Book-ended by two FIDE Grand Prixs in Belgrade and Berlin upcoming, the online elite action returns this Saturday with Magnus Carlsen heading a stellar field in the Charity Cup that runs 19-26 March, the second leg of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Tour that is dedicated as a fundraiser for victims of the war in Ukraine.
The Play Magnus Group (PMG) will be using the event to raise money for UNICEF’s life-saving support for children and their families in Ukraine. Although the Charity Cup will be held to benefit UNICEF, it promises to be as competitive as ever with prize-money of $120,000 to $150,000 up for grabs.
PMG believes that sports, and chess in particular, can play a significant role in offering unity by bringing people to the table, physically, virtually, and metaphorically. But playing under the shadow of war and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, PMG have opted not to include any Russians in the 16-player line-up for the Charity Cup.
But two-time defending Tour champion Carlsen leads the field that includes six national number 1s, with the Norwegian’s main rivals likely to be world number 3 Ding Liren and Richard Rapport, fresh from his emphatic win of the FIDE Belgrade Grand Prix that will likely sees the Hungarian head into the Candidates Tournament for the first time.
The full line-up: Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Ding Liren (China) Richard Rapport (Hungary), Vidit Gujrathi (India), Pentala Harikrishna (India), Jorden van Foreest (Netherlands), Liem Quang Le (Vietnam), David Navara (Czech Rep), David Anton (Spain), Radolsaw Wojtaszek (Poland), Gawain Jones (England), Hans Niemann (USA), Rameshababu Praggnannandhaa (India), Eric Hansen (Canada), Ju Wenjun (China) and Lei Tingje (China).
Coverage will be provided by chess24 and available on PMG channels and in several languages. In Norway, the event will be broadcast live on TV 2 with the regular Tour commentary team of host Kaja Snare and experts GM David Howell and WGM Jovanka Houska.
And showing that he’s more than just one of the game’s top ‘talking heads’, David Howell found himself back in live over-the-board action recently. Howell took part in a special £12,000 10-game classical match against Sweden’s No 1, Nils Grandelius, and hosted at the opulent London residence of the Swedish Ambassador, Mikaela Kumlin Granit, who was also at the diplomatic readiness to make the ceremonial first move in the match.
The match, which ran 2-12 March, also had a built-in financial incentive for ‘fighting chess’: wins were worth £1000, losses £200 and draws £500 each. It could only be the brainchild of the UK’s leading chess impresario Malcolm Pein, with the occasion being the 30th anniversary of his Chess & Bridge London shop and the relaunch of the venerable CHESS magazine. The match also raised $10,000 online for Ukraine humanitarian causes.
It proved to be an intriguing and closely fought match throughout, with Grandelius winning game 7 to level the score – but Howell hit back once again in game 8 to edge out his Swedish opponent by a winning score of 5.5-4.5.
GM David Howell – GM Nils Grandelius
England-Sweden Challenge Match, (8)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 b6 In this Nimzo-Indian system, Black has the option of fianchettoing the bishop on b7 or – and more standard – developing on a6 with a view to trading bishops, as happens in the game. 5.e3 0-0 6.Bd3 d5 7.cxd5 exd5 8.0-0 c5 Black can also play 8…Ba6 9.Bxa6 Nxa6 10.Qa4 Qc8 with an equal game. 9.Ne5 Bxc3 10.bxc3 Ba6 A crucial and timely move that immediately dampens White’s attacking prospects on the kingside. 11.Bxa6 Nxa6 12.Qa4 Nc7 13.f3 Not only denying Black the e4 outpost for the knight, but looking to expand later in the center with e3-e4. 13…a6 14.Bd2 Nb5!? And with it, an intriguing battle with both sides looking to take the advantage. 15.Qb3 Nd6 Putting the big clamp on White looking to expand with e3-e4. 16.Be1 c4 17.Qb4 a5 18.Qb1 Nfe8?! A bizarre retreat in an otherwise entertaining contest between these two evenly-matched players, and one that Black never really recovers from, with the hapless knight remaining stuck on e8 for the rest of the game. Better was to seize the chance with 18…b5 19.a4 Qc7 20.axb5 Rfb8! where Black looks to be a shade better with his more active pieces. 19.a4! With the strange knight retreat, many would have been tempted to expand immediately with 19.e4 – but rather than rushing into it, Howell cannily plays a more patient game and it pays off for the Englishman. 19…f6 20.Ng4 b5 21.axb5 Rb8 22.Bg3 Rxb5 23.Qc2 Qe7 Nothing wrong per se, but time-trouble was starting to become an issue here for both players, and Grandelius missed his chance with 23…Rb3! 24.e4 f5 25.exf5 Nxf5 26.Rfe1 Nxg3 27.hxg3 Nc7 28.Re3 (Snatching the a-pawn with 28.Rxa5 allows 28…Nb5! that will force White to seek the bail-out with 29.Qe2! Nxd4 (Also 29…Qxa5 30.Nh6+ gxh6 31.Qe6+ Kh8 32.Qe5+ Kg8 33.Qxd5+ Kh8 34.Qe5+ etc.) 30.Nh6+ gxh6 31.cxd4 Qxa5 32.Qe6+ leads to much the same thing.) 28…Qd6! and, despite the obvious a5 weakness, Black could well be taking the upper-hand with …Nb5 on the horizon. 24.Rfe1 Qb7 25.Ra2 Rb3 26.Rea1 Qe7 27.Rxa5 h5? In the mutual time-scramble, Grandelius misses a big tactic. Much better first was 27…Nb5! 28.Be1 and now 28…h5 29.Nf2 Qxe3 30.Bd2 Qe7 31.Re1 Qf7 32.Nh3 Nec7 and Black stands no worse. 28.Ra7! Nb7 Only at the last moment does Grandelius realise that 28…Qe6? will see his position dramatically collapse after 29.Bxd6 Nxd6 30.Qg6! Rb7 31.Rxb7 Nxb7 32.Ra6!! Not an easy tactic to spot, but quickly seen by our silicon overlords, the (full) point being that 32…Qxa6 (Also losing was both 32…Qf7 33.Nh6+ and 32…Qe7 33.Qxh5 etc.) 33.Nh6+ Kh8 34.Nf5 Rf7 (There’s no defence of g7. If 34…Rg8?? 35.Qxh5#) 35.Qxf7 Qa1+ 36.Kf2 Qa2+ 37.Kg3 h4+ 38.Kh3! and there’s no defence to the mate on g7. 29.Nf2 Qxe3 30.Qf5 Grandelius’ pieces are all awkwardly placed as Howell’s spring to life – and as d5 falls, so will Black’s position. 30…Rxc3 No better was 30…Nbd6 31.Qxd5+ Nf7 32.h4! Qxc3 33.Kh2! Qb4 34.Ne4 Rb1 35.Rxb1 Qxb1 36.Qxc4 and Black can’t escape the eternal pin on f7. 31.Qxd5+ Rf7 32.h4! [see diagram] The final piece of the jigsaw for Howell is creating a timely little escape route for his king, after which Black now runs out of useful moves to make. And also a prudent move, showing that it pays not to rush into things with 32.Rxb7?? Rc1+ 33.Rxc1 Qxc1+ 34.Nd1 Qxd1+ 35.Kf2 Qd2+ 36.Kf1 Qd3+ 37.Kg1 Qd1+ 38.Kf2 Qd2+ and Black manages to salvage a draw. 32…Qe7 33.Ne4 White’s pieces are just too active and rampant – something surely has to give now. 33…Rb3 34.Nc5 Rb2 35.Re1 1-0 And Grandelius resigns, faced with 35…Qd8 36.Qxd8 Nxd8 37.Rxe8+ and a heavy loss of material.