Magnus Carlsen’s Final Fortress brought to an end the Grand Final of the inaugural Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour.
‘Who is winning?’
Carlsen spent seven days battling it out with Hikaru Nakamura, with enough blunders and brilliances to keep chess fans around the world enthralled for hours on end.
‘Who is winning?’ must take the prize as the most common question.
The final required all seven scheduled sets to be played. A pattern emerged: Nakamura wins a set and Carlsen equalises by winning the next one.
Six sets in and the players were even at 3-3. This left one final set; the ultimate challenge.
The four Rapidplay games did not bring a decisive breakthrough. One win each and two draws summoned forth the two Blitz games. First blood to Nakamura! Then Carlsen, practised in the dark art of ‘winning to order,’ levelled the scores in the nick of time.
Suddenly all the months, tournaments, matches and sets boiled down to one final Armageddon game. Nakamura had the white pieces, extra time on the clock but needed a win. Carlsen ‘just’ had to draw.
‘Who is Winning?’
The Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez opening is a good choice in an Armageddon game. The Berlin had already resulted in several draws in this final and it has been a tough nut to crack throughout the 20 years since Vladimir Kramnik used it keep Garry Kasparov at arm’s length in their title match in 2000.
Yet this game was lively, with Nakamura looking for complications at every turn and Carlsen not exactly pouring cold water on the position either.
Armchair enthusiasts were taking great delight in watching the two superstars match each other, move for move. Some enjoy typing comments in the chat box, trying to make a stronger personal connection with the action. Chess engines flicker away, constantly reassessing the position. Chess fans don’t even need to think for themselves; a glance at the engine evaluations is enough to empower them. Overfamiliarity – or laziness – reduces the identities of the two best Rapid and Blitz players in the world to the informal ‘Maggie’ and ‘Naka’ in the chat box.
Meanwhile, the Armageddon game dashes on. Carlsen gives up his queen; has the World Champion made a mistake? ‘Who is winning?’
Carlsen’s Final Fortress
After 67 moves we find this unusual position on the board.
White to play
The players now agreed to a draw.
Inexperienced players could think White is winning, because of the presence of his queen. Yet the material is extremely close to being equal. Closer inspection reveals that White cannot make any progress in the position. Black can simply repeat his moves (…Kb7, …Kb8, …Kb7 for example.)
The white king cannot move beyond the fifth rank because of the black rook. White’s pawn will never be allowed to advance safely. If another white pawn was added to a sensible place on the board then White would have excellent winning chances. Black cannot make any progress either, but he doesn’t need to as a draw is all that is required in the Armageddon game.
The position is a fortress. This gave chess journalists easy copy as they could quote Carlsen himself, who once said: ‘I don’t believe in fortresses.’ Context is everything, of course. There is definitely a fortress in the position above.
Breaking the Serve
The final version of the tournament bracket emphasises just how close the final had been. Carlsen managed to break Nakamura’s ‘serve’ just at the right time.
Both players deserve immense credit for producing seven sets of extraordinary chess. All of the tournaments in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour have generated a lot of interest and proved there is definitely an audience for online events
Magnus Carlsen is the worthy champion! He certainly led from the front with this new venture. The match will be remembered for many reasons, including ‘Magnus Carlsen’s Final Fortress.’
Hikaru Nakamura played a fabulous match and came within one pawn of being crowned as champion. It is a mystery how he has never managed to make more of an impression at the Candidate stage of the World Chess Championship. He is still just 32 years old, so perhaps the best is yet to come on the biggest chess stage of all?
The Grand Final games are available to replay over at chess24.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether or not elite online events will be a long-term part the new normal for chess world. If it is indeed going to be the case then we have certainly got off to a very impressive start.