Top seeds Magnus Carlsen and Kateryna Lagno have won the first ever FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial, but neither had things easy. Although Magnus won with a round to spare and finished a full two points ahead of 2nd placed Daniil Dubov he was far from happy with his play, commenting, “that was terrible, from start to finish!” Kateryna was the most consistent player overall in the women’s section but started the day by losing to Lei Tingjie and ended it playing Armageddon against the same player for the title. 152 moves later she’d done it.
You can replay the full day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Peter Leko and Lawrence Trent below:
And here’s Pascal Charbonneau’s recap of the final day:
On paper it didn’t look as though Magnus could have much to be disappointed with about the final day of the Steinitz Memorial. He scored an unbeaten +3…
…which was enough to coast to victory two points ahead of Daniil Dubov (replay all the games here):
Some of the games were also impressive, with Anton Korobov and Alexander Grischuk simply blown away. The following quick video recap is well-worth watching for Peter Leko’s description of “the worst ever King’s Indian” that Alexander got in that game:
So was Magnus happy?
I’m more happy than I would have been if I hadn’t won the tournament, but that was terrible, from start to finish… but the result is ok so we’ll move on.
Frankly this whole tournament was a slog for me. I played really slowly and every one of my losses [was] thoroughly deserved. Even the times that I sort of played a good game I feel like I messed it up with bad technique, so what can I say? Not very happy, but I’ll take the first.
That may have been hyper-critical, but Magnus was coming off a final round game where he’d had to fight tooth and nail not to lose with Black against 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong. Magnus had similarly struggled with Black against David Anton in a game which could have taken him into the sole lead for the first time on the final day. He made a draw after being a pawn down, while his win with Black against Bu Xiangzhi almost got out of hand until his Chinese opponent blundered with 35.b5?
With the c5-knight now defended only by the queen Magnus could play 35…Rxe2+! 36.Kxe2 Qxg2+ and the white king was simply too exposed to survive. That win all but sealed Magnus’ tournament victory with two rounds to spare, but the game that mathematically made him champion, a draw against Dubov in the penultimate round, was also less convincing than it looked like being after the opening.
Still, tournament victory is tournament victory, and this hadn’t been close - as well as the 1st prize Magnus picked up another €1,200 bonus for his 12 points.
When FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich noted that the same players win online as over-the-board, Anish Giri added a correction:
Daniil Dubov started the day as the sole leader after beating Magnus, Peter Svidler and Jeffery Xiong the day before:
Jan Gustafsson, who has worked with Dubov as a second for
Magnus, noted that leading the tournament wasn’t something that was likely to
overawe the young Russian:
He feels like he belongs there. It's not like he's going to get nervous now – “OMG, I'm in the lead ahead of Magnus Carlsen”. He thinks this is a natural state of events, crushing these patzers!
For one round, where he beat David Anton, it seemed it could still be his day, but then things fell apart, with a sequence of three losses in a row:
The first loss to Alexander Grischuk was a game in which Dubov lived to regret playing the Alekhine’s Defence (1.e4 Nf6) that had got Magnus into so much trouble in the Banter Blitz Cup final against Alireza Firouzja. Grischuk could and perhaps should have ended the game much sooner…
…but he duly went on to win in 55 moves. Dubov was then already lost when he pushed 14.e4? against Bu Xiangzhi in the next round. After 14…fxe4 15.Bxe4 White was not winning material due to 15...Nxd4! (15...Nxb4 also wins):
His hopes of the title faded away when he squandered a close to winning position against Xiong by needlessly going for a rook ending and then misplaying it. The remarkable thing, perhaps, is that he still ended up in clear second place after drawing the final two games.
What had been lacking for Dubov? Magnus:
I haven’t really spoken to him. I said “gg” after he beat me yesterday, because that was a pretty good game. Obviously he’s got a lot of talent but, as you say, you need some more stability.
So it’s a psychological issue? Not exactly, according to the always brutally honest (with himself as well as others) World Champion:
I think it’s just part of playing strength, to be fair. I think if you’re better then you’re going to strike back more often. I think for everybody it’s pretty hard. If you really feel that things are going south, then it’s hard to stop the trend and play better.
The reason Dubov could still finish second, and no-one put extra pressure on Magnus, was that no-one else could find consistency either. The likes of Peter Svidler, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Le Quang Liem all threatened to get involved in the fight for 1st place, but then fell away again. What was left were isolated moments. For instance, Peter caught Bu Xiangzhi very early:
By move 17 the black queen had been trapped on c3. Bu Xiangzhi got to hit back in the final round of the day, however, after Le Quang Liem played 13…h6?
14.Nh7! simply won the rook on f8, since 14…Kxh7?? and e.g. double check with 15.Nf6++ would be mate on h7 next move.
The biggest curiosity of the tournament is perhaps that 2nd seed and 3-time World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk finished rock bottom on 7/18. In part that was testament to the fact that no-one had entirely collapsed in the event, but it was also clear that his attention had been elsewhere. In any case, his wife more than made up for it!
Top seed Kateryna Lagno also won the women’s event, but only
after a fierce battle, which began even before the tournament! She commented:
I’m not an expert to play online chess. I like to feel the pieces, to touch them, to see the board in front of me. I’m not used to playing online chess. I bought the mouse a few days before the tournament.
You didn’t borrow one from Alexander?
No, because I didn’t like his one, so I bought me another one, smaller!
Did she enjoy playing the event?
Honestly, honestly, I don’t enjoy it. I’m sorry to say it, because it’s better than nothing, this is for sure, this kind of tournament gives me [that] I have to be in shape, I have to prepare, I have to look at something, to recheck my analysis, to do some work. Without it, it’s another story, you can just sit and relax and wait… But when you know tomorrow you have six games to play you’re motivated to do something, but still, I’ve played 26 years in front of the opponent, so it’s a lot! I’m used it. I enjoy to see my opponent, to share the ideas, to speak after the games. Old habits!
Don’t miss the full interview with Kateryna Lagno after her win:
But let’s get to some of the details. The day had begun with Kateryna as the leader, but by the time the first round was over we had not one, but two new leaders. Kateryna was well-beaten by Lei Tingjie, who would have a very big part to play in the day.
It could all have gone wrong for Kateryna, since in the next game she was in trouble against Tan Zhongyi, with issues not only on the board:
By the time of the sock emergency, however, Kateryna was already feeling more confident as she’d found a plan:
Here she began to push her b-pawn, and, with some help from her opponent, it reached b7 and won the game!
The two players who took over the lead after the first round of the day were Alexandra Kosteniuk and Zhansaya Abdumalik, but they both fell away later on in the day. Alexandra suffered a traumatic loss in Round 15, to Lei Tingjie, from a position it seemed all but impossible to lose:
Alexandra could simply have taken the black pawn here with 56…Kxg7 and then got back to the business of winning with her own pawns. Instead she pushed 56…b4 57.Kf5 Re8 58.Kf6 b3? and suddenly it was over:
59.Rh1! and the threat of mate forced Black to give up the rook with 59…Re6+, but it’s not enough to save the game. A curiosity is that after 60.Kxe6 b2 White could have given mate-in-2 with 61.Kf6, but stopping the pawn with 61.Re1 was of course also winning. Alexandra, the runaway leader after Day 1, posted about that moment:
Her caption in Russian reads:
What can you say? On the second and third days of the tournament I gave away a lot more than others gave me, but the key moment today was, undoubtedly, this blunder in a well-played game… In any case, I thank FIDE for an excellently run tournament! I congratulate Kateryna Lagno on first place! And myself – I’ll continue to work, including on my mastery of winning won positions.
20-year-old Zhansaya Abdumalik, meanwhile, was on fire, and her win in the same round made it 7 wins in a row!
She was held to a draw in the next round, however, and then beaten by Tan Zhongyi in a complicated game in the penultimate round. That meant she had to beat Kateryna Lagno on demand in the final round to challenge for the title, but in the end she did well to hold a draw and had to settle for bronze.
That draw was a chance for Lei Tingjie, who ended with a run of 7/8 when she punished a needless pawn break by the out-of-form Elisabeth Paehtz – though Elisabeth at least had the most interesting playing space!
The tie for first place would be decided in Armageddon, for which Lei Tingjie got to choose colours and picked White. She would regret that decision by around move 31, when it was clear that in chess terms there was no way for White to win. The point of Armageddon, however, is that as well as being obliged to win, White gets more time on the clock, so that Lei Tingjie quite legitimately set out on the mission of flagging her opponent! The fact that there would be no increment from move 61 made things easier, but, since you can move faster online and no pieces are going to topple over, on balance it was much tougher…
The game was somewhat absurd, but also a lot of fun to watch with commentary!
In the end, 121 moves later, Lei Tingjie resigned and Kateryna Lagno had won the title.
FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich said they hope to hold the 2nd half of the Candidates in September, which he put as a 60% likelihood, but the amount of online chess we're going to see before that is phenomenal.
There's just one day to wait before the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge begins. The second event in the new Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour has a $150,000 prize fund and is going to be a huge amount of fun, featuring three days of preliminaries before an 8-player knockout begins. As you can see, the line-up is both incredibly strong and features a lot of players new to the Tour:
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