Magnus Carlsen has admitted to being “deeply ashamed” of his crushing 2.5-13.5 defeat by America’s Wesley So in the first ever World Fischer Random Chess Championship final, staged in his home city Oslo. “A lot went very wrong in a short amount of time”.
The global No 1 had won an unofficial random title match in 2018, and confidently defeated his old rival Fabiano Caruana in the semi-final earlier, but his play against So was unrecognisably poor and deteriorated throughout the match.
In the third game he began by advancing his a2 pawn to a6 in a weird parody of the AlphaZero computer, then launched an unsuccessful raid with his lone queen. The final game lasted only 29 moves before Carlsen resigned, faced with checkmate or being two knights down.
The scoring system exaggerated So’s success as the early games at slower time limits were awarded three points for a win. Traditional scoring of one for a win, half for a draw would have given a 5-1 margin – bad enough, but not at the level of Bobby Fischer’s legendary 6-0, 6-0 candidates match victories in 1971.
It was another setback for Carlsen in his own country following his uneven performances in the annual elite tournament at Stavanger, which planned to stage the 2020 world championship match until Carlsen declined to play there. The Norwegian state broadcaster NRK highlighted how the pressure built up during last week’s event, with hundreds of Oslo fans wanting to take photos, ask for Carlsen’s autograph and ask him questions.
When Carlsen left after the closing ceremony without talking to reporters, it seemed he would take time off to recover in private, but just one day later he was back at the board. His club, Offerspill SK, was playing its first Norwegian League match, and Carlsen turned out to take on 17-year-old Andreas Tryggestad, rated 2,365, more than 500 points lower than the champion. It was a smooth, polished performance, as if the disaster of the previous two days had never happened.
This victory was Carlsen’s 102nd straight classical game without defeat. He has passed Ding Liren’s 100 against elite opposition but still has to reach Sergey Tiviakov’s 110 against a weaker field, for which the opportunity will come in his four classical games at the Grand Tour semi-final and final at London’s Olympia on 2-8 December, and at Wijk aan Zee in January, Before that, Carlsen will play in the Grand Tour rapid and blitz at Kolkata, India, starting 22 November.
England’s third place at last week’s European team championship at Batumi was a true team effort where all five players made a plus score. It completed an impressive trilogy of fifth in the 180-nation 2018 Olympiad behind China, the US, Russia and Poland, silver medals behind Russia at the 2019 world teams, and now bronze behind Russia and Ukraine.
Top board Michael Adams recovered his best form after a difficult year, was unbeaten, and regained both the England No 1 spot and a 2,700 rating. Luke McShane, David Howell and Gawain Jones all performed strongly despite arriving from the hard Isle of Man event without a break.
If this quartet were in their early 20s, the outlook for English chess would be bright. The elephant in the room is that the team’s average age is over 35, and there are no rising talents to replace them in the next decade.
In contrast, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all have teenage grandmasters, the current Belgian champion Daniel Dardha is just 13, while France fielded a 12-year-old IM at last week’s Euroteams. Globally, the teen powerhouse with four strong GMs under age 16 is India, which is already targeting Olympiad gold in the mid-2020s.
After crushing Carlsen, So travelled to Bucharest for his next event, the Superbet Grand Tour rapid and blitz, and fell straight into a well-planned trap. His first round opponent, Anish Giri, had spotted two games in the database where So had halved as Black.
Giri’s home preparation went deep into the bishop v knight ending, and his improvements at moves 26 and 30 (!) led to Black becoming almost movebound, so that White was winning even before his final elegant touch.
The Hamburg leg of the Fide Grand Prix, where Russia’s No 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi was knocked out in the first round, and the rapid/blitz in Bucharest, are both in action this weekend and can be watched free and live online.
3644 1…Nf6+ 2 Kxd3 Nxg4! when both 3 fxg4 Qxf1+ and 3 Qb6 Nf2+ win the h3 rook.
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