Although Magnus Carlsen is not defending his World Chess Champion title next year, he has by no means retired from competitive chess. He has been especially active in the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, a series of online tournaments with a total prize fund of $1.6 million. Carlsen showed why he is still considered the world’s top chess player by defeating all seven of his tour finals opponents to easily win the title of Chess Tour Champion.

Carlsen’s selection of tournaments to play in recent months has been interesting. Most of the events he participated in were played online, with games lasting less than an hour, rather than the much longer games, played in person, that have traditionally been the standard for high-level grandmaster competitions.

His choices may be partially due to business obligations; his Play Magnus Group, which is in the process of being acquired by chess.com, is the organizer of the Champions Chess Tour. Tension between Carlsen and organizations that govern over-the-board chess may also be a factor. Carlsen’s allegations of cheating by U.S. Grandmaster Hans Niemann have not led to any investigations by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) or the U.S. Chess Federation, and Niemann recently represented the U.S. at the FIDE World Team Championship.

In the Champions Chess Tour Finals, Carlsen began by knocking off the eventual second-place finisher, Wesley So of the U.S., by winning the following game and drawing their other three games.

Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, Match 1, Rapid Game No. 3

White: Carlsen

Black: So

1e4 e5 2Nf3 Nc6 3Bb5 Nf5 4d3 Bc5 5Bxc6 dxc6 60-0 Nd7 7c3 a5 8Bg5 The position after 7c3 is well known to Grandmaster-level players, but 7…a5 is uncommon and 8Bg5 does not appear in the lichess.org database of masters’ games. Was this position part of Carlsen’s and So’s pre-game preparation or were they playing in a position that was new for them?

8…f6 9Bh4 Bd6 10d4 Qe7 11Nbd2 g5 12Bg3 h5 Black is threatening to play h4, trapping white’s bishop on g3, but white has a good response that avoids any traps.

White to move

13h4 g4 14dxe5 fxe5 15Ng5 Nb6 15a4 Bd7 17b4!? c5 18bxa5 Rxa5 Black will win white’s pawn on a4, but white’s king is more secure than black’s.

19Qb3 Playing 19f4!? to open the f-file is a more energetic try, but it’s not clearly better than Carlsen’s move.

19…Bxa4 20Qa2 Ra6 21Rfb1 Bc6?! 22Qb3 Ba4 23Qb2 White has a sacrificed a pawn but his pieces are well coordinated. Black faces a decision about how to organize his pieces.

Black to move

23…0-0? This puts the black king in an area that is not well defended. After 23…Kd7!, the king would be in a relatively safe position because the center of the board is well defended by black.

24Nc4 Kh8 25Ne3 Rfa8 26c4 Bc6 27Rxa6 Rxa6 28Nd5?! This move gives away most of white’s advantage. It was better to begin a direct attack on black’s kingside with 28f3 gxf3 29Rf1. Playing 29…fxg2?  to win a pawn allows 30Rf7, followed by Nf5, and black will have to sacrifice his queen to avoid checkmate.

28…Qe8 29Qc3 Nd7 30f3 Qa8? So’s plan to use the a-file to penetrate white’s position is logical but tactically flawed. Black’s kingside is now undefended and white has several ways to take advantage.  It was better to play 30…Bxd5 to eliminate one of white’s threatening knights.

White to move

31Nf7+ This is the most forcing winning combination. Opening up the f-file with 31fxg4 hxg4 32Rf1 also works.

31…Kg8 32Nxd6 cxd6 33Nc7 Ra3 This move, attacking white’s queen, escapes the threat from white’s knight on c7, but white can now infiltrate black’s kingside.

White to Move

34Qc1 Qa5 35Qg5+ Kf8 36Ne6+ In a longer game, Carlsen probably would have found the forced checkmate that begins with 36Qd8+, but no matter; white is still winning easily.

36…Kf7 37Nd8+ Kf8 38Nxc6 bxc6 39Rb7 and black resigns.

Final position

Black cannot avoid checkmate: for example, 39…Ra1+ 4-Kh2 gxf3 41Rxd7 Ra2 42Qe7+ Kg8 43Qg7 mate.

To view this game on a virtual board, go to https://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=2412816.

Keith Holzmueller

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...

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