The Norwegian’s second place at the Sinquefield Cup, combined with failures from Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, was enough to keep him clear at the top Magnus Carlsen fought off two challenges to his world No1 ranking at last week’s Sinquefield Cup but gone are the halcyon years when the Norwegian, now 26, outclassed his rivals with rating leads of 50 points or more.

At one stage in the elite tournament in St Louis Carlsen’s edge had diminished to under 10 points, a slim margin which could have disappeared in a single game, but his second-place finish, coupled with failures by his US rivals Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, meant the world champion slightly increased his advantage over the player who is now No2.

That player is France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who like Carlsen was born in 1990, the vintage year for grandmasters. Vachier-Lagrave scored an unbeaten 6/9 and edged out Carlsen by half a point. Their individual game, level for a long time then briefly winning for Carlsen until he blundered it away, was in effect the tournament decider.

Vachier-Lagrave has a different style from Carlsen’s mastery of the gradual squeeze. The Parisian’s favourite opening is the combative Najdorf Sicilian 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 a6, which was a speciality of the legends Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov in their heydays. Vachier-Lagrave will take on the Najdorf with either colour, and won an impressive strategic game as White in the final round at St Louis where his knight dominated Black’s dark-squared bishop.

The elite grandmaster action now moves on to the 128-player World Cup knock-out, where games start at Tbilisi in Georgia on 3 September.

A loss to a much lower rated opponent in an early World Cup round would immediately endanger Carlsen’s rating. Could it happen? The seeding system puts No1 against No128 in round one, so the world champion meets the little-known Oluwafemi Balogun of Nigeria. Then it gets harder: Carlsen will probably face the Russian veteran Alexey Dreev, France’s Etienne Bacrot or China’s Bu Xiangzhi and seven-times Russian champion Peter Svidler before a likely quarter-final against Vachier-Lagrave, world No1 against world No2 on the live ratings.

Though Carlsen won quickly with the black pieces against the out-of-form US champion at St Louis, he had some anxious early moments due to his inaccurate 12…Nc5?! (Rb8!). The turning point was when 19 b3! would have been good for White instead of the miscalculation 19 Bf4? When Carlsen replied Rxb2! he already foresaw that the seemingly fearsome pin and double attack on his d7 knight by 23 Qxd6 failed to Qe2! which left So’s position disorganised. Black won a pawn by 27…Bxa2 and when a second pawn followed a few moves later So resigned rather than face a lost ending.

Wesley So v Magnus Carlsen

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 Nxd4 Bb4+ 5 c3 Be7 6 Nxc6 bxc6 7 Bd3 d6 8 O-O Nf6 9 Re1 O-O 10 Nd2 Re8 11 Nf3 Nd7 12 Bf4 Nc5?! 13 Bc2 Bg4 14 h3 Bh5 15 Be3 Nd7 16 Ba4 c5 17 g4 Bg6 18 e5 Rb8 19 Bf4? Rxb2! 20 exd6 Bxd6 21 Rxe8+ Qxe8 22 Bxd6 cxd6 23 Qxd6 Qe2! 24 Qg3 Nf8 25 Re1 Rb1 26 Rxb1 Bxb1 27 Bc6 Bxa2 28 Qd6 Qc4 29 Ne5 Qxc3 0-1 3508 1 g5! f5 (if fxg5 2 hxg5 and White advances his Q-side pawns to create a king entry at b5 or c5 ) 2 exf5 gxf5 3 h5! Kxd5 4 g6! hxg6 5 h6! and queens.

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Aug 10, 2021

Kramnik Challenge

Nodirbek Abdusattorov, who knocked Anish Giri out of the FIDE World Cup, is the top seed as the Kramnik Challenge, the 3rd event on the $100,000 Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, starts Thursday at 16:00 CEST. Once again there will be two teams, Team Kramnik and Team Polgar, with a mix of male and female players. The field has been cut to 16 players, with the youngest ever French Grandmaster Marc’Andria Maurizzi among the debutants.

The $15,000 Kramnik Challenge is the 3rd event on the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, following the Polgar Challenge won by Praggnanandhaa and the Gelfand Challenge won by Gukesh. Once again the winner will earn not just $3,000, but a place on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

See also: 

  • Official website
  • All the Gelfand Challenge games with computer analysis and commentary
  • Finding the NextGen in chess: The new Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour
  • Praggnanandhaa powers into Champions Chess Tour
  • Gukesh books spot on Champions Chess Tour
Jul 17, 2016

Another impressive win by Carlsen

With each round of the “Masters” in Bilbao World Champion Magnus Carlsen seems to get better. After his first round loss against Hikaru Nakamura he won three games in a row – in round four he defeated Wesley So in just 26 moves after a seemingly innocuous opening. It was the only decisive game of the round. Hikaru Nakamura drew against Anish Giri and Wei Yi drew against Sergey Karjakin. Carlsen now leads with 9.0/12.
Carlsen’s concentration yielded results. He defeated Wesley So in just 26 moves and always seemed to be one step ahead of his opponent.


Nov 11, 2019

Levon Aronian has won the inaugural Superbet Rapid & Blitz

Levon Aronian has won the inaugural Superbet Rapid and Blitz and almost guaranteed himself a place in the London Grand Chess Tour finals after beating Sergey Karjakin in a playoff. It was a bitter end for Karjakin, whose missed win in the final round deprived him of any chances of going to London. Vishy Anand is now well-placed to book a ticket through the final event in his native India, while the main stars in Romania were perhaps the wild cards Anton Korobov, Le Quang Liem and Vladislav Artemiev, even if it was a day too far for Anton.

Going into the Superbet Rapid & Blitz Levon Aronian was the only player in the field to have won a Grand Chess Tour event this year (the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz), and in fact apart from Levon only Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana had ever won a Grand Chess Tour tournament in its 4-year history. He started the final day in 2nd place, a point behind Korobov and half a point ahead of Le Quang Liem, but after beating both those players in the first three rounds, along with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, he’d opened up a 2-point lead over Korobov and a resurgent Vishy Anand.

See also:

  • Official website
  • All the Superbet Rapid & Blitz games with computer analysis on chess24
  • Boris Becker plays Caruana at Superbet opening
  • Superbet GCT Day 1: Anish Giri a.k.a. Mikhail Tal
  • Superbet GCT Day 2: Korobov takes over
  • Superbet GCT Day 3: Korobov is rapid king
  • Superbet GCT Day 4: Le Quang Liem on a rampage