Magnus Carlsen plans an early strike as the $2m, 14-game world title match in Dubai gets under way this weekend with games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Play starts at 12.30 GMT, and can be followed live and free on the internet with grandmaster and computer commentaries.

Carlsen is on his fifth match since 2013, while it is the first for his Russian opponent Ian Nepomniachtchi. Debut challengers can freeze at the start, as in Tigran Petrosian’s collapse in game one against Mikhail Botvinnik in 1963, and Bobby Fischer’s capture of Boris Spassky’s poisoned pawn in 1972, while Fabiano Caruana should have lost the first game in 2018.

“As a reigning champion, you have a good chance to strike at the start. That’s definitely something I’m going to try”. Carlsen added that he regarded the Muscovite as a “wildcard” compared with Caruana or China’s Ding Liren, and a player who is vulnerable after setbacks.

The champion remains a prohibitive 1-4 on in the betting, and I expect him to win by two or three points. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince of chess, 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja, surged last weekend at the European teams in Slovenia.

Making his debut for France, Firouzja totalled 8/9, won individual gold and team silver medals, jumped to world No2 ahead of Ding and Caruana, and became the youngest ever to reach a 2800 rating, breaking Carlsen’s age record by six months. His best game ended with a queen sacrifice.

England’s teams disappointed, but there was an exception in the fine performance of Gawain Jones. The Yorkshireman, 34, won the board three silver medal with 5.5/7, repeating his result from the 2019 world teams.


Hou Yifan v James Jackson, Isle of Man 2016. White to move and win. The current No 1 and all-time No2 woman sacrificed a knight for this position. How did she break Black’s defensive wall?

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