Banter Series Day 1: The first four winners

The first day of the chess24 Banter Series featured everything we were hoping for: exciting as well as one-sided matches, instructive endgames and adventurous combinations, overly optimistic and very funny live commentary and, above all, a lot of entertainment. Let’s take a look at some of the key moments.

You can replay all the games here:

Alan Pichot – Erwin l’Ami, 4½:2½

In the first game, a Scotch opening, l’Ami admitted after a few moves that he was already out of book. After a few exchanges he had doubled pawns on the c-file, which turned out to be very weak. Pichot won one of the pawns, exchanged the rest of the pieces and, in the final position, Black was one pawn down and the king was trapped on the h-file. 1-0 for Pichot.

In the second game l’Ami had White, but accidentally played 1.d3, and when he tried to show that he meant d4, this click on the board was upgraded to an actual move. Now being a tempo down he had “Black”. Nevertheless, the position was okay until 14.b3?!

14…b4! 15.Na4 Ne5! White had to take the black queen, because the rook on d1 was hanging. 16.Rxd8 Raxd8 was threatening mate with 17…Rd1#, hence 17.Bb2 Nxf3+. More than just a material sacrifice; the whole white position was falling apart now. 2-0

In the third game l’Ami finally played his Caro-Kann, leading to a completely winning endgame for Black. The last critical moment was 58.Rh8??

58…Kg7! would have prevented any counterplay with the rook, but in time trouble l’Ami played 58…Kg5?? A few moves later Pichot gave his rook for one pawn and took the other one with his king. 2½-½

In the fourth game, a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Vienna Variation, l’Ami again got a completely winning position. Completely? After 59…Kc6??

…the simple 60.b5+ would have won the game. 60…Kc5 61.b6, and the pawns are unstoppable. But 60.Bxg4?? allowed 60…Bc4, preventing b5, and the game ended in a draw. 3-1

In the fifth game we again saw l’Ami’s Caro-Kann, but this time Pichot played very accurately and, after a devastating attack on the kingside, Black had to throw in the towel. 4-1

The sixth game started like the fourth, but finally ended with a win for l’Ami, who managed to get two extra pawns and convert the position. 4-2

Pichot just needed a draw now, and that’s what he got in the seventh and last game. He even had a winning position, but traded off too much material, and in the end we saw opposite-colored bishops, 4 to 3 pawns and the draw that ended the match.

Alexander Donchenko – Alexander Fier, 4½-½

After a draw by repetition in Game 1, Donchenko, whose live commentary was maybe even more entertaining than the chess, won four games in a row and with that the whole match. Notable is the third game, a miniature that ended in mate after 16 moves:

15.Nxc8 Qc7?? 16.Bf8#!

Donchenko was surprised by the fast match win. Fier is surely not a lightweight player and we all expected a much harder fight.

Nihal Sarin – Laurent Fressinet, 5-3

This was definitely the most exciting match of the day. The first game looked like a dead draw until Fressinet played 30.Nd4?

30…Nxd4 31.exd4 Bb5! 32.Bxb5 axb5, and now the black king is faster to the d-pawn. That was already enough to win the game! 1-0 to Nihal.

The second game also ended with just kings and pawns, but in a draw. 1½-½

In the third game Sarin missed that his 13…e5?…

…could be answered with 14.b5! The knight was lost and with that soon the entire game. 1½-1½

Game 4 was just a smooth win for Sarin. Fressinet gave up an exchange without any compensation, allowing Sarin to enter on the back rank with rook and queen and give mate on move 44. 2½-1½

We saw a similar motif in Game 5, but this time it was Sarin who gave up an exchange for a passed pawn. It didn’t work out. This game too ended on move 44, but it was Fressinet who could give mate on the next move. 2½-2½

The next game ended after 26 moves in a move repetition. 3-3

Up to now the match was wild, but the score was still equal. In the seventh game, however, we had an endgame on move 40 with just pawns and kings. Fressinet was even one pawn up. And then the 16-year-old Indian showed some endgame technique, equalized the pawns to 3:3 and… gave his advantage away:

After 66.Rg6+ Sarin should just have advanced his king, like L’Ami should have done in his third game. The black pawns would have been unstoppable. 66…Kh3?, however, gave Fressinet a chance to equalize. The black king was trapped on the h-file, and the f-pawn alone wouldn’t have been able to break through. The white rook could just move up and down along the g-file, and that would have been a dead draw, but Fressinet took the pawn with 69.Rxf4??

69…Kg3! Now the king was free and the h-pawn could go on to become a queen. 4-3

Again Fressinet had to equalize the score, but he played too timidly. Sarin patiently created a small advantage and waited for a mistake. And it happened: 45…Qa3??

46.Qe4+! Kh8 47.Bb1 Kg8 48.Qe6+ Kf8?? (48…Kh8 49.c4 would have won some time) 49.Bg6! Qa7 50.Qe8#. 5-3 in favor of Sarin, and the match was over.

Sam Shankland – Lance Henderson, 5:0

This was the clearest match win, but in the individual games it was far from always so clear. Shankland commented his play with a self-confidence that wasn’t always justified by the engine evaluation. Ultimately, however, it was precisely this optimism that helped him achieve his brilliant result. Henderson, meanwhile, played too timidly, didn’t take his chances and thus helped his opponent.

The most amazing game of the day was the second one in this match. After Shankland’s 32…Rh6?? the engine sees a +10 advantage for White!

The winning move wasn’t so easy to find: 33.Qe6+!! Kd8 (because 33…fxe6?? 34.Rxf8+ Ke7 35.R1f7# or 33…Re7 34.Qxd6 Nc8 35.Qb8 Kd8 36.Bh3!) 34.Rxh6, and it would have been over. Henderson, however, played 33.Bh3. He was still better, but in the further course of the game he lost his advantage completely and finally gifted his opponent a win.

Shankland didn’t always play cleanly in the following games either, but he didn’t give his opponent such a chance again.

All in all, a very entertaining day. The change to a 2-second increment might have helped the quality of the games!

Today the winners are facing each other:

  • 17:30 CEST Alexander Donchenko vs Nihal Sarin
  • 19:30 CEST Alan Pichot vs Sam Shankland

Tomorrow we will see the final match of this round, and the winner will advance to the 16-player Banter Series Finals with the likes of Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana.

See also:

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