nepo draws against magnus

Anish Giri is the sole leader on 4/5 after Day 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup, the strongest online chess event ever played. World Champion Magnus Carlsen ended on a respectable 50% but described his play as “awful” after he lost to MVL, nearly lost to Mamedyarov, squandered a winning position against World Championship Challenger Nepomniachtchi and failed to put pressure on tournament underdog Pichot. Hikaru Nakamura made three instant draws but beat Mamedyarov and Nepo to join MVL and So in 2nd place, while Levon Aronian fought on despite a power cut.

You can replay all the games from the preliminary stage of the FTX Crypto Cup, the 6th event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev…

…and from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

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Giri marches on

Anish Giri has become an online chess monster since the pandemic struck and shows no signs of slowing down. He won his last Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, and, after a break where he gave Ian Nepomniachtchi a scare in the Candidates Tournament, he triumphed in the barely less prestigious Mr Dodgy Invitational. Now he was the only player to win three games on Day 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup.

He started against heavy underdog Alan Pichot and was on top in 15 moves after 15.Qxd5? (15.cxd5!) ran into 15…Nd4!

It’s surprising just how bad this position is for White, with threats such as Rc5, Nf4 (if the f4-square is left unguarded) and even Ng3 in some lines. 16.Bd3 saw Giri dig deep with a more than 3-minute think to find the best move, 16…b5!, and Anish went on to play perfect chess to win a piece and the game.

Giri missed serious winning chances in the next game against Levon Aronian, before world no. 3 Ding Liren made a rare tactical blunder in the next.

Simply recapturing with 30…axb3 is good for Black, but Ding Liren instead played 30…Rxd3?, only to find after 31.Qxd3 Rxd3 32.Nc5! that he was lost. 

The black queen and rook are forked, and there’s no square from which the queen can defend the rook. After 32…Qe7 33.Nxd3 the Chinese star was just a piece down and soon resigned. It’s tempting to blame his time zone…

…but a couple of hours later he beat Alexander Grischuk in the final round of the day to finish on +1.

In Round 4 Giri impressively beat Grischuk despite the Russian playing a novelty, before in the last game it was again Anish who had winning chances in an ending against Daniil Dubov. Asked afterwards about how the added strength of the tournament, featuring the full Top 10 and 12 of the Top 13, had affected him, Anish pointed out that he was used to playing all his opponents, calling them, “the usual suspects, just that they’re now all here”. He also shared some wisdom:

It does’t matter who your opponent is, if he blunders a rook he might as well be no. 1, it’s all fine, you just take the rook. That’s my philosophy. 

Anish talked about “intense times upcoming”, but although he was talking about a busy chess schedule there’s also a new arrival in his family scheduled for June – “my wife will have a 3rd child coming up after myself, my son and the next one now”. Sopiko Guramishvili’s announcement on Instagram a couple of weeks ago was memorable!

A shaky day for Magnus Carlsen

“I’m starting to perfect the art of getting the first seed without too much hassle,” said Magnus Carlsen after smoothly taking first place without losing a game in the New in Chess Classic, his 5th first place in the preliminaries in five Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events. This time, however, his first day was anything but smooth.

It all began in Round 1, where he faced New in Chess Classic semi-finalist Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Magnus seized the initiative with the black pieces and seemed set to grind out a win, before he completely lost control.

After 42…Qxd4 Shakh could have won with 43.Bf3!, when the threat of exf7+ and Bh5+ is lethal. Instead he played 43.exf7+!? Kxf7 and only then 44.Bf3?

Intuitively it seems as though 44…Rxe7! 45.Bh5+ should be lost for Black, but in fact after 45…Ke6! it’s White who could resign, with no way of mating the black king. There were no more mishaps as Magnus went on to claim the full point.

Next up was the game we’d all been waiting for, with Magnus taking on Ian Nepomniachtchi for the first time since the Russian was confirmed as the World Championship challenger. Peter Leko was shocked when Nepo went for a pawn grab early on in a Sicilian.

There was no immediate punishment, but Nepo’s 21…Qd5? was a blunder, played after a 2-minute think.

Magnus didn’t take long to play 22.Nd6+!, when 22…Nxd6? would run into 23.Qg6+! and the rook can take the black queen next move. 

Nepo played the most resilient defence, giving up the exchange with 22…Ke7, but it shouldn’t have been enough. Imagine Magnus’ frustration, therefore, when Ian went on to hold a draw in 47 moves, by which time all the pieces had been hoovered off the board.

It would get worse for Magnus, as after a quick draw against Wesley So, he then went on to lose after going unbeaten for 30 games in a row in Champions Chess Tour preliminaries.    

The opening had Peter Leko very puzzled, though it’s not immediately sure if 3.f3!? was a mouse-slip. Magnus had played it before in a bullet game against Alireza Firouzja, and although there was a brand-new position on the board by move 4 (the abyssal depths of chess!), it was in fact playable. The players ended up transposing back to known lines, but move 16 may have been the turning point.

Carlsen’s 16.Nd5?! was a move once played by Adhiban, but the computer points out the trick 16.Qxd6! bxc3 17.g5! as best for White, though after 17…Nxe4! it’s close to equal. Instead in the game after 16…Nxd5 17.exd5 Maxime temporarily sacrificed a pawn with 17…e4!? but was soon a pawn up and went on to win convincingly. Magnus summed up:

I would say to look on the bright side I think I’m a little bit probably on the fortunate side to have the score that I have, but in terms of quality of the play it obviously has to improve… I think Maxime played a very good game against me, but I feel most of all that my own play has been awful. 

Magnus ended the day as Black against Argentina’s Alan Pichot, who had lost four games in a row, but never got chances of playing for a win and in fact had to be careful to hold a draw.

Pragmatism pays off for Hikaru Nakamura

Radjabov-Nakamura in Round 1 was a defiant demonstration by both players that they weren’t going to switch from their strategy of taking a number of quick draws in the preliminary stage, despite some inevitable criticism.

It’s hard to argue with results, however, and what enables them to take such draws and still qualify is that they’re fantastically strong players who can punish mistakes and pick up points in the remaining games.

Hikaru took three such short draws, but beat Mamedyarov’s Berlin and also made Nepomniachtchi regret not taking the 14-move draw on offer in Round 3. Ian’s decision to play on might have been rewarded as he had chances for a big advantage, but instead he went astray and then blundered badly when he gave up an exchange but seemed to miss 27…Nc4!

At first sight it seems 28.b3 should hold for White, stopping the knight covering the d6-square, but in fact that would run into 28…Bxd5! After 28.f3 White was just an exchange down and Hikaru wrapped things up cleanly to end the day in 2nd place. For Nepo it was a tough start to the tournament, as he also missed a win against Firouzja despite being 7 minutes up on the clock and his opponent at one point moving with just a fraction of a second remaining.

Wesley So won his first two games against Grischuk and Dubov before taking 14-move draws against Carlsen and Nakamura and then playing a 39-move draw with little drama against 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja. The youngest participant also made a quick draw against Radjabov on the way to ending the day on +1 after beating Mamedyarov. It could have been better for Alireza, as he was briefly beating Fabiano Caruana in Round 1.

20.Nc3? c6! was winning for Black.

It wasn’t straightforward at all, however. After 21.bxc6 bxc6 22.Rd7 c5 23.Rb1! even the hugely talented teen couldn’t work out the win.

After 23…cxb4 24.Rxb4 Rac8 25.Nd5! Black has no advantage, while in the game 23…Red8 24.Rxd8+ Rxd8 25.Ba3! saw Fabiano untangle and go on to draw. The only winning move was 23…e4!, so that after e.g. 24.Nd5 cxb4 25.Rxb4 Black has 25…Ne5, hitting the d7-rook. 

Fabiano, who was making his Meltwater Champions Chess Tour debut and noted he hadn’t played online in 8 months, reflected:

I see a lot of players are just playing this same exact line in the Anti-Berlin and making a draw, and I feel a bit silly because I’m playing a lot of up and down games and expending a lot of energy and they’re kind of coasting through the event, so maybe I should play a bit more relaxed. Maybe I’ve been putting too much pressure on games.

Let’s hope Fabi doesn’t go over to the dark side!

Aronian’s power cut

The most crazy game Fabiano played was against Levon Aronian, with Peter Leko comparing Levon’s resilience to that of a non-chess dragon.

That wasn’t all, however. Levon’s power cut out mid-game and he had to switch to connecting via his mobile phone while hoping his laptop battery would last long enough.

He survived the game and, after switching off the camera to preserve battery life, he managed to keep going until power was finally restored at the end. His four draws to finish would have made it a good day for the Armenian if he hadn’t blundered and lost a winning position against Peter Svidler at the start of the day.

You can see just how tough the tournament is from Alexander Grischuk losing 4 games. One of last tournament’s stars Shakhriyar Mamedyarov started with 3 losses, while in Daniil Dubov’s case it was 2. The young Russian recovered somewhat to end on -1, with 26…Nf4! against MVL perhaps the most visually appealing move of the day.

27.Rxe5 Nh3# is the point, but in fact it was just an essential move to stay in the game and no more. 27.exf4 Rxc5 or 27.gxf4 Rxc5 should be drawn, while Maxime got some style points of his own for 27.Bxe6+ Rxe6 28.exf4, but after 28…Rxe1+ 29.Bxe1 gxf4 the outcome was the same.

With such a high-powered field we’re certain to lose top players on Tuesday, with Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen, Dubov, Svidler, Aronian, Mamedyarov and Grischuk all joining Pichot in the drop zone.

We’ve still got two days and 10 rounds to go first, however, so a lot can change! Tune into all the action here on chess24 from 17:00 CEST each day.

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