Two chess players in white and blue shirts debate over a chess board
Former world champion Vishy Anand, representing Asia, and world No1 Magnus Carlsen, representing Europe, in Morocco © Lennart Ootes

The innovative Casablanca format, where today’s best players tested their skills on historic games from the past, produced interesting results on its debut in Morocco last weekend.

The event, backed by the Casablanca Stock Exchange, had four participants, each representing a continent: world No1 Magnus Carlsen (Europe), former world champion Vishy Anand (Asia), world No 3 Hikaru Nakamura (America) and Africa’s best player Bassem Amin of Egypt.

Four positions were chosen by experts, two by the audience. Carlsen is very familiar with chess history, and correctly identified the Steinitz v Chigorin match of 1889, the only world title series featuring the lively Evans Gambit, and Kasparov v Karpov in 1985. That knowledge helped him score against Anand in the miniature below.

It was also significant that Carlsen chose a king rather than a queen recapture on e7 in his version of the 1985 K v K game. One of the finesses in strategy which has developed this century along with sophisticated computer assessments is that there are many more positions where it is now considered safe to leave your king in the centre for a long period rather than commit to castling on the flank.

Carlsen consolidated his lead on the second day and won the event with 4.5/6, ahead of Nakamura 3.5, Anand 3, and Amin 1. The 33-year-old has been in fine form in recent months, and this was his eighth victory in his last nine major tournaments.

Next Monday, May 27, Carlsen starts the annual Norway tournament at Stavanger. His rivals there include Nakamura, China’s world champion Ding Liren, and the young talents Alireza Firouzja and Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu.

Magnus Carlsen v Vishy Anand, Casablanca 2024

Evans Gambit

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 b4 Bxb4 5 c3 Ba5 6 0-0 Qf6 7 d4 Nge7 8 Bg5 Qd6 9 Qb3 0-0 10 Rd1 Bb6 

11 Na3!   Carlsen’s choice, and already an improvement on the 11 dxe5 of Tchigorin v Steinitz, Havana 1889.

11 . . . Na5 12 Qa4 Nec6 13 dxe5 Qc5?? Anand is on unfamiliar territory, and reacts badly to the novel position. Instead 13...Qg6! 14 Bf4 Nxc4 is equal.

14 Rd5! A new variation on the theme of trapping the black queen which ventures prematurely into the white position. Normally it occurs after Qxb2, but the queen snare here is just as effective.

14....Qxf2+ 15 Kh1 Qb2 16 Rb1 The black queen cannot escape. If now 16 . . . Qf2 17 Rf1 Qb2 18 Rb5.

16 . . . Qxa3 17 Qxa3 Nxc4 18 Qa4 Ne3 19 Rxb6 Nxd5 20 Rxc6! Resigns. After 20 . . . dxc6 21 exd5 cxd5 22 Be7! White, already a knight ahead, gains more material.

Chess and Casablanca already have a connection through the chess scenes in Humphrey Bogart’s famous 1943 film.  Bogart had a lifelong interest in chess, and was a parks hustler before his acting career took off. In one of his few published games, against the blindfold champion George Koltanowski, he missed a forced draw by 28...Re2.

Puzzle 2573

Amin Tabatabaei v Pranav Venkatesh, Sharjah Open 2024. White to move and win.

Click here for solution

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