Magnus Carlsen summed up Round 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup with “we played really, really fighting games”. He lived dangerously for two games before beating Anish Giri 3:1, and there were also hard-fought victories for Praggnanandhaa, who defeated Alireza Firouzja 2.5:1.5, and Levon Aronian, who beat Liem Le by the same scoreline. The one blowout saw Jan-Krzysztof Duda defeat Hans Niemann 3:0 after the young US star never recovered from a technical glitch.
Round 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup saw all four matches decided in the first four rapid games, with the winner earning $7,500 and the loser zero (if a match goes to tiebreaks the winner takes $5,000 and the loser $2,500).
You can replay all the games and check out the pairings using the selector below.
And here's the day's live commentary from David, Jovanka, Kaja and Simon...
...and from Peter and Tania.
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It was immediately obvious that Magnus Carlsen wanted to mix things up against his great rival Anish Giri when he started their match by fianchettoing his kingside bishop and welcoming huge pressure.
Anish took up the challenge, and an enthralling struggle ensued. Just when it seemed to be dying down, Magnus admitted he’d missed the idea of the intermediate move 21.Bg2!, but a move later it allowed him to play a beautiful move of his own, 22…Bf3!
It was incredible, just all tactics, and personally I was just playing a little bit by intuition. When I saw the idea of putting the bishop on a protected square it was very attractive.
Giri later described the move as “confusing”, but he responded well until letting his opponent off the hook on move 27.
Anish admitted he was ready to “bail out” and went for 27.Bxc6, but it turns out 27.g5! h5 28.Rg3 would have posed Magnus real problems.
That was nothing compared to the second game, however, where Magnus went for a piece sacrifice with 14.Nd5!?
Giri commented, “I feel it was kind of desperate, in a sense, because otherwise my position is just very comfortable”.
Magnus himself commented, “I always felt that I had decent practical chances, so I wasn’t that worried,” but although initially the sacrifice was good it seems Magnus perhaps should have been more worried near the end.
29…Rf8! and Black is close to winning, but Anish was tempted to give a check which gave away the lion’s share of his advantage. In fact it soon became a draw by perpetual check.
Peter Leko saw the future.
Magnus would later note:
It was a lot of fun, we played really, really fighting games, and finally I managed to break him in the 3rd.
Magnus played the French Defence against Anish, something it seems he’d only done once before four years ago in Wijk aan Zee. Black soon seized an advantage, with Peter highlighting the subtle 10…a6!, giving the black queen a retreat square on a7.
Anish put his trust in a kingside attack, but his timing was slightly off (24.Nf6+! was a chance) and nothing was working. Magnus got to finish with the simple but pleasing checkmating blow 34…Qe1+!
That meant Magnus only needed a draw with the white pieces in Game 4, but he decided not to play for one!
I’ve had so little success playing for draws in last games as White so I thought, let’s just make sure we get a complicated position, because that’s what’s been working for me so far. I think I played a little bit inaccurately in the opening but he didn’t exploit it, and after that I just got a very good position and it was pretty easy.
11…b6?! instead of 11…b5! was identified by Anish as his critical mistake, and the rest of the game flowed beautifully for Magnus. He broke in the centre…
…and then exchanged off queens into a crushing endgame where there was nothing to stop the further advance of the e-pawn.
So in the end it was a fine win for the World Champion, though Anish Giri had more than played his part by choosing fighting chess. With a little more aggression in the first two games the match might have ended very differently.
There was never any question that 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa and 19-year-old Alireza Firouzja would go all-out for victory, and the first two games showcased their talents. In the first, Firouzja played the Berlin but was positionally outplayed until the advance of Pragg’s h-pawn forced resignation.
Firouzja’s greatest strength is tactical alertness and calculation, and he hit back in Game 2 by spotting that 33…Ba6?, leaving the g4-square unguarded, was a mistake. After 34.Ng4! it turned out the white knights were just too powerful.
The match turned on Game 3, where Firouzja was completely in control until move 43.
43…Rxc2! and he would have been a heavy favourite to take the lead in the match, but exchanging queens with 43…Qxc2? saw his advantage slip away after 44.Qxc2 Rxc2 45.Rf7!.
It’s hard to readjust to such a setback, and Alireza later blundered in a drawn rook endgame, allowing Pragg to clinch a win. The Indian superstar was his usual modest and objective self.
I think in the middlegame I played very bad, I was completely lost at some point, but after the queens got exchanged I got some chances with Rf7. With little time anything can happen, I think. I just got lucky in the time-trouble phase.
That meant it was Alireza who again needed to win on demand, but this time he didn’t manage, with Praggnanandhaa carefully steering the game to a draw, with only bare kings left on the board at the end.
Levon Aronian got this match off to the perfect start with a fine victory with the white pieces. 31.Rb4! was a nice move, activating the rook based on the fact that it can’t be captured or the white queen will take on f7.
Liem Le got some slight chances later on, but couldn’t avoid the logical outcome of the game.
Levon would later say, “1st game was good, 2nd game was terrible”, and in Game 2 he was completely outplayed by his Vietnamese opponent until, an exchange and a pawn down, he somehow managed to escape. He joked with Tania and Peter, “it’s a horse, after all!”
After that 109-move escape, Levon managed to hold draws in the next two games as well to clinch match victory. He described his play, as Vladimir Kramnik once described his approach to the 2000 World Championship match against Garry Kasparov, as “catenaccio”.
When the interviewer asked for clarification of that football term, Levon explained, “You have Paolo Maldini in the centre and everything is going to be good!”
One player who displayed no catenaccio on the opening day of the FTX Crypto Cup was Hans Niemann, who never recovered from the first game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The following position was reached after 38.Re1, with both players having about a minute on the clock.
White is an exchange up for two pawns, so that material is roughly level, and with careful play a draw is the likely outcome.
At this moment, however, Jan-Krzysztof’s laptop cut out and the game was paused. It turns out that someone at the venue had “cleaned up” cables just before the chess began, including by unplugging some of them. That had created havoc and delayed the start of play, and in the confusion it was missed that Duda’s laptop was left unconnected.
It was a very unfortunate situation, but what followed was largely self-inflicted by Hans. He commented:
Because the laptop runs out of power, of course he has all the time to think in the world, to find all the best moves, and he has 20 seconds, and then he sits there for five minutes to find all the best moves, so the fact that the laptop runs out of power completely threw me off, and it’s just completely ridiculous.
Essentially, however, it wasn’t about Duda finding good moves but that with 38…Kf8 39.Nd6?! Ba6 40.Red1 Be2 41.Rd2 Bg4 42.Rf1?, giving up the b-pawn for no compensation, Hans had ruined his own position when he could comfortably have made a draw.
In Game 2, Duda got to play a crunching tactic in the middlegame and then cruised to victory with 7 (!) pawns for a rook.
Duda didn’t change a winning formula and played hyper-aggressive chess in the 3rd game as well, when he needed only a draw. It worked out perfectly, as he got to finish with a mating attack.
That means that Carlsen, Praggnanandhaa, Aronian and Duda all began with 3 points and $7,500, while Hans Niemann in particular needs to recover fast. His opponent in Round 2? World Champion Magnus Carlsen!
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