Weissenhaus/Chess 960 Tournament: Carlsen and a patron bet on a revolutionary form of chess | Chess

“You have to think from the first play.” It is the main key that Magnus Carlsen points out to justify his commitment to chess 960 (also called Fischer Random, or now Freestyle). The position of the pieces in the first row (pawns do not change) is drawn minutes before each game; There are 960 different ways to start. The Norwegian competes in a luxury hotel in Weissenhaus (Germany, near Hamburg) in a tournament with seven other stars, financed by the German patron Jan Henric Buettner.

The great debate that gives a lot of meaning to this initiative is that training with the help of very powerful computers, which calculate millions of moves per second, greatly strengthens the scientific part of chess (home preparation): it is already very common for the top twenty movements (or more) are done by heart, to the detriment of art (the creation of improvised beauty) and sport (tiredness, time pressures, emotion…). In reality, in Weissenhaus there are not 960 positions drawn, but 958: they have eliminated the classic one and the one that is the same but with the king and queen exchanged. So the tons of books, articles, videos, DVDs and databases on openings and defenses are useless in this tournament.

Carlsen, number one undisputed in classical slow chess, he has had a bad result in the first phase, in accordance with his level of demand. He finished 5th out of eight after a league of quick games (25 minutes per side, plus ten seconds of automatic increase after each move) with defeats against two of the most brilliant young stars: the Uzbek Nodirbek Abdusattórov, 19 years old, winner of the league and only undefeated; and the Indian Dommaraju Gukesh, qualified at 17 for the classic World Cup Candidates Tournament, scheduled in Toronto (Canada) from April 5 to 23. But this group only served to establish the pairings in the quarterfinals: 1st-8th, 2nd-7th, 3rd-6th and 4th-5th.

Liren Ding, this Friday in the playing room of the Weissenhaus tournament, near HamburgMaria Emelianova

Although Carlsen also leads the ranking of fast classic games – but with very little advantage over the world champion, the Chinese Liren Ding -, he is confident of performing much better from this Sunday and Monday in the quarterfinals, where the pace of play is already It will be much slower: 90 minutes for the first 40 casts; half an hour more for the rest of the game from 41; and 30 additional seconds of increment after each play, from the first. In any case, he will need to perform at his best because his rival will be the 20-year-old Frenchman of Iranian origin Alireza Firouzja, whom he himself described in 2021 without ambiguity: “he is the only one who can be at my level.”

In principle, and as strange as it may seem, the most unequal confrontation is that of Abdusattórov with Ding because the Chinese continues in free fall (six defeats and a quick draw in the last round, against Firouzja) after failing in the prestigious Tata tournament (the Roland Garros of chess) after eight months of almost total inactivity. Ding’s tension and exhaustion to win the world title match against the Russian Ian Niepómniashi last April in Astana (Kazakhstan) were so great that he subsequently suffered serious psychological problems and great difficulty sleeping.

The other two quarterfinal duels will pit Gukesh against the American Fabiano Caruana, world runner-up in 2018, and the German Vicent Keymer, 19, with the American veteran of Armenian origin Levón Aronián. The main focus will be on Carlsen. Asked about the apparent contradiction between his preference for fast modalities and his request that the decisive phase of this tournament be slow, he was also very clear: “If you have to think from the first play, you need time to produce high-quality games.” .

to weekly newsletter ‘Wonderful play’, by Leontxo García

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