Magnus Carlsen suffered a rare double defeat in classical chess this week at Wijk aan Zee, the ‘Chess Wimbledon’. On Tuesday the 32-year-old Norwegian resigned Anish Giri, Netherlands No. 1 and World No. 5 Anish Giri, whose only previous win against world No. 1 in classical chess is exactly 12 years to the day, also in Wijk.
Two days later, after Wednesday’s rest day, Carlsen lost again, beaten by fast-rising 18-year-old from Uzbekistan, Nodirbek Abdusattorov. It was the first time in more than seven years that Carlsen lost two classical games in a row and that put him 10th out of the 13 grandmasters in Wijk.
Giri’s opening against Carlsen was a Queen’s Indian 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6, where Giri managed to reach a position as White where Carlsen himself had won as White in a 2008 game. In a complex position without queens, the Norwegian’s fatal error was 23…Rxd7? if Ne5! would have held. After this mistake, Black’s game went downhill until after 35…Rd7 36 Bb6 Carlsen resigned at the loss of material.
Carlsen later said, “All in all, Giri played well. The worst thing is that I didn’t feel uncomfortable today, so I have no excuses. It was just a risky decision and something I overlooked that he took advantage of. It’s not too much of a crisis. I just have to pull myself together, play well and there’s still a long way to go. But of course today was not good.”
After Wednesday’s rest day, Thursday’s fifth round produced another impressive defeat as Carlsen gave up his marathon queen-pawn ending after 60 moves against Abdusattorov. The fast-rising 18-year-old, who won the 2021 World Rapid ahead of Carlsen, led Uzbekistan to gold at the Olympics last year and was rewarded with a car and a home by an appreciative government for his heroics, is a serious and dedicated young man , whose personality is reminiscent of the Soviet chess patriarch and world champion Mikhail Botvinnik.
Carlsen has not lost two consecutive classic games since Stavanger 2015 and the double defeat will raise questions about the wisdom of his controversial decision to forgo defending his World Classics crown. Wijk, one of his favorite tournaments, has seven rounds to go, so a comeback is still mathematically possible, albeit psychologically and practically unlikely.
Two rounds before defeating Carlsen, Giri had demonstrated extraordinarily thorough preparation against Dommaraju Gukesh, the 16-year-old Olympiad gold medalist. The key move was 13 Rc1-c2! Prepare for double rooks on the e-file, followed by the knight sacrifice 18 Neg5! (still in homework), the rook sacrifice 19 Rxe6! and the quiet 22 Qf5! This did not end the game but reached a position where the white queen and white bishop could outplay the two black rooks, the bishop and the knight.
Giri’s reputation has been as a draw specialist, but that brilliance reminded commentators of Mikhail Tal, widely regarded as the most spectacular player of all time. In particular, Giri v Gukesh bears a resemblance to Tal’s victory over Oscar Panno at Portoroz in 1958, where Tal’s queen also triumphed against the Argentine grandmaster’s rook, bishop and knight. Giri’s game makes the bigger impression, not only winning against two rooks instead of one, but also scoring faster and with more grace.
Friday’s sixth round was quieter and five of the seven games ended in ties, including Carlsen’s Sicilian defense against his aide and 2021 Wijk winner Jorden van Foreest. The two winners were US champion Fabiano Caruana and fellow US player Wesley So, both of whom defeated teenage opponents to join the top flight.
After six of the 13 laps, the leaders were Wijk Abdusattorov (Uzb) 4.5/6, Giri (Neth) and Caruana (US) 4/6, So and Levon Aronian (both US) and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (Ind) 3.5 /6 . Carlsen was back in 10th with a 2.5/6. Abdusattorov, 18, and Praggnanandhaa, 17, are leading the rise of the new teenage generation.
Astana, Kazakhstan will host the 14-game World Cup match of Ding Liren vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi from April 7th to May 1st. Carlsen has relinquished his title, citing his growing dislike for months of preparation leading up to it. According to Fide, the other contenders to host the game were Argentina, Mexico and China. Kazakhstan has a proven track record of hosting Fide events including last month’s World Rapid and World Blitz. The prize fund is 2 million euros, same as 2021, split 60-40 or 55-45 if fast tie-breaks are involved.
Fide describes the game sponsor as “Nasdaq-listed Freedom Holding Corp, a US-based financial services company with Kazakh roots.” The founder of FHC, Moscow-born billionaire Timur Turlov, 35, has lived in Kazakhstan since 2011. After the invasion of Ukraine, he gave up his Russian citizenship and is now the chairman of the Kazakh Chess Federation. Freedom Holding Corp was the main sponsor of last month’s World Rapid and Blitz, both won by Carlsen. A normal afternoon local time start of match sessions would mean 10am in London and the early hours in the US, potentially allowing matches to take place in the evening.
3851: 1 Rxd5+! exd5 (1…Ke8 avoids mate, but White wins easily with his extra piece) 2 Bf5+ Ke8 3 Re1+ Be2 4 Rxe2 mate.