Heavy is the head

30 July 2022

9:00 AM

30 July 2022

9:00 AM

On International Chess Day, 20 July, Magnus Carlsen announced that he will not defend his world championship title next year. The Norwegian won the title in 2013 by beating Viswanathan Anand in Chennai, and went on to defend his title against Anand once more, then Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana and most recently Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Carlsen stressed that he has no intention of retiring. In fact, his stated goal is to keep improving, unencumbered by the grind of preparing for a new world championship match. (Each one might easily demand six months of preparation.) Reaching an international rating of 2900 is still a target he has in mind, though that Everest remains a long way off.

Carlsen had signalled for some time that abdication was on his mind, though many doubted that he would go through with it. But the likes of Anand and Kasparov, who know just how exhausting a world championship match can be, expressed sympathy with his decision.

During the recent Candidates tournament in Madrid, it was clear that most participants considered that only the top spot was worth fighting for. But Carlsen’s announcement means that Ding Liren, the Chinese runner-up, is due to face the winner, Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, in a world championship match in 2023. That’s a cruel turn of events for Hikaru Nakamura, who was beaten and overtaken by Ding Liren in the final round.

Ding headed for an endgame that looked innocuous, but Nakamura, needing only a draw, never quite managed to neutralise the pressure. Nakamura felt that his problems set in gradually, starting from the moment when Ding advanced 18 h4 (see diagram), setting up ideas of Nf3-g5+. Although 18…h6 was a natural response, he came to regret it after 19 Rdc1!, keeping tension in the position.

Ding Liren-Hikaru Nakamura

Fide Candidates, Madrid, July 2022

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 Nc3 c5 5 e3 Nc6 6 a3 dxc4 7 Bxc4 a6 8 Bd3 b5 9 dxc5 Bxc5 10 b4 Be7 11 O-O Bb7 12 Bb2 O-O 13 Ne4 Nxe4 14 Bxe4 f5 15 Bb1 Qxd1 16 Rxd1 Rfd8 17 Ba2 Kf7 18 h4 (see diag) h6 18…Rxd1+ 19 Rxd1 Rd8 was safer. 20 Rxd8 Bxd8 21 Ng5+ Bxg5 22 hxg5 Ne7 followed by Bb7-d5 and perhaps Ne7-c8-b6-c4 would make a draw very likely. 19 Rdc1 Bd6 Rc1xc6 and Nf3-e5+ was threatened. 20 Rc2 Ne7 21 Nd4 Bd5 22 Bxd5 Nxd5 23 Rac1 Rd7 24 Nb3 Nakamura praised this move, which prevents him liquidating queenside pawns with a6-a5. Be7 25 h5 Bf6 26 Bd4 e5 27 Bc5 Bd8 28 Rd2 Nf6 29 Rxd7+ Nxd7 30 Rd1 Nf6 31 Bd6 Ng4 32 Bc5 Bh4 33 Rd7+ Kg8 34 g3 Bg5 35 Kf1 Bd8 35…Rd8 was called for. White should not allow Black’s rook into d3, so 36 Rd6 Rxd6 37 Bxd6 Kf7 38 Nc5 Be7 39 Bxe7 Kxe7 40 Nxa6 Kd6 and Black will soon win back the pawn on h5, with equality. 36 Rb7 f4 37 gxf4 exf4 38 e4 Bf6 38…f3! was the last chance, to prevent White’s king from advancing. 39 Nd4 Re8 40 Kg2 Ne5 41 Nf5 All White’s pieces are better placed, and the pawns on a6, f4 and g7 are weak. Ding converted smoothly. f3+ 42 Kg3 Nc4 43 Be7 Bb2 44 Kxf3 Bxa3 45 Kg3 Ne5 46 Bc5 Nf7 47 f3 Bc1 48 Ra7 Bd2 49 Rxa6 Be1+ 50 Kg2 Bc3 51 Ra7 Ng5 52 Ne7+ Kh8 53 Ng6+ Kg8 54 Ne7+ Kh8 55 Nd5 Bb2 56 Ra2 Bc1 57 Rc2 Ba3 58 Be3 Black resigns

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