Freestyle Challenge: Keymer leads, Ding struggles

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/10/2024 – The first day of the preliminary rapid stage in the Freestyle G.O.A.T. Challenge saw Vincent Keymer emerging as sole leader with 3½/4 points. To reach this score, the German star defeated Ding Liren, Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian, while his one draw was signed in his game against Magnus Carlsen. Gukesh D and Nodirbek Abdusattorov are sharing second place a half point back.

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Three youngsters excel

Out of the eight players participating in the innovative Freestyle G.O.A.T. Challenge, four were born between 2003 and 2006, and four were born between 1982 and 1992. On the first day of rapid chess action, the younger group had three of its representatives emerging atop the standings, with Vincent Keymer as the sole leader with 3½ points, followed by Gukesh D and Nodirbek Abdusattorov sharing second place a half point behind.

Alireza Firoujza is sharing fourth place with Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, all with 2 points, while Levon Aronian (½ point) and world champion Ding Liren (0 points) had the worst starts in the preliminary rapid stage.

The single round-robin with a time control of 25 minutes for the game plus 10-second increments per move serves as a way to set up the pairings for the main event, the knockout with a classical time control, so the likes of Aronian and Ding can very much bounce back from their disappointing start.

What we found out after the glamorous opening ceremony — besides getting to see the players wearing fashionable jackets designed by Frank Rudolf — is that the participants get 10 minutes before each round to discuss the potential ideas in the randomly drawn ‘freestyle’ position they are about to discuss over the board.

The ChessBase India team made their way to the event and shared a video of the preparation before round 3 — when position 292 was drawn. Remarkably, Ding sat silently by himself while Firouzja stayed resting in his room.

Three more rounds of rapid, freestyle chess remain to be played on Saturday, with the marquee matchup between Ding and Carlsen set to take place in round 5, the first of the day.

Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Amruta Mokal

As expected, strange opportunities emerged in the freestyle positions. In round 1, for example, Caruana could have played a (correct) bishop sacrifice as early as on move 3.

Engines here evaluate 3...Bxg2 as completely equal, with a lively game likely to take place after 4.Kxg2 Qg6+ 5.Kf3 Qg4+ 6.Ke3+ Qe4+

Black’s queen will grab the knight on b1 next, recovering the sacrificed piece, though he will be underdeveloped compared to his opponent.

None of this appeared on the board, though, as Caruana went for 3...e6 in the first diagrammed position. Caruana would go on to inflict a first loss on an out-of-form world champion, who blundered his bishop in an inferior yet playable endgame.

Unlike Caruana, Abdusattorov did find the ...Bxg2 idea — on move 7, facing Aronian.

7...Bxg2 8.Kxg2 Qg6+ 9.Kh3 followed, and Black had a slight edge.

Aronian eventually found shelter for his king on the queenside, and even got an edge. However, the 40-year-old faltered in an endgame in which his extra rook was trying to deal with his opponent’s connected passers.

Black managed to escape with a half point from this position thanks to his central pawns being so far advanced.

After this draw, Abdusattorov went on to beat Ding and Firouzja, while Aronian lost his next three rapid encounters.

Keymer was surely inspired on the first day of action. After safely holding Carlsen to a draw with the black pieces, he defeated Aronian, Ding and Caruana in consecutive games.

In round 3, he obtained a 31-move victory over Ding. The initial setup allowed Keymer to castle on the first move, in a game that was analysed by Perlen vom Bodensee for the tournament’s official website.

Video analysis by IM Robert Ris

Video analysis by GM Daniel King

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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