MCCT Finals 2: Carlsen extends lead after Armageddon win

Magnus Carlsen has extended his lead over Wesley So to six points after winning a crazy match against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in which White won all seven games. Wesley blamed poor time management as he lost to MVL in three games, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Levon Aronian won the first rapid game, lost the second and won the last to defeat Anish Giri and Vladislav Artemiev. Nakamura-Radjabov saw four draws featuring no chess content before Hikaru won in blitz after Teimour blundered in a drawn pawn endgame.

You can replay all the games from the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals using the selector below. 

And here the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare. 

And from Peter Leko and Danny King. 

Another dramatic round in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour saw Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave score three match points (their opponents got zero) for winning in rapid chess, while Carlsen-Mamedyarov and Nakamura-Radjabov were split 2:1 after going to blitz playoffs. 

Duda 2.5:1.5 Giri

Jan-Krzysztof Duda has so far only played opponents based in the same Oslo studio, and while he suffered a heavy loss against Magnus Carlsen he bounced back on Day 2 to beat Anish Giri. Things went the Polish no. 1’s way from the start, when Giri’s choice of 6.Rg1, the 11th most popular move against the Najdorf according to the chess24 database, backfired. 33.Nf4? was the moment a tricky, double-edged position definitely became winning for Black.

Duda couldn’t take either the queen or the rook, but 33…Qc4!, hitting the f1-rook, left Black on top after White’s attacked pieces were finally forced to move. There were almost no smooth games for anyone in Round 2, however, and Anish later found the brilliant resource 41.c3!

Suddenly the knight has the b4 (and potentially d5) square, the king will be able to take on b2, and, with the queenside more or less stable, White’s h-pawn is ready to march up the board. 

The only problem? Anish delayed pushing his h-pawn too long and Duda was able to deal with it comfortably and reach a winning rook endgame. He said afterwards:

It was quite a tense match… I won this first game with Black, which normally should be a huge achievement, maybe not match over, but almost match over. The game was very tense actually, with many mistakes from both sides, I guess, because the nature of the position was so complicated. I thought I was winning at some point, but then blundered c3, some trick with Nb4. I thought it was a draw there, but somehow he didn’t push his h-pawn, which was surprising to me.

Giri managed to hit back straightaway in the second game, despite an opening gone wrong, with Duda putting much of the blame on his “empty move” 21.Re5?, which he called “a total blackout”. 

He explained:

I only calculated 21…Qf6 and forgot that he can just play 21…Qd7 or 21…Qc8 and I’m losing three tempi, because f6 is a threat, with a double attack. After that I also blundered a pawn on d5. I was frustrated, to be honest, and also I didn’t have too much time, and I think the endgame was completely hopeless, there was no chance to save it.

With the scores level it was again Duda pressing in Game 3, but this time it fizzled out into a draw. Then when Duda exchanged queens in the final rapid game, it looked as though we were heading to a blitz playoff, at least according to the computer evaluations. To reach the predicted draw it needed one precise finishing touch.

It turns out that after 34…Bxg2! 35.Kxg2 Rch8 36.Kf2 Rh1 the white king can’t escape from perpetual check, since 37.Ke3 is met by 37…Rd1 with d4+ to follow. 

Instead, after 34…d4? immediately, Duda had 35.Rcc5!, hitting g5, and the necessity of defending with 35…Nh7 puts an end to all Black’s counterplay. 

“I had this idea to counterattack his king and I just chose the wrong order of moves, missing this Rcc5, and then there was a problem”, said Giri, before responding to the question of why he missed that with, “because I’m stupid!” 

The rest was essentially a matter of technique, though as Jan-Krzysztof put it:

It was basically game over, even though he didn’t trust my technique and was playing to the very end! 

The game only ended on move 88, when it would be stalemate except that Giri’s king had the e8-square.

Duda started the Finals with zero points as the lowest points scorer over the course of the season, but his three points for a win have now taken him above Shakhriyar Mamedyarov out of last place.

How will Giri restore his confidence for the battles ahead?

I told you already before today, I never have confidence, so that’s not a problem! That’s a good thing also, I’m never confident anyway. I honestly don’t really care for tomorrow whether I lost today or not, I’ll play the same way, but it’s just a pity that I lost, because I would have had more points if I didn’t, but every day here is really hard, and today I have to say that he played very well in some of the games, and just the opponents are very strong, so you have to really be on the top of your game or you’re not going to get any easy days. 

It’s hard to argue with any of Giri’s sporting logic!

MVL 2.5:0.5 So

How tough all the matches are in the Finals was shown by 2nd favourite Wesley So losing to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in just three games. The reigning US Champion mentioned minor distractions such as too much light in his room and drinking too much water, but he mainly put his bad day at the office down to “very poor time management”.

At least part of that issue on the clock was credit to Maxime, whose speed of play brought dividends when Wesley made two fatal blunders.

Here Wesley, playing Black, had to deal with the threat of Rh5 and Qxh6+, for instance by playing 42…Ra8, ready to swing to h8, but instead he played 42…Ra2? The problem was that after 43.Rh5! anyway, 43…Rxd2+ 44.Qxd2 the threat remained. Wesley evacuated his king with 44…Kf8, but there was no way back after 45.Rxh6, with Maxime converting his advantage in lethal style.

There was more woe on the d2-square in the third game of the day, when Wesley could still have held a tricky position and gone into the final rapid game needing to win, but with the white pieces.

38…Rd2+! forces 39.Bxd2, as otherwise it’s a quick checkmate, and after 39…Qxd2+ the white king can’t escape from checks. 

Instead in the game after 38…Qa2+? 39.Kh3 Qe6+ 40.g4! the white king was completely safe, while the black king was in grave danger. Wesley managed to avoid checkmate at the cost of the b6-pawn, but soon there were just too many white passed pawns to handle. A tough match for Wesley, while MVL’s second match win has taken him up to a tie for 5th place after he started in 8th.

Aronian 2.5:1.5 Artemiev

Levon Aronian and Vladislav Artemiev are both creative, ambitious players and their recent matches in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour suggested we were in for another great battle in Round 2. They didn’t disappoint, with the first game already absolutely wild. Vladislav was in fact winning after 18…Rh6.

Here 19.d5! was the killer move, hitting the g4-knight, with 19…Rh4 running into 20.Bxh7+! (20.Rce1 is even stronger, if not so much fun), when 20…Kxh7 is met by 21.Qe4+, picking up the e7-bishop. 

Instead Artemiev went for an even more logical move, 19.Qd7, attacking both the e7-bishop and the g4-knight, but here Levon had the amazing 19…Rxh2!, when the lethal threat of Rxg2+ meant neither piece could be taken. 20.d5! was an only move and after 20…Qf4!, threatening Rh1+, Qh6+ and Qh2#, Vladislav again had to find the only move 21.Qf5!

White was even still better, but the pressure to find resources merely to stay in the game told on Artemiev, as he got into his usual time trouble and was ultimately outplayed in an endgame. 

Artemiev shrugged off that loss to hit straight back in the second game, which was almost as wild, and where Levon was punished for keeping queens on the board. Vladislav outplayed him in complications, with 33…Nxf4! provoking resignation. 

34.Rxf4 runs into 34…g5.

In Game 3 Vladislav made the opposite mistake of simplifying a position with exchanges when he could have maintained a total positional grip. Instead Levon was able to wriggle out and ultimately clinch victory with the white pieces in the final rapid game.

After the less than obvious mistake of 16…Bb7? Levon round a brilliant move to turn the tables.

17.Ncd4! took advantage of the fact that the e5-pawn is pinned (17…exd4 18.Bxc7 is crushing), and the knight is suddenly both attacking the b5-pawn and threatening Ne6, again hitting that unfortunate c7-bishop as well as the g7-pawn. 

After 17…Rc8 18.Nxb5 Bxe4 19.Rhe1 Black’s position was in ruins and Levon made no mistake as he went on to win in 40 moves. 

The remaining two matches went to a blitz playoff, but they couldn’t have been more different. 

Nakamura 3.5:2.5 Radjabov

This match was not a classic, to put it very mildly, with the pre-match tweet surpassing the excitement we saw in the first four games. 

Nothing at all happened in the four rapid games, which were drawn almost instantly with both players each game ending with more time on their clocks than they started.

The way the first blitz game began saw Peter Leko switching away to the other match in disgust, but just when it seemed we might be heading straight to Armageddon after another two contentless draws, Teimour stumbled into trouble. He could already have been punished before he made a final mistake in a drawn pawn endgame.

48.Kc3! was strictly an only move, but instead after 48.Kd2? Ke5! 49.Kd3 Kd5 there was no stopping the black king invading via e4 and f3 and winning the game. Teimour had blundered under heavy time pressure, but it was perhaps also that he hadn’t warmed up after not playing any chess in the previous games. 

Suddenly we got a glimpse of the real Teimour as he played the King’s Indian Defence in the final must-win game and got a promising position, but Hikaru was able to hold on and clinch the match.

Carlsen 4:3 Mamedyarov

If you’d told Shakhriyar Mamedyarov he was going to beat Magnus Carlsen three times on Sunday he probably wouldn’t have expected he’d still end up as the losing player!

It was already clear we might be witnessing something special when Shakhriyar, who had Magnus on the ropes in a classical game in the recent European Club Cup, got off to a crushing start against the World Champion. 7.Bd2!? was treated as “challenge accepted” by Magnus.

He grabbed the pawn with 7…Qxc4!?, with 8.Rc1! illustrating just why that was so risky — the bishop on c8 is undefended. Magnus didn’t back down as 8…Na6 9.Nd5! Qxa2?! 10.Ra1 Qc4 followed.

The queen has grabbed the pawn and seems to have made an escape… but not so fast! 11.Ra4! posed so many issues that Peter and Danny in our live commentary were sure that Magnus must have planned the queen sacrifice 11…Qxd5!?

That also wouldn’t end well against best play, but instead we saw 11…Qc5 12.Nxf6+! Bxf6 13.Rxa6! bxa6 14.Bxa8 and Magnus found himself playing a position a piece down.

He played on longer than strictly necessary before accepting the inevitable, but that was just the start of an amazing match.

Magnus needed to hit back, and did, in a hugely complicated second game.

The World Champion briefly lost his way in the complications, but ultimately won a tricky endgame to level the scores.

Just when you assumed Magnus would get back on track, Shakh then spotted a resource his opponent had overlooked and took the lead again in Game 3. 

This time it really was a must-win game for Magnus, and although initially everything went his way, Shakh was right afterwards to point to the game as a “very good chance”.

The Azerbaijan star seemed to refer to the moment after 34.Qe6.

34…Bd3! should liquidate into a very drawish endgame, while after 34…Bxg2!? 35.Kxg2 Qxf7 36.Qd6+ the battle went on. 

There were still excellent drawing chances, and for the match points to be split 3:0 in Shakh’s favour, until 46…Qxe4? was a last blunder, allowing 47.Qa2+! and an attack that would force Black to give up his queen for a rook. 

So the fight went to blitz, where Magnus now got to start with the white pieces. Given what had happened so far it should have been a big advantage, but instead Shakh exploited a mistake to take over, only to then squander much of his advantage by exchanging queens. 

Shortly afterwards he grabbed a dangerous pawn and was thrown off balance by the powerful counterstrike 24.Rxd5! 

After simply taking the rook the position is roughly equal, but instead Shakh thought 47 seconds and played 24…Rxc3?. He must only have counted on 25.Bxc3, or e.g. 25.Re5, but 25.Rxg5+!, getting the rook out of danger with check, was winning on the spot! 

So now for the first time Magnus was out in front and Shakh had to win on demand. What followed was hugely entertaining, as he opened 1.e4 c5 2.a3!?, and that was just the beginning of some seemingly random pawn pushing!

Shakh commented:

I just understand that I need to play something creative, something interesting. For this reason I played e4 c5 a3, it is also not so bad a move, and it’s a very interesting move. I just wanted to try to play something new for myself and for my opponent, and for this reason I played a3.

He did then admit he once played it in a classical game as well, only to go on to lose in the 2004 Olympiad. 

To say it worked would be an exaggeration, since Magnus was soon clearly better, but by the time Shakh played 21.Rc5! he’d achieved a dream position for a must-win game.

The black king is pinned and attacked from all sides, and even Magnus here lost his bearings. 21…Qxc5? was an attempt to bail out into the position after 22.Bxc5 Rxf5, but Shakh had the 22.fxe6+! zwischenzug and was then able to take the queen with no Rf5 to follow. 

Magnus summed up afterwards, when asked about it being an epic match:

“Epic” is one word, but I think neither of us could really get going at all with Black somehow, and I felt like the last few rapid games I didn’t play so badly, but the blitz games were just ugh, but at least the Armageddon was ok. 

Magnus, understandably, picked White for the Armageddon, and it was a fine display of controlled aggression, with 18.Nfxd5! showing that he had everything worked out.

Shakh resigned on move 22.

One point is a low haul for Mamedyarov for a great day’s chess, but he’d enjoyed it:

It’s not easy to play the tournament for me, because it’s also a points difference. I have a not very good chance to play for first place, but I just try to play a very nice tournament, a very nice event, I’m very happy to be here and to play in such a very strong tournament, and I just want to enjoy the chess, to play all games for a win. I’m just very happy to play this tournament, ok, not for first place, maybe not second place, but I have a very good chance to play nice chess.

For Magnus, meanwhile, it had been the toughest of days, but ultimately he’d scored two points more than his key rival Wesley So and now has a six points lead in the overall standings.

There are still seven rounds to go, with 21 points up for grabs for each player. In Round 3 MVL will be trying to make it three wins in three against Magnus, while Wesley faces the tough challenge of Vladislav Artemiev. 

Don’t miss the action each day from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!

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