Magnus Carlsen could afford to “have a little bit of fun”
with a double Bong Cloud draw (1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 3.Ke1 Ke8…) against Hikaru
Nakamura in the final round and still top the preliminary stage for the 4th
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event in a row. He plays Levon Aronian in the Magnus
Carlsen Invitational quarterfinals after the Armenian star squeezed in on the
tiebreak of beating Sergey Karjakin in their head-to-head clash. Ian
Nepomniachtchi was the only player to qualify after starting the day outside
the Top 8, taking the place of Daniil Dubov, while Alireza Firouzja is in the
knockout for the 1st time.
You can replay all the games from the Magnus Carlsen
Invitational quarterfinals using the selector below – click a result to open
the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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Magnus Carlsen tops the standings again
Magnus vowed he’d be “aiming pretty hard for the no. 1 seed”
on the final day of the preliminaries and he lived up to his word, catching
Anish Giri in the first round by beating Alan Pichot. When the Dutch no. 1 lost
in the next round Magnus was able to take top spot by drawing his remaining games.
Magnus missed big chances against both Levon Aronian and
Daniil Dubov, and summed up:
I’m obviously thrilled about the score, and I think overall
it was pretty fair as well, when considering the positions that I had.
That means Magnus has finished 1st in all four Meltwater
Champions Chess Tour events this season, though he’s yet to win a tournament.
When David Howell pointed that out and asked what Magnus can do differently,
the reply was succinct: “Beat Wesley So!”
Despite the games mentioned above, full of drama and tension,
the encounter that will be remembered is the final round against Hikaru
Nakamura. It began 1.e4 e5 before
Magnus “unleashed” the Bong Cloud 2.Ke2
that has been a favourite of Hikaru’s. Peter Leko had once explained that if he
faced that opening he’d reply in kind with 2…Ke7,
and that’s just what Hikaru did, before the game ended in a 6-move draw by
repetition after 3.Ke1 Ke8 4.Ke2 Ke7 and so on.
If chess is a draw anyway, this one achieved a kind of
perfection, though former World Champion Veselin Topalov, a famous enemy of
short draws, may almost have choked on his 46th birthday cake!
Anish Giri immediately tweeted:
He was referring to the 14 (or thereabouts) move draw in the
Berlin Defence that has become the quick draw weapon of choice in these online
tournaments. Hikaru alone made it three times on the final day, once against
Anish in the first round.
Magnus explained that he was thinking along the same lines:
There have been so many draws with this Qe4 Qd4, Qe6 Qd6 in
the Berlin, so I thought I’d show people that there are other ways to repeat as
well. I just wanted to have a little bit of fun there!
The World Champion was asked if the high number of draws
among the top players annoyed him.
It’s ok. It was a little bit annoying when Wesley played for
a draw against me, it was so annoying that I made a mistake at some point and
almost lost, but I guess apart from that, 15 rounds is a lot, so I understand
that some people want to take a break sometimes. As for myself, I’ve massively
enjoyed playing here so I just want to play and have some fun.
You could say the quick draws on the last day spread almost
like a virus, with 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja infected. After three normal
games to start the day he made the 14-move draw against Nakamura and then again
in the final round against Jorden van Foreest.
It was understandable, however,
since Alireza still had fresh in his mind what had happened after he led the Skilling
Open preliminaries with two rounds to go. He explained:
I’m very happy because it’s my first time I actually
qualified so last time I got knocked out in the last round. Same situation, I
had the white pieces, so this time I learned my lesson at least.
Alireza is in fact the only player in the quarterfinals not
to have been there before during the Tour, proving just how tough a club it is
to break into. With so many stars in action, some had to miss out.
Mamedyarov, Dubov, Karjakin and Radjabov eliminated as Nepo
You need to earn the right to cruise to qualification by
making draws, and big guns Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Sergey Karjakin, Teimour
Radjabov and Ian Nepomniachtchi all began the final day outside the
Top 8 and with no such luxury. It was only Nepo who managed to dig himself out
of that hole.
The Russian no. 1 top scored with 4/5, with
his defeat of Mamedyarov in Round 11 effectively ending the Azerbaijan star’s chances.
He then inflicted the only loss of the event on tournament leader Anish Giri,
before what proved to be important fast draws against Karjakin and Radjabov. A
thumping last-round win over Alan Pichot completed the task.
In an entertaining post-game interview Ian Nepomniachtchi
talked about how he’d found motivation to qualify and how his loss to Magnus
Carlsen the day before could partly be explained by his out-of-control cat!
The quick draws Karjakin and Radjabov took against Nepomniachtchi, and
particularly Teimour’s in the penultimate round, were heavily punished, since
it turned out the two stars were playing a meaningless game in the final round
after Nepo’s win and Levon Aronian taking a draw against Nils Grandelius. When
Karjakin ultimately beat Radjabov he was level on points with Aronian, but lost out on
the tiebreaker of losing their head-to-head clash.
“The good news, you qualified, the bad news, you play Magnus
tomorrow!” Anish helpfully told Aronian after the game, with the Dutch star
commenting of Levon:
I have a feeling he’s had many bad days in these tournaments
but he always ends up qualifying one way or the other, and I think it’s quite
impressive, especially in the last moment, when there’s the nerves and the
Anish also noted that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s seemingly
serene five draws to qualify on the final day were anything but.
I had a feeling looking at Maxime’s games this tournament that
he doesn’t really want to qualify, that he just wants to go back to his
training [for the Candidates]. That was also my thing, because I have training
schedules, so I have hotel bookings and stuff, so this is really interfering
with my preparation. I think it’s the same for him and he played really
reckless chess. I thought he was playing very irresponsibly with both colours,
so it just goes to show how talented he is. Even with such reckless play he
still made it.
Anish perhaps still hadn’t forgiven Maxime for pulling
off the feat of finishing their last-round game with over 20 minutes on the
clock, despite the players starting with 15 and only getting 10 seconds extra
The one player who started the day in the Top 8 but missed
out was fan favourite Daniil Dubov, who at least could have no regrets over quick
draws. He gave himself a mountain to climb by losing to Jorden van Foreest in
the first round of the day and missed some chances against Maxime in the next. He was also lucky to survive against Magnus…
…before a last-round win over
David Anton was too little, too late. That was the Russian star’s first win
since Round 3.
Among the other players, Jorden van Foreest in particular had
an impressive final day and overall showed he’s capable of beating the very
best, but qualification never came close. Last-placed Alan Pichot, who got the
chance to play through the qualifier at the very last moment, perhaps gave the
best impression of the level of the world’s top players. The 22-year-old Argentinian
no. 1, who made 5 draws and lost the remaining 10 games, wrote on Facebook:
I’ve finally finished the tournament! A really incredible
experience for a player of my level, unaccustomed to receiving invitations to
play in this type of tournament! Of course I would have liked to score more
points or win a game, but the truth is I’m not upset with my level. Aiming to
play the tournament aggressively in order to get to know the difference between
the best players in the world and myself, I never imagined that the difference
would be SO great. I played some really excellent games but my opponents always
found one move more and beat me! NOW is when my great challenge starts, and
that’s to see if from here, in the next 15-20 years, I can get to this level.
I’ve no idea if I’ll manage, but I’m going to do everything in my power to try
and be one of the best one day. I want to say thank you to the enormous quantity of people
who wrote to me and I couldn’t respond to (of course I’m going to do it now),
and for the coverage in the media (in Clarin, Infobae etc.). I’ve had an
unforgettable week that’s left me with a lot of material to keep improving.
Never in my life have I been so happy to finish last. To win big you have to pay the
price of losing many games. Thank you to chess24.es Meltwater Champions Chess
There’s no break for the qualifiers, as the knockout
tournament starts on Tuesday March 16th at the usual time of 17:00 CET. The winner
of the already mentioned Carlsen-Aronian will play the winner of
Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi in the semi-final, while in the other half of the draw
it’s So-Firouzja and MVL-Giri. While that last match has a Candidates feel to
it, a lot of eyes will be on how Alireza Firouzja does in his first knockout of
either this Tour or the last. He commented on playing Wesley:
We’ve played a lot online and we’ve also played a lot of
casual games. I have a good score against him, but we will see. I managed to
win the last game we played in the other tournament, the Skilling Open, and
this time we made a draw, so I have a good result, I have a good feeling, so we
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