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Carlsen Reignites Kasparov's Sicilian To Take Lead
Another variant, another Carlsen lead. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen Reignites Kasparov's Sicilian To Take Lead

NM_Vanessa
| 41 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen gained a full-point lead at Casablanca Chess 2024 on day one. Combining his knowledge of chess history and his enjoyment of venturing beyond modern opening theory, Carlsen scored 2.5/3, defeating his longtime rivals GMs Viswanathan Anand and Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura is in clear second due to his convincing victory vs. GM Bassem Amin in the Evans Gambit. Anand and Amin share a tie for third.

The tournament concludes on Sunday, May 19, starting at 2:15 p.m. ET / 8:15 p.m. CEST / 11:45 p.m. IST. 

Standings - Day 1

The beauty of variants is they take the chess pieces we all know and love on a ride into another world―this time on a trip into the epic moments from chess history. In the new variant, Casablanca Chess, modern grandmasters are thrown into middlegames from clashes of the past to duke it out in a rapid time control.

While celebrating the fascinating history of chess, this is also a fresh way to ask the question: How do players fare without modern opening theory?

The event is also uniquely interactive―in different rounds, the starting positions are chosen by the commentators, by the players themselves, and even by the audience. Learn more about the format in the video below. 

Casablanca Chess is the centerpiece of the Morocco Chess Week, a festival showcasing chess through a variety of events in Casablanca, Morocco. 


Round 1: Carlsen, Nakamura Bloodthirsty in the Evans Gambit

In round one―by choice of commentators GMs Daniel Naroditsky and Jan Gustafsson―the players traveled back to the Romantic era into a duel between the first world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, and one of his major rivals, Mikhail Chigorin

The starting position dives into the heart of their rivalry. Chigorin thrived on gambit play while Steinitz was the father of positional chess, eager to show the value of an extra pawn. The Evans Gambit was the perfect battleground for their contrasting styles.

How would the universal styles of the modern grandmasters fare unearthing this swashbuckling gambit from the past?

Round 1 Starting Position

Carlsen, known for an extraordinary memory for historical games, was familiar with the position, later sharing: “I was just thinking this smells of Steinitz to high heaven.”

I was just thinking this smells of Steinitz to high heaven.

―Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen delighted as he sees the choice of position. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

On the black side, Anand struggled to get his footing. Unsettled by the starting position of his pieces, his queenside forces found themselves jumbled into each other, and Carlsen soon spotted a winning tactical idea. Can you find it in the puzzle below?

White to move.

Another edition of Anand vs. Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

As Black, Amin was also unable to fix his queenside development issues. With brutal sacrifice-laden play, Nakamura sliced through on the kingside while Black's forces watched from their starting squares and scattered posts. Nakamura explained his thinking: "With White, I know I have to go all-in here because if Black can get let's say ...b6 and ...Bb7, Black is much better, if not winning."

Chiming in from the peanut gallery, GM Fabiano Caruana shared his thoughts on his rivals' victories.

Yet, historically, it was Steinitz as Black who prevailed. The father of positional play untangled his pieces to complete his queenside development and then took over the game. 

Round 2: When the Past and Present Align

In round two, the players voted amongst themselves to choose the initial position. They chose to venture to a Sicilian between the seventh women's world champion, GM Xie Jun, and one of her rivals, GM Alisa Galliamova. Xie was the first player from Asia to become women's world champion, beginning the rise of China as a formidable force in elite chess. In the 1999 match, Xie regained her title for a second reign. 

Round 2 Starting Position


Taking on Xie's side as Black, Carlsen achieved the thematic d5-center break early in the middlegame. While this maintained equality, much of the dynamics of the position was traded away. Yet, Carlsen still stirred up some excitement in the resulting endgame.

An eager spectator finds a close-up view of the action. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After the same d5-pawn break, Anand and Nakamura's game simplified and remained balanced throughout. Afterwards, Anand shared: "I didn't see a plan. I don't know why position two was in there... It's not a very exciting position for White."

The historic game matched up with the players' modern approach. Xie achieved the d5-break, and the players traded into a level ending and eventually drew. 

Round 3: Carlsen Reignites Kasparov's Sicilian

Round three featured another battle in the saga between Carlsen and Nakamura. The excitement of the matchup was enhanced by the choice of position. The players found themselves in the midst of another clash of titans, GM Anatoly Karpov vs. GM Garry Kasparov in 1985―the match that began Kasparov's reign as world champion. 

Round 3 Starting Position

Taking Kasparov's side with the black pieces, Carlsen deviated from his predecessor with the risky decision to recapture with his king in the center in a double-edged middlegame. 

Carlsen revealed after the game: “I wasn’t interested in a draw." His ambitious approach ultimately paid off. Nakamura chose an inaccurate plan, and Carlsen gained the advantage with creative play. White's overexpanded position began to crumble, and Carlsen capitalized, ripping open the center to ensure the demise of the enemy king.

Enjoy analysis of our Game of the Day by GM Rafael Leitao below.

Unsurprisingly, Carlsen was familiar with the position and the pivotal match it arose from:

I was pretty lucky with the starting position that we got... This looked like one of the games from the second match where Garry was trying to play these systems, and it seemed like a pretty nice one for Black from the beginning.

He also shared his feelings on the event so far: "I don't get many chances to play Evans Gambits... It's super fun to be able to play some positions that I don't normally play."

 It's super fun to be able to play some positions that I don't normally play.

―Magnus Carlsen

Nakamura shared his own reflections about the game on his YouTube Channel:

Already from the get-go, I'm feeling a little uncomfortable because I don't like these positions from the white side. I try to avoid them if I can... To make matters worse, I'm playing against Magnus Carlsen―who pretty much loves every position you can get.

To make matters worse, I'm playing against Magnus Carlsen―who pretty much loves every position you can get.

―Hikaru Nakamura

Contrastingly, Anand played pragmatically as Black, leading to an early repetition. The original Karpov vs. Kasparov game also ended in a draw, though it was a lively fight between the giants.

On day two, the players will face each other all over again with three fresh historical positions to explore. 

How to watch?
You can watch Casablanca Chess 2024 on Chess.com/TV. You can also enjoy the show on Twitch and catch live broadcasts on YouTube. Games from the event can be viewed on our events page.

The live broadcast was hosted by GMs Daniel Naroditsky and Jan Gustafsson.


Casablanca Chess is an event where four star players play out well-known chess positions in a series of rapid games. The four invited players compete in a double round-robin with a 15+10 time control. Each round is played with a different starting position based on well-known chess games, totaling six different positions. Positions one, two, four, and five are pre-selected by the organizers, while positions three and six are determined by spectators' votes. 

NM_Vanessa
NM Vanessa West

Vanessa West is a National Master, a chess teacher, and a writer for Chess.com. In 2017, they won the Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow them on X: Vanessa__West

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