Three decisive games on first day quarterfinals

A good start for Abdusattorov, Caruana, and Firouzja

The WEISSENHAUS Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge saw the first-ever day of Chess960 with a long time control on Sunday, resulting in three decisive games. Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Fabiano Caruana, and Alireza Firouzja all won with the white pieces, against Ding Liren, Gukesh Dommaraju, and Magnus Carlsen respectively. Only Vincent Keymer and Levon Aronian drew their game.

The first-ever day of classical chess960 came with historic aspects. We now have the first player to blunder in a time scramble of a classical 960 game (Carlsen), the first to enter a confession booth (Carlsen), we also have the highest heart rate ever recorded during a classical 960 game. In shared first: Firouzja and Caruana whose heart bumped at a 139-rate when executing the winning move.

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Commentators Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev not only commentated on the games together with Niclas Huschenbeth. They also kept track of heart rates. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

In the opening press conference before the preliminaries, Magnus Carlsen mentioned the “sadistic” concept to play without increment, provoking time scrambles. “I’m all for it,” he said. He may still be, but now he has felt the sadism first-hand.

The action was over after just three hours as all games ended shortly before or after the first time control. Because the players are only getting their 30-second increment after move forty, time went fast for them, and they had to play fairly fast as well.

“My first impression is that I didn’t feel like I had enough time to think because it felt like after move like fifteen, I was going to play rapid chess,” said Abdusattorov. “I didn’t feel much that I played classical. It might get different by playing more games.”

With only ten minutes to analyze the new position, there is really very little knowledge to rely on for the grandmasters. In this variant it seems that talent, skill, and creativity are much more important than the ability to memorize moves. And it’s all about thinking from the start, often as early as move one.

“Taking thirty minutes for the first five moves would be a good investment,” said commentator Peter Leko.

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The position (BRNBQKNR) had been played twice in the 2011 Chess960 Correspondence World Championship, where both games ended decisively after just ten moves. That’s how difficult this game is, especially this position!

The WEISSENHAUS games showed this as well. The played position came with features that made it extra difficult to handle. Already 1…e5, played by Magnus Carlsen against 1.e4, may be inaccurate. And even more so, once an e4/e5 structure is on the board, it will often be required to develop a knight to the rim instead of the “natural” squares f3 or f6. For instance, Ding Liren’s 2…Nf6 was labeled as a mistake by the World Champions himself, while Alireza Firouzja’s 3.Nh3! already plunged Magnus Carlsen into despair. After taking more than 20 minutes for his 3rd move, Carlsen appeared in front of the camera in order to tell the audience about his “desperation”.

Being confronted with Firouzja’s surprising, but excellent 3.Nh3! the GOAT had smelled that his opponent was about to build up a dangerous attack, “I went for drastic measures,” Carlsen said after sacrificing a pawn in order to get a knight to help out his soon-to-be attacked king. Firouzja didn’t care about pawns. He went for his attack.

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1…e5? By far not the best answer to 1.e4, it seems. Photo: Maria Emelianova

Just when Carlsen was about to equalize, he committed an inaccuracy that allowed Firouzja to remain in the driver’s seat. They ended up in a double rook endgame with Carlsen being a pawn down. The moment Alireza played his winning move 37.Rg6, he became a historic Freestyle figure: the man with the highest pulse ever recorded, 139. After the round, though, he’s only in shared first of this fun ranking with Fabiano Caruana, who also peaked at 139 when he played his winning move Qb3.

Firouzja couldn’t care less probably. He has beaten the guy to beat, that is what counts. Magnus Carlsen needs to strike back tomorrow, or he will be out of the race for first place.

After coming first in the rapid tournament, Abdusattorov was also the first winner in today’s round. He outplayed the world champion, who admitted during the game that his second move was likely a mistake. During the game? Yes, also Ding Liren made use of the concept that was once introduced at the Norway Chess tournament: the confession booth. Whenever they want, players can enter it and share their thoughts for the fans who are watching the broadcast, obviously inaudible for the other players. Players don’t have to, but they are encouraged to share during each game.

Ding said: “The opening stage didn’t go so well for me because I missed his idea 3.d3. After that he can play f4, so my second move 2…Nf6 might be a mistake. I played the 4…d5 sacrifice in the spirit of the Marshall Gambit but now I’m a pawn down, I have to play for the draw.”

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Ding already went wrong as early as move two today. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Abdusattorov called that fourth move by Ding “a desperate decision” as he was basically a healthy pawn up after that. “I think my chances were very good, but I wasn’t confident at that point as also I was getting low on time,” he said. “But I managed to concentrate and play, I think, good moves. After 24…f5 25.c4 I was sure that I’m gonna win this game.”

It was already during the ten minutes of analyzing the position that Abdusattorov noticed this peculiar thing about the king’s knights. He said he really likes that short moment of rubbing shoulders with some of his rivals: “It’s very nice. We are sharing our thoughts before the game and discussing our position and, you know, just, getting a friendly atmosphere. I really like it.”

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Abdusattorov: “We are sharing our thoughts before the game and discussing our position and, you know, just, getting a friendly atmosphere. I really like it.” Photo: Lennart Ootes.

After seven moves, Vincent Keymer had already invested more than half an hour of his precious thinking time. But what should he have done about it? There were so many beautiful patterns to explore, ideas to work out, he couldn’t help it. In the end, he chose the less attractive, still extraordinary and, most of all, best seventh move.

Already the opening had been a display of Levon Aronian’s creativity. Before the game, he had analyzed the starting position on his own. At the board, he was looking for a path the other guys wouldn’t have checked in order “not to become overpowered by four people”.

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“Up on the clock at least”: When things got bad, a hopeful Levon Aronian announced that he will now try to fight himself back into the game. “This is not the worst position I ever got.” Photo: Maria Emelianova

However, the result of the opening wasn’t in Aronian’s favour. But he continued to come up with brilliant defensive ideas that forced Keymer to work and let his clock tick down even more. Eventually, while Aronian’s pieces sprung to life, Keymer’s initiative fizzled out, but he managed to keep it under control at least.

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Things could have gone better for Vincent Keymer – but also worse. Photo: Maria Emelianova/chess.com

After the second day, Caruana said most players showed some ups and downs during the rapid tournament, including himself. His first classical Freestyle game was just as bouncy, but he prevailed in the end.

“It was a really tough game,” he said. “I think I was probably worse at some moment and then I got this chance to sacrifice a pawn with 20.d5. I wasn’t sure if I’m worse or if I’m OK there, I thought I can be better. But he misplayed it and I got some incredibly activity.”

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Caruana and Gukesh were involved in “a really tough game.” Photo: Lennart Ootes.

It seemed like Gukesh was affected by the sudden turn of events on move twenty, because from that moment on, he couldn’t find the best moves anymore. Even though he had more time on the clock, he was the one losing the thread.

“I was on the back foot for most of the game and I was also lower on time for most of the game but in this dynamics I outplayed him, which was I guess the deciding factor,” said Caruana. “But yeah, my opening play maybe wasn’t the best and my optimism was definitely not the best!”

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Caruana: “My opening play maybe wasn’t the best and my optimism was definitely not the best!” Photo: Lennart Ootes.

On Monday we will see the second game of the quarterfinals, with colors reversed. In case of a 1-1 tie, a playoff will decide the winner. The action starts once again at 13:00 CET.

By Peter Doggers and Conrad Schormann

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