Reports May 15, 2020 | 9:21 PMby Colin McGourty

Steinitz Day 1: Magnus down but out in front

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen blundered and lost to chess maverick Anton Korobov in Round 4 of the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial but still finished the day in sole first place on 4/6. He ground down Le Quang Liem in trademark style and crushed Shakhriyar Mameydarov and David Anton, though living up to his word and playing 1.c3 against Peter Svidler almost ended in disaster! Bu Xiangzhi, Daniil Dubov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov are just half a point behind after a topsy-turvy day.

Magnus Carlsen was a man of his word! 

You can replay all the Steinitz Memorial open section games below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko:

2-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau recapped the day’s action in his aftershow, including a look at some games such a great King’s Indian by Alexander Grischuk and Daniil Dubov’s impressive win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov that aren’t covered later in this article:

A bumpy ride for Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen ended Day 1 of the Steinitz Memorial in a familiar sole first place, but that 4/6 was sufficient (compared to Alexander Kosteniuk’s 5.5/6 in the women’s section) told you something about how tough it had been. None of the 10 players ended winless or unbeaten after six rounds, and Magnus was somewhat surprised to find himself top of the standings:

In terms of “too much nonsense” it’s impossible not to dwell on how the day began, with Magnus playing Peter Svidler with the white pieces. There was a rich backstory to this one. First, in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, Magnus had gone for 3…h5!?! against Ding Liren's Rossolimo Sicilian. Peter was commentating live and described it, among other things, as “taking the piss!”:

Magnus was duly punished in that game, but he didn’t back down. He played the move again, and won, in a Banter Blitz game on chess24 against MrDodgy…

…and then got to play it against none other than Peter himself! The 8-time Russian Champion’s words on seeing the move aren’t entirely suitable for a family publication… 

Spoiler alert, Magnus won that game as well, afterwards explaining that he was following in the footsteps of the 1st World Chess Champion, who was known for sticking to his principles even when they contradicted chess logic or common sense:  

When Magnus was drawn to play White against Peter Svidler in Round 1 of the Steinitz Memorial it might have seemed the danger was over, but Magnus tweeted a way for White to lose a tempo and get exactly the same position with the white pieces. Anish Giri went so far as to come up with a new tournament idea to stop such clear intimidation tactics by the World Champion!

Magnus wouldn’t actually do it in a serious event though, would he?

It was hard for the rest of the game to live up to that start. Things didn’t go particularly well for Magnus, but just when it seemed his trolling might backfire he went on to gain a dangerous edge in the endgame. Then 37.Rxa7? happened:

This was the chance for Peter to strike with 37…Bf3!, which is mate-in-7! It might seem White can wriggle out of the mating net with 38.Ke1, but then 38…Rd4! slams the door shut. It was a case of “blink and you missed it”, however, since Peter almost instantly played 37…Kc7 instead. 

A curiosity is that after Magnus played 38.Ra5 (he spent 6 seconds this time) it was still winning to play 38…Bf3!, but only because Black can trap and pick up the wayward knight on g7: 39.Ke1 Rd4! 40.Rc5+ Kd7 41.Rc1 and though White has stopped mate 41…Rd5! removes the f5-square from the knight, and after e.g. 42.a4 Ke7 43.a5 Kf8 the knight is lost!

Needless to say such nuances are almost impossible to spot in 3-minute blitz, and after Peter played 38…h6 it wasn’t long before Magnus missed a simple chance to fork Peter’s king and knight:

It was the kind of 58-move draw that could take some time to recover from!

For Magnus, however, normal service was soon resumed. In Game 2 it was the Magnus we all remember from when he first dominated the chess world a decade ago and would grind out wins from the driest of positions:

In Round 3 it was back to the swashbuckling Magnus of 2019, who played the London System and had a winning position against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a dozen moves:

13.Bxh6! cxd4 14.Bxg7! Nxg7 15.h6 Qf6 16.hxg7 Qxg7

17.Bh7+! Kh8 18.Nxf7+ Rxf7 19.Bg6+ Kg8 20.Bxf7+ Kxf7 21.Qxd6. Mamedyarov went on to put up real resistance (and with 25…Rg8! there would still have been questions to answer) but if Magnus was as frustrated as Jan thought about not finishing the game quicker, it seems, in the cold light of day, that the World Champion barely put a foot wrong:

That was a second loss in a row for Mamedyarov, but he came back in fine style afterwards, winning his remaining three games – in fact he was the only player to put together a winning streak that long all day.

Korobov makes his mark

It’s time to turn to another hero, Anton Korobov, who Peter Leko described as “a force of nature” before the day began. The Ukrainian grandmaster may not get many chances to take shots at the world’s best players, but both in interviews and over the board he’s unpredictable and a joy to watch. To get a flavour of that you might want to check out his short Banter Blitz session and interview before the tournament:

That included an assessment of his chances:

He needn’t have worried, since he started by beating 3-time World Blitz Champion Alexander Grischuk, who underestimated the power of a queen sacrifice to force promotion on c1:

After 36.Rxc1 Rxc1+ the other black rook will come to c2 and, one way or another, Black will win the white queen on g5. Grischuk resigned.

Korobov then went on to lose to Bu Xiangzhi and draw against Daniil Dubov, but he got to take centre stage in Round 4 against Magnus. The World Champion paid his opponent the respect of playing a very modest Queen’s Gambit Declined opening, and then offered a gift with 16…Nd7?  

17.Bc7!, hitting the defender of the d7-knight, was simply winning the exchange. Magnus paused for 24 seconds before playing on to move 49, but he was never given a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the game.

Magnus hit back straight away with a crisp win over another Anton, Spain’s David Anton, before drawing his final game of the day against Alexander Grischuk. It had been a tight race, and the fate of top place rested on the smallest of margins. For instance, this moment of chess madness in Round 5 involved Bu Xiangzhi, who ended the day in 2nd place, and 19-year-old Jeffery Xiong, who was a co-leader at the time:

Bu Xiangzhi had White and must have been upset here as he realised he’d blundered away his advantage – there’s no way to stop the black knights giving perpetual check with Nf2+ and Nh3+. After 7 seconds of thought, what did the Chinese player play? 40.Re1??, simply putting his piece en prise! But whether it was a premove or not, 19-year-old Jeffery didn’t take the offering but simply gave the perpetual check with 40…Nf2+? and the game ended in a draw.

That meant that after Day 1 of the Steinitz Memorial the standings looked as follows:

No-one is out of contention at this stage, and with 12 rounds to go anything could happen. Follow all the action with Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko live here on chess24 from 18:30 CEST – or for the full day’s enjoyment tune in already at 15:00 CEST when the women’s games start.   

See also:

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