It’s old news now, to use a common oxymoron, but Magnus Carlsen not only sealed the deal on the $300,000 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final with two rounds to spare but he also ended his campaign with a touch of élan with a final round drubbing of Wesley So – the Norwegian’s nearest rival on the season-long tour – that dramatically consigned the US champion to a heartbreaking fourth-place finish.
The 10 month, 10 tournament $1.6m Tour has proved to be a big innovation for the chess world, and keeping in the innovation tradition at the prize-giving ceremony, held in the Tour studios in Oslo at the end of the final round, Carlsen was presented with the world’s first NFT-only trophy – the first believed to be awarded in professional sport/gaming.
“It’s a nice trophy,” said a beaming Carlsen, adding “and I’m very happy to be breaking this ground.” Carlsen’s trophy, which was presented to the victor by Tour Director Arne Horvei, is one of only two minted on the Ethereum blockchain. The other – also digitally signed by the champion – is being auctioned off to collectors at the World Champion’s new digital marketplace. The auction ends on Friday, October 8.
The showpiece final organised by the Play Magnus Group turned into agony for So ahead of the defence of his US Championship title that gets underway today in Saint Louis. He slumped to a series of defeats that not only blew the race for second place wide-open, but saw him dropping to fourth place in the process as both Teimour Radjabov and Levon Aronian move respectively into the runner-up and third spot.
Speaking about his strong finish going down the homestretch (beating Duda, Aronian, So, Carlsen, Mamedyarov, and Vachier-Lagrave in the last six rounds – Radjabov said: “I am very happy to be second, it was a very hard year for me. It really brought me a lot of pleasant moments and I have great memories of the Tour.”
1. M. Carlsen (Norway), 31½; 2. T. Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 27; 3. L. Aronian (Armenia), 24; 4. W. So (USA), 23½; 5. H. Nakamura (USA), 21; 6. V. Artemiev (Russia), 17½; 7. A. Giri (Netherlands), 14½; 8. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 13½; 9. J-K. Duda (Poland), 12; 10. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 9½.
GM Teimour Radjabov – GM Magnus Carlsen
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, (7.4)
Pirc/Modern Defence, Classical System
1.d4 g6 2.e4 d6 The Pirc/Modern Defence is not unusual for Carlsen, as he’s occasionally used this in the past – and it is particularly relevant here, as being 2-1 down, the match-scenario dictated that he needed to win in order to extend the match into the tiebreak-decider. 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bg7 5.Be2 The Classical System is notoriously solid for White, and was all the rage during the mid-1970s and early 1980s, being the choice of World Champion Anatoly Karpov, who scored many impressive positional squeeze-like wins with it. 5…0-0 6.0-0 a6 7.a4 Nc6 8.Be3 b6 In the days when Karpov reigned, Black would often play …Bg4 and follow up with …e5 – but equally as Karpov in his pomp ruthlessly demonstrated, White has the space and easy play, and not the sort of positions where Black can generate winning chances. And here, being behind in the match, Carlsen has to ‘mix it’ to try to unsettle Radjabov – but Radjabov is not the sort of player who is likely to crack under such situations. 9.d5 Nb8 10.Nd4! Radjabov quickly and rightly sees that the hole on c6 is Black’s weak-point, and he immediately hits on it. 10…Bb7 11.f3 c6 12.dxc6 Nxc6 13.Nxc6 Bxc6 14.Qd2 Re8 15.Rfd1 Radjabov has a super-solid position with no weaknesses – and one at that that gives Carlsen no hope of generating complications. 15…Nd7 16.Bd4 Bf8 Forced, as Carlsen needs to avoid trading pieces. If he wasn’t in a ‘must-win’ scenario, he would surely have traded bishops and kept things tight for the draw – but he needs to play dangerously to try to unbalance the game. 17.Bc4! Temporarily bringing his bishop to better prospects with pressure down the a2-g8 diagonal – and a move that forces Carlsen’s hand now by transposing into a slightly inferior Sicilian Hedgehog sort of position. 17…e6 18.Bf1 Qc7 19.Be3 Qb7 20.b4! Radjabov moves quickly to put the big clamp on the queenside to stymie Carlsen’s hopes of breaking free. 20…b5 21.axb5 axb5 22.Bf2 h5 Less trouble was 22…Ne5 23.Ra5 Rxa5 24.bxa5 Nc4 25.Bxc4 bxc4 26.Rb1 Qa8 27.Ra1 Qa6 28.Bb6 Ra8 and a tough defence; something Carlsen tried to avoid with his 22…h5, even although that was played more in hope than any deep plan. 23.Ra5! [see diagram] Radjabov doesn’t flinch by finding the timely rook lift, a key move that now sees Carlsen’s position dramatically and very rapidly collapse. The problem is that Carlsen has to do something fast, otherwise the b5-pawn falls, hence the reason we noted above of the need to play …Ne5, as the knight can swing into c4. 23…Rxa5 24.bxa5 Ra8 The alternative was 24…Qa6 but after the strategic retreat 25.Na2! the knight soon swinging into b4 is going to be the big game-winner. 25.Nxb5 d5 It’s the last desperate try from Carlsen, as he tries to see if he can burst the game open to make something – anything – happen for his pieces; but Radjabov soon clamps down on any of that. And in any case, after 25…Bxb5 26.Rb1! Qc7 27.Rxb5 Black is in serious trouble. 26.Nd4 Nf6 27.a6! Qc7 In dire straits, Carlsen opts to hang for the sheep than the lamb as 27…Qc8 28.Qc3 Bd7 29.Qxc8 Rxc8 30.a7 Bc5 31.Ra1 Ra8 32.Nb5! is doomed to lose anyway for Black. 28.Qc3 1-0 And Carlsen resigns, as losing the loose knight on f6 is the least of his problems here, because after 28…Rc8 29.Nxc6 Qxc6 30.Qxc6! Rxc6 31.a7! Rc8 32.Ba6 is going to pick-off the rook.