Magnus Carlsen has been in a form crisis since his 30th birthday in November, online and over the board, but the world champion seemed back to his best at this weeks $100,000 online Opera Euro Rapid.
That is, until the wheels came off again on Wednesday in one of the most spectacular bouts of poor play of Carlsens entire career. Yet again the Norwegian responded with an impressive victory the next day and after winning his semi-final on Friday he now meets US champion Wesley So in the weekend final for the $30,000 first prize.
The spark for Carlsens near-disaster was provided by Daniil Dubov, the creative Muscovite who was an aide to the champion in his 2018 world title defence, then eliminated Carlsen in the quarter-finals of Decembers online Airthings Masters.
That episode led to Carlsen admitting that he was in a deep funk, while this weeks self-diagnosis was a sorrily disgusting performance. There had been no hint of what was to come in the best of three games first set on Tuesday, which Carlsen won 2.5-0.5 in commanding style, or earlier when Carlsens clever white tactic eliminated his old rival Hikaru Nakamura from the tournament in this weeks puzzle diagram.
Even at the start of the event, Carlsen articulated an underlying worry: Its a matter of pride, that I cannot have peoples impression, or my own impression, being that Im as bad as Ive played recently. I was thinking in Tata when I was at 50% after eight rounds this is just not who I am! How can I look myself in the mirror when Im 50% after eight rounds? Usually I should beat this guy, I should definitely not lose to that guy, and most of all now I just want to go and prove that I can do a whole lot better than Ive done recently.
Dubov, who missed chances to win the match right up to the final Armageddon, reflected on defeat: Obviously we were both quite far from our normal standards, but still if you score four points against Magnus, it means something. We both played like idiots. He plays like an idiot quite often, but not everybody manages to exploit it.
In the Opera Europe Rapid semi-finals on Thursday and Friday Carlsen (Norway) beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 2.5-0.5, 1-3, 2-1 after winning the final Armageddon, and So (US) beat Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) 2.5-1.5, 2-1. Back to solid Magnus after his ordeal against Dubov, Carlsen defeated his French opponents favourite Grunfeld in their first game on Thursday using the highly trendy move (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5) 5 Bd2, and won a classy ending. The final and third place play-off on Saturday and Sunday are live and free to watch from 4pm each day.
Carlsens form may have dipped, but his Play Magnus Group company continues to expand with the acquisition of New in Chess, published in the Netherlands, widely considered the best chess magazine in the world.
The latest NiC includes an article about the debated question of who if anyone was the real-life model for Beth Harmon in The Queens Gambit. Prevailing views have included Lisa Lane, a US champion of the 1960s, or a feminised version of Bobby Fischer. But the article by GM Larry Kaufman offers strong evidence that the real model was Dianna Lanni, board two for the US in the 1982 Lucerne Olympiad and thus known to the books author, Walter Tevis.
Harmons portrayal as a player who jumped from novice to master has been criticised, but this happened to Lanni, whose surge took her from beginner at age 19 to her peak result, an Olympiad draw against the legendary Nona Gaprindashvili, womens world champion from 1962 to 1978.
Gaprindashvili herself is briefly shown in camera shot in the Queens Gambit, with a comment, which she has labelled as offensively inaccurate, that she never played against men. In fact, the Georgians finest achievement was her shared first prize ahead of numerous male grandmasters at Lone Pine 1977, one of the great tournaments of its time.
The English Chess Federation has just launched two free downloadable booklets to help beginners and improvers. Both are authored by IM Andrew Martin, who has a high reputation as a coach for inexperienced players.
There has never been a centenarian grandmaster, but the doyen of them all, Yuri Averbakh, celebrated his 99th birthday in Moscow on Monday. Averbakhs peak years were in the early 1950s when he competed in the 1953 Zurich candidates and won the USSR title a year later. He is eminent in the openings (the Averbakh Kings Indian goes 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Be2 0-0 6 Bg5) and the endings, where Chess Endgames: Essential Knowledge is an established classic.
3710: 1 Bxg6! Resigns. White wins at least rook and pawn for bishop, exchanges queens and leaves Black no serious counterplay.
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