April 16, 2024

Magnus Carlsen wins Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge

“It feels awesome to win the event,” said Magnus Carlsen after clinching the inaugural Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge on Friday after beating Fabiano Caruana in the second game of the final. Carlsen will take home the $60,000 first prize, whereas Caruana earned $40,000.

The 2024 Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge, an over-the-board Chess960 classical tournament took place from February 9-16 in Weissenhaus, Germany. The competition consisted of a round-robin rapid that determined the pairings of the main event, a single-elimination bracket played with classical time control.

Magnus Carlsen was the only player in Weissenhaus who had to defeat eight challengers, as Jan Henric Buettner noted at the prize-giving ceremony: seven grandmasters and himself. As the G.O.A.T. in the tournament of his choice, Carlsen was under more pressure than anyone else right from the start. He stood up to it.

In the semi-final Magnus Carlsen went 1.g2-g4 and consequently wrote “Grob” on his scoresheet. In the second game of the final against Fabiano Caruana (the first one was drawn) he again opened with g2-g4 – and wrote “Polish”. That was difficult to understand.

A deeper look at the starting position reveals the explanation. What is called the “kingside” in traditional chess and still has no name in the 960 (“g-side”, says Carlsen), Carlsen tended to locate on the left side of the board, i.e. on the c-side. That’s why g2-g4 seemed to him like b2-b4 – Polish.

With Carlsen accurately writing “Polish Opening”, he avoid confusion with the “Polish Defense” (1…b7-b5). However, for 1.b2-b4, “Polish” is more of a third name after the more common “Orangutan” and “Sokolsky”.

Regardless of the opening, Carlsen had the white pieces, and that’s huge in 960 with its high number of decided games compared to chess1. Already before the quarterfinals Carlsen had said that he thought it was a great advantage to start a match with White. His results reflect why he might be right: three white games, three wins.

Asked by Fiona Steil-Antoni about his favorite game of the tournament, he named the final one against Caruana: “It won me the tournament, and it was also fairly good.” Carlsen was not completely satisfied with his chess overall: “Sometimes I played too impulsively.” Nevertheless, he often managed to penetrate deep into the unfamiliar position and capture its essence, he said.

This may also apply to the second game against Caruana, in which the challenger soon had his back to the wall. “A miniature” was what Peter Leko feared in the opening. At times it looked as if Caruana would stabilize, but in the end, he was outplayed quite comfortably.

Levon Aronian won the fight for third place and $30,000 thanks to a convincing win with the white pieces against Nodirbek Abdusattorov ($20,000). Alireza Firouzja secured fifth place ($15,000) and qualification for the 2025 edition (alongside the top four) by drawing with Gukesh Dommaraju ($12,000) while Vincent Keymer ($10,000) also won his second game vs. Ding Liren ($8,000) to finish in seventh place.

Final standings:

By Conrad Schormann and Peter Doggers

Photos: Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge official website

Official website: freestyle-chess.com/