The Champions Chess Tour, sponsored by Meltwater (a media monitoring and social listening company) came into being during the COVID-19 pandemic as a series of online competitions among the world’s top chess players.
Over the past 10 months, grandmasters competed for a total of $1.5 million in prizes; the top 10 performers in the first nine tournaments qualified for the final tournament and its $300,000 prize fund.
U.S. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura was among the qualifiers and finished second in the final, behind Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan, winning $60,000. World Champion Magnus Carlsen finished fourth in the final but was the overall tour winner based on his performance in the earlier tournaments.
The online games in the Champions Chess Tour Final were played at a much quicker pace than is customary for top level tournaments played in person. Each competitor played four rapid games (15 minutes, plus a 10-second increment for each move, for each player) against each of the other qualifiers. Tiebreak games, if needed, were played at an even faster blitz pace. This tournament format played to Nakamura’s strength; he’s ranked third in the world for rapid chess and second for blitz.
In the following game Nakamura, playing black, ousted Jan-Krzysztof Duda of Poland, the winner of the recent FIDE World Cup.
1e4 e6 2Qh5?! Not many grandmasters would be willing to play this risky move, but Nakamura is not afraid to play unusual openings to quickly get the game into unfamiliar positions. More mistakes are made in rapid games than longer classical games, and Nakamura is betting that he will make fewer mistakes than his opponent.
Black to move
2…d5 3d3 c5 4g3 Nf6 5Qe2 Nc6 6e5 Nd4 7Qe1 Nd7 8c3 Nf6 9f4
Black to move
9…g5!? This challenges black’s pawn center; a safer continuation is 9…b5 10Nh3 Be7 with an edge for black.
10Nf3 g4 11Nh4 h5 12h3 Rg8 13hxg4 hxg4 14Be2 f5 15Na3 a6 16d4 cxd4 17cxd4 Bb4+ 18Kf1 Bxa3 19bxa3. Now black’s best plan is to continue developing his minor pieces with 19…Nb6 followed by Bd7, with chances for both players. Instead, black played:
Black to move
19…Qb6?! 20Be3 Qa5 21Qb3 Nb6 Black’s queen is misplaced on the queenside, where it has little to do.
White to move
22Kf2? 22Rc1 would have discouraged black’s next move and given white a large advantage.
22… Nc4! Black sacrifices a pawn but white gives up his strong light-squared bishop.
23Bxc4 dxc4 24Qxc4 Qxa3?! This wins one of white’s weak pawns and threatens Qb2+, but lets white improve the placement of his bishop while attacking black’s queen. Black should have played 24…Ne7, planning to follow with Bd7, developing his bishop.
25Bc1 Qf8 26Rb1 (or 26 a4 followed by Ba3 to activate the bishop) 26…Rg7?! (better is 26…Bd7 and if 27Rxb7? Na5, exchanging the knight for the more valuable rook)
27Qc3 a5 28Rb6 Nb4 29Ba3 Qf7 30Bxb4 axb4 31 Qb2?! Few human players would find the stronger 31Qxb4! Rxa2+ 32Ke3, when white has a winning position due to black’s misplaced rook on a2.
31…Qc7 32Rxb4 Ra6 33Rc1 Black would only be slightly worse after 33…Rc6 but instead he tries to regain his pawn, which turns out to be a massive blunder:
Black to move
33…Rxa2?? 34Qxa2 and black resigns. If black plays 34…Qxc1 white plays 35Rc4 trapping black’s queen, but not capturing on c1 leaves black down a rook.
To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://chess24.com/en/watch/live-tournaments/meltwater-champions-chess-tour-finals-2021/9/1/4
Keith Holzmueller has been the head coach of the Evanston Township High School Chess Club and Team since 2017. He became a serious chess player during his high school years. As an adult player, he obtained a US Chess Federation Expert rating for over-the-board play and was awarded the Senior International Master title by the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Keith now puts most of his chess energy into helping young chess players in Evanston learn to enjoy chess and improve their play. Please email Keith at email@example.com if you have any chess questions.