The FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial
Day Two of the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial Blitz chess event brought a dramatic shift at the top of both the Open and Women’s sections.
World Champion Magnus Carlsen started the day at the top of the table but ended it in second place, half a point behind Daniil Dubov.
Anyone for Seconds?
The pivotal game on the second day of this elite event came in round nine, bringing Dubov a noteworthy victory over Carlsen. Dubov served on Carlsen’s team during the 2018 title match against Fabiano Caruana. It is a very refreshing sign of the times when we can see a member of a champion’s team beating their boss. In former times, with former champions, this was definitely not the norm; diplomatic draws with the occasional ‘careless’ defeats were very much on the agenda.
Carlsen gave the King’s Indian Defence a rare outing. The gloves were well and truly off once Dubov castled long.
Dubov – Carlsen
I find certain aspects of this position reminiscent of the one I gave in my article on the Free Strategy Lesson from Magnus Carlsen last week, especially the safety of White’s king, despite the best efforts of the black forces to cause problems on the queenside.
Dubov now continues in what looks like a very aggressive style. It is actually a line of play with one major purpose in mind – winning the e4-square for his knights.
16 exf5 gxf5 17 g4! Qf6 The key square on e4 cannot be held by Black, so Carlsen steps up his search for counterplay against the white king. 18 gxf5 Qxf5+ 19 Ka2 Qc2 20 Rc1 and now the queens came off after 20 …Qd3.
Fast forward a few moves and we can see the point of Dubov’s play.
The Key Square – e4!
King’s Indian players will recognise certain features of this position as bad news. The white knight is absolutely dominant. The knight blocks the e-file, cannot be removed without an exchange sacrifice, supports White’s kingside play and is extremely well placed to support another of White’s standard plans; namely the queenside push with c4-c5. It is very difficult to find active counterplay for Black.
Dubov eventually allowed the exchange of the knight for the bishop, but only when he knew the rook ending was much better for him. 1-0 (54)
It is easy forget this game was played in a Blitz event; such is the high quality of the battle.
Carlsen lost to Svidler too, but with six wins (one more win than Dubov, who has drawn twice as many games as Carlsen) he is still very much in the race for first place.
The third and final day should be an exciting rollercoaster of chess.
Another Change at the Top
There was a dramatic change at the top of the Women’s section too. Alexandra Kostenuik looked like the firm favourite after a very convincing display on the first day, but Kateryna Lagno managed to leapfrog the leader and now has a half-point advantage at the top of the table.
Blitz chess produces all manner of fascinating games. This ending is exciting as the material distribution is a rarity in games played at classical time controls.
Kostenuik – Lagno
The material is equal, but only White has winning chances. It is extraordinary that the knight can pirouette around the board and deal with the three passed pawns. It seems so far away from the action. However, it turns out the knight does indeed have the required dexterity to hold the draw.
Good Knight to the Pawns
59 …Ke7 60 Ke4 Kd6! An important move, as White was threatening to gain a greater chance of success with 61 Ke5! After 60 …Kd6!, stopping the d-pawn in its tracks, the knight has a comfortable journey to pick it off. 61 g4 Nb4 62 g5 Nxd5 One pawn down; two to go.
63 g6 Ne7 64 g7 Kxc6 65 Ke5 Kd7 66 Kf6 Ke8 67 Ke6 Ng8 and a draw was agreed at this point. Very impressive play, especially in Blitz chess.
We certainly cannot accuse the players of a premature draw. This is effectively the half-point that put Lagno at the top of the table at the end of the second day.
Everything is set for a fabulous finale on the third and final day of the FIDE Online Steinitz Memorial.
The full games are available over at Chess24. We will conclude our tournament coverage tomorrow.