Magnus Carlsen is within reach of a minimalist win at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee this weekend after the world champion failed to convert a winning rook ending in Round 11 against Vidit Gujrathi on Friday after both players were able to make a pawn.
Carlsen has Black in the 12th and penultimate round on Saturday against old rival Fabiano Caruana and then earns a free point in his final game after Daniil Dubov was eliminated from the tournament due to Covid.
Carlsen (Norway) currently sits at 7.5/11, followed by Richard Rapport (Hungary) 7/11, Anish Giri (Netherlands) and Shak Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 6.5/11; then four players on 6/11.
Rapport had a bloodless win in the 11th round due to Dubov’s withdrawal. The 25-year-old Hungarian is a creative tactician who has been hovering around the fringes of the world top 10 for some time and now has his shot at breaking through if he can defeat Andrey Esipenko and Giri in the final two rounds.
If the 2018 World Title reunion ends in a tie between Carlsen and Caruana, Carlsen Wijk might win on September 13 but still drop an Elo point as his stated goal of setting an all-time Elo record of 2900 is already there seems difficult to achieve.
Giri, half a point behind Carlsen in second place with three laps to go, was clearly beaten on lap 11 by compatriot Jorden van Foreest, who won Wijk 2021 and has put in a solid performance this year. The player who will be most concerned about Dubov’s exit is Swede Nils Grandelius, who sat opposite the infected Russian for seven hours on Wednesday, as several reader comments below have reminded us.
Carlsen’s 2900 ambition, so publicly expressed, was an open invitation to spoiler answers. Sergey Karjakin, who narrowly lost his 2016 World Championship match to Carlsen, reacted in their Round 10 game, which was repeated in 16 moves and 15 minutes of play after a Berlin-Ruy-Lopez sequence played many times before was a draw.
Karjakin poked fun at it on Twitter, using the hashtag “saynoto2900” and adding “learned some tricks from the world champion,” alluding to Carlsen’s three previous games with an identical sequence. Carlsen fans were furious, although the champion himself looked at it with ease, pointing out that it was the day before rest day and that Karjakin was cementing his climb into the top half of the points table after a poor start.
Carlsen’s most impressive win came against Shak Mamedyarov at a stage when he and world No. 9 Azerbaijan were tied at the top. Using White’s double rooks on the a1-a8 line to exert control of the board is a rare technique worth remembering.
However, the Carlsen game that most interested this columnist was his draw with Black against 2018 US champion Sam Shankland. The #1 opening choice that stunned pundits online was the rare Von Hennig Schara Gambit 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 cxd4!? 5 Qa4+ Bd7 6 Qxd4 exd5 7 Qxd5.
A Twitter comment read, “He’s been reading the Guardian Chess Book,” while Nigel Short also recalled the same source. Published in paperback by Hodder and Stoughton in 1967 and right at the start of the fishing boom, the book was printed in two editions and several reprints.
It gave general advice for advanced players and also offered a primitive opening repertoire including the Goring Gambit 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 5 c3 dxc3 6 Bc4 with variations by Jonathan Penrose, who often used it against weaker opponents. The book’s recommendation of Von Hennig-Shara as a fancy response to 1 d4 (Tchigorin 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 was another) was based on the plan of a quick long castling followed by g7-g5 and an early attack on White. s short castled king.
Black’s king later turned out to be weaker than white’s after a vigorous b2-b4 counterattack, but the gambit has recently breathed new life with the help of LeelaZero as a strategic sacrifice, as this analysis shows.
His basic theme is that precise play, including short castling, can put Black in a position where his piece activity coupled with White’s passive c1 bishop behind e3 and b2 pawns fully compensates for the gambit pawn. So Carlsen played against Shankland with the innovative Nb8-a6, but the surprised American found a way to give back the pawn for a draw ending.
Anish Giri was only half a point behind Carlsen after round 10. The world No. 5, who lost in the tiebreak in 2021, had two lucky charms. Fabiano Caruana stumbled into a winning position, then Daniil Dubov retired in the next round over a face mask dispute with organizers. There are no spectators to cheer for the Dutch home favorite this year and Giri has just one white against Carlsen’s two in the last three rounds.
Gibraltar’s annual Open has been replaced this year by a battle of the sexes between 10-player teams of men and women, tied for average age and international Fide rating.
Both teams have a rating of around 2400, IM standard. Joe Gallagher, a former British champion turned Swiss, and England’s rising star Ravi Haria play, although some of their peers are little known. The women are almost all in the top 50, including two former world champions.
The prize money is £100,000, split 75-25 instead of 60-40 like the World Cup. For some participants, it will be the best chess payday of their lives, so a hard-fought match is guaranteed.
Status is also at stake. A clear win for the women’s team would probably be the biggest boost for women’s chess since Beth Harmon, and a major shock seemed possible when the men lost the opening two rounds (of 10) 3.5-6.5, but they hit back 7 -3 in round three despite Black in every game. The men also won the fourth round, 5.5-4.5.
The game starts daily at 2:00 p.m. and can be watched for free on Youtube. Thursday’s fourth round action is here.
3800: 1 Nb3! axb3 2 Kd2 Kc4 3 Kc1! build a fortress. If Black advances his king to d3, then Kb1! and Ka1! creates impenetrable protection.