Carlsen suffers ‘awful’ start as FTX Crypto Cup kicks off

Drama as World Champion Magnus Carlsen struggles and Levon Aronian suffers power cut
Magnus Carlsen

A new era in elite online chess started today as the FTX Crypto Cup launched the world’s first bitcoin chess tournament.

Dutch No. 1 Anish Giri finished Day 1 unbeaten and clear on top of the round-robin leaderboard after three wins and two draws.

Heading into Day 2 the US pair Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So and France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are half a point behind.

The FTX Crypto Cup is the sixth leg and final “Major” tournament of the 2021 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season.

The event has an innovative prize fund that includes $220,000 in cash and 2.18 bitcoin that fluctuates in value.

Aronian playing in the dark

The opening five rounds were full of drama as World Champion Magnus Carlsen faced his next title challenger and the Armenian Levon Aronian suffered the unfortunate distraction of a power cut.

Aronian was playing from his country’s capital Yerevan where a storm appears to have knocked out the power. It meant he had to play in darkness and hope his laptop battery wouldn’t run out.

In an engrossing game against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi – the man Carlsen will defend his title against – Aronian hung on despite the extra worry.

It ended in a draw after 1 hour and 4 minutes. Aronian’s power did eventually get restored but he still slumped to 2/5.

Meanwhile, Carlsen’s Round 2 game against new challenger “Nepo” had been eagerly-awaited by chess fans.

It was the first time the rivals had met since Nepo won the right to take on Carlsen in November’s world title match. Would we see an opening salvo?

Carlsen said beforehand that he hadn’t started preparing for his world title defence so he would “just treat it like a normal game”. Clearly, the mind games have started.

In the game, Nepo blundered badly but recovered to salvage a draw. It was honours even.

Carlsen’s FTX campaign had started perfectly with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov – but it was a see-saw game that could have either way. The day ended with Carlsen saying he’d played “awful” chess.

The Norwegian had a quick draw against Wesley So in Round 3 before he crashed to defeat against Vachier-Lagrave, who finished joint second.

The champ then drew his final game against the Argentinian underdog Alan Pichot to finish a lowly ninth on the leaderboard.

Carlsen in the bottom half of the table is certainly an unfamiliar sight but he isn’t known as a quick starter and has 10 more games to lift himself into the knockout stages.

Carlsen said: “To look on the bright side, I am a little bit on the fortunate side to have the score that I have. But in terms of quality of play, it obviously has to improve.”

The world number 2 Fabiano Caruana, making his Tour debut, also had a slow start finishing level with Carlsen on 2.5.

Caruana admitted afterwards that he hadn’t played an online game for eight months.

The FTX Crypto Cup continues tomorrow with the second of three prelim stage days. On Day 3, eight will make the cut and go through to the knockouts.