Freestyle Challenge: Abdusattorov beats Carlsen, wins rapid section

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/10/2024 – Nodirbek Abdusattorov was the top scorer in the rapid stage of the Freestyle G.O.A.T. Challenge in Germany. The Uzbek prodigy was the only player to remain undefeated in the single round-robin, and got to collect four wins in seven rounds, including a fine positional victory over Magnus Carlsen. Vincent Keymer finished second thanks to his great performance on Friday, while Fabiano Caruana climbed to third place after collecting 2½ out of 3 points on the second day of action. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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Beating the G.O.A.T.

Two players got to beat Magnus Carlsen in the all-play-all rapid stage of the Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenge: Gukesh D and Nodirbek Abdusattorov — i.e. the world numbers 2 and 3 in the under-20 ranking. As per Jan Henric Buettner, the man behind the innovative super-tournament, the youngsters defeated the ‘Greatest Of All Time’, since Carlsen’s presence in the event is what justifies having used the G.O.A.T. acronym in the event’s name.

Abdusattorov beat Carlsen in round 7 on his way to claiming first place in the round-robin. The 19-year-old was the only participant to remain undefeated throughout the seven rounds of play. A very “responsible player”, as described by Daniel King in his video analysis (find it below), Abdusattorov often employed his usual positional style to find his way around the ‘freestyle’ positions randomly drawn before each round.

Second place went to former sole leader Vincent Keymer, who scored 1½ out of 3 points on Saturday, as he suffered his only defeat of the event against Alireza Firouzja in round 6.

Fabiano Caruana finished third after collecting 2½ points in the last three rounds of the rapid.

The first two days of rapid-chess action served as a way to arrange the pairings for the main event, a knockout with a classical time control of 90 min/40 moves + 30 minutes for the rest of the game + 30-second increments per move.

In the quarter-finals, Abdusattorov will face an out-of-form Ding Liren, who only scored a half point in the rapid. Curiously, we will see rematches of the Chessable Masters’ Division I and II Grand Finals starting Sunday, with Carlsen facing Firouzja and Keymer facing Aronian (Carlsen and Keymer prevailed in the recently concluded online event).

Dommaraju Gukesh

Gukesh D did not sign a single draw in the seven rounds of rapid — notably, the Indian star did not use engines while studying chess during his childhood, so playing the ‘freestyle’ variant of the game should feel more natural for him! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Bishops on the corners

All three starting positions on Saturday featured bishops sitting side by side either on the a and b-files or on the g and h-files.

Freestyle Chess GOAT Challenge

The setups gave way to three games ending decisively in 26 or fewer moves. Aronian, for example, needed only 18 moves to take down Ding in round 6.

Castling short on move 8 was Ding’s mistake, as accurate play by Aronian led to this position in which 13.Nxg7 forces Black to make major concessions to avert his opponent’s attack.

Ding came from losing five games in a row, though, and instead of the more resilient 13...Ne4, replied by 13...Kxg7, allowing White to break through via 14.g5 e5 15.gxf6+ Kh8 16.Qg3 Nd8 17.Bxe5 (the bishop was targetting the kingside from move 1) Rdf7

Aronian ended the game with the great-looking 18.Qg7+, and there is no defence for Black — e.g. 18...Rxg7 19.fxg7+ Kg8 would be followed by the devastating 20.Bxh7+. Ding resigned.

Video analysis by IM Robert Ris

It was not all tactical fireworks in the final three rounds of the rapid, though, as the more technical players frequently opted for a quieter approach.

In the much-anticipated encounter between leader Abdusattorov and Carlsen, a single questionable decision by the former world champion in the opening allowed the youngster to patiently target a weakness and get a superior endgame.

The idea behind the subtle 19.c3 by White is to make room for the knight to reach b4 via c2, attacking the backward pawn on a6.

The plan worked wonders for Abdusattorov, who nonetheless needed to show good technique to convert the following pawn-up rook endgame into a win — Carlsen, as usual, found ways to ask difficult questions to his opponent at every turn.

Abdusattorov eventually gave up his rook for the black passer on the c-file, as his connected pawns on the kingside turned out to be the heroes of the day.

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.