Chess Speaks, Carlsen Walks - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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They say that bad news often comes in threes. First up, Magnus Carlsen announced he was to abdicate his world crown; then in the last few weeks, big moves were announced in the money markets that could see Carlsen’s public company, Play Magnus Group, being sold to rivals Chess.com; and now comes the latest bombshell to hit the Norwegian, as he withdraws from a tournament for the first time in his career by walking out on the Sinquefield Cup currently being held at the Saint Louis Chess Club!

The news comes after Carlsen played just three rounds of the tournament and the day after he sensationally lost to the enigmatic 19-year-old underdog Hans Moke Niemann, a shock result that now sees the leading US junior, playing in his first elite-level tournament, taking the sole lead on 2½/3 following three simply dominating performances that included a brace of big wins over Shahriyar Mamedyarov and now Carlsen, as the San Franciscan crosses the 2700-barrier on the unofficial live rating list.

Carlsen stunned the chess world before the start of today’s Round 4 by tweeting: “I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future.” Even more cryptically, he also posted alongside the tweet a video clip of the outspoken soccer manager Jose Mourinho, commenting, “If I speak I am in big trouble” during one of his controversial press conferences about match officials.

The rumour mill then went into overdrive as the news of Carlsen’s sudden and unexpected withdrawal reverberated around the chess world – and their suspicions reached fever-pitch when it was discovered that the Sinquefield Cup official broadcast would be delayed by 15 minutes for Round 4, a measure generally applied in tournaments to prevent cheating.

The fans are now in a frenzy looking to connect the dots that Carlsen’s withdrawal, and now the sudden new changes in force in St. Louis, the world champion could well be heavily hinting at the possibility of foul play but – just like a constrained Mourinho – he is unwilling to make any public accusations about it.

Then again, it could well be that Carlsen simply got caught cold at the board. If he’s wrong about what suspicions he may have harboured, then that’s bad news for the world champion hinting at alleged cheating – but equally terrible news for the whole integrity of the game if he genuinely feels something is indeed suspicious and has to be investigated.

Standings:
1. H. Niemann (USA) 2½/3*; 2. W. So (USA) 2; 3-7. I. Nepomniachtchi (Fide), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), M. Carlsen (Norway), L. Dominguez (USA), A. Firouzja (France) 1½; 8-10. L. Aronian (USA), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), F. Caruana (USA) 1. (*As far as I’m aware, the standing are likely to change with Carlsen’s early withdrawal, as I believe the Fide rules dictate that his result in the tournament are now null and void; which is good news for his former title rival Ian Nepomniachtchi, as he lost in the first round to the world champion, but not so good news for Niemann, who has just beaten him!)

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Hans Niemann
9th Sinquefield Cup, (3)
Nimzo-Indian Defence, Romanishin-Kasparov variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.g3 The Romanishin-Kasparov variation, a close cousin to the Catalan, and something of a surprise package in the Nimzo-Indian these days in elite chess. The Ukrainian/Soviet player who really pioneered this line was Oleg Romanishin during the mid-to-late 1970s – but it was then championed in the early ’80s by the rapidly rising Garry Kasparov en route to becoming the youngest player to win the world crown. And as I say, this is not a fashionable line, so I imagine that Carlsen will have been trying to catch his inexperienced opponent out with it – but after the game, Niemann claimed he’d been heavily analysing this as a possible attempt from Carlsen to catch him out! 4…0-0 5.Bg2 d5 6.a3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 dxc4 8.Nf3 c5 This is a common response in this line, attempting to steer the game more into a sort of Catalan complex. 9.0-0 cxd4 10.Qxd4 Nc6 11.Qxc4 e5! Niemann not only prevent Carlsen’s knight from hoping into d4 he also now has a good square on e6 for his bishop – and he’ll have been really pleased he’s achieved instant equality against the world champion. 12.Bg5 h6 13.Rfd1 Be6 14.Rxd8 Bxc4 15.Rxa8 Rxa8 16.Bxf6 gxf6 17.Kf1 Rd8 18.Ke1 If anything, Carlsen is the one slightly grovelling here, as his queenside pawns right now are the more vulnerable. 18…Na5 19.Rd1 Rc8! A very brave call indeed, as trading rooks would only eases White’s position – but Niemann signals he wants to take the world champion head-on here rather than settling for a comfortable draw. 20.Nd2 Be6 21.c4 Bxc4 The engine thinks that centralising the Black king with 21…Kf8 was marginally better, and while 22.Bd5 Ke7 23.e4 f5! (If 23…Nxc4 24.Bxb7 Rc7 25.Nxc4 Rxc4 26.h4 Rc3 27.a4 Rb3 28.Bc6 Bg4 29.Rc1 and White should easily hold.) 24.Nf3 f6 it claims Black to be “better”, you can’t deny that the pawn grab is the very human response here. 22.Nxc4? Frankly, it really all starts to go pear-shaped for Carlsen with this error. Instead, after 22.Ne4! Bb3 23.Rb1 b6 24.Nxf6+ Kg7 25.Ne4 Rc2 26.Nd6 Ra2 27.Be4! Kf6 (Black can’t quite grab the pawn. After 27…Rxa3?! 28.Nb5 Ra4 29.f3 a6 30.Nc7! and the a6-pawn falls.) 28.Bd3 Black clearly has the better pieces and good chances of (eventually) winning the a-pawn, but not so easy to convert for the full point. But Carlsen goes on a wrong gut instinct that activating his R+B should provide enough counter-chances for the pawn. 22…Rxc4 23.Rd8+ Kg7 24.Bd5 Rc7 25.Ra8 a6 26.Rb8 f5 Carlsen’s compensation for the pawn is very superficial here – but the hard part now for Niemann is to hold his nerve to find a way to convert for the full point to sensationally taking the early sole lead in the tournament! 27.Re8 e4 28.g4 Rc5 29.Ba2 Nc4 30.a4 It’s a bad day at the office for Carlsen, who I suspect didn’t much fancy 30.gxf5 Nxa3 31.Kf1 Rc1+ 32.Kg2 Nb5! 33.Re7 Rc7 34.Rxe4 Nc3 35.Rg4+ Kf6 36.Bc4 a5! as simply running the a-pawn will see White in dire straits. 30…Nd6 31.Re7? Carlsen is drinking in the last gasp saloon here – the only slim hopes he might have had of saving the game could be found after the more accurate 31.Rd8! Where the engine soon finds 31…e3! 32.fxe3 Ne4 33.Kf1 Nc3 34.Bb3 fxg4 35.Kg2 b5 36.axb5 Nxb5 and Black will still have to put a shift in to convert any possible win. 31…fxg4? The immediate killing blow was 31…Rc2! 32.Bd5 Rc1+ 33.Kd2 Rc5! 34.Ba2 (Unfortunately for White, the b-pawn is taboo. After 34.Bxb7? Kf6! 35.Rd7 Ke6 36.Rxd6+ Kxd6 37.Bxa6 fxg4 and Black will easily win.) 34…fxg4 35.Rd7 Nc4+ 36.Ke1 b5 37.Ra7 Rc6 38.axb5 axb5 39.Rd7 Nd6! and Black has consolidated his position, and will soon be ready to push his b-pawn up the board. 32.Rd7 e3! The engine favourite, and we have more-or-less transposed into the note seen at move 31 – and with it, just the faintest glimmer of a chance for Carlsen to somehow save the game. 33.fxe3 Ne4 34.Kf1 Rc1+ 35.Kg2 Rc2 36.Bxf7 Rxe2+ 37.Kg1 Re1+ 38.Kg2 Re2+ 39.Kg1 Kf6 40.Bd5? Carlsen lets his position drift again, and with it, any hopes of saving the game starts to evaporate. His best chance was with 40.Rxb7! Rxe3 41.Bc4 Nc5 42.Rb6+ Kg5 43.a5 Ra3 44.Rd6! Granted not easy to spot, but the engine pounces on this strong resource, and it is frankly difficult to see how Black can win now. After 44…Rxa5 45.Rd5+ Kh4 46.Kg2 and Black can’t do anything without seeing the a6-pawn falling and a draw looming. 40…Rd2 41.Rf7+ Kg6 42.Rd7 The last, last chance was 42.Rf4! Rxd5 43.Rxe4 h5 44.h3! gxh3 45.Kh2 Rd3 46.Kxh3 Kf5 47.Re7 and it is beginning to look increasingly more like a drawn R+P endgame. The trouble Carlsen has, is that the line he’s opted for sees the rooks being traded – it would have been better to have kept the rooks on the board to try to draw. 42…Ng5 43.Bf7+ Kf5 Slightly more accurate, according to the engine, was 43…Kf6! but the text gets him there anyway. 44.Rxd2 Nf3+ 45.Kg2 Nxd2 46.a5 Ke5 47.Kg3 Nf1+ 48.Kf2 No better is 48.Kxg4 Nxh2+ 49.Kh4 Nf1 and we’ll soon be getting down to the awkward ending of K & N plus a- & b-pawns v lone K & B. 48…Nxh2 49.e4 Kxe4 50.Be6 Kf4 51.Bc8 Nf3! [see diagram] There’s no hope now for Carlsen, as Niemann finds the most accurate way to convert the win, and duly does so with relative ease. 52.Bxb7 Ne5 53.Bxa6 Nc6! Niemann shows some nice technique to pick off the a5-pawn for the easy win now. 54.Bb7 Nxa5 55.Bd5 h5 56.Bf7 h4 57.Bd5 0-1

 

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