Magnus Carlsen saved his best for last with a near-perfect performance to easily win the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final held at the SHACK15 building in downtown San Francisco. And so big was Carlsen’s margin of victory, that he won the final tournament of the 2022 season with a round to spare to complete a unique Tour double.
Not only did Carlsen win the marquee final event of the season by a round to spare, but he also captured the 2022 Tour title with a tournament to spare! And along the way, he now also has the bragging rights to capturing two of the three Majors, as his nearest Tour rival, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, couldn’t match the Norwegian’s relentless pace.
Going into the midway point in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final, Carlsen and Duda – who finished second behind Carlsen in the 2022 season standings; and who also won the only other Major of the season – couldn’t be separated with their joint perfect start.
But Carlsen went into overdrive in the second half of the tournament to produce his best performance of the year and a richly deserved victory, as he left Duda in his wake. And even winning with a round to spare, Carlsen didn’t rest on his laurels with an anti-climactic finish, as he easily beat Duda to end on a high by winning all of his matches; winning six outright, with only Liem Le extending their match to a tiebreaker before finally succumbing.
That dominating victory earned Carlsen $50,000 and took the Norwegian’s Tour earnings for the season to $242,500, $80,000 more than second-placed Duda – and with it, a hat-trick of successive Tour-titles for Carlsen.
After winning all seven matches in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Final, a pleased Carlsen commented in his post-victory presser: “I didn’t win the last tournament that I played, also the Fischer Random World Championship didn’t go so well, so it was huge to set the record straight here!”
And reflecting on the season, Carlsen further added: “There have been a lot of good events this year on the tour, some a little bit worse as well, but super-happy to finish on a high note, and today it was just a pleasure to play knowing that I had it in the bag and I could just relax.”
1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 20/21; 2. W. So (USA) 13; 3. Liem Le (Vietnam) 11; 4. JK. Duda (Poland) 10; 5-6. R, Praggnanandhaa (India), A. Erigaisi (India) 9; 7-8. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), A. Giri (Netherlands) 6.
GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda – GM Magnus Carlsen
Meltwater Tour Final, (7.2)
Modern Defence, Averbakh System
1.c4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.e4 d6 The Modern Defence, Averbakh system against White’s d4/c4/e4 set-up is rare at elite-level these days, but was hugely popular during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. 4.Nc3 c5 5.d5 If 5.dxc5 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 dxc5 7.Qxd8+ Kxd8 8.Be3 b6 9.Nf3 Ke8 and Black has a solid endgame with no pawn weaknesses. 5…Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 e5 7.Bd3 Nd7 8.f4!? If White keeps it solid, then Black will eventually get the ‘Beefeater-like’ set-up of …Qa5 and …Nb6 and prey on the weak White queenside pawns. Rather than that, Duda looks to open the game up for his bishop-pair. 8…exf4 9.Bxf4 Qh4+ 10.Bg3 Qe7 11.Nf3 Nh6 12.e5!?! If not this, then Black will play …Nh6-g4-e5 with a rock-solid outpost on e5 that will stymie White’s game. And if 12.h3, with the idea of Qd2 winning the knight, Black simply plays 12…f6 followed by …Nh6-f7-e5 and again the strong e5-outpost. 12…Nxe5 13.Nxe5 dxe5 14.0-0 0-0 15.Qd2 Nf5 16.Bxf5 Bxf5 There’s nothing much in the game now, but Carlsen makes more of his position as he has no pawn weaknesses to worry about. 17.Rf2 f6 18.Raf1 Rad8 19.Qe3 b6 20.Bh4 Rd6 If anything, Carlsen has a little advantage – and now he’s in his element as he squeezes Duda’s position. 21.h3 Bd7 22.Rf3 Rf7 Also a good option was 22…h5!? looking to prevent g4, and if 23.Qh6 Qg7 24.Qd2 Kh7 and, if anything, Black is the one on top. 23.g4 Be8 24.g5?! [It’s a hasty move and a bad plan from Duda in a difficult position – but understandably, he’s looking to bust the game open rather than allowing 24.Bg3 b5! 25.g5 bxc4 26.gxf6 Qd7 27.Qxc5 Rxd5 28.Qxc4 Qd6 29.Re3 Qe6 and Black will play …Bc6 to exploit the vulnerable a8-h1 long diagonal. 24…f5 25.Re1 e4! Carlsen has emerged with a big advantage – and he soon finds the breakthrough with a timely exchange sacrific. 26.Bg3 Rd8 27.Rf2 Bd7 28.Bc7 Re8 29.Qf4 Bc8 30.Bd6 Qd8 31.Be5 Rxe5! The extra couple of pawns, solid position and the imposing kingside pawn chain is more than enough compensation for the exchange! 32.Qxe5 Qxg5+ 33.Rg2 Qf6 34.Qb8 Rf8 35.Qf4 Ba6 Carlsen could probably play 35…Qxc3 – but he sees no need to rush things. 36.h4 Bxc4 37.d6 Duda is simply bust – but watch and learn as Carlsen skilfully avoids any complications/tricks on the kingside. 37…Qxc3 38.Re3 There was also 38.Rd1 Bd3 39.h5 but Black has 39…Kf7! and White has no game-saving breakthrough. 38…Qd4 39.h5 Bf7 Even stronger was 39…Rf6! 40.hxg6 hxg6 41.d7 Be6 and Black will pick-off the d-pawn. 40.Kh2 Rd8 When the d-pawn falls, White’s position will not be far behind. 41.Reg3 Qxd6 42.Qxf5 Re8 43.hxg6 hxg6 There’s just no time for Duda to find a saving trick. 44.Kh1 Kg7! 45.Rh3 Qe6 46.Qh5 Qxh3+! [see diagram] Carlsen finds a tactical shot to transpose down to a winning endgame. 47.Qxh3 Rh8 48.Qxh8+ Kxh8 There’s just too many pawns for Duda to save the game. 49.Rd2 Bc4 50.Rd7 It was either this or a slow death by defending the a-pawn with 50.a3 Bd3 51.Kg1 c4 52.Kf2 c3 53.Rd1 b5 etc. 50…Bxa2 51.Rxa7 Bc4 52.Kg1 Bd3 53.Rc7 c4 54.Rb7 Technically better was 54.Rc6 but it doesn’t do anything about the final outcome after 54…e3! 55.Rxb6 e2 56.Kf2 Kg7 57.Rc6 Kh6 58.Rc5 g5 and White can’t stop all the pawns. After all, four pawns are four pawns! 54…c3 55.Rxb6 c2 56.Rc6 e3 57.Rc8+ Kg7 58.Kg2 g5 59.Kf3 e2 60.Kf2 g4 61.Ke1 g3 62.Rxc2 The last, desperate throw of the dice – but Carlsen has an easy yet still very instructive way to win. 62…Bxc2 63.Kxe2 Bd1+! 0-1 Duda resigns as he can’t take the bishop, and if 64.Kf1 Bf3 forms the perfect fortress around the g-pawn where Black will follow-up with …Kg7-g6-g5-g4-h3-h2 to pass the g-pawn.