This week, the world champion restored the established order. After losing a marathon one-minute bullet match to 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja and then suffering another reversal to the teen, 7.5-8.5 in the Banter Blitz Cup, Magnus Carlsen defeated the prodigy 2.5-1.5 on the most important occasion, the $250,000 Carlsen Invitational.
The Norwegian, 29, knew that a third setback would be a blemish on his career record and would boost the growing reputation of his young opponent, so he treated the occasion as seriously as a global title match.
“I wanted to crush him” said Carlsen afterwards, using the c-word which was also a favourite of the legendary crushers Bobby Fischer and Judit Polgar. The champion dominated the play and showed a higher level of understanding in the first three games.
The score could easily have been 3.5-0.5 but for Carlsen’s self-induced blunder in game two, where he provoked a standard tactic which allowed Firouzja a queen sacrifice for checkmate. Afterwards Carlsen was scathing about his own play which he called “unforgivable” and “terribly bad” while describing Firouzja as “very slippery”.
Carlsen continued in good form by defeating his old rival, America’s world No 2, Fabiano Caruana, by 3-1 including this impressive attack. He has won all his three matches so far and looks sure to qualify for the semi-finals which start on 1 May.
In contrast, Firouzja’s tournament has turned into a nightmare. After losing to Carlsen and to the world No 3, Ding Liren, he was disconnected from the internet in a favourable position against the US champion, Hikaru Nakamura. Both were down to their last minute.
The relevant rule stated: “In case a player is disconnected from the playing server at no fault of his own, the game shall be resumed from the current position as soon as possible. The clock times will be adjusted accordingly, based on the information provided by the playing server. The chief arbiter may decide otherwise in exceptional circumstances.”
Nakamura, believing he had won, left the room for a 10-minute break, which was time enough for both players to analyse the position with an engine. The chief arbiter decided these were exceptional circumstances and ruled the game a draw. When Firouzja protested the appeals committee upheld the original decision .
The teen, who had also lost a controversial rules decision against Carlsen at the world blitz in December, was demoralised. He was beaten in all his remaining three games against Nakamura, losing game three by a mouse slip in a drawn ending before collapsing in 14 moves in the final game. Firouzja could still qualify for the semi-finals by winning his last four matches, but that is a tall order.
Fide, the global chess body, has announced a new online event, the Nations Cup, with four-player teams from China, Russia, India, United States, Europe and Rest of the World. Garry Kasparov as European captain is a significant move, and not just from a playing viewpoint. The Fide president, Arkady Dvorkovich, used to be Russia’s deputy prime minister, while Kasparov is well known as a vehement critic of Vladimir Putin. A trigger for the rapprochement could be the absence of Carlsen from the list of players, requiring another globally recognised name to fill the vacuum.
When the complete list of players is published, the question for chess fans is: will there be a Kasparov v Firouzja game? That is the pairing, a mega generational clash, which could generate a huge online audience.
3668: (a) Rac8! is best and should win. Nakamura chose (b) Rfc8? 2 Qb6!! axb6 3 Rb4! and 4 Ra4 mate.