FTX Crypto Cup 6: Mosquitoes & So bite Nepo as Radjabov hits back vs. Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen gave perhaps his shortest interview ever after Teimour Radjabov unleashed some deep opening preparation to level the scores on Day 1 of their FTX Crypto Cup semi-final. In the other encounter Ian Nepomniachtchi failed to exploit an incredible blunder by Wesley So in Game 3 before Game 4 became an ordeal that could have featured in Dante’s Inferno. While Wesley was grinding out a win in a drawish ending, Nepo was trying and failing to fend off a swarm of mosquitoes.

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the FTX Crypto Cup, the 6th event on the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

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

And David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

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Day 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup semi-finals got off to a slow start before a spectacular finish. 

Teimour Radjabov strikes back

When Magnus Carlsen beat Teimour Radjabov in the quarterfinals of the New in Chess Classic, there was just one decisive game in eight classical games. That was why when Magnus struck in Game 3 after a cagey first two games it seemed like a decisive moment. The manner of the win was also utterly dominant, though it all stemmed from an opening gone wrong for Teimour.

Here 11…Nd7!? seems to have been an accidental novelty, with Teimour describing himself as “very upset” to have allowed 12.Be3! Qa6 13.Bd4! and exchanging off Black’s crucial bishop on g7. After the previously played 11…Qa6 immediately, 12.Be3? would simply run into 12…Bxb2.

Although Magnus seemed to misplay the position slightly in what followed, his inaccuracies weren’t exploited and soon he had a totally dominant endgame, which he went on to win with ease.

So match over? Not this time! Teimour managed to land some deep opening preparation at the perfect moment against the perfect opponent.

I was preparing this for a very long time against someone at the very top level, and I finally got Magnus in this position after h4. I cannot say I was happy about it, because you never know what the reaction will be, but I was very happy about the time that he spent after h4, so it meant that he didn’t really expect this for sure, so that was really nice, because the position is really tricky and you really have to spend a lot of hours to find out what’s the way for Black, and it’s still quite playable, so I was very happy about it.

10.h4!? Rd8 11.h5 Qf6!? 12.Rh4 was the new idea.

Magnus had already spent 3 minutes on his previous moves before here thinking for 4 minutes and 37 seconds before going for the break 12…e5?!.


p class=”p1″>Teimour remembered that Magnus had chosen wrongly, but not how to exploit it, or as he put it, “it’s one story when you know that it’s bad, and another when you have to prove that it’s bad!” After 13.cxd5 Rxd5 14.dxe5 Bxc3+15.Rxc3 Nxe5 16.Qe8+ Kh7 it seems 17.Rf4?! and not 17.Rd4 was a mistake.

17…Qb6! would have posed White serious problems. The threat to the b-pawn can’t be taken lightly, and after e.g 18.b3? Qa5! White is simply lost. The best line for White ends in an incredible draw: 18.b4 Bg4!! 19.Qxa8 Bxf3! 20.gxf3 Qxb4! 21.Rxb4 Nxf3+.

And now simply 22.Ke2 Ng1+ 23.Ke1 Nf3+ forces a draw by repetition, even though Black is a queen and a rook down.

Instead in the game, Magnus played the logical 17…Qd6?, keeping the e5-knight defended and threatening to take the knight on f3 and give mate on d1, but simply 18.Be2! left White on top, and after 18…f5? 19.Nd4 (19.Rd4!) 19…c6? (19…Qb6!) 20.Nxf5! the contest was effectively over. Magnus had nothing better than to force queens off the board, but the ensuing endgame offered Black no chances.

The World Champion finally conceded defeat on move 54.

Magnus Carlsen’s most famous post-game press conference was when he stormed out after getting tired waiting for Sergey Karjakin to arrive after suffering the huge blow of losing Game 8 of their World Championship match in New York.

During the recent Candidates Tournament, Magnus had given some advice to players on how to deal with press engagements after a bitter loss (with the mention of sanity bringing to mind tennis player Naomi Osaka’s recent decision not to speak to the media).

He took that to extremes on Friday with a 12-word, 5-second interview!

Carlsen and Radjabov will start on a level-footing on Day 2, while in the other match Wesley So has taken the lead.

Wesley So leads Ian Nepomniachtchi, with some aid from his little helpers

The other semi-final also began with two draws, though the French Defence in Game 1 saw the 22-game unbeaten Wesley So come under more pressure than we’d seen so far in the tournament.

The unbeaten streak kept growing, but it really should have ended in Game 3. Once again Ian was pushing on the black side of a French Defence, and 46.Kc3?? was an absolute howler.

You don’t need to be Ian Nepomniachtchi, perhaps the most gifted tactician at the top of world chess, to spot that 46…Ra3+ simply wins the knight on f3 and the game. Wesley So instantly realised his mistake and couldn’t help but show it in his face, but Ian wasn’t paying attention and instead went for 46…Re7?

That wasn’t the only miss of the game, as on two occasions Ian failed to push his f-pawn.

56…f5+! works based on the 57.Kxf5 Ne3+! fork, while after 57.Kf4 Kf6 one key threat in the position is for Black to play Ne3 and Nd5 with checkmate. White can stop that, but the position should still be lost.

Instead after 56…Kg6 57.h3 f5+ 58.Kd4 White was winning the knight (58…Rxh3?? 59.Nf4+), but it was only a draw. Nepomniachtchi later commented:

I think I played much better than Wesley today. He got extremely lucky in Game 3, and I think I also got some chances in Game 1, so probably this is a small payback for yesterday’s luck, because Fabiano didn’t score at least two times, but ok, I think if I keep playing like this, or even better, it wouldn’t be hard to equalise the score.

The main topic of that interview, however, was the final game, when the chess was overshadowed by Ian’s battles with mosquitoes in his country house outside of Moscow. His first sentence is one for the ages:

It was some kind of shamanic ritual, because during the last game I didn’t care about the game at all, I only wanted not to get eaten down by mosquitoes. This was incredible. I have never seen such a big amount in one place. It could look very funny, because of this chroma key and so on, but in general it was never funny, so probably I would offer a draw, but it was too late, and even now it continues.

Ian added:

I swear I have never had more annoying playing conditions than this. Some guy snoring in the audience and so on, we are quite used to while playing in some tournaments like Dortmund or London, but this was an entirely new thing.

From Wesley’s point of view you can imagine it was almost as distracting!

Actually I wasn’t aware that it was mosquitoes. I thought he went to the bathroom twice, and also he kept shaking his fists the entire game, so I wasn’t entirely sure what that was about, but now it all makes sense!

But he was there with advice for his opponent.

It’s really weird he has a mosquito situation. If you close the windows before, or you have an anti-mosquito spray today and spray your house and close all the windows, I think it shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m not sure what’s going on in Ian’s apartment at the moment.

Ian felt his skills are improving – “I think I became an expert mosquito hunter, for sure, during this game, but it was never enough to kill them all” – but agreed on the need for practical measures…

The game itself featured mosquito-like persistence from Wesley rather than sparkling chess, with the US Champion agreeing that there was no way he should have won this position with the black pieces.

The position after move 29 I think Black has zero winning chances, so really the last game was a bonus, because probably 99 out of 100 games of course it would end in a draw.

Ian’s attempts to play for more only led to him losing a pawn on move 41.

Although both players felt this position should still be a draw, it was far from trivial, with or without mosquitoes dive bombing you, and Ian finally conceded defeat on move 68, two pawns down and with his bishop trapped.

Making a comeback against Wesley So is one of the toughest things to do in chess, with the US star not revealing any secrets when he explained his strategy.

All I need is 2:2, so obviously try to score two points tomorrow, try to draw all the games, but easier said than done. I’m sure Ian will come with all guns blazing, and hopefully the mosquitoes will help me again tomorrow!

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