Magnus Carlsen has won a 5th Meltwater Champions Chess Tour preliminary stage in a row, with the World Champion commenting, “I’m starting to perfect the art of getting the first seed without too much hassle”. He faces Teimour Radjabov in the quarterfinals, while we also have Nakamura-Le, Mamedyarov-Firouzja and So-Aronian. Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Sergey Karjakin were among the top players to miss out, while 15-year-old Praggnanandhaa also fell short but made a hugely impressive tour debut.
You can replay all the games from the New in Chess Classic preliminary stages using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.
And from Simon Williams and Harikrishna.
Don’t miss out on a special offer on the New in Chess magazine, and more deals, at chess24.com/deals.
5th time lucky for Magnus Carlsen?
It’s over six months since World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen won a tournament, but when it comes to the 3-day preliminary stages of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour his consistency has been remarkable. He’s now won all five on this season’s tour, and this time round it was very smooth…
…apart, perhaps, from his fashionably late arrival, by bike!
He commented after the day was over:
I’m very happy to be undefeated and happy with the symmetry of my score, to score +2 on each day. I feel like I’m starting to perfect the art of getting the first seed without too much hassle. And in general, I’m relatively happy with my play. It wasn’t sparkling by any means, but nevertheless I think it was decent.
He began the final day with an impressive win over Alireza Firouzja (“he played I think great” said his young opponent), while the only real danger came against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
Magnus mentioned that the Najdorf in their game was good practice for the aggressive chess we can expect in the World Championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi, but he also said it showed he has work to do!
Duda here went for one of the big ideas in the position, 32…Rc4?!, but it turns out he should have played 32…Nf3! first to cover the d4-square, since Magnus was able to defend with 33.Rd4! and eventually take over. Duda scored 3.5/4 in the other games on his 23rd birthday, but it was too little too late for the Polish no. 1.
Magnus responded, “it’s already happened!” when asked if he was going to start to get motivated to play Ian Nepomnaichtchi. He commented on what we could conclude from Nepo winning the Candidates with a round to spare:
It tells us he had a very good tournament, most of all, and he’s certainly had the potential to win top tournaments for a long time, and he has won a couple of them, and to be able to show his best level at the Candidates is very impressive.
First up for Magnus, however, is the knockout stage, where winning the preliminaries so far hasn’t done him much good!
Elsewhere we saw many familiar faces who knew exactly what to do to reach the knockout. The most pragmatic of all was Hikaru Nakamura, who made near instant draws in a third of his games, starting from Day 1. The Double Bongcloud wasn’t as much fun when the novelty had gone.
Hikaru was unbeaten, however, and only players of the very highest level can cruise through a field of this strength. Wesley So had also earned a break, after suffering three losses in his first six games, all of which were decisive.
Radjabov and Firouzja struggle
There was less drama going into the final round this time, though Levon Aronian, Alireza Firouzja and Teimour Radjabov could all potentially be caught by the winner of Dominguez-Tari. In the end they all scored at least half a point to ensure safety, though Alireza still described it as, “a very bad day for me – I played my worst chess ever!”
Radjabov had predictably chosen to take things easy after reaching an unbeaten +3 to lead after Day 1, drawing 9 and losing one of his remaining 10 games. He said of that single loss to Praggnanandhaa:
I was not really focused the way I should have been there. I was kind of invincible, so I didn’t think anything bad could happen… The Indian youngsters are just amazing now.
He was willing to take criticism for making short draws, pointing out that you can’t escape drama in these events:
The point is to qualify, which is anyway good for the public, because we’ll anyway play the knockout stage, so there always will be a winner, which is just fine. That’s what I like with the system.
Mamedyarov and Liem Quang Le break through
It’s notoriously tough to reach the knockout stages of the tour events, but we have two quarterfinal debutants. 2013 World Blitz Champion Liem Quang Le scored a highly impressive four wins and five draws to wrap up qualification with a round to spare, with his final round loss to Levon Aronian changing nothing.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov is no stranger to chess at the very highest level, but he’s been quiet since the pandemic began and failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. This time round, however, it was the Shakh we know and love, as the Azerbaijan star went on to score the most wins. He would even have won the preliminary stage if he’d beaten Magnus with the white pieces in the final round. Magnus, however, kept things firmly under control.
In that case he’d have faced an awkward match against his compatriot Radjabov, while as it is, he takes on Alireza Firouzja in a potentially explosive quarterfinal. Alireza commented:
We play a lot of blitz normally and he’s a very strong player. I expect a very tough and interesting match, because he’s a very good sharp and tactical player.
Pragg fits right in, but mixed fortunes for the debutants
To get an idea of how tough it is to make your debut in these events it was sufficient to look at the fate of Gawain Jones and Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, both strong, inventive grandmasters capable of beating anyone. In this case, however, Gawain catching Wesley So in an opening trap was the one win between then, with Johan-Sebastian ending with 7 losses in a row, while it was 8 for Gawain. Of course there were misses, with this position on move 124 (!) of Jones-Dominguez the most memorable.
125.Rh2+ is a neat version of a famous tactic. If 125…Kg4 then 126.f3+! wins the queen on c2, if 125…Kg5 then 126.f4+! is the move. Instead Gawain played 125.Kg3? and went on to lose.
The remaining two debutants didn’t make the knockout, but they could be proud of their displays. Aryan Tari scored five wins, including against Firouzja, Duda, Praggnanandhaa and Karjakin, and had an outside chance of reaching the quarterfinals going into the final round. “It gives some self-confidence to know that you can beat these guys,” he said afterwards.
The most memorable debut, however, was from 15-year-old Praggnanandhaa, who seamlessly graduated from the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour. If he hadn’t lost a winning position to Tari at the end of Day 2 he might have challenged for the knockout, though his final three games against Carlsen, Nakamura and Firouzja were always going to be tough!
He more than held his own, drawing all three games and making Magnus fight for that draw. The World Champion didn’t want to label him his future successor just yet.
I think everybody sort of agrees that Alireza is the most obvious candidate to become World Champion of those who are 20 and younger. Pragg, I’ve no idea, obviously he’s extremely talented, but whether he will break through it’s very, very hard to say, but I think we can sort of enjoy the fact that he’s playing so well at this age and I would say also fearlessly. He certainly didn’t show me too much respect when we were playing, so he clearly believes that he can compete at this level and I think at this point that’s sort of enough. Let’s not talk about World Championships so much for him and just let him develop.
Praggnanandhaa’s coach was also rightfully proud of his pupil.
The final standings, with the Top 8 proceeding to the knockout stages, were as follows.
And with no. 1 playing no. 8, no. 2 playing no. 7 and so on, we got the following quarterfinal pairings.
The action begins at 19:00 CEST on Tuesday 27 April, with each clash from now on consisting of two 4-game mini matches over two days before potential tiebreaks. Don’t miss live commentary here on chess24!