March 7, 2021

Suitors knock on Magnus Carlsen’s door

Madrid, Feb 1 (EFE) .- The sixth place of the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen in the Wijk aan Zee tournament (Netherlands), which ended this Sunday with the victory of the Dutchman Jorden Van Foreest, fueled the debate on the apparent decline of the champion World Cup, who this year, turned thirty, will have to defend his crown.

Van Foreest is the oldest, and that is only 21 years old, of the trio of young people classified in the top five of the most prestigious tournament in the world since the disappearance of Linares, where Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Kárpov wrote glorious pages.

Carlsen, who holds the record for titles at Wijk aan Zee with seven, has set his worst performance since 2009: 7.5 points out of 13 possible, three wins and one loss, this one against one of the cubs, Russian Andrey Esipenko, from 18 years old, third classified.

His sad passage through the Dutch city has cost the Norwegian 15 points in the world ranking. If it were not for the number two, the American Fabiano Caruana -champion in 2020-, has not had an excellent performance either (fourth with 8 points), his number one would be in danger.

The world champion has not shied away from self-criticism: “I would have liked to play better. My performance has touched the edge of shame. Very, very bad.”

However, he then sent an unequivocal message, in line with his combative nature: “But I don’t think this will affect my future chances or the world title match.”

The good news for Carlsen is that he closed the tournament convincingly beating the French Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, precisely the player who leads (tied with the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi) the Candidates tournament from which he will leave, once it resumes in April, his adversary at the Dubai World Cup in November.

Vachier-Lagrave has done even worse in the Netherlands: second to last with 5 points, four losses and a single win. It has left 26 points in the world ranking and leaves the top-10 of the list, falling to the fifteenth place.

With a view to the Candidates Tournament, suspended last March in Yekaterinburg (Russia) due to the pandemic when it had reached its halfway point, a failure in Wijk aan Zee is not decisive either. Carlsen recalls that Caruana completely dominated the challengers tournament in 2018 after a poor performance in the Netherlands.

None of the three fashionable youngsters intervenes in the Candidates Tournament. Should he retain his crown in November, Carlsen would only have to face them in the next defense, if any of them are able to overcome the great sieve of the cycle that selects the challenger of the world champion.

Van Foreest started the Wijk aan Zee tournament eleventh, ranked out of fourteen, and ended up winning it in a great game against the Swede Nils Grandelius. “Playing as a child in the amateur section I dreamed of playing here against the best in the world, but not even in my wildest dreams did I contemplate winning the tournament one day,” he said.

Four wins and nine draws marked his career to the title. For the first time in his career, he surpasses the 2,700-point barrier and rises from 66th to 37th place in the world ranking.

The other two Grand Masters of the new wave are much younger: Esipenko (third) is 18 years old and Iranian Alireza Firouzja (fifth), one less.

The Russian, world No. 59, whose performance slipped a bit in the second half of the tournament, had at least the satisfaction of emerging victorious from his first meeting with the No. 1 in the last ten years. His only defeat was against Aryan Tari, friend and compatriot of the world champion.

The draw paired Firouzja, who plays under the FIDE flag and resides in France due to disagreements with the Iranian regime, with Magnus Carlsen in the first round, and the Norwegian took advantage of the nervousness of his teenage rival to inflict his only defeat.

Carlsen himself points to Firouzja as a serious contender for the world title in the near future. The Iranian has already beaten him at lightning or bullet rates (less than 5 minutes per side on the clock). In Wijk aan Zee, once he recovered from the inaugural setback, he has also been an excellent strategist.

Since he has turned 30, Carlsen has had as many losses as he has victories. On the same past November 30, American Wesley So made his birthday bitter by defeating him in the final of the Skilling Open online. Kasparov retained his crown until he was 37, but the Russian was more focused on chess. EFE

jad / nam


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