Playing chess is a great way to see the world

Playing chess is a great way to see the world

Chess is said to boost math skills and logical thinking, but our favorite game may work best as a tool for teaching geography.

With seemingly everyone and their spouse consumed these days with Worldle, the online, guess-the-country spinoff of Wordle, what better way to learn about the world than through the most globe-spanning game of them all? Yes, famous tournaments and championship matches have been played in New York, London and Vienna, but they have also been staged in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Reykjavik, Iceland, and Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania.

When chess aficionados travel to New Orleans, it’s typically not for the jazz or the cuisine, but to visit 417 Royal St., the longtime residence of pioneering American chess superstar Paul Morphy or to lay a flower at Morphy’s grave in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

In our imaginary “Chess Atlas of the World,” Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, currently gets more attention than Moscow, Linares is a bigger deal than either Madrid or Barcelona in Spain, and St. Louis far outshines New York or Los Angeles as America’s premier city.

FIDE officials have just announced that the next world title match between Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and Chinese GM Ding Liren, competing for the throne vacated by abdicating champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, will be held in the new Kazakhstan capital of Astana. And just in the last few editions, the comprehensive “This Week in Chess” has covered tournaments in such places as Paracin (Serbia), Hatkanangale (India), Palmira (Colombia) and Scarborough, a suburb of Perth in western Australia.

Even professional cartographers might have trouble identifying the little Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee, but it’s a place even the casual chess fan will know. In a chess-loving nation, Wijk aan Zee has been the host since the late 1930s for what is one of the strongest annual tournaments in the world, along with a much-followed companion tournament that typically features some of the most promising up-and-coming talent from every corner of the globe.

The 85th edition of what is now called the Tata Steel Masters Tournament in Wijk is only halfway through but has already produced a remarkable event: two consecutive losses over the board by Carlsen, an eight-time winner of the event, the first back-to-back losses for the world champ in tournament play in eight years.

Local hero GM Anish Giri of the Netherlands upset Carlsen in last week’s Round 4, only his second win over the Norwegian in classical chess, the first coming in 2008. Rising Uzbek superstar Nodirbek Abdusattorov followed up with a fine win with Black over the champ a round later in a long, tricky queen-and-pawn ending.

Now that he soon will no longer have a crown to defend, Carlsen appears to have shifted to a more adventurous, not to say risky, brand of chess. He can pull it off against most players, but Giri here proves a different story.

White takes the most enterprising approach to Black’s surprise Queen’s Indian Defense — 11. Qf5!? (Rxd5? Nb4 12. Qc3 Nxd5 13. Qxg7 Bf6 14. Qg4 Qe7 plays into Black’s hands) — Nf6 12. e4 d6 13. e5, and claims a small but clear edge after 16. Re1+ Kf8: Giri’s queenside will develop quickly, the pawn on d6 is an irritant and both Black’s king and king’s rook are awkwardly placed.

The champ makes things worse for himself on 22. Rb1 Nd4?! (trying to eliminate the pesky d-pawn as quickly as possible, but the post-mortem suggested 22…Ne5! was stronger here) 23. b4! Rxd7?! (again, 23…Ne5 24. bxc5 bxc5 25. Kg2 Nxd7 26. Ba3 g6, limiting White’s positional edge, was the way to go) 24. Bd5!, and despite his pawn deficit, White enjoys tremendous pressure.

White’s bishop pair dominate the ensuing play: 26. Ba3 Ke7 (passive defense also falls short on 26…Rc7? 27. Rb8+ Ne8 28. Rxd4! Bxd4 29. Nb5 Rd7 30. Bc6 Ke7 31. Nxd4 Rxd4 32. Bxc5+) 27. Bxc5 Ne6 28. Bb4 a5?! (Bxc3 29. Bxc3 Nf5 was the last realistic chance to defend) 29. Bxa5, and White’s pawn edge and better pieces prove decisive.

Carlsen is known for dogged defense, but here he collapses quickly on 32. Bb4+ Kf6 33. Nc5 Nxc5 34. Rxc4 Rdc7 35. Ba5, and the pin will prove decisive after 35…Rd7 36. Bb6 Bd6 37. Bg2! Ke7 38. Rdc1. Black resigned.

Carlsen bounced back from his two losses with impressive wins over Hungarian GM Richard Rapport and American star GM Fabiano Caruana, but Abdusattorov is setting a blistering pace at 6-2 with four rounds to go, a full point ahead of Giri and U.S. GM Wesley So. We’ll have a full wrap-up of the action next week.


The global appeal of chess means there’s a wealth of great (or at least greatly entertaining) games to pick from every week from every corner of the globe. Case in point — the recent back-and-forth battle between two Bangladeshi experts we stumbled over from last month’s national championship tournament in Dhaka.

In a Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the engines say Black’s ambitious 9. e4 Bxe4? shouldn’t really work, as White has time to build a defense for his flushed-out king. Still, you have to admire the chutzpah behind the move and by 19. Rd1 Rhd8, Black’s army is fully deployed and provides the makings for a real attack.

Things get really fun on 21. Bxg5 Rxg5!? (again the computer gods disapprove, but White looks fine after the tepid 21…Rd7 22. Qc3 c5 23. Kb1 Kb8 24. Qc2 Bxd4 25. Be2) 22. Nxg5 Qd5 23. Nf3 Qxa2 24. Ra1 — now the material deficit is two pawns for a rook, but White still has some holes to patch around his king.

Black’s gumption is rewarded after 26. Qa3 Qg3 27. Qe3?? (looking to stop 27…Qf2+, White walks into an unfortunate pin; several moves win here, including 27. Rd1 Qg6+ 28. Qd3) Rxd4! 28. Re1 (Qg5 Qf2+ 29. Kc1 Na4 30. Qxg7 [Rxa4 Rxa4 31. Nd2 Ra1+ Kc2 Qd4 and wins] Qxb2 mate) Nd5 29. Qg5 Qf2+ (see diagram; White can still hold the draw with 30. Re2; e.g. 30…Rc4+ 31. Kb1 Qc5 32. Re5! Rc2 33. Re2 Rc4 34. Re5 Rc2) 30. Be2??, and now it’s over after 30…Rc4+ 31. Kb1 Nc3+! (Black finds the dagger) 32. bxc3 (Kc2 Ne4+, or 32. Ka1 Ra4 mate) Qb6+ 33. Kc2 Rxc3+, and White resigns not needing to be shown 34. Kd2 Qb2+ 35. Kd1 Qc2 mate.

(Click on the image above for a larger view of the chessboard.)

Giri-Carlsen, 85th Tata Steel Masters, Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, January 2023

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. Qc2 Bb7 6. Bg2 c5 7. d5 exd5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. O-O Be7 10. Rd1 Nc6 11. Qf5 Nf6 12. e4 d6 13. e5 Qd7 14. Qxd7+ Nxd7 15. exd6 Bf6 16. Re1+ Kf8 17. Nc3 Nb4 18. Ne5 Nxe5 19. Bxb7 Rd8 20. Rd1 Nc4 21. d7 Nc2 22. Rb1 Nd4 23. b4 Rxd7 24. Bd5 Nd6 25. bxc5 bxc5 26. Ba3 Ke7 27. Bxc5 Ne6 28. Bb4 a5 29. Bxa5 Rc8 30. Na4 Nc4 31. Rbc1 Be5 32. Bb4+ Kf6 33. Nc5 Nxc5 34. Rxc4 Rdc7 35. Ba5 Black resigns.

Islam-Hasan, 7th Bangahbandhu Championship, Dhaka, Bangladesh, December 2022

1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. Qb3 dxc4 5. Qxc4 Bf5 6. Ne5 e6 7. f3 Nfd7 8. Nxd7 Nxd7 9. e4 Bxe4 10. fxe4 Qh4+ 11. Kd1 Qxe4 12. Nd2 Qg4+ 13. Nf3 O-O-O 14. h3 Qg3 15. Bd2 Nb6 16. Qe2 Rd5 17. Qe4 g5 18. Kc2 Bg7 19. Rd1 Rhd8 20. Qe1 Qd6 21. Bxg5 Rxg5 22. Nxg5 Qd5 23. Nf3 Qxa2 24. Ra1 Qd5 25. Qa5 Qd6 26. Qa3 Qg3 27. Qe3 Rxd4 28. Re1 Nd5 29. Qg5 Qf2+ 30. Be2 Rc4+ 31. Kb1 Nc3+ 32. bxc3 Qb6+ 33. Kc2 Rxc3+ White resigns.

• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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