The Day the King Abdicated - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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Today’s dateline of Wednesday 20 July is set to go into the chess annals not for being recognised as ‘International Chess Day’, but instead the day that Magnus Carlsen, the five-time World Chess Champion, finally ended months of speculation about his future by announcing that he will not be defending his world title next year, and thus the King is set to abdicate his crown.

The shock announcement came during “The Magnus Effect” podcast (hosted by Sports Betting Expert, Magnus Barstad – see below) for his sponsor Unibet. Carlsen, who first won the title in 2013 after dethroning six-time world champion Vishy Anand, has long expressed frustration with the international governing body, Fide, about the current format of the world championship matches, which, to be fair, he does have a point, as it has never really adapted to more modern times with the rise of the digital era.

“The conclusion is . . . very simple, that I am not motivated to play another match,” Carlsen confirmed. “I simply feel that I donʼt have a lot to gain, I donʼt particularly like it, and although Iʼm sure a match would be interesting for historical reasons and all of that, I donʼt have any inclination to play and I will simply not play the match.”

Carlsen’s decision was met with regret by Fide, who now needs to organise a less tempting prospect of a title match between Candidates winner and world No 3 Ian Nepomniachtchi, and his world No 2 runner-up, Ding Liren. “[Carlsenʼs] decision not to defend his title is undoubtedly a disappointment for the fans, and bad news for the spectacle,” said Arkady Dvorkovich, president of Fide.

But Carlsen’s announcement came with added timing, as it also came on the opening day of the SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz in Zagreb, Croatia where, as the fates of the drawing of lots would have it, his first-round opponent just happened to be the player he beat but now won’t defend his World Championship title against, none other than Ian Nepomniachtchi!

That encounter ended in a comfortable draw for both players, but Carlsen went on to give his fans an endgame masterclass with a nice bit of technique to beat Veselin Topalov. And after being held to a draw with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen ended day 1 just a point behind the French teenage leader, Alireza Firouzja – the newer-generation star who would have tempted the Norwegian to defend his title against, had the 19-year-old won the Candidates.

Standings (day 1):
1. Alireza Firouzja (France) 5/6; 2-5. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Wesley So (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Jorden Van Foreest (Netherlands) 4; 6. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 3; 7-9. Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE), Leinier Dominguez (USA), Ivan Saric (Croatia) 2; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 0.

GM Veselin Topalov – GM Magnus Carlsen
SuperUnited Rapid & Blitz Croatia, (2)
Caro-Kann Defence, Two Knights variation
1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 The offbeat Two Knights variation was doggedly adopted by the young Bobby Fischer until the turn of 1960 – and this was how the Soviets targeted Fischer! Many of their stars adopted the Caro-Kann as they perceived this wasn’t the sharpest option White had, and therefore instant opening equality against the potentially troublesome young American. 3…Bg4 Best by test, to coin a Fischer phrase! This was the very line the Soviets used en masse against the young American in the 1959 Candidates Tournament in Bled/Zagreb, as Petrosian, Keres and Smyslov scored an undefeated 3/5 with Black! 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 Back in the day, Fischer’s rationale for playing this line was that he felt it had to be good, as he already has the “advantage” of the two bishops – but the Soviets showed the young American he still had much to learn and there was more to chess than the bishop-pair. 5…Nf6 The Soviets worked out against Fischer that this was more accurate first and then followed by 5…e6. 6.d4 e6 7.exd5 cxd5 8.Bd3 Nc6 9.Ne2 Nb4 Carlsen has total equality already here, as Topalov’s light-squared bishop gets effectively locked out of the game. 10.Bb5+ Nd7 11.Ba4 b5! With Magnus having his queenside already rolling, Topalov is forced onto the back-foot early doors. 12.Bb3 Nc6 13.c3 Bd6 14.0-0 Rc8 15.Qg4 0-0 16.Bh6 Qf6 17.Be3 A better approach looked like 17.Bg5 Qg6 18.Nf4 Bxf4 19.Bxf4 Qxg4 20.hxg4 which looks a better position than the one Topalov now gets in the game. 17…Qg6 18.Nf4?! The little inaccuracies are all mounting up for Topalov, as Carlsen strikes rapidly with a model ‘Minority Attack’ to weaken his opponent’s queenside pawn structure. 18…Qxg4 19.hxg4 b4! Carlsen’s grip on the queenside proves decisive. 20.Nd3 bxc3 21.bxc3 Na5 What’s not to like here for Carlsen? His opponent’s c3-pawn is weak and vulnerable, and Black gets to double rooks on the semi-open c-file and also finds a wonderful outpost for his knight on c4. 22.Rfc1 Rc7 23.Rab1 Rfc8 24.Bd2 Nb6 25.Be1 Nac4 Believe me, this is not the sort of position you want to be defending when you are facing Magnus Carlsen across the board from you! 26.Bd1 h6 Carlsen has a big advantage already – but rather than rushing into a winning plan on the queenside, he takes a little time-out to first stop g5 being played while at the same time providing a little air for his king. 27.g3 Nd7 28.Rb3 Nf6 29.Rcb1 Na3 30.Rc1 Topalov is paralysed on the queenside – and with it, Carlsen just needs to find the right plan to make the breakthrough. 30…Nd7 31.Kf1 Nb6 32.Rb2 Nbc4 33.Rb3 Be7! Heading to the more posperous outpost on g5. 34.Be2 Bg5 35.Rd1 So why not the obvious 35.f4? to kick the bishop? It was probably the right move, but after 35…Be7 36.Ne5 Nxe5 37.dxe5 (37.fxe5 Bg5! 38.Rd1 Nc2 Topalov probably didn’t fancy this facing Carlsen, as after 39.Ba6 Ne3+ 40.Ke2 Nxd1 41.Bxc8 Rxc8 42.Kxd1 Rc7 the world champion will happily grind away till the cows come home here. That said, this looks less of a grovel than Topalov faces now in the game. 35…Nc2 36.Nc5 Nxe1 37.Kxe1 Nb6 38.Ba6 Rd8 Carlsen just needs a little re-organising of his pieces to find a breakthrough. Topalov isn’t losing per se, but it is just a daunting task constantly being on the back-foot here when your opponent is Magnus Carlsen! 39.Bb5 Be7 40.Nd3 g6 41.Ke2 Nc4 42.Rc1 Kg7 43.Rbb1 Topalov missed 43.Nb4! that might well have offered up more resistance. 43…Nd6 44.Ne5 Ne4 More precise to squeeze the blood from the stone was 44…Rb8! 45.Bd3 Rxb1 46.Rxb1 Ne4! that more or less forces 47.Bxe4 dxe4 and with the knight somewhat short of squares and f6 threatened, White will have to sacrifice one of the doubled pawns with 48.g5 Bxg5 49.f4 Bd8 50.Rb8 Bf6 51.Rb3 Be7 and Black, with the extra pawn, should easily win this. 45.c4 Topalov want’s to free his game up as quickly as he can, otherwise Carlsen will squeeze him to death. 45…dxc4 46.Nc6 Rd5?! The only miscue from Carlsen the whole game – after 46…Rdc8! 47.Rxc4 Bf6! 48.Rc2 Forced, otherwise …Nd6 is going to be awkward to meet. 48…Bxd4 49.Rbc1 e5 and Black should have enough to squeeze out the win. 47.Bxc4 Rxc6 48.Bxd5 Rxc1 49.Bxe4 The opposite-coloured bishops offers Topalov hope of saving the game – but he’s now down on time and Carlsen continues to relentlessly squeeze as much a she can from the position. 49…Rc4 50.Rb7 Topalov missed a trick. After 50.Kd3! Ra4 51.Rb7 Bf6 52.Rd7 Ra3+ 53.Kc4 Rxa2 54.d5! Ra4+ 55.Kd3 e5 56.d6 the running d-pawn should be enough to save the game, especially with added threats hanging in the air for a Bd5 and Rxf7+ moment. 50…Rxd4 51.Bxg6? And in his time-trouble, Topalov miscalculates by going into a R+P ending. The only way to save the game was with 51.Bc6! Kf6 52.Rxa7 Rxg4 53.Ra4! Rg5 54.Rf4+ Kg7 55.a4 and Black, despite the extra pawn, shouldn’t be able to win this, but it is no gimme. 51…Kxg6 52.Rxe7 a5 53.f4 Ra4 The transition into the R+P ending, with a little technique, is just a technical win for Carlsen – but instructive nevertheless in how he goes about executing the win. 54.Kf3 Ra3+ 55.Kg2 Rxa2+ 56.Kh3 a4 57.Ra7 a3 58.Ra5 Ra1 The idea is to play …a2 which forces White into keeping his rook on the a-file and his king having to stay in the vicinity of g2 or h2. 59.Kg2 a2 60.g5 h5 61.Kh2 h4! [see diagram] Carlsen’s endgame technique is as precise as a Swiss watch! 62.g4 What else is there now? If 62.gxh4 Kh5 and Black’s king recoups the h4 pawn as Kg3 or Kh3 is strongly met by a rook check vacating the queening square for the pawn. 62…Kg7 63.Ra7 Kg6 Carlsen has his own route to victory worked out already in his head, but even quicker was 63…e5! 64.fxe5 (There is no defence. If 64.f5 e4! 65.g6 e3 66.Rxf7+ Kg8 67.Ra7 e2 68.Ra8+ Kg7 69.Ra7+ Kf8 70.Ra8+ Ke7 71.g7 Rh1+! 72.Kg2 e1Q 73.Re8+ Kxe8 74.g8Q+ Ke7 75.f6+ Kxf6 76.Qf8+ Ke6 77.Qg8+ Kd6 78.Qf8+ Qe7 79.Qf4+ Qe5 80.Qf8+ Kd5 and the king runs up the board to a1 to escape the checks.) 64…Kg6 65.Ra5 h3! and White is in zugzwang. 64.Ra5 Rf1! Not just winning a pawn, but even more crucially cutting Topalov’s king off from saving the game, as we’ll soon see. 65.Rxa2 Rxf4 66.Kh3 Kxg5 67.Ra5+ f5! And with that, Carlsen smoothly starts the transition down to the winning Lucena position, one of two vital positions in endgame theory – the other being the drawing Philidor position – that is fundamental to all R+P endings. 68.gxf5 Rf3+ 69.Kh2 Rxf5 70.Ra8 Rf4 71.Kh3 Kf5 72.Ra5+ e5 73.Rb5 Ra4 74.Rb8 Kf4 75.Kxh4 Forcing the Lucena position – where with Topalov’s king cut off on the kingside, Carlsen will soon be ‘building the bridge’ to a yet another instructive endgame win. 75…e4 76.Kh3 Kf3 77.Rf8+ Ke2 78.Kg2 e3 0-1 Topalov resigns, faced with the Lucena bridge-building process with 79.Re8 Rg4+ 80.Kh3 Rg6 81.Re7 Kd2 82.Rd7+ Ke1 83.Re7 e2 84.Re8 Rd6! 85.Kg2 Kd1 86.Kf2 Rf6+ 87.Kg2 e1Q etc.

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