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The summer highlight on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour is now underway in Miami, Florida, with the second Major of the year, the FTX Crypto Cup (15-21 August) getting underway with a bumper $210K plus prize fund (and an additional $100K tied to the ever-fluctuating price of bitcoin) making it the biggest esports chess tournament ever to be held on US soil.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen heads the star-studded eight-player field at this hybrid event taking place at the Edon Roc Miami Beach Hotel. Joining the fray in the all-play-all event is Levon Aronian, Anish Giri Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Liem Le, along with rising prodigies Alireza Firouzja, Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa and Hans Niemann.

The FTX Crypto Cup marks the the halfway stage of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, and there’s the very familiar and omnipresent figure of Carlsen toping the Tour standings, having amassed $106,500 in prize money so far – and the two-time defending Tour champion turned up the heat with an emphatic opening round victory, breaking his long-time Dutch rival Giri twice in the final two games of the match.

It turned out to be a tactical masterclass from Carlsen, who won the tactical duel 3-1, sending an ominous warning to the rest of the field as he got off to a thrilling start with some exciting chess to blow Giri away. “It was a lot of fun, we played really, really fighting games. Finally, I managed to break him in the third,” explained a happy Carlsen in victory.

1st Round results: Carlsen 3-1 Giri; Pragg 2½-1½ Firouzja; Niemann 0-3 Duda; Aronian 2½-1½ Liem Le

Round 2 starts at 12:00 ET (18:00 CEST). Each match will be played over four rapid games, with blitz tiebreaks in case of a 2:2 draw.

All the action will be broadcast on chess24 with a choice of commentary from the regular Tour Oslo team of David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare, or from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.

GM Anish Giri – GM Magnus Carlsen
FTX Crypto Cup, (1.3)
French Advance, Euwe Variation
1.e4 e6 A surprise from Carlsen, who opts to play the French Defence – a choice that perhaps catches out Giri. 2.d4 d5 3.e5 The Advance French was pioneered by the likes of Aron Nimzowitsch in the 1920s, who believed this to be White’s best choice and enriched its theory with many ideas and strategies. We don’t see it so much in elite praxis, but it has become a popular choice at club level as it involves a simple, straightforward plan with attacking chances and extra space. 3…c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7 Whether knowingly or not, Carlsen pays homage to the Dutchman’s homeland by playing the Euwe variation, named after the legendary Dr Max Euwe, who in 1935 – after a shock victory over Alexander Alekhine – became the only Dutchman to be crowned world champion. 6.Be2 Nge7 7.0-0 cxd4 8.cxd4 Nf5 9.Nc3 Rc8 10.Kh1 For many this looks a slightly perplexing move, as we’re some way off of White clearing the way to push his f-pawn up the board. The thought would have been that Giri could have saved a little time just playing the immediate 10.Bg5 forcing 10…Be7 11.Bxe7 Ncxe7 12.Bd3 and we have a different game than we now get. 10…a6 11.Bg5 Qb6 12.Na4 Qa7! This is the difference between the line noted above, as by getting in 10…a6 for free, Carlsen tucks his queen on a7 and keeps the pressure on the d4-pawn – a line not available to him if Giri had played 10.Bg5 rather than Kh1. 13.Be3 Be7 Carlsen will have been happy here as he’s secured easy equality – and able to keep his dark-squared bishop on the board, he stops any Ng5 attacking ideas. 14.a3 b5 15.Nc3 0-0 16.Bd3 Nxe3 17.fxe3 b4 If anything, Carlsen now has a little edge in the position – and with it, he bosses the position as only Carlsen can. 18.axb4 Nxb4 19.e4 Nxd3 20.Qxd3 dxe4 21.Nxe4 h6! A crucial move in this intriguing struggle of the bishop-pair vs the knights, denying the annoying Ng5. 22.Rfe1 a5 23.Qd2 Bc6 24.Qf4? [Giri blinks by missing his only chance to stay competitive, with the shock tactic of 24.Nf6+! Kh8! (The knight is taboo. If 24…gxf6 25.Qxh6 and White is winning, as there’s no way to stop the mating attack.) 25.d5!? exd5 26.Nd4 Bd7 27.Nxd7 Qxd7 28.Qxa5 Rb8! where Black stands better, but White is still in the game. And also preferable was 24.Rxa5 Qb7! 25.Nc5 Bxc5 26.dxc5 Bxf3 27.gxf3 Qxf3+ 28.Qg2 Qf4 though this works in Black’s favour, as it will become difficult for White to protect his loose pawns and his loose king. 24…Qb8! 25.Re2 a4 Giri is totally paralysed now on the queenside, and rather than doomed to stand constant guard of his b-pawn, opts to seek tactics that are just not there. 26.Qg4 Qb5 27.Rae1 Giri opts to hang for the sheep rather than the lamb, realising that the better option of 27.Nf6+ Kh8! 28.Nh5 g6 29.Ng3 Bd5 30.Rf2 Qd3 and White’s position is beginning to crumble. 27…Bb4 28.d5 Desperate times calls for desperate moves. 28…Bxe1 29.Nd4 Qd3! [see diagram] The knights do look threatening, but Carlsen finds the accurate counter-tactic to win the game. 30.Rxe1 Bxd5 31.Nf6+ Kh8 32.Nxd5 Qd2 33.Rd1 Rc1 34.Nc3 Qe1+! 0-1 The queen sacrifice ends the game with a touch of panache.

 

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