Chess: Carlsen takes sixth-round lead at Wijk as he chases ranking record | Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen’s campaign to claim a record eighth win at Tata Steel Wijk, the ‘Wimbledon of Chess’, and thus kick off his campaign to break the 2,900 ratings mark he narrowly missed in 2014 and 2019, was back on track after Friday’s sixth round despite a slow start to the No. 1 in the elite tournament.

The world champion used his favorite Catalan opening to demolish Hungarian Richard Rapport in 31 moves. The 31-year-old Norwegian had been too variable in his previous matches, missing out on a clean win in one and allowing a tailender a strong chance in another.

Carlsen recently announced that his main goal this year will be another attempt to reach an all-time high rating of 2900. He reached 2882 in 2014 and 2019 on Fide’s official monthly rating lists, and peaked at 2889 in the unofficial daily notes.

He also strongly hinted that he will only defend his crown of world champion in 2023 if his opponent is Alireza Firouzja, 18, the former world No. 2 Iranian who now represents France, or another from the younger generation.

Carlsen started Wijk by drawing with Andrey Esipenko, the 19-year-old Russian who beat him at Wijk 2021, after missing a chance for a strong center pawn push. The second round was a great victory against world number 7, Anish Giri.

A draw against Polish World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda was followed by a crazy game against Jorden van Foreest, the Dutchman who won Wijk 2021 and then joined Carlsen’s squad for the game for the world title in Dubai. Carlsen missed an unlikely win in complications where the hidden winning maneuver was Kf1-e2-d1.

Thursday’s fifth round against tournament leader Nils Grandelius could have been a real disaster. Carlsen offered a pawn in a pointed position by 19…d5? but it would have been two pawns for little compensation if the Swede had found 20 Bxb5+ Kf8 and now 21 Qb4+! Kg8 22 Qb3! when the d5 pawn is pinned and lost.

When Carlsen hit a 2,882 rating in 2014 and 2019, there were fewer quick and blitz events, and few serious online games, to distract him. Now, that has all changed and Carlsen will defend his $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Tour crown in a series of nine tournaments starting February 19. The Tour format has been revamped, with fast-track one-day matches instead of two and the introduction of three points for a win, one point for a draw.

The top three in Wijk heading into Saturday’s seventh round (1pm start) are India’s No. 2 Vidit Gujrathi, Carlsen, and Azerbaijan’s World No. 5, Shak Mamedyarov, all in 4/6. The trio have yet to play amongst themselves. Carlsen’s seventh-round opponent will be the tournament’s youngest competitor, 16-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. The Indian teenager has proven a tough opponent and is seen as a potential top-10 grandmaster.

Mamedyarov caused a sensation by opening against Esipenko with 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g4?! The Russian teenager refused the pawn after a long thought, and the game was finally drawn. Judging by online expert reviews, if this pawn is offered in a future game, it will be picked up without hesitation.

Mamedyarov was also involved in an unusual finish against Duda where White (to move) is knighted in front but Black’s h2-pawn is threatening and he threatens Rf5-h5. However, after White’s next hit, Duda quit. What happened? The answer is next to the puzzle solution.

3799: 1…Bxe4! 2 Rxe4 Ra8! wins as Black threatens Qxe4, Nxe4 and Ra1+. The game ended 3 h4 Qxe4 4 Qxe4 Nxe4 5 Be3 Ra2 6 g5 Rxb2 and white gave up two pawns. If 3 Bxf6 Ra1+ 4 Ne1 Rxe1+! and Qxf3. Mamedyarov against Duda: 1 KB! Resign. If Rf5 2 Rc3+ Kg2 3 Rc2+ wins the h2 pawn and the game.

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