It’s that man Magnus Carlsen again, as the World Champion recovered from a spirited comeback from his World Cup nemesis Jan-Krzysztof Duda to dramatically clinch the Charity Cup, the second leg of the new $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season, after their close match went all the way to a deciding-tiebreak at the weekend.
The two-time defending Tour champion looked set at one point to turn in a resounding victory. He had a near-flawless start to the two-day final, first dominating the opening day of the match by dispatching the young Pole with a brace of wins that soon became a hat-trick as he also went on to take the opening game of day two.
Poised for victory, Carlsen had to put the champagne back on ice as a resilient Duda defied the odds to hit-back with a brace of wins that left the Norwegian visibly stunned and extended the match into a tiebreak-decider. But Carlsen’s legendary survivor’s instinct kicked-in to win game 1 of the tiebreaker that all but broke Duda’s spirit, who – now needing to win on demand – crashed and lost the second game.
In the end, a relieved Carlsen now has a second successive Tour victory to further extend his lead at the top of the overall standings. “Huge relief now,” commented Carlsen at the end of a dramatic day. “This was right out of the playbook of what feels like every tournament last year after the first few ones where it seems like I’m cruising and then there’s one bad moment and it all falls apart. But yeah, I managed to survive.”
The Charity Cup was supported by NEAR Foundation and was organised by the Play Magnus Group as a Ukrainian relief fundraiser for UNICEF. So far, more than $158,000 has been raised from the event.
Meanwhile in Berlin, we’re heading for a very dramatic conclusion there to the pool stage of the third and final FIDE Grand Prix leg that will decide two spots into the eight-player Candidates Tournament this summer in Madrid that will ultimately determine who Carlsen’s next title-challenger will be – and one that’s generating considerable American interest.
The crucial match-up in Pool A witnessed Hikaru Nakamura turning on the style as he extracted his revenge over Levon Aronian to play catch-up and draw level with his new countryman, with both a half point behind surprise leader Grigoriy Oparin – and Nakamura continued his winning ways by beating the Russian leader to join Aronian in the co-lead, as the latter demolished Andrey Esipenko.
Nakamura and Aronian lead on 3/5 going into Monday’s critical final round, and with a win apiece against each other, the two top US players – respectively second and third in the Grand Prix standings – could well be heading for a dramatic tiebreak decider to see who progresses into the knockout phase and a possible Candidates spot.
And American players also lead in two other pools. Also on 3/5, Leinier Dominguez shares the co-lead with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Pool B, and similarly on 3/5, Wesley So and Sam Shankland share the lead in Pools C. In Pool D, everything is still up for grabs with all four players, Anish Giri, Nikita Vituhov, Yu Yangyi and Amin Tabatabaei, tied on 2½/5.
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Magnus Carlsen
Charity Cup Final, (1.2)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 First popularised by Aaron Nimzowitsch, the Rossolimo Variation only really took off after becoming the almost the exclusive weapon of the one-man Olympiad that is GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian, who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to France for his final Olympiad in 1972. It is supposed to lead to a more quieter life, a sort of Ruy Lopez set-up for White – but here’s the conundrum that perplexes me the most about the Rossolimo variation: Carlsen’s score on the black side of it is so ridiculously high that you really have to wonder why people keep playing it against him! 3…g6 4.0-0 Bg7 5.c3 Nf6 6.Re1 0-0 7.d4 d5 8.e5 Ne4 9.Be3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qb6 11.Bxc6 Qxc6 More usual here is something like 11…bxc6 12.Qc1 Rb8 13.b3 Bf5 14.Nbd2 Rfc8 with a balanced game. However, Carlsen pushes the envelope just that little bit more with a more provocative recapture. 12.Nfd2 Be6 13.Nb3! This is the risk Carlsen was willing to take, with his …Ne4 now short of squares – but he’s hoping he can generate lots of dynamic counterplay if he has to sacrifice his knight. 13…f5!? You can also play 13…f6 but now 14.f3 Ng5 15.Bxg5 fxg5 16.Qd2 g4 17.fxg4 Bxg4 18.Qg5 Qd7 19.Nc3 b6 20.Nxd5 Qxd5 21.Qxg4 Rac8 and the game looks to be petering out to a draw, with Black having more than enough compensation for the pawn. 14.f3 f4! By continuing to play provocatively, Carlsen is looking to bamboozle his opponent – and it works! 15.Bc1 Rad8 Carlsen has gone ‘all-in’ with his plan – there’s no backing out now. If 15…Ng5 16.h4 Nf7 17.Bxf4 White has a pawn and the better position. 16.Qe2?! Duda blinks and it costs him the game – and not just the game but another brilliant win with the black pieces for Carlsen in the Rossolimo! Things had to come to a head now, and to stay in the game, our computer overlords tell us that Duda had to take the knight immediately with 16.fxe4! dxe4 17.Nc3 e3 (If 17…Bxe5 18.Rxe4 Bc7 19.Qf3 Bb6 20.Kh1! and White clearly stands much better) 18.Qe2 Bxb3 (Unfortunately for Black, the obvious 18…Bc4? backfires to the tactical minefield of 19.Na5! Bxe2 20.Nxc6 bxc6 21.Nxe2 g5 22.Rb1 Rd5 23.b4 and White, with the extra piece, clearly stands much better.) 19.axb3 Rxd4 20.Rxa7 Bxe5 and while the engines try to reassure you White is slightly better here, your gut instinct will not like the prospect of facing Carlsen in this murky position where Black has two good pawns for the piece and a promising attack. 16…Ng5 17.h4 Ne4! 18.fxe4 Duda is forced into the same variation as the above note, but the crucial difference here being that he has voluntarily weakened his position with the wayward h4. 18…dxe4 19.Qxe4?! Duda really needs to start thinking about quickly developing his pieces first. For that reason, more resilient was 19.Nc3! e3 and give the piece back with 20.Bxe3! fxe3 21.Qxe3 Bxb3 22.axb3 Qb6 23.Red1 Qxb3 24.Rxa7 Qxb2 25.Raa1 Qc2! and another equal position. 19…Bd5 20.Qd3 f3! [see diagram] Suddenly, all of Carlsen pieces are swarming to life, and despite the extra piece, Duda has trouble defending his increasingly critical position. 21.Be3 fxg2 22.N1d2 Qe6 23.Bf2 Rf3! It looks more scary than it really is – but scary enough to spook Duda into a game-deciding blunder. 24.Qxf3?? Hanging on for dear life, it looks like Duda missed a crucial line with the only defence being 24.Nxf3! as 24…Qh3 25.Bg3! and this timely saving resource means there’s no forced mate! The game will likely continue now with the forcing sequence 25…Qxg3 26.Nbd2 Rf8 27.Re2 Bh6 28.Rxg2 Qh3 29.Rh2 (There’s no way for Duda to avoid the draw. If 29.Rxg6+ hxg6 30.Qxg6+ Bg7 31.Qg2 Qxg2+ 32.Kxg2 Bh6! 33.Kg3 Bf4+ 34.Kh3 Be6+ 35.Kg2 Bd5 36.Kh3 Be6+ 37.Kg2 also sees a repetition.) 29…Qg3+ 30.Rg2 Qh3 31.Rh2 and a three-fold repetition. 24…Bxf3 25.Nxf3 Qh3 26.Nh2 Bh6! Threatening …Bf4 and keeping White on the back-foot, unable to bring his pieces together to work as a unit. 27.Re4 Rf8 28.Rae1 Rxf2! 29.Kxf2 Qxh2 At the end of the day, despite having equal material, Duda’s downfall is his loose king. 30.Rg1 Qh3 The threat is now …Qf5+ picking off the e4 rook – and this removes a vital defender of d4. 31.Re2 a5! 32.Rxg2 a4 33.Nd2 Qxh4+ Carlsen’s queen now hoovers up all the loose pawns in White’s position, as Duda’s position collapses. 34.Kf1 Qxd4 35.Nf3 Qd5 36.Rgf2 Qxa2 37.Rc2 Qd5 38.Rc8+ Kg7 39.Kg2 Qe4 40.Rfc2 Qg4+ 41.Kf2 Bf4 42.R2c3 Qg3+ 43.Kf1 Bxe5 0-1