Chess: Carlsen heads for Tour win as Nakamura moonlighting sparks debate
Magnus Carlsen is heading for a comfortable victory and a $100,000 first prize this weekend in the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Tour final, as the world No 1’s lead from the previous qualifying events looks like proving too high a hurdle for his only serious rival, Wesley So.
So, the reigning US champion, was set back by a controversial five-minute blitz loss to Hikaru Nakamura after the pair appeared to collude in four quick rapidplay draws. The arrangement helped Nakamura to moonlight in Chess.com’s Titled Tuesday whose playing hours overlapped with Meltwater, and drew attention to the niggling friction between Chess.com, which is closely linked to the Twitch streamer and five-time US champion Nakamura, and its rival Chess24, which is owned by Carlsen’s PlayMagnus Group.
The following round on Wednesday featured the Carlsen v Nakamura pairing, a rerun of their epic 2020 Tour final which Carlsen only won in the final Armageddon. There was no repeat of that dramatic encounter, however. Carlsen smoothly won 2.5-0.5 with a game to spare and afterwards said that his opponent had offered “very, very little resistance … with this kind of resistance I got today, it’s not difficult to play well.”
Carlsen’s only loss in the first five rounds was 3-1 to Vladislav Artemiev, as the Russian, 23, displayed his strategic skills by winning twice as Black against the world champion’s offbeat approaches on the white side of a Sicilian. It was another positive moment for Russian chess, coming soon after gold medals in last month’s online Olympiad. Last week Russia Wizards beat St Louis Archbishops in the online Pro League final, with the world title challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, scoring 3.5/4, while this weekend’s world women’s team final at Sitges, Spain, also looks destined for Russia, the top seeds.
In the final four Meltwater rounds on Friday to Monday (4pm start) Carlsen plays in succession Anish Giri, Teimour Radjabov, Levon Aronian and So. There could still be a mathematical chance for the former Filipino to overhaul Carlsen on the final day.
Earlier, the most interesting match was Carlsen v Shak Mamedyarov, an exceptionally sharp encounter with seven white wins in seven games, four rapid, two blitz, and the final Armageddon. They were a total contrast to the patient endgame grinds with which the No 1 gained his recent over-the-board victories, and included Carlsen’s first experience of the Dilworth Variation, a rare case where an opening is named after an English amateur.
1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Nxe4 6 d4 b5 7 Bb3 d5 8 dxe5 Be6 9 c3 Bc5 10 Nbd2 0-0 11 Bc2 Nxf2!? 12 Rxf2 f6.
Vernon Dilworth was a Manchester railway clerk who used his 11…Nxf2!? idea in early 1940s postal games publicised in Chess magazine, which inspired Mikhail Botvinnik to play the Dilworth against Vassily Smyslov at Moscow 1943. It gives unclear and complex positions with chances for both sides, so over the years many grandmasters have tried the Dilworth as Black or been ready to take it on as White.
The latest Dilworth exponent is Mamedyarov, who chose the variation in important games in 2018 and again at Zagreb this summer. Carlsen would have seen these openings and, knowing that he would meet the Azerbaijan GM on the Meltwater Tour, was ready with his prep.
Most older Dilworth games continued 13 exf6 Bxf2+ 14 Kxf2 Qxf6 and a tricky ending of rook and pawn against knight and bishop. Carlsen preferred 13 Nf1, which has been much less explored because it gives Black a second pawn with a visually strong centre duo. After 13…Bxf2+ 14 Kxf2 fxe5 15 Kg1 Bg4 Carlsen’s 16 Ne3! varied from 16 Bg5 Bxf3 17 Qd2 Qd6 (van Foreest-Mamedyarov, Zagreb 2021) and led to 16…Be6 17 b3 Kh8?! which could be improved by 17…e4! 18 Nd4 Nxd4 19 Q or cxd4 Qd6! when Black has active piece play.
Mamedyarov lost only after further errors, so the question for future games is whether Carlsen’s 16 Ne3 is really so strong or just a practical surprise.
Last week’s article reported the fine start by Luke McShane in the Manx Liberty Masters at Douglas, Isle of Man and that Nigel Short and Gawain Jones both began with wins in the Tepe Sigeman & Co tournament at Malmö, Sweden.
In the event, all three English grandmasters turned in successful performances as McShane kept his lead with an unbeaten 6.5/9 while Jones and Short tied for second in Malmo with 4/7, a point behind the favourite and Wijk winner Jorden van Foreest, who Jones defeated in the final round.
3783: The obvious try is 1 Rd7+, but then Qxd7 2 Nxd7 Kxd7 and Black’s fortress is hard to penetrate. Carlsen played 1 Qb1! (threat 2 Qb8 mate) Qb5 2 Nc6+! Qxc6 (if Kc8 3 Na7+ wins the queen) 3 Qb8+ Qc8 4 Qb6+ Nc7 5 Qd6+ and wins.