Fast and furious

Magnus Carlsen i Leuven, turneringen han vant, i fjor. Photo: Spectrum Studio/Grand Chess TourMagnus Carlsen i Leuven, turneringen han vant, i fjor. Photo: Spectrum Studio/Grand Chess Tour

Matt & Patt contributor GM Jonathan Tisdall updates on some recent events, such as the Gashimov Memorial, the ICC Open and the Paris Grand Chess Tour. And what are Norwegian tabloids writing about Sergey Karjakin?

by Jonathan Tisdall

World’s best in action

Since I last did a news roundup with one eye on the looming world title match, there has been plenty of activity from the game’s leading characters.

The Challenger

Sergey Karjakin. Photo: Shamkirchess.az

Sergey Karjakin. Photo: Shamkirchess.az

Challenger Sergey Karjakin stayed in the spotlight both on and off the board. Since the last report, the Vugar Gashimov memorial has concluded, and Karjakin had the kind of result challengers are usually quite satisfied with in the run-up to a title match.

His performance was almost precisely as expected, and this is no mean feat for someone who is presumably putting in record amounts of work in the background, and likely a bit more highly strung as well. There is also the stock conundrum of wanting to get in some high level practice while tying one of your arms behind your back – keeping all prepared opening work top secret.

So 5/9 and fourth place, just a point back leaders Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (winner on playoff) and Fabiano Caruana was probably considered a successful workout, but a better finish than two draws vs local boy Eltaj Safarli and Caruana would have been real fuel for self-confidence levels.

Tabloid scoops

Bilbao Final Masters, July 13th - July 23rd

Bilbao Final Masters, July 13th – July 23rd

Norwegian daily Dagbladet had a hot news day on the chess front on 7 June, first reporting that Agon was re-re-reconfirming that the Carlsen-Karjakin bout would take place in New York and that the venue and formal signing of contract were just around the corner – within two weeks of the story date – and that the playing hall would be in Manhattan. We will see if this ‘scoop’ on the progress schedule is accurate.

The Norwegian tabloid then startled even Carlsen with their next revelation of Karjakin’s off-the-board maneuvering, a story that Spain’s Bilbao supertournament had a surprising new competitor – the title challenger. This guarantees an unexpected dress rehearsal for the Manhattan match.

«I’m a bit surprised that he’s playing, but it doesn’t matter much to me,» was the champion’s laconic response when Dagbladet revealed Karjakin’s invitation roughly a week before the Bilbao field was scheduled to be published.

Bilbao will take place in mid-July and is Carlsen’s only scheduled classical event besides the Olympiad before his title defence. The double round robin event will feature several popular Carlsen opponents: Nakamura, Giri and Wei Yi – as well as Wesley So.

Turbo re-entry

Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Spectrum Studio/Grand Chess Tour

Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Spectrum Studio/Grand Chess Tour

The champion started his own high-speed warm-up process with the Internet Chess Club’s annual blitz gala, the ICC Open, a 3-minute event with fat prizes and star players. Carlsen’s route to the semi-finals was impressive enough that he was accused of cheating with an engine – as with many net events players competed under their online ‘handles. Accusations went silent when it was revealed that the suspiciously powerful player ‘stoptryharding‘ was actually Magnus.

Carlsen was eliminated in the semis by legendary speed demon and eventual winner Alexander Grischuk in a highly complicated and random match where mutually sharp play and extremely limited time was rewarded with a high blunder rate. The Russian triumphed 2.5-1.5 after a fourth game win down a piece. Carlsen’s verdict: ‘Geez, I really need some practice’ – while Grischuk graciously admitted to being lucky in the pivotal game.

Magnus moved on to the first event in this year’s Grand Chess Tour in Paris, a combined rapid and double-round blitz extravaganza against many of the usual suspects. For some reason French media began calling Carlsen ‘the Jon Snow of chess‘ a truly bizarre Game of Thrones reference that Almira Skripchenko had fired off. Listing up farfetched similarities versus obvious differences between Snow and Carlsen could be a new sport. I suppose the idea must be that he’s a fairly indestructible northerner, unless Magnus has suddenly forgotten everything he knew and bought a huge wolf.

Magnus started the Paris tournament with an echo of Grand Tours past, namely the 2015 Norway Chess event, by losing on time in a completely winning position. Nearly a full queen ahead (!) against Wesley So, Magnus became so absorbed in a precise finish that he completely forgot about his clock.

Carlsen – So, Paris Rapid (1)

59. Qh2 is simplest, Black has no perpetual check. 0-1 (time)

Smash

Unlike last year’s Norway event, this time the loss resulted in a Hulk-like performance of unleashed anger, concentration and power. To me many of the games were reminiscent of Fischer in his dominant years, and the rapid event ended with a hot Hikaru Nakamura a point ahead of Carlsen – each rapid win counting two points.

The event turned into a pure duel between Carlsen and Nakamura. After the first day of rapid action, Magnus relaxed by catching the opening match of Euro2016, and even spectating football made international media as he was spotted leaving the stadium after the win by hosts France. Spotted by TV2 cameras, Carlsen shocked by breaking into song, doing a hearty rendition of the Payet song to warm West Ham hearts, before disappearing into the night. The champ knows how to unwind between games.

Paris was a weird tournament where almost everyone had protracted spells of success and disaster, especially in the blitz – the most notable being Kramnik’s total collapse on the final day where he lost an astounding six games in a row at one point – but where Nakamura and Carlsen were majestic most of the time.

On the final day Magnus conjured up memories of the last World Blitz Championship, where apparently untouchable form turned into pure frustration and reversal, just long enough to ruin tournament victory.

A last round win gave Carlsen the consolation of a blitz sweep over Nakamura, and equal points in the lightning event. The American won Paris overall thanks to the edge he won in the rapid section. Garry Kasparov took a break from tweeting politics to mark the occasion.

In the final reckoning, the decisive margin could be traced back to the champ’s first round forgetfulness with the clock, but even when talking about meltdowns, he seemed to be looking cheerfully ahead.

On the horizon…

Indeed it all happens again this weekend in Leuven, Belgium. Personally, I will be looking forward to more sedate time controls to really gauge the evolving form of the title combatants – and now Bilbao promises to be a showcase event with that angle very much one of the prizes.

In the meantime, I was really impressed by one magnificently deep tactical performance by one of the strongest players the world has ever seen. While we wait for our flesh and blood heroes to resume battle, you could do much worse than follow the adventures of Mr. Stockfish.