During the Candidates Tournament in Madrid, there came the announcement of the next leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, as a world-class field gets ready to assemble to do battle in the second Major of the season, the FTX Crypto Cup, which is set to be the biggest esports chess tournament ever to be held on US soil.
The FTX Road to Miami online qualifier on July 10 kicks off a summer of chess in Florida, with the pinnacle event being the second Tour Major of the season, the FTX Crypto Cup, also in Miami from August 15 to 21, with the biggest prize fund so far this year: $210K plus an additional $100K tied to the ever-fluctuating price of bitcoin provided by leading cryptocurrency exchange FTX.
First up though, comes the FTX Road to Miami online qualifier that starts on Sunday, who will qualify for coveted spots into the marquee event and a a prize fund up to $150,000. And on US soil, the Stars and Stripes are well represented with new import Levon Aronian, Leinier Dominguez, former US champ Sam Shankland and three young talents Samuel Sevian, Jeffrey Xiong and Hans Niemann.
But all eyes are on the make-up of the field for the follow-up marquee event. Candidates runner-up and world No.2 Ding Liren and Indian teen sensation Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa have already qualified for the FTX Crypto Cup by placing first and second respectively in May’s Chessable Masters tournament – and World Champion Magnus Carlsen is also in the mix to qualify being the current overall leader in the Tour standings.
We conclude our Candidates coverage with a delightful “OMG Moment” that came with a chance blitz encounter in a Madrid park between Carlsen and the all-time female No.1, Judit Polgar (who was well-praised for her entertaining Candidates commentaries), who despite being long-retired, is still a very dangerous opponent at the board…as the world champion discovered to his cost!
It turned out to be a fantastic and fun-filled banter encounter between these two legends of the game – and even in resignation, as Judit sportingly offered an immediate chance for revenge with a rematch for the world champion, Carlsen’s “No, that’s fine. I think it’s better for the story if it’s like this” truly sensed the spirit and fun of the off-piste occasion.
GM Judit Polgar – GM Magnus Carlsen
Madrid Park Blitz
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 As Carlsen himself commented in the video footage, Judit is “old school” and plays Open Sicilians. 3…cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Qc7 Here’s the thing about the Sicilian Taimanov – once dubbed in a popular book as The Safest Sicilian – that should make more club players think about playing it: It’s a solid defense; it’s very flexible; it’s not overly risky; it’s giving Black very good results, and especially, very good positions. What more can you ask for? 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.f3 It’s a sort of English Attack set-up and, as Judit observed, she wasn’t really up-to-date with all the latest theory – but despite being retired for a number of years now, she still has a marvellous ‘feel’ for positions and tactics. 8…Be7 9.0-0-0 b5 10.g4 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bb7 12.e5 Polgar initially thought she had just blundered here when she saw Magnus quickly replying with 12…Nxg4. It’s not a blunder per se, but better is 12.g5! Nh5 13.Be5! (A theme that will come back to haunt Magnus) 13…Qxe5 14.Qxd7+ Kf8 15.Qxb7 Bxg5+ 16.Kb1 Qb8 17.Qc6 Qc8 and White has a small edge, though nothing that with careful play shouldn’t see Black secure equality and a likely drawn ending coming. 12…Nxg4? The blunder is, in fact, Magnus’s and not Judit’s! The correct reply was 12…Nd5! and Black has a very minor edge in an equal position. 13.Rg1! After recovering from the shock of her ‘blunder’, Judit’s eyes must have been as large as dinner plates seeing all the play she’s got for a mere pawn. 13…Nh6 14.Bd3 Not 14.Rxg7? Nf5! and Black is winning with the f3-pawn falling next followed by …Nxd4 and …Bc5 – but by making a true gambit of the g-pawn, Polgar has a very dangerous initiative here. 14…Bf8 This had to be humbling for Carlsen to have to retreat his bishop all the way back to its original starting square. And when you see any player – let alone the world champion – reduced to a retreat like this, then alarm bells have to be going off in your head that a ‘happening’ is looming. 15.Be4 Rc8?? Magnus is paying no attention to the alarms blaring and the lights flashing – he’s oblivious to it all being a fun blitz game in the park. But if he had his ‘chess head’ on, he would surely have realised that he had to squirm even further with 15…Rd8 16.a3 d5 17.exd6 Bxd6 18.Qf2! Bxe4 19.Nxe4 Bf4+ 20.Kb1 Rxd4 The only move to survive. 21.Rxd4 Nf5 22.Rd3 Bxh2 23.Rf1 Bf4 and try to hold on – the couple of pawns for the exchange helps, but Black should still be losing this. 16.Bb6! [see diagram] I believe the technical term for this move is “Splat!”, but an oblivious Carlsen best summed it up with “OMG!”. It’s a deflection theme we indicated in the note to move 12 – but here it is a stone-cold killer due to the little matter of the mate on d7. 16…Bxe4 Well, who likes to be forced into resignation by move 16? We’ve all been there: Let’s see if we can prolong the fateful moment to a more respectable move 20 or so…17.Bxc7 Bc6 18.Bd6 Nf5 19.Ne4 1-0