Classical face-to-face chess motivates Magnus Carlsen much more than fast online tournaments. After a couple of failures in them and two weeks of vacation on an island, the champion has signed a masterpiece against a probable successor, Iranian Alireza Firouzja, 17, in the opening round of the Tata tournament in Wijk aan Zee ( Netherlands). The Spaniard David Antón will be his next rival after starting a great fight draw with Black against the Polish Radoslaw Wojtaszek.
Seeing the large compound of the Wijk aan Zee sports center empty, without hundreds of spectators clustered to look closely at their idols, is a very significant image of how the pandemic has affected face-to-face chess (telematics have been greatly benefited by world misfortune , as well as by the series Lady’s Gambit). Instead of the usual 1,500 players each year, divided into all kinds of tournaments for two weeks, there are only the essentials: fourteen participants, referees, organizers and a small team of photojournalists and technicians. The negative economic impact on this North Sea town, which thanks to chess enjoys a second August in January, will be tremendous.
Carlsen and Firouzja, who get along very well, bowed to each other, took off their masks and got into combat with the memory of a balance between them that can be misleading. Carlsen dominates with great difference if the three modalities are mixed (18 victories, 8 defeats and 6 draws); the win is even higher in the quick games (+6 -1 = 1); and very short in lightning (+10 -7 = 4). But his record in slow games is more significant (only three games, all in 2020, two wins for the Norwegian one draw) because they have important nuances: the first was a year ago in Wijk aan Zee, and Firouzja played well below his level. , clearly weighed down against the idol of his childhood; In the other two, both in Stavanger (Norway) three months ago, the Persian drew with Black without problems in the first, and lost the other because he failed in a clear draw position. Everything indicates that his stage fright is decreasing.
And even more so if the champion barely achieves a small advantage with White in the opening, as happened this time, despite the fact that he spent a lot of time trying to make him bigger. After 22 moves, the Norwegian had the best position one could have without risking, but Firouzja’s seemed very solid.
It was the right moment for the best Magnus to appear, to make up for his failures – everything that is not to succeed is a failure for him – of the last months in fast tournaments and to forget his two weeks of vacation on an Indian island, which they ended yesterday. The special atmosphere of the slow face-to-face tournaments – even without an audience – should have served as an inspiration for one of the best chess players of all time.
Served. And in what way. Carlsen drew up a plan worthy of the revolutionary computer AlphaZero, that combines creative ideas with the precision of machines: sacrificing two pawns in exchange for giving maximum activity to each of their pieces. The Norwegian is human, even if he sometimes looks like a chip. But Firouzja too, and in that position it was very difficult to find the narrow path of defense, and even more so under enormous pressure from the clock. Carlsen could not have won this game against AlphaZero or one of his peers, because Firouzja had sufficient defense to guarantee that he did not lose. But the Persian is flesh and blood, and he made the lethal mistake on move 35.
Carlsen is Carlsen again. His next game will be with Black against Antón, in the first slow between the two (so far they have played three lightning bolts, with two victories for the Scandinavian and a draw). A real litmus test for the Spanish.
Results (1st round): Harikrishna-Vachier Lagrave, tables; Yesipenko-Duda, tables; Grandelius 1-Donchenko 0; Caruana-J. Van Foreest; boards; Giri 1-Tari 0; Wojtaszek-Antón, tables; Carlsen 1-Firouzja 0.
Official portal (with live broadcast): https://tatasteelchess.com/