Magnus Carlsen recently announced that his main chess target this year will be another attempt to reach an all-time record score of 2900, a level the world champion narrowly escaped in 2014 and 2019.
The 31-year-old Norwegian achieved 2,882 on Fide’s official monthly rating lists in both years and peaked at 2,889 on the unofficial 2700 day ratings. Carlsen also stated that he will only defend his world championship crown in 2023 if his opponent is Alireza Firouzja, 18, the world’s No. 2 former Iranian who now represents France, or another of the teenage generation.
Expectations were high that after such a prediction Carlsen would aim for a quick start at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, the ‘chess Wimbledon’ with which he won a record seven times. In the case, the early Wijk rounds were a story of missed opportunities for the Norwegian, 31, and in one case for his opponent.
Thursday night after five of the 13 rounds, Carlsen was tied for fourth at 3/5 with just a single win and four draws, while the world champion’s rating was down more than four points. With eight laps to go, a grandstand finish is still possible, but even 6/8 for a total of 9/15 would only earn one rating point. In short, the ascent of 2900 is going bad.
Carlsen started signing with Andrey Esipenko, the 19-year-old Russian who defeated him in Wijk 2021 after missing a chance for a strong central pawn thrust. Round two was a nice win against world No. 7, Anish Giri. A draw against Polish World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda was followed by a wild match against Jorden van Foreest, the Dutchman who won Wijk 2021 and then joined Carlsen’s team for the world title match in Dubai. Carlsen missed an unlikely win in the complications where the hidden winning maneuver was Kf1-e2-d1.
Thursday’s fifth round against tournament player Nils Grandelius could have been a real disaster, Carlsen offered a pawn in a sharp position with 19…d5? but it would have been two pawns for little compensation if the Swede had found 20 Bxb5+ Kf8 and now 21 Qb4+! Kg8 22 Qb3! when the d5 pawn is pinned and lost.
When Carlsen made his rise to 2,882 in 2014 and 2019, there were less fast-paced and fast events and little serious online play to distract him. Now all this has changed and Carlsen will defend his $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Tour crown in a series of nine tournaments starting February 19. The Tour format has been revamped, with accelerated matches of one day instead of two and the introduction of three points for a win, one point for a draw.
The leading trio in Wijk for Friday’s sixth round (1pm start) are India’s No. 2, Vidit Gujrathi, Richard Rapport of Hungary, and Azerbaijan’s world No. 5, Shak Mamedyarov, all on 3.5/5.
Mamedyarov caused a stir when he opened against Esipenko with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g4?! The Russian teenager refused the pawn after much consideration and the game ended up being a draw. Judging by the expert online comments, if that pawn is presented in a future game, it will be picked up without hesitation.
Mamedyarov was also involved in an unusual finish against Duda, where White (to convert) is the rook ahead of knight, but Black’s h2 pawn is threatening and he threatens Rf5-h5. However, after White’s next move, Duda resigned. What happened? The answer is next to the puzzle solution.
3799: 1…Bxe4! 2 Rxe4 Re8! wins if black threatens Dxe4, Nxe4 and Ra1+. The game ended 3 h4 Dxe4 4 Dxe4 Nxe4 5 Le3 Ra2 6 g5 Rxb2 and White left two pawns behind. If 3 Bxf6 Ra1+ 4 Ne1 Rxe1+! and Qxf3. Mamedyarov v Duda: 1 Kb3! resigns. If Rf5 2 Tc3+ Kg2 3 Tc2+ the pawn h2 and the game wins.