Magnus Carlsen recently announced that his main chess goal this year will be another attempt at an all-time record rating of 2900, a level that narrowly eluded the world champion in 2014 and 2019.
The 31-year-old Norwegian scored 2,882 in both years on Fide’s official monthly rating lists, peaking at 2,889 on the unofficial one. 2700 daily chess rankings. Carlsen also stated that he will only defend his world championship crown in 2023 if his opponent is 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, the former Iranian world number 2 who now represents France, or another of the teenage generation.
Expectations were high that after such a forecast, Carlsen would be aiming for a fast start at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, the “Wimbledon chess” he has won a record seven times. In the event, Wijk’s early rounds have been a tale of missed opportunities for the 31-year-old Norwegian, and in one case for his opponent.
On Thursday night, after five of the 13 rounds, Carlsen was fourth overall at 3/5 with just one win and four draws, while the world champion’s rating had dropped more than four points. With eight rounds to go, a grandstand finish is still possible, but even 6/8 for a total of 9/15 would only earn one qualifying point. Ultimately, the rise of 2900 goes wrong.
Carlsen began drawing with Andrey Esipenko, the 19-year-old Russian who defeated him at Wijk 2021, after missing the opportunity for a strong central pawn advance. The second round was a good win against world number 7, Anish Giri. A draw against Poland’s World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda was followed by a wild game against Jorden van Foreest, the Dutchman who won Wijk 2021 and then joined Carlsen’s side for the world title match in Dubai. Carlsen missed out on an unlikely win in complications where the hidden winning maneuver was Kf1-e2-d1.
Fifth day of Thursday against tournament finalist Nils Grandelius it could have been a real disaster, Carlsen offered a pawn in a strong 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 climbed to a 2882 rating in 2014 and 2019, there were fewer rapid events and blitzes, and little serious online play to distract him. Now all that has changed and Carlsen will defend his $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Tour crown in a series of nine tournaments beginning on February 19. The Tour format has been revamped, with accelerated one-day matches instead of two and the introduction of three points for a win, one point for a draw.
The leading trio in Wijk ahead of Friday’s sixth round (1pm kick-off) are India’s No. 2 Vidit Gujrathi, Hungary’s Richard Rapport 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 declined the pawn after much thought and the game eventually ended in a draw. Judging from expert feedback online, if that pawn is offered in a future game, they’ll take it without hesitation.
Mamedyarov was also involved in an unusual endgame against Duda where White (to move) has the rook for the knight ahead, but Black’s h2-pawn is threatening and 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 Ra8! wins when Black threatens Qxe4, Nxe4 and Ra1+. The game ended 3 h4 Qxe4 4 Qxe4 Nxe4 5 Be3 Ra2 6 g5 Rxb2 and White resigned himself two pawns down. If 3 Bxf6 Ra1+ 4 Ne1 Rxe1+! and Qxf3. Mamedyarov v Duda: 1 Rb3! resignation. If Rf5 2 Rc3+ Kg2 3 Rc2+ wins the h2-pawn and the game.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism