An overambitious schedule, a heavy cold and mental fatigue finally caught up with Magnus Carlsen at the Oslo Esports Cup this week. The world champion had won the previous two legs of the online Meltwater Champions Tour and was expected to make it three in his home city, but it was Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda who edged ahead in Thursday’s final round.
Leading scores were Duda (Poland) 14/21, Le Quang Liem (Vietnam) 13, Carlsen (Norway) and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (India) 12, Shak Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 11.
A novel format was that the eight grandmasters were all present in the same studio and sat at the table as in an over-the board tournament; but instead of a chessboard between them there were computer screens. Coincidentally or not, the incidence of unintended mouse slips and clicks seems to have been higher than normal.
Carlsen has rarely performed at his best in Oslo, which was the scene of one of his most devastating defeats when he lost 2.5-13.5 to Wesley So of the US in the 2019 Random Chess final. This time he was still in contention on Thursday despite two previous mini-match losses but played limply against Mamedyarov and the world No 7 won 2.5-0.5. Afterwards Carlsen apologised for his performance: “It’s not nearly good enough … I have no energy in my body whatsoever.”
The No 1’s setbacks began early on and reflected his busy schedule. In the afternoon before his round two match he led the Norway team in a solidarity match against Ukraine where viewers could donate to war relief. Carlsen beat his old rival Vasyl Ivanchuk but lost to Yuriy Kozubov and Kirill Shevchenko as Ukraine won 11-5. He then arrived, late and with a heavy cold, for his Esports Cup match and lost 1.5-2.5 to Le Quang Liem.
Carlsen recovered and trounced Praggnanandhaa, who had beaten him earlier this year, by 3-0. The 31-year-old then looked set for a comfortable tournament victory until disaster struck against Jorden van Foreest, the winner of Wijk 2021 and a member of Carlsen’s world championship backroom team.
The position at move 20 is complex, but Carlsen had a winning tactic available in 20 Bxa6! Bxa1 21 Nxb7!. Instead he chose 20 Ra2??, only to be shocked by the simple capture 20…Bxa2. This is an example of how long-distance diagonal queen and bishop moves are among the hardest to visualize, which applies even more if a backward capture is involved.
Van Foreest drew their other three games to win the mini-match 2.5-1.5, but Carlsen caught up next day with an easy win against the Canadian streamer Eric Hansen. Their third game began with a Grunfeld (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5) where Carlsen’s 7 Qa4+ is rare. The queen later went to c2 and f2 to join an attack on the king which became decisive when Black missed the defense 25…exf4 26 Bxf4 f5!
The drawing of lots to decide the pairings for the Fide Candidates, to be played in Madrid in June, was made in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Starting numbers are: 1 duda, 2 tuberculosis, 3 Fabiano Caruana (US), 4 Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), 5 Alireza Firouzja (France), 6 Hikaru Nakamura (US), 7 Ian Nepomniachtchi (Fide/Russia), 8 Richard Report (Hungary). Place two remains subject to Sergey Karjakin’s appeal against suspension. If that appeal fails, the place will go to Ding Liren (China). One pairing already stands out – Caruana and Firouzja, the two pre-tournament favourites, will meet in the 14th and final round.
The American Cup, a knockout event between eight top US players, ended on Thursday night at St Louis with victory for the world No 4 and 2018 title challenger, Caruana, who successively defeated Jeffery Xiong, Samuel Sevian, Leinier Domínguez and Levon Aronian to take the $50,000 first prize. Several of Caruana’s games lasted more than 50 moves as the 29-year-old took the opportunity to hone his play before the Candidates.
The American Cup for Women, with a $25,000 first prize, included a contestant with a potentially significant future. Alice Lee, who lost to the US No 1 woman, Irina Krush, in Thursday’s final, is only 12 years old and has made a rapid advance in the past year, gaining over 300 rating points and qualifying for the WIM and FM tites.
Lee has won four gold medals in world youth championships, has a Fide rating of 2348 which ranks her as No 1 under-16 girl in the world, and scored her first international master norm at open level in February at Fort Worth, Texas. This last result, achieved at 12 years four months, may be the second youngest IM norm ever by a female, behind only the legendary Judit Polgar, who did it at 11. The Beth Harmon of the 2020s? Time will tell.
England’s Zoe Veselow (girls under nine), Kushal Jakhria (under seven) and Bodhana Sivanandan (girls under seven) all won gold medals at the European Schools Championships, which finished in Rhodes on Friday. The trio will now compete this weekend in the World Cadets Rapid (Saturday-Sunday) and Blitz (Monday-Tuesday) Championships. Games can be followed live at chess24.com.
3813† 1 Rd6! and if Qxf7 2 Rxh6 mate, or Rxe5 2 Qxc4 wins.