Magnus Carlsen is closing in on another victory this weekend as Norway’s world champion leads at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee by half a point with three rounds to go. The 31-year-old has previously won the “chess Wimbledon” seven times.

Carlsen, 31, began slowly, but was at his best in the middle rounds, especially while using his active rooks to defeat the world No7 Shak Mamedyarov when the pair were tied for the lead. The No1 attributed his strong form to using prep left over from his world title defence in Dubai last month. 

However, even these impressive results have shown what a difficult enterprise Carlsen set himself when he stated that his next chess ambition was to set an all-time record rating of 2900. He began Wijk rated at 2865, scored an unbeaten 7/10 with three rounds to go, while his rating advanced to . . . 2866.

Anish Giri is only half a point behind Carlsen after two lucky moments for the Dutchman. First, Fabiano Caruana blundered in a winning position, then Danill Dubov defaulted his round seven game. One of the Russian’s aides caught Covid, so the organisers asked Dubov to wear a mask pending his test result, but he refused on principle because it was not specifically stated in his contract. The test proved negative. 

Wijk’s final three rounds can be viewed free and live online (1pm GMT start Friday and Saturday, 11 am Sunday). For this event I recommend watching on, which has close-ups from the playing hall.

The annual Gibraltar Open is one of Europe’s strongest and most popular events, but due to Covid and a change of venue its format has been changed for 2022. Gibraltar organisers have introduced the novel idea of a Battle of the Sexes between 10-player teams of men and women, equally matched in terms of average age and Fide international rating.

Both teams average around 2400, international master standard. The men include Joe Gallagher, a former British champion who now represents Switzerland, and Ravi Haria, the rising star of English chess, but some of their colleagues are less well known. The women almost all rank in the world top 50, and include two former world champions. Yet from the two powerhouses of women’s chess there are no Chinese players and only one Russian.

The prize money is £100,000, to be split 75-25 rather than the 60-40 which is normal in the world championship. It will probably be a lifetime’s best chess payday for a few of the lesser known participants, so a highly competitive match is assured. There was a shock at the start when the women’s team won rounds one and two (of 10) by a wide 6.5-3.5 margin, but then the men’s team struck back in round three with a 7-3 score, despite having the black pieces in every game.

Round one in action here on flickr.

Levon Aronian v Loek van Wely, Tata Steel Wijk 2014. Puzzle-find Black’s winning move. Black is two pawns down, while White’s queen and rook are angling for Qg8 mate, but Aronian failed to notice a hidden tactic. 

Click here for solution

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