World champion Magnus Carlsen, for the first time in the post-pandemic lockdown era, fell in the semifinals of the 16-player Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge last week to U.S. GM Hikaru Nakamura. Carlsen, who had won everything in sight since top-level chess migrated online with the coronavirus crisis, did not go down without a fight.
He swept Nakamura 3-0 in the first day of matches, but Nakamura took the second day’s point with a win in the first game and two correct draws. Then the American (barely) made it to this week’s finals — to be played against young Russian star GM Daniil Dubov — by splitting the four playoff games and holding a draw with Black in the deciding “Armageddon” final game.
Nakamura is one of the few players in the world who can keep up with the remorseless Norwegian champ at faster time controls, and he needed all his savvy to take the critical opening game of Day Two. Carlsen plays a known piece sacrifice from the Black side of a Ruy Lopez Berlin and with a new move (10…Be7!) proceeds to build up a monster attack on the kingside.
By 18. Qf1 Bxg1 19. Qxg1 Bxf3+ 20. Nxf3, Black has won back his sacrificed material and is still pressing for checkmate. Disdaining perpetual check, Black moves in for the kill — but fails to appreciate how exposed the all-out attack has left his own king.
Things become critical on 26. Kg1 g3? (it seems impossible that White can avoid mate here, but it turns out now was the time for 26…Rd8! 27. Qxc4 Rd5!, sealing Nakamura’s attacking lanes and leaving things still a mess after 28. exd5 f3 29. Rf2 g3 30. Nxf3 gxf2+ 31. Kxf2 Rg4 32. d4; Black’s h-pawn may actually be the decisive factor in this hugely unbalanced position) 27. Nf3 g2 28. Re1!, and again 28…Rd8 29. Qe5+ Kd7 is likely Black’s best choice.
Instead, the defender becomes the attacker after 28…Nxf3? (giving White the sole tempo he needs for victory) 29. Qe5+ Kd8 30. Qf6+ Ke8 31. Bb4! c5 32. Bxc5 Kd7 33. Qf7+, and Carlsen resigned ahead of 33…Kc6 (Kd8 34. Qxg8+ Kd7 35. Qf7+ also leads to mate) 34. Qd5+ Kb5 35. a4+ Kxa4 36. Qc4+ Ka5 37. Ra1 mate.
Young GM Alexey Sarana made an impressive statement with a decisive win at the European Online Championships, another strong event that has made the shift to cyberspace this year. The 20-year-old Russian carved through the draw to take the title, defeating Czech GM David Navara in Sunday’s two-game final, 2-0.
Sarana’s best win may have been his second-round upset of Dutch superstar GM Anish Giri, currently the 10th-highest-rated player in the world. In a Queen’s Indian, White gives a clinic on how to use a mobile pawn center to break up an opponent’s game.
By 24. Rxa7 Be6 25. Kf2 Bxc4 (see diagram), the opposite-colored bishop portends a draw — but only if Black can restrain the powerful White center. Sarana never gives his opponent the chance to try.
Thus: 26. g4! Be6?! (accepting with 26…fxg4 27. f5 Rfd8 was more prudent) 27. e4! fxg4 (White also keeps on coming on 27…fxe4 28. f5 Bc4 29. e6 Bd3 30. Ke3 Rbc8 31. g5) 28. f5 Bc8 29. e6 (the pawn advances create beautiful open lines for Sarana’s well-placed pieces) f6 (fxe6?? 30. Rxg7+ Kh8 31. Rxg4+ and mate is inevitable) 30. Ke3 Re8 — White is a pawn down, but his passer on e6 is a monster and he still has one more pawn lever at hand.
It’s over on 31. e5! Bxe6 (desperation, but it’s just as bleak after 31…fxe5 32. Bxe5 Rb7 33. Rxb7 34. Rd7 Bc8 35. Rxg7+ Kf8 36. Ke5; or 31…Rb7 32. Rxb7 Bxb7 33. exf6 gxf6 34. Bxf6 Bc6 35. Rd6 Rc8 36. e7 Kf7 37. Rd8 Ra8 38. e8=Q+ Bxe8 39. Rxa8 Kxf6 40. Rxe8) 32. fxe6 Rxe6 33. Rdd7 fxe5 34. Rxg7+ Kf8 35. Rxh7 Kg8 36. Ke4 Rd8 37. Bxe5, and Giri resigned.
Nakamura-Carlsen, Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, May 2020
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. O-O Bg4 7. h3 Bh5 8. g4 Nxg4 9. hxg4 Bxg4 10. Be3 Be7 11. Kh1 f5 12. Rg1 h5 13. Nc3 f4 14. Bd2 g5 15. Nb1 Bc5 16. Bc3 Bxf2 17. Nbd2 Qe7 18. Qf1 Bxg1 19. Qxg1 Bxf3+ 20. Nxf3 g4 21. Nxe5 Rg8 22. Rf1 Qg5 23. Qd4 Qh4+ 24. Kg1 Qg3+ 25. Kh1 Qh3+ 26. Kg1 g3 27. Nf3 g2 28. Re1 Qxf3 29. Qe5+ Kd8 30. Qf6+ Ke8 31. Bb4 c5 32. Bxc5 Kd7 33. Qf7+ Black resigns.
Sarana-Giri, European Online Championships, May 2020
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 b6 5. a3 Bxd2+ 6. Qxd2 Bb7 7. e3 O-O 8. Be2 d5 9. b3 Nbd7 10. O-O c5 11. Bb2 Rc8 12. Rac1 Ne4 13. Qc2 dxc4 14. bxc4 Nd6 15. Rfd1 Qe7 16. Ne5 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Nf5 18. Bd3 Qg5 19. f4 Qg4 20. Bxf5 Qxf5 21. Qxf5 exf5 22. Rd7 Rb8 23. Rcd1 Bc8 24. Rxa7 Be6 25. Kf2 Bxc4 26. g4 Be6 27. e4 fxg4 28. f5 Bc8 29. e6 f6 30. Ke3 Re8 31. e5 Bxe6 32. fxe6 Rxe6 33. Rdd7 fxe5 34. Rxg7+ Kf8 35. Rxh7 Kg8 36. Ke4 Rd8 37. Bxe5 Black resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.