If You Are Going To San Francisco - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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It’s all over bar the shouting, as the old aphorism goes. But although Magnus Carlsen has already been crowned the 2022 Tour Winner, there’s still the little matter of the final event of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour left to conclude this week, running 14-20 November, with the 3rd and final Major of the season taking place in San Francisco, California.

It’s an 8-player all-play-all tournament, with the players competing in a 4-game rapid match each day; and the final event of the season also takes on a hybrid affair, with four players playing in-person from SHACK15 in the San Francisco Ferry Building, and the remaining four playing remotely online.

The eight-players vying for the share of the $250,000 prize fund includes:

Magnus Carlsen – #1 Tour Standings (Qualified via JB Generation Cup / Standings)
Jan-Krzysztof Duda – #2 Tour Standing (Qualified via Aimchess Rapid / Standings)
Praggnanandhaa R – #3 Tour Standings (Qualified via Standings)
Liem Le – #4 Tour Standings (Qualified via Standings)
Anish Giri – #5 Tour Standings (Qualified via Standings)
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – #6 Tour Standings (Qualified via Aimchess Rapid)
Arjun Erigaisi – #21 Tour Standings (Qualified via JB Generation Cup)
Wesley So – 2022 Tour Debut

The stand-out opening day match-up sees Magnus Carlsen playing old rival Wesley So, the recent winner of the Chess.com Global Chess Championship. The other pairings sees Duda vs. Erigaisi, Praggnanandhaa vs. Mamedyarov and Le vs. Giri.

Play begins at 12pm in San Francisco (3pm ET, 21:00 CEST, 01:30 IST). As ever, there’s live coverage at the official Meltwater Champions Chess Tour site throughout, with commentary from the regular Tour Oslo studio team of Kaja Snare, GMs David Howell, Simon Williams, and IM Jovanka Houska. Over at Chess24, GM Peter Leko will be joined by GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov.

Photo: With the iconic backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge, though sans any flowers in their hair, Wesley So, Anish Giri, Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen get a little practice is before the marquee event kicks-off | © Meltwater Champions Chess Tour

 

 

To whet your appetite before play gets underway today, we head down memory lane for one of my favourite Carlsen-So encounters from  the Tata Steel Masters back in 2018.

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Wesley So
80th Tata Steel Masters, 2018
Queen’s Pawn
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bf4 Bf5 4.e3 e6 5.c4 Bxb1 6.Qxb1 Bb4+ Curiously, when Magnus allowed this discomforting check in his Chess.com Speed Chess Championship match with Wesley just a few weeks before this encounter, everyone just assumed, as it was a blitz match, that it was just a mouse-slip – but now with this game we see that he’d carefully assed all the ramifications of his king being stuck in the middle of the board. 7.Kd1 Bd6 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.e4 Usually in such scenarios, with the White king stranded in the middle of the board, the first reaction is to keep your pawn formation solid and not allow Black to make a breakthrough – but here it is Magnus himself who allows the position to be busted open! 11…Be7 12.Bb5+ c6 13.e5 Qf4 14.Bd3 c5 15.dxc5 Nc6 16.Qc1 Qb4 17.a3 Qxc5 18.Ke2!? The easy solution was 18.Qxc5 Bxc5 19.Ke2 Nd4+ 20.Nxd4 Bxd4 with an even game – but Magnus wants more with his little tempo-winning king move. If Wesley exchanges queens, then White has a nice advantage heading into the endgame; so rather than that, he keeps the queens on the board and tries to open the game up to try to take advantage of Magnus’ wonder-lusting king. 18…Nd4+ 19.Nxd4 Qxd4 20.f4 0-0 21.Qd2 Qb6 Avoiding the cheap trick of Bh7+ winning Black’s queen. 22.Rhe1 f6 This looks the right way ahead, as after 23.exf6 Bxf6, Black stands well with his active pieces and the precarious state of White’s king wandering around in no-man’s land – but Magnus has a very dramatic solution to his problems. 23.e6! The pawn sacrifice now guarantees that White is the one with the active pieces – what a turnaround! 23…Qxe6+ 24.Kf3 Magnus’ king is perfectly safe here; and if he can force the exchange of queens, then all the better as White’s active pieces will dominate. 24…Qd7 25.Rad1 What’s not to like here for a mere pawn? White has tremendous central pressure down the e- and d-files, and Black will have to also be careful of his king coming under attack with a queen and bishop battery down the long b1-h7 diagonal. 25…Rad8 26.Qe3 Wesley can’t defend with …Rfe8 as Bg6! wins a piece – and with Magnus now set to regain his pawn, he has to be carefull not to allow the world champion a trademark grinding advantage. 26…Bd6 27.Bg6 Magnus stops Wesley challenging his dominance of the e-file by preventing …Rfe8. He also could have played 27.Bb1 Qf7 28.Qe6! with one possible continuation being 28…Bc7 29.Ba2 Rfe8 30.Bxd5! Qxe6 31.Bxe6+ Kf8 32.Rxd8 Rxd8 33.Rc1 Bb6 34.f5 and Black has problems with his big light-square weaknesses. 27…f5 28.Qe6+ Qxe6 29.Rxe6 Bc5 30.Re5 Magnus is not only recapturing his pawn, he’s set to win another, as both f5 and d5 can’t be defended – but will it be enough for him to win? 30…Rf6 31.Bxf5 Bd6 32.Rdxd5 Kf7 33.Re4 g6 34.Bg4 h5 “Magnus has blundered!”, some of the punters watching online excitedly proclaimed as they watched the online live coverage. There, the resident engine shows three lines for Black, none of which was what some of the masses where screaming out for, namely 34…Bxf4, the point being that, if 35.Rxd8 Bc7+ picks up the rook. But there was a good reason why the engine didn’t even mention 34…Bxf4 – there’s a very clever intermezzo from White that wins, namely 35.Be6+! and now White is protecting the d5 rook and Black will suffer a heavy material loss. 35.Bh3 Re8 Allowing Magnus to keep his pieces on the board looks like a flawed plan to my mind from Wesley. His objective here should be always looking to trade the rooks with the aim of achieving the notoriously drawn bishops of opposite-colour ending, and for that reason, more promising looked 35…Bc7 to guarantee the exchange of at least one set of rooks. But Wesley believes he has a better plan…only Magnus takes him down a rabbit hole to his liking. 36.Red4 Be5 This and the follow-up 37…g5 was what Wesley was banking on – but Magnus has seen a little further. 37.Rb4 g5 38.g3 b6 39.Rd7+ Kf8 40.Rh7!? [see diagram] Magnus is well aware that any ending with the bishops of opposite colour will likely end in a draw – and rather than all this, he now picks his moment to imbalance the game with a timely piece sacrifice. Objectively, it’s a smart move as Wesley faces huge difficulties stopping the pawns storming down the board – and bravely, Magnus goes for it! 40…g4+ 41.Bxg4 hxg4+ 42.Kxg4 The three connected passed pawns isn’t Wesley’s only problem here, as he could be reduced to long-time passivity trying to defend his queenside pawns from Magnus’ marauding rooks. 42…Bd6 The alternative was 42…Bb8 but after 43.Rd4 and Rdd7 to come, White’s rooks doubled on the seventh will be difficult to defend against. 43.Rc4 a5 44.Rc6 Now Magnus is set to win a fourth pawn – and with it, the pendulum swings heavily in his favour to win. 44…Kg8 45.Rb7 Be5 46.Rcxb6 Rxb6 47.Rxb6 Bd4 48.Rb5 Re2 49.b3 Rxh2 A critical moment in the game – and probably offering a little more resistance was 49…a4!? but after 50.h4! the pawns are rolling and it is difficult to stop them, one obvious line showing this being 50…Re3 51.bxa4 Rxa3 52.Kh5! Rxa4 (There’s no other option, as after 52…Rxg3 53.Rg5+ Rxg5+ 54.hxg5 and passed pawns of both wings will win against the lone bishop.) 53.g4 Bf2 54.f5 and the pawns rapidly running up the board supported by the king and rook will win. 50.Rxa5 Re2 51.Rd5 Bb2 52.a4 Bc3 53.Kf5 Re8 54.g4 Rf8+ 55.Ke4 Rb8 56.Rb5 Magnus takes full advantage of the fact that Wesley’s only hope of saving the game is by keeping his rook on the board. 56…Re8+ 57.Kd3 Be1 58.a5 Bf2 59.b4 Step by step, Magnus makes progress by pushing his pawns further and further up the board. 59…Re3+ 60.Kc4 Re4+ 61.Kb3 Kf7 No, not a mistake – Wesley can’t take the pawn with 61…Rxf4 as Magnus returns to the theme of 62.Rf5! forcing the exchange of rooks and the passed pawns on opposite wings trumps the lone bishop. 62.Re5 Rd4 63.b5 It’s simply a technical win now, as the pawns are too far up the board for anything to be done about it – and all that Magnus need do now is be careful about how he pushes them. 63…Rd3+ 64.Kc2 Rg3 65.g5 Bd4 66.Rd5 Be3 67.Rd3 Rg2+ 68.Kb3 Bc1 69.b6 Ke6 70.Rd4 Rb2+ 71.Ka4 Kf5 72.Rb4 Ra2+ 73.Kb5 Bxf4 74.Rxf4+ There’ many ways to win here, but this is the simplest way to go about it. 74…Kxf4 75.b7 1-0 And Wesley resigns, as there’s no way to stop a6 and Kb6 and one of the queenside pawns queening. A wonderful scrap from both players!

 

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