Magnus Carlsen was surprised in the opening and 10 minutes behind on the clock in Game 1 of the FTX Crypto Cup final against Wesley So, but suddenly launched an unstoppable attack. That win with the black pieces ended Wesley’s 29-game unbeaten streak and made Magnus a big favourite in the match, but in Game 3 Wesley hit back to win in similarly devastating style. Magnus revealed afterwards he was feeling unwell and took a quick draw to end the day, while the 3rd place match began with only quick draws between Teimour Radjabov and Ian Nepomniachtchi.
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 David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
And from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.
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This was one day when the 3rd place match didn’t steal any of the glory from the final.
Carlsen and So land heavy blows
This was already the 3rd final between Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, with Wesley winning both the previous clashes. In the most recent, the Opera Euro Rapid, his weapon of choice was the Italian Opening, with one of his wins coming after he met 10…Bg4 with 11.h3. This time he picked 11.Qc2.
It was a worrying sign for Magnus’ fans that in this position, reached in over 50 games before, he spent over four minutes deciding on the most common reply, 11…Bf5. The players continued down the main line until Magnus burnt up over five minutes on the first new move, 14…Rb8!?
The move in itself may not have been great, but it worked like a dream. First, it got Wesley thinking, for five minutes, and then he regretted choosing 15.Na4!? instead of first playing 15.Nh4. After 15…Bc7 16.Nh4 Wesley called 16…f6! “really good”, while 17.Bf3 (17.f4 g5!) 17…b5! justified the rook’s position on b8. After 18.Nc3 Nxc3 19.exf6 we had a wild position where Black could already have taken over.
19…Qd6!, threatening mate on h2, would force 20.g3 and after 20…Qxf6 Black is firmly on top. 19…Be4!? was more spectacular, leaving both black knights en prise…
…but after 20.bxc3 Qd6 21.g3 Bxf3 22.Bf4 White was able to eliminate the bishop on c7, and after 22…Qxf6 23.Bxc7 Rb7 24.Be5 Qf7 25.Nxf3 Qxf3 the game could have had a peaceful outcome.
“I think I should just try to play for a draw by playing 26.Bd6 and trading off the knight, but I was feeling a bit ambitious, and I just totally underestimated his attack,” said Wesley afterwards. 26.Qb4?! Nf5! 27.Qc5? Rbf7! was already dead lost for White, with 28.Rae1 running into 28…h5!
Play continued 29.h3 h4! 30.Qxc6 and then the move Wesley said he’d missed in advance when going for this line:
30…Nxg3! was the decisive blow, with 31.fxg3 running into checkmate with 31…Qxf1+ 32.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 33.Kg2 R8f2# Wesley tried to play on with 31.Bxg3 hxg3 32.Re8 but the game ended 32…g2! 33.Rxf8+ Rxf8 and he resigned.
The rook on f1 can’t move without allowing a quick mate with Qxf2+, and the queen on c6 is completely unable to come to the defence.
That victory with the black pieces seemed to make Magnus a heavy favourite to win the first day of the final, but instead of pressing his advantage he took a quick Berlin draw in his next game with the white pieces. That put the emphasis on Wesley to try and do something with White in Game 3, and this time the US Chess Champion played 11.h3 Bh5 (as in their game from the Opera Euro Rapid) before varying with a move never played before between two top players, 12.Rc1!
The exclamation mark is for the impact rather than the objective strength of the move, with Wesley himself commenting:
I figured it’s better to have bad preparation than no preparation at all, but objectively the line I played with White today is harmless – Black has multiple ways of equalising.
The computer suggests 12…f6!?, but good luck working out the complications of 13.Nxd5! Ba5+! (13…Qxd5?? 13.Bc4) at the board. That may have been what Magnus was trying to do in the almost 7 minutes he spent here, before he went for the immediate 12…Ba5. Already after 13.0-0 Bxc3 14.bxc3 his 14…Na5? (14…f5) was a blunder.
15.g4! Bg6 16.Ne1! and it was too late to stop the disaster that was unfolding, with 16…f6 17.f3! c6 18.Bd3! Ng5 19.Bxg6 hxg6 20.Bxg5 fxg5 leaving one of the worst pawn structures you’ll ever see in a World Champion’s game.
It was every bit as bad as it looked, with simply 21.Qd3 leaving Black with no way to defend the g6-pawn without accelerating White’s impending attack. Just as Magnus had been put to the sword by a battery along the f-file, now Wesley got to do exactly the same, and while Magnus had finished things off with a pawn on the g2-square, Wesley put his queen on g7.
That was the only winning move, but it wins a full rook, since after 33…Qxg7 34.fxg7+ Kxg7 White simply picks up the rook on f8.
That still left Magnus with the white pieces in the final game of the day, but he again contented himself with a quick Berlin draw. What was going on? Well, Magnus initially gave a blunt response, before giving a child-friendly version.
I don’t feel good today. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.
When Kaja Snare suggested Magnus was banking everything on tomorrow, he responded:
It’s not about banking everything on tomorrow, it’s just that I think if you don’t feel well you should listen to your body.
He felt, in the circumstances, things could have gone worse, since even the first game had started badly.
I think I reacted kind of poorly to his idea in the opening and then he went wrong at some point and I got a bit lucky. I’m not dissatisfied with the overall result. Obviously it’s a pity to play as poorly as I did in the 3rd game, but it happens, so overall I should be relatively satisfied with a draw.
Magnus ended his brief interview with, “If I feel ok tomorrow I have every chance of winning.”
It wasn’t clear if Wesley had forgotten what day it was or was joking when he commented, “I hope Magnus will feel better on Tuesday!”, since of course the match ends Monday.
The US Champion also complained of a lack of sleep because of the nerves of playing for an automatic spot in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals – and that his cats were noisey at night since they realised Wesley was going to leave for the Grand Chess Tour event in Romania in a week’s time – but most chess fans probably don’t see only getting six hours’ sleep as a major issue!
Nepomniachtchi and Radjabov take a breather
Ian Nepomniachtchi and Teimour Radjabov were both involved in thrilling semi-final matches full of incident and excitement, but there’s no sugar-coating Day 1 of their 3rd place match. We got four instant draws, three of them played out before the 1st So-Carlsen game had even finished. There was no chess content to talk about, but of course plenty of fuel for discussion.
A number of strong players were among those to express their disappointment at the non-match. For instance:
Teimour poured some fuel on the fire:
Many people didn’t immediately see the point…
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that since the 3rd place match was introduced in the 2nd event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour there hasn’t been an issue with draws, with the first day of previous events featuring over 80% of decisive games.
- Airthings Masters: MVL vs. Dubov – 4 decisive games
- Opera Euro Rapid: MVL vs. Radjabov – 3 decisive games
- Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen vs. So – 2 decisive games
- New in Chess Classic: Mamedyarov vs. Aronian – 4 decisive games
So while it’s understandable that players may go into the third place match tired and disappointed, with relatively little at stake (though the difference in prize fund for 3rd or 4th in the FTX Crypto Cup is over $10,000), it hasn’t previously led to a dearth of chess. Of course the 3rd place match, and how to handle the problem of short draws, are topics the tour organisers will be considering, but for now let’s just hope for a little more action on Monday!
As Peter Leko pointed out, whatever happens, “there will be blood!”
The main drama, of course, will be seeing if Magnus Carlsen can make it 3rd time lucky in a Meltwater Champions Chess Tour final, or whether Wesley So will notch up an incredible three wins in three against the World Champion.