Chess Leisure

Carlsen puts up the good fight in outplaying the outplayed, and doesn’t fail to delight

  • March 30, 2024
  • 7 min read
Carlsen puts up the good fight in outplaying the outplayed, and doesn’t fail to delight

Although I have fairly regularly thought that since Magnus Carlsen stepped down from defending his World Championship title and crown, at any point subsequently he would retire from chess and only be seen on those stately occasions when museums and their like, such as St. Louis, praise the history of chess, and that his name would be celebrated along with the other greats, such as Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer, and so on.

How wrong can one be when he jumps right back into contention not just by inclusion into a world-class tournament but by actually winning it! I went into some depth in my last article with the 2023 annual chess awards where the figure of Carlsen ran high, winning several categories, including Player of the Year. Yes, he’s succeeded yet again, winning the opening tournament of this year’s elite competitions, The Chessable Masters Grand Final. He won Division 1 of the 2024 Champions Chess Tour Chessable Masters at the beginning of February. It wasn’t all plain sailing as the French GM, Alireza Firouzja, won the first set of the Grand Final, succeeding in the first two games in a row. 

Carlsen, however, who has always impressed throughout his career when backed up against the wall and pressed in a drawn and lost position, has summoned up reserves of ingenuity and waves of attrition to force a game win or draw, and a traction to go on and win the competition. He did nothing less in The Chessable by winning the second set, and the match reset with a 2-0 clean sweep. These recent successes add to his astonishing results in this annual competition. It is his 14th victory in seventeen appearances in the CCT finals, and he finds himself $30,000 richer, gains 100 tour points, and admission with direct entry into Division 1 again at the start of this annual event and finals at the end of the year. The French number 1, Alireza Firouzja, at 20 years old, is 13 years younger than Carlsen at 33, and had met Carlsen only once before in the 2023 Grand Final encounter, the Julius Baer Generation Cup, which Carlsen won. Nevertheless, in set one, as above, in their latest encounter, the underdog clinched the first 2 games back to back, but commentators felt that the huge effort Firouzja had used to succeed sapped him of the energy required to continue in such form for the continuum, which Carlsen with in-depth energy won! David Howell, our commentator on the scene, stated, “We couldn’t have hoped for a more exciting beginning to this game,” that is game 1. And, Firouzja, “… shocked the commentators and fans alike in game 2, by outplaying the world’s endgame maestro in, yes, the endgame.” Carlsen later said, “He outplayed me completely,” and, “…it’s easy to appreciate the way he activates his King from move 34 to 38, so that it becomes a leader in threatening checkmate.” Following the decisive wins Carlsen made later to win the tournament he said, “It was not a sparkling event for me by any means, but it feels awesome to win.”

The subject of this month’s puzzle is the result of one of Carlsen’s wins in the final session of The Chessables. Carlsen pursued his “awesome to win” sensation and revisited it in his next outing, The Freestyle G.O.A.T Challenge, recently played at the Weissenhaus resort in northern Germany, featuring eight of the world’s top players. Fresh from his fine win at The Chessable Masters, Carlsen went on to win the G.O.A.T and an additional $60,000 first prize pot, and “didn’t fail to delight” His adversaries, including Alireza Firouzja (again), Nordirbek Abdusattorov, and Fabiano Caruana, were among other players.

Like The Chessable Masters, Carlsen began cautiously in the starting Rapidplay section. Only in the Classical Knockout section did he become alive and proceed as the triumphant overlord, slaying all before him, “outplaying the outplayed!” The slow rise of interest in Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess), the rules for this tournament, is partly due to the abandonment of opening theory, which is allied to the historical development of classical chess and is the cornerstone (touchstone) of every chess player’s understanding and development.

It’s rather like moving to a new home and not knowing where to go, and when there, not knowing the values, customs, and topology of this new land and place, but the demand is to become accustomed to it. Questions raised and hoped for by the organisers include: Will the new setup change the style of play for each player and allow individual expressive possibilities not realised before? Would the nature of games change and in what way? These and other characteristics are thought to be open to question with new tactics replacing the standard opening theories tied to classically played chess.

Certainly, Carlsen demonstrated in two particular games in the contest that he was on top of the thinking required to measure up to the new positional tactics and thoughts needed. In the semi-final against Abdusattorov and the final against Caruana, Carlsen played what many have called “positional masterpieces” In the latter game, Carlsen’s starting position had his White Queen placed on h1, and by playing the Grob Opening, hardly seen in Classical Chess these days, that is, pawn to g4, his Queen was already attacking Caruana’s unprotected black pawn on b7. These games can be fully followed on Chess.com under their G.O.A.T Challenge presentation.

Two further chess fixtures that capture the mind and eye are the ongoing Four Nations Chess League and, of global concern, the forthcoming Toronto-based Candidates Tournament in April. In this event, eight players will vie for the chance to challenge the current world champion, Ding Liren. Among the eight contestants, three are Indian superstars, including Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, aged 18, from Chennai, the epicentre of India’s resurgence in chess prestige. Pragg became a Grandmaster at 12 years old, and if he were to win the Candidates, he would enter the fray against Liren with very good chances, especially since he has won both of their recent encounters.

At a more local level, the Four Nations Chess League, which includes Ireland and the UK, is fully underway. However, this season (2023-24) presents a changed outlook in Division 1. The reason is the absence of the perennial champions, Guildford, who often fielded the entire English Open Chess team. I captained two teams successively in this division in the 1990s and can attest to the very strong level of play and ambition displayed by all the teams striving to win the title.

The absence of Guildford has provided an opportunity and ambition for other strong teams to take the initiative and battle it out, knowing they have a chance to claim the top spot. Wood Green in North London had secured a 2-point lead earlier this year, with Manx Liberty, Cheddleton, the Sharks 1, and Wood Green Youth in close pursuit! The latest results after six rounds show Wood Green with 6/11 points, The Sharks 1 with 5 points, Manx Liberty with 5 points, Wood Green Youth with 4 points, and Oxford 1, with 0 points, languishing in the bottom position among the 12 teams.

The Challenge

The chess puzzle has been referred to in the above article and is where Carlsen as White, after his setback against Alireza Firouzja, in The Champions Chess Tour Chessable Masters, refound his tenacity and guile and went on to win the tournament. In this game Alireza as Black has played 40…..Ka7, moving his King out of check from Carlsen’s Rook. What move did Carlsen play in response, which, though not obvious, effectively neutralised his opponent’s ability to mount any significant defence or counterattack as the game unfolded?

About Author

Barry Martin

Barry Martin as artist has his work in many collections including: the Tate, V&A Museum, City University, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds City Museum and many more. He is both a chess player and writer about chess. He has written books and articles about chess, and was the official artist for several World Championships including, Short v Kasparov and Kramnik v Kasparov.

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