Magnus Carlsen has been hit by a recent bout of Covid, and the world champion, 31, complained of its effects when he lost four games out of 15 at the online Airthings Masters this week. His symptoms were akin to brain fog: “I lacked energy, which made it hard to focus, and when I tried to think I blundered.”

The Norwegian is playing in the first event of the $1.6m Meltwater Champions Tour, the most important online competition for the grandmaster elite. Carlsen still managed to reach Thursday’s semi-finals, but so did three Russians led by Ian Nepomniachtchi, now recovered from his match defeat by Carlsen in Dubai.

Two of Carsen’s defeats were against teenagers, adding to his earlier losses against under-20s in the past year.

The semi-finals and final take place this week from Thursday to Saturday (5 pm start), with the No1 hoping that his health and results will improve. Commentaries by England’s David Howell and Jovanka Houska are free to view on

Carlsen’s winning attack here against the Sicilian Dragon followed a formula advocated by Bobby Fischer against this popular defence: open up the h file, sac pieces if needed, expose the black king, then checkmate.

The biennial 150-nation Fide chess Olympiad, scheduled for Moscow in July-August this year, will be in doubt following events in Ukraine. Fide’s president Arkady Dvorkovich is Russian and a former government minister, so is personally in a difficult position. In normal circumstances the US would be gold medal favourites, with Russia and China the likely challengers. Due to Covid, there has not been an Olympiad since 2018, when China won both the open and the women’s titles in Batumi, Georgia.

Some posts on the English Chess Forum are already calling for a boycott.

It would not be the first Olympiad to be dislocated by combat. When World War Two broke out in the middle of the 1939 event at Buenos Aires, the English team withdrew from the finals. Three of them became Bletchley codebreakers. Germany beat Poland by half a point for the gold medals after their match was declared a 2-2 draw without play.

Puzzle 2458

White mates in three moves (by Sam Loyd). Black’s 16-man army is reduced to a solitary king, and there is just a single line of play, but a website presented this puzzle with the challenging comment “You’ll never guess the key first move!”.

Click here for solutions

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