Learning From the Classics: Takeaways from First Casablanca Variant Tournament in Morocco

We often are told of ways the chess of today's great players differs from their predecessors. With superior defensive technique, opening knowledge, and an understanding of strategy and material informed by modern computers, today's players sometimes appear to be playing a game that would be unrecognizable even a few years ago. 


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Carlsen mobbed by fans in Morocco (Photo courtesy FIDE/Lennart Ootes)


With this premise, the Casablanca Chess Tournament, as part of Morocco Chess Week 2024, asked what would happen if top grandmasters were asked to play out famous positions from historical games. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that GM Magnus Carlsen will still have the best odds against the field. Indeed, Carlsen took clear first with an undefeated 4½/6 score.


Carlsen Naka
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Photo courtesy FIDE/Lennart Ootes


Each round began with viewers or commentators choosing one of three pre-selected positions, and both games continued from there. The format was a Double Round Robin featuring six games of rapid chess over the course of two days. Carlsen was joined by American GM Hikaru Nakamura, Indian GM Vishwanathan Anand, and Egyptian GM Bassem Amin. The players were each chosen as the "best from their respective continents."

The tournament begun on an exciting note, with Nakamura and Carlsen both enjoying the white side of an Evans Gambit game from 1889! Interestingly, the players took different paths right from the first move.




The next highlight had to be Nakamura's Keres Attack against Carlsen in the last game of the first day. Carlsen showed excellent understanding of the Sicilian. Will we be seeing more Scheveningens in the future?



Another highlight, however, had nothing to do with the opening. Sometimes, rapid chess is enough of a variant in and of itself. Enjoy the maze of variations both players missed in severe time trouble:



See FIDE's coverage for a full report on which games were chosen for each round here and here.