Offerspill weekly roundup #4

Time for a quick update on this week's events.

This weeks's article is centered around the ongoing Skilling Open, which is a part of the Carlsen/Chess24 invention "Champions Chess Tour". Additionally, we include some articles featured in The Guardion, The Washington Post and CNN about the rising popularity of chess following the release of hit Netflix show "The Queen's Gambit". If you still haven't caught this one it really is about time! Read our short review of the show here.

Skilling Open

After a thrilling preliminary round of play 8 players advanced to the knockout stage of the tournament. Crowd favourite Alireza Firouzja looked to have his place in the quarterfinal all wrapped up with a mesmerizing streak of wins, but lost the two last rounds of the preliminary. Firouzja ended up in a 9th place which, unfortunately, meant elimination. Twitter virtuoso Anish Giri was the clear tournament leader after Day 2 of 3, but struggled for form on the last day and could have been eliminated. The Dutchman recovered and managed to qualify, but surpisingly enough world number 2 Ding Liren lost his way on the last day of play and did not manage to secure himself a spot in the knockout stage. World Champion and Offerspill member Magnus Carlsen showed fine form and had few problems qualifying.

Plenty of surprising results during the preliminary rounds. Photo: Chess24

Brilliancies and blunders

The format of Skilling Open, and other tournaments included in the Champions Chess Tour, is very different from the classical chess tournaments we have been accustomed to viewing. Fast time controls, the adaption to online chess and huge prizes on the line have all contributed to magnifying mistakes and intensifying the pressure on the players. As a result the viewer experience has been tremendous with plenty of action in every game. Here are a couple of examples:

Flash of brilliance from Aronian - Black to play.
You can replay the game in its entirety here.

Black to play and win - can you spot Aronian's brilliant move?

Aronian struggled at times, but picked up the pace and qualified for the knockout with 8,5 points. The popular Armenian grandmaster even brought his dog to an interview with reporter Kaja Snare during the official broadcast. Now we know how it feels to beat Sergey Karjakin - "The Minister of Defence"!

Pure joy after a successful preliminary stage for Aronian. Photo: Chess24

Knockout stage

After beating Anish Giri in the quarterfinal Magnus Carlsen faced rival Ian Nepomniachtchi in the semi-final. Even though Nepo has his chances Magnus had reasonable control on the second day of the match. This was much thanks to a good start on Day 1 where Nepo blundered big time in the first game in his favourite Grünfeld Defence. Check out the blunder 13..Qb8 in the game below - suddenly the black knight had nowhere to go!

After seeing the bracket for the knockout stage many had high hopes of seeing a replay of previous finals between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen. However, Nakamura was not in his best form in the knockout phase of the tournament and only just managed to squeeze past Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the quarterfinal. His luck ran out against fellow American GM Wesley So in the semi-final which ended any hopes of a Naka-Carlsen rematch.

Magnus had reasonably good control vs Giri, but So had to stage a comeback against Radjabov! Photo: Chess24

So its So

Fischer Random World Champion and super-solid GM Wesley So is Magnus' opponent for the final of Skilling Open. Even though So messed up winning positions in consecutive games against Hikaru Nakamura, he still managed to win the match reach the final where a prize fund of $100,000 awaits. As usual, Magnus has delivered high quality chess, but still wasn't satisfied with his own play after bumpy his semi-final against Nepomniachtchi stating that "frankly I’m not playing that great".

So summarized his semi-final against Hikaru Nakamura in the following manner:

It’s always very tricky (...). He has this tremendous fighting spirit, (...) so when we get down to a minute or two minutes on the clock he plays just much better, while I simply panic with very little time.

Even though Wesley might have been a bit too modest there were an expectation that Nakamura would pull through due to the demanding online format, as GM and journalist Jonathan Tisdall pointed out after the match:

Photo: Twitter

An important moment from the final game between Magnus and Nepo in the semi-final - what do you think of GM Gustafsson's move suggestions? ;-)

The final between Carlsen and So will be played Sunday - Monday (29-30th of November) with rounds starting from 18:00 CET. The format is the same as in the semi-finals with two mini-matches consisting of four games each. Watch it live at Chess24 | Lichess | Skilling

Chess in the news

Chess has had somewhat of a resurgence in media the last couple of months party due to COVID-19, Netflix drama series "The Queen's Gambit" and the launch of Chess24's "Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour" and recent "Champions Chess Tour".
Curiously, demand for chess sets has increased considerably since the premiere of "The Queen's Gambit", according to Marie Fazio of The New York Times.

"The Harmon Effect"

Journalist Leonard Barden of The Guardian builds on this in his recent article where he also highlights the increase of players online during the pandemic. Included in this article are insightful interviews with US chess personalities Maurice Ashley and Jennifer Shahade where they discuss the "Harmon effect" and how the chess community can exploit this recent surge in popularity.

The frenzy around it is crazy … All of a sudden it’s an incredible awareness and excitement around the game and a lot of the same people are now taking up chess and starting to play. So it’s really had a pretty surprising, wonderful, electrifying effect on the fanbase, particularly of non-players.
- Maurice Ashley

Read the article in full here.

The Guardian also writes about the recent "chess boom" and "blames" this on the aforementioned Netlifx show, and furthers notes how this could encourage more girls to play the great game. Moreover, Barden disucsses potential challenges for increased recruitment and conservation of new talent in his fascinating article which you can read here.

Recently, Magnus himself gave an interview to The Guardian where he discussed how the chess society can use the recent attention drawn to the game following the pandemic and "The Queen's Gambit" as a "catalyst for change" in terms of girl recruitment and interest in the game.

Chess societies have not been very kind to women and girls over the years. Certainly there needs to be a bit of a change in culture.

As always, Magnus' thoughts are insightful and the interview is a good read.
It is available here.

Additionally, BBC recently published a video about how chess is on the rise due to the release of "The Queen's Gambit" which is available here.

We will make a small exeption this week and include a slightly older interview given by Magnus to CNN which is both informative and insightful regarding his thought process as a player, time as World Champion and legacy. Check it out here.

We also recommend checking out a recent article by The Washington Post that explores the life of the "real life Beth Harmon" - Vera Menchik. Writer Rosenwald underlines the following important point:

Menchik has achieved something that was unthinkable at the time — challenging the best men players of the time in chess.

Let's hope this recent rise in popularity is the start of a new era in chess.
Read the article in full here.

Offerspill Thematic Tournament - Caro-Kann

Sunday is funday, at least in Offerspill. Another thematic tournament was organized on Lichess this week with a familiar group of winners. The opening chosen for this tournament was the solid Caro-Kann.

The starting position for this week's thematic tournament.

Gvein managed to win comfortably even without using the "berserk" function on Lichess - congratulations!

Results are updated regularly on the website of the Offerspill Online League.

Slow and steady wins the race

Flugg ended up on the wrong side of a mating attack in a game against Rabiatic which shows the potential of Caro-Kann. A solid and patient opening that lures White to take risks before striking like a coiled viper at the opportune moment - a nice attack!

Juicy as a watermelon? Maybe not quite, but still a very nice finish by Rabiatic!

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