Chess

He who hesitates…

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

If there was one ingredient which separated the two finalists of the Opera Euro Rapid, it was confidence. The third event of the Meltwater Champions’ Chess Tour, which concluded last weekend, saw Wesley So take on Magnus Carlsen in the final. That was the same match-up we saw in the final of the Skilling Open in November, and yet again So emerged as the victor. Wesley So has become a difficult opponent for the World Champion, since he also beat him in the 2019 Fischer-Random World Championship.

Carlsen has looked out of sorts for months now. ‘I don’t trust myself,’ he said regretfully, after the match ended. ‘This shows in critical moments.’ The game below was typical of that hesitancy. Despite lining up queen and bishop against White’s king, Carlsen talked himself out of promising sacrifices on three occasions.

Wesley So–Magnus Carlsen
Opera Euro Rapid, February 2020


1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 O-O Nf6 5 d3 d6 6 c3 a5 7 Re1 O-O 8 Nbd2 Ba7 9 Nf1 Be6 10 Bb5 Ne7 11 d4 c6 12 Bd3 Ng6 13 h3 Nh5 14 Be3 Nhf4 15 Bc2 Qc8 16 Bb3 exd4 16…Bxh3 17 gxh3 a4! was stronger, though this nuance is far from easy. Black gets a fearsome attack after, e.g. 18 Bxa4 Qxh3 19 Bxf4 Nxf4 20 Ne3 Rae8 21 Bb3 d5!? 17 Nxd4 Bxd4 18 Qxd4? (see diagram 1) So is mistakenly unafraid of the sacrifice, and Carlsen believes him. Bxb3? 18…Nxg2! 19 Kxg2 (19 Bxe6 Nxe1! 20 Bxc8 Nf3+ wins for Black) 19…Bxh3+ 20 Kh2 Nh4 21 Bd1 Bg2! (the move Carlsen missed) and Qc8-h3+ is unstoppable. 19 axb3 d5? 19…Nxh3+! was promising. Now 20 gxh3? loses outright: Nh4! 21 Qd1 Qxh3. Instead, 20 Kh2 Nhf4 leaves Black with an edge. 20 Qd2 Nxh3+ Now this is much less effective, though Carlsen still found enough counterplay for a draw. 21 gxh3 Qxh3 22 f4 Nh4 23 Nh2 dxe4 24 Qf2 Rfe8 25 Qf1 Qg3+ 26 Kh1 Nf5 27 Qg2 Qxg2+ 28 Kxg2 Nxe3+ 29 Rxe3 f5 and the game ended in a draw.

Contrast that with a game played by Wesley So earlier in the event. His king march from h1 to g3 and h4 looks fraught with danger, and no doubt many players would talk themselves out of it, particularly when short of time. After two minutes’ thought, So correctly foresaw that his king would be unassailable.

Wesley So–Jan-Krzyzstof Duda
Opera Euro Rapid, February 2020

32 Nh4!! Nxf2+ 33 Kg2 Bh3+ 34 Kg3 Qf7 There is no better defence against White’s next move. 35 Ng6+ Kh7 35…Kg8 36 Nxe7+ Qxe7 37 Kxf2 36 Nxe7+ e4 37 Nxe4 Be5+ 38 Kh4 Now if 38…Qxe7+ 39 Nf6+ Kh8 40 Rg8 mate. Bf5 39 Nxf5 Qxf5 40 Nxf2 Black resigns

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
Close