First day of the finals

Buettner’s bag, Aronian’s rap and Carlsen’s positional filter

Firouzja, Keymer start with victories

When Jan Henric Buettner left the Plexiglas case containing 60,000 dollars at the commentary desk, Peter Leko wondered whether he shouldn’t have taken his samurai sword with him to Weissenhaus. That way he could defend the treasure from thieves until the award ceremony.

The prize money for first place still has no owner, and it remains to be seen who will receive this biggest of the eight money bags on Friday. Magnus Carlsen may be the slight favorite, but Fabiano Caruana is, as in the 2018 World Championship match, an equal opponent. The two drew in the first final game on Thursday. Should they draw again on Friday, Caruana won’t fear a rapid play-off, as he stated in our interview.

Leko’s samurai sword first caught the public’s eye in August 2023 when he was commentating on the World Cup alongside Tania Sachdev – the Japanese weapon could be seen behind him in his chess room. It represents Leko’s passion for the works of the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645).

Unlike Musashi, whose path was paved by many a corpse, Leko has not yet used his samurai sword in battle. But back in the summer of 2023, he did not rule out the possibility of doing so should an emergency arise. Defending the Weissenhaus prize money would be one such situation.

WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess 2025

In the meantime, Leko has been warned for the 2025 edition. There will be even more money in the bag next year. In the stream of the first of two final days, Buettner announced that the WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge 2025 is no longer very likely, as was the case just a few days ago, but a done deal. And with higher prize money than in 2024. Buettner also held out the prospect of further chess projects, but it would be another month or two before these were decided.

While Buettner had spent an evening and a night on intensive chess phone calls before the kick-off of the final, his super grandmasters were engaged in an intense debate. It had little to do with chess, although the second semi-final day with the dramatic Aronian-Caruana match would have provided plenty to talk about.

Instead, it was about rap and the art of rhyming, or more precisely: the question of whether “Rook e1” rhymes with “Yerevan”. After his semi-final defeat to Fabiano Caruana, Aronian devoted himself to the fine arts, which he appreciates. The freestyle rap challenge came just in time for him. Spectators of the tournament are invited to submit a rap. Aronian is the only player who takes part.

He presented his rap lines to his colleagues from the Super Grandmaster guild over dinner. And in view of Aronian’s freestyle rap, they were faced with a question that often arises when they see Aronian’s moves: Is that creativity running away with him, or is it legitimate, perhaps even brilliant?

On Thursday in the match for third place against Nodirbek Abdusattorov, the answer was obvious: brilliant! In a lost rook game, Aronian spotted a clever stalemate trick that Abdusattorov missed (as did Vassily Smyslov in 1946, see below). Aronian saved himself into a draw. On Friday, at 0.5:0.5, the two will fight for third place and a somewhat smaller, but still veritably filled money bag containing 30,000 dollars.

Alireza Firouzja, who won his white game against Gukesh, has the best chance of taking fifth place (and thus qualifying for the 2025 tournament). Vincent Keymer has more than one hand on the 10,000 dollar case for 7th place. Keymer defeated Ding Liren.

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Today’s position. The unprotected pawn on f7 triggered a debate between Magnus and Henrik Carlsen about unprotected pawns in starting positions.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Magnus Carlsen 0,5:0,5

Magnus Carlsen had turned to his father as a partner for a chess debate before the game. In view of the unprotected pawn f7 in the starting position of the day, the Carlsens wondered whether it was possible for even two pawns to be unprotected in a starting position. They were unable to come up with a clear answer.

The chess bubble on X/Twitter provided an answer quickly.

You bet it’s possible!

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Fabiano Caruana, facing Carlsen’s “Modern Defense”. Photo: Maria Emelianova

On the board against Fabiano Caruana, Carlsen didn’t dwell for long on the weak point f7, which he knows from traditional chess. Instead, he looked for a way to play as simple a game as possible without taking any risks. Carlsen felt a little under the weather and therefore in no shape to start a complex battle against a Caruana in top form.

After pondering the first move for five minutes, the Norwegian uncorked a familiar pattern to counter Caruana’s 1.d4: the modern defense …g6, …d6 and …e5, which turned out to be an effective way to defuse White’s deployment plans in the center. Right from the start of the opening Caruana saw no more goals, no plans to gain an advantage, and instead tried to kill off the game.

sheet magnus

With success – because Carlsen automatically retook a piece at one point instead of pausing. “It felt like I had the advantage, but I didn’t notice anything specific that I could have done differently,” explained Carlsen after the game.

He could have noticed something on move 17. But 17…Bxe6?! looked so natural that the alternative 17…Rxe6 got stuck in the former world champion’s “positional filter”. After this chance to take command had passed, the game faded away.

Nodirbek Abdusattorov – Levon Aronian 0,5:0,5

An ingenious stalemate trick saved Aronian from a loss in the first game of the fight for third place. Abdusattorov doesn’t need to feel too bad for missing it as a 25-year-old Vassily Smyslov fell for the same trick once (against Ossip Bernstein, at the 1946 Staunton Memorial in Groningen). It’s too pretty not to show it here with a diagram:

stalemate

Here, Aronian played 46…Kc4!! with the idea 47.Rxe4+ Kb3 48.g4 Rxg4! 49.Rxg4 stalemate.

“Yeah, it was very tricky,” Aronian said after the game. “I was lucky to get that move in the position. I thought I had such a nice position and then I ruined it. It’s good that I managed to survive.”

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An ingenious Aronian held the draw with a splendid swindle. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The American-Armenian grandmaster was actually comfortably better out of the opening, but his play was likely affected by fatigue from his grueling match with Caruana the other day: “Sure, the way I played you can tell! To get a worse position out of that position where I have zero chance to be worse is of course embarrassing.”

A careless move 14 gave the advantage away, and things got even worse for Aronian in time trouble, when the players had reached a complicated position with pawns and heavy pieces only. He ended up in a lost rook endgame, but then knew his classics from the swindle department.

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Abdusattorov had completely missed Aronian’s devilish trick. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Alireza Firouzja vs. Gukesh 1:0

Firouzja took a step toward clinching the fifth place and with it qualification for next year’s edition. He defeated Gukesh in an impressive game where he sacrificed a pawn and then an exchange, to dominate the remainder with a strong knight on e6. “I felt it’s very dangerous for Black,” he said about that. “I thought at best he could make a draw here.”

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The position after White’s exchange sacrifice.

An interesting sidenote about that knight on e6 was that this time, Firouzja he knew that Black could castle despite that knight. The day before he had completely missed Ding’s long castle and was almost going to ask the arbiter if it was legal!

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Gukesh answering 1.e4 with 1…e5. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In opening phase the French-Iranian grandmaster played remarkably quickly: he took only three minutes and five seconds for his first eleven moves. He admitted with a smile that he was much worse there.

“I think it’s really energy taking to think from move one for me,” Firouzja explained. “Still, we will get some playable position at some point and then I want to keep time and energy so I don’t like to think in the opening.”

After Firouzja’s exchange sac, Gukesh indeed remained under a lot of pressure but dealt well with it. There was even a moment where he could have reached a drawn position, but with five minutes on the clock for three more moves, it was too hard to find. On move 42, he resigned the game.

Firouzja said he still needs to be careful tomorrow: “He always has good comeback streaks so tomorrow will be tough.”

He is a big fan of freestyle chess and his argument for it sounded both simple and convincing: “I like it a lot. We don’t spend so much energy before the game but we spend it on the game. It makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I think it needs to be played more, it doesn’t make any sense to play the same position all the time.”

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Firouzja only needs a draw tomorrow to secure fifth place. Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Vincent Keymer vs. Ding Liren 1:0

Will Peter Leko ever run out of Ding metaphors? Yesterday he pitied the World Champion for “stepping into a minefield” in every game, today he had to watch everything Ding tries “dissolve into dust”. “Freestyle chess has become Ding’s enemy,” Leko stated after Vincent Keymer had outplayed the Chinese player in the best Keymer style and in less than two hours.

Like Carlsen, Ding Liren countered 1.d4 with 1…g6, but built up with 2…f5. The fourth move, the positionally disreputable …d5, may be the beginning of Keymer’s subsequent demonstration. As in the preliminary round, the German number one defeated the world champion. Ding Liren must win with White on Friday to force a play-off.

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Against Vincent Keymer the game was once again not going well for Ding Liren. Photo: Maria Emelianova

By Conrad Schormann and Peter Doggers

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