfe8 19.Bxe7 Rxe7 20.f4! suddenly there’s imaginative rook lifts all over the shop, such as Rh3-e3 followed by Rg5 and the c5-pawn is doomed. 17.d4 I’m not so sure about this – it looks more like Carlsen is relying on his opponent’s fear-factor of playing the world champion, rather than playing the position. I think I would have just left Black’s doubled c-pawns hanging there for easy pickings later in the endgame. 17…cxd4 And why not, as it solves one issue with how to defend the doubled pawns later in the game. 18.Bxd4 f6 Black looks to be going for the ‘solid’ plan of …f6 and …e5 to try to contain the scope of Carlsen’s bishop. Also good was 18…e5 19.Be3 f5 20.Nb2 Nb6 and Black seems to be doing OK. 19.Rg4 Rfd8 I preferred the idea of following up with the original game-plan with 19…e5 20.Be3 Nb6! 21.Bxb6 axb6 22.Nxb6 Rxa2 23.Rc4 and after 23…Ra6! 24.Nd7 Rc8 25.Rd1 Kg8 26.Nc5 Ra7 it’s hard to see how White is going to make progress as the c-pawn is well covered, although Carlsen does have a reputation of extracting blood from the proverbial stone! 20.Rd1 Kg8 Black’s problem is that he is going to have too many pawn weaknesses – a7, c6 and e6 – to defend against. 21.Be3 Kf7 22.Rc4 Ne5 23.Rxd8 Bxd8 24.Rb4! [see diagram] With little or no effort from Carlsen, suddenly Black finds himself walking a tightrope as the White rook infiltrates the position to pick up all the weak pawns. 24…a5 You can see the quandary Cortell is in here. If 24…Bb6 25.Nxb6 axb6 26.a4! and the b-pawn soon falls. 25.Rb7+ Kg6? It’s a hellish position to defend with Carlsen’s rampant rook on the seventh, but Cortell had to bite the bullet with 25…Be7 26.Nb6 Rd8 27.Ra7 and try to find a way to to obstruct White converting his material advantage. But with 25…Kg6, the end comes sooner rather than later. 26.Nc5! There’s no way to defend both e6 and g7. 26…f5 27.Nxe6 Bf6 28.Nf4+! Perhaps it was as simple as Cortell overlooking that he’d walked into a discovered check that soon ends the game? 28…Kh6 29.Nd5+ Kg6 30.Ne7+ Bxe7 31.Rxe7 Kf6 32.Rc7! Carlsen soon stretches his opponent’s position and resolve, with his rampant rook seeing Black’s pawns dropping like fall leaves on the ground right now! 32…Ra6 33.Bd4 Ke6 34.Rxg7 1-0 And with the h-pawn also soon falling, Black resigns.

 

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