le nakamura madness

The first Carlsen-Nakamura match since the epic final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour is on the cards after both players reached the New in Chess Classic semi-finals. Magnus said he “tried to play a lot more aggressively” as one fine positional win was enough to defeat Teimour Radjabov, while Hikaru not only survived a stunning attack by Liem Quang Le but went on to win that vital game. The final is far from set in stone, however, since Hikaru plays Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who was in superb form as he beat Alireza Firouzja, while Magnus faces Levon Aronian, who knocked out Tour leader Wesley So.

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the New in Chess Classic using the selector below.

And here’s the commentary on the second day of the quarterfinals 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.

For a second Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event in a row we didn’t need any playoffs to decide who won the quarterfinal matches.

Carlsen overcomes Radjabov’s resistance

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen admitted he’d been “way, way off” his best form on the first day of his quarterfinal against Teimour Radjabov, though he’d taken comfort from managing to hold on.

What I am happy about is that I was tested yesterday and I managed to come back a lot better today, and I have to say that in general Radjabov is a very, very tough opponent in this format since he rarely loses, and one bad moment and you could be out. Fortunately I wasn’t punished yesterday, but it was quite apparent to me from my match with him yesterday and today why he’s done well in this format recently. 

After four draws on Day 1 there were signs at the start of Day 2 that Magnus might struggle again.

But this time it turned out to be part of a strategy.

I felt a lot better today. I tried to play a lot more aggressively, to take some more risks. Maybe the first game was a little bit excessive, because I played a line that I knew wasn’t supposed to be great, but I was just curious to find out.

As in the 2nd game a day previously, Teimour seemed to let Magnus off lightly in a tricky position.

After 26.h4 the black rook has to worry about its future in a position where White holds all the trumps, but 26.Rh4 Rxh4 27.Bxh4 was just a comfortably drawn opposite-coloured bishop endgame. 

It was Game 2 in which Magnus struck the decisive blow, winning the opening battle before gaining a decisive advantage.

16.c6! bxc6 (16…Nf6 17.cxb7 just gives White connected passed pawns) 17.c5 Nf6 18.b6 and the protected passed pawn on b6 was a monster. It was being called a positional masterpiece, though Magnus felt what followed was a little too easy for that.

After I got the pawn on b6, that very, very strong passed pawn, I didn’t do anything particularly wrong in that game, but I don’t think the concepts were very difficult. But obviously it’s very, very pleasant to win games like that where you sort of just follow the plan and win that way.

When the position opened up, everything worked in White’s favour and Magnus eased to victory.

That left Teimour needed to win one of the next two games to force playoffs, but although Magnus was briefly concerned he was “bungling” the ending in the final game, he barely gave Radjabov a chance.

What does he expect from the semi-final against Levon Aronian?

I think I have good chances in general, but it will probably be another difficult match. After all, anybody that beats So is no slouch, and Levon has shown in many of these tournaments before that he can do well, so I’m looking forward to it!

Aronian plans trip to San Francisco

Levon Aronian was asked what it meant to him to beat tour leader Wesley So.

It tells us he has too many points – he’s qualified, he doesn’t care! And it tells that I have to work harder to get into the final, which I really want to be in, because I really want to go to San Francisco. I’m very excited, as I saw many movies about San Francisco, and I really look forward if I manage to qualify for the final to be there.

A trip to San Francisco won’t be too difficult for Levon to pull off when he moves to the USA, but for now he’s in Armenia and only planning to move in August after the FIDE World Cup (July 10 – August 6) is over. That’s also when the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz (August 10-15) and Sinquefield Cup (August 17-27) are scheduled to be held in his new home city of Saint Louis. 

What Levon was referring to, however, was the 10-player final of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, that’s planned to be held in Meltwater’s San Francisco headquarters from September 25 to October 3rd. You can qualify for that event by winning a Major (as Teimour Radjabov and Anish Giri have managed) or based on the overall Tour standings. This was how that race looked at the start of the New in Chess Classic.

With up to 10 points available in the preliminaries and an extra 40 points for the winner of the knockout a lot can change, with the current standings as follows:

  1. Wesley So: 140 —> 145
  2. Magnus Carlsen: 135 —> 145 (will be at least 155)
  3. Teimour Radjabov: 108 —> 109
  4. Anish Giri: 105
  5. Ian Nepomniachtchi: 83
  6. Levon Aronian: 67 —> 71 (will be at least 81)
  7. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 54
  8. Hikaru Nakamura: 40 —> 48 (will be at least 58)

As you can see, Magnus will be the clear leader of the Tour after this event even if he loses the semi-final, while Levon could climb to 3rd place. 

It’s unlikely Wesley didn’t care, but what is true is that he hasn’t been nearly so convincing this tournament as he has been in previous events on the tour. He suffered a number of shocking losses in the preliminary stages, and a mouse-slip on Day 1 of his quarterfinal against Levon didn’t help at all. The US Champion needed to win on demand on Day 2, but never broke through, with a 69-move draw in the first game of the day higher on tension than interesting chess content. 

Levon was asked about how you should approach defending a tricky position:

I think you should remember that this can happen to everybody – you can start playing like an idiot at some point when you have a promising position and you just accept a draw as the maximum result and then work hard to achieve it, because that’s what makes the best defenders in the world be so good at it. Magnus and Karjakin and Gelfand and other guys, they don’t really think, oh, now I have to suffer and get half a point, they just sit there and say, this is the situation, I’m facing the consequences of being stupid and now I have to play. 

Levon comfortably held with Black in the next game, before Wesley fell into what Harikrishna described as a known opening trap in the 3rd game. He was much worse out of the opening, but then after fighting his way back to equality he collapsed on move 35.

After 35…Bb7 Levon could force a rook ending with an extra pawn with 36.c6+, but it should have been a comfortable draw. Instead 35…Rff2? 36.Rxa6 was just losing a piece. Black had no perpetual check and Levon swapped down into a rook ending with two extra connected passed pawns. 

It was all over, since a win in the next game would only be enough for Wesley to draw the mini-match, but he needed to win to balance out his loss the day before.

What does Levon think about facing Magnus next?

He’s a very tough opponent who upsets me a lot and makes me feel bad about my chess! I just want to break this chain of disappointment and have one good match, so I’m not asking for too much… Of course Magnus is a very tough opponent and to play against him I think it’s much better now that I’ve beaten his nemesis Wesley. Magnus will have some respect and will play worse than he usually does! 

Mamedyarov overpowers Firouzja

As Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s semi-final opponent Hikaru Nakamura commented:

I think most people would assume that Alireza is the big favourite against Shakhriyar, but from what I saw [Shakh] played very good chess, very, very sharp tactically, and he was a very deserved winner in his match.

After dominating on Day 1, Mamedyarov did it again against his 17-year-old opponent, with Alireza already having a mountain to climb after an opening disaster with the white pieces in Game 1. He was in trouble after 14.Kd1?! and failed to find the last chance of 16.f3! (covering the e4-square). Instead 16.Rc2?, played after 6 minutes’ thought, only seemed to defend the b2-pawn.

16…Nxb2+! 17.Rxb2 c3! and the rest was just agony, which didn’t last long.

Shakh forced a draw by repetition in just 16 moves in the next game, before clinching the tie with another win with Black in Game 3. It was a brutal game.

26…Nxg3! may not even be the strongest move in the position, but it was a well-calculated blow. After 27.fxg3 Bxf3! 28.Bxf3 Qxg3 29.Bg2 Black would have a choice.

Both 29…Bxd4! and the perhaps more satisfying 29…Rxd4! exploit the unfortunate fact that the queen on b3 is undefended, so the e3-pawn is pinned.

Alireza ignored the g3-knight with 27.Nd3 Nf5, but a blow on d4 did eventually come, and although White still had chances to hold, Alireza needed to win on demand and instead fell to defeat. 

Mamedyarov noted that the way the openings went had left Alireza on the back foot in almost every game.

Of course I’m very happy to win against one of the strongest chess players in the world, also one of the young maybe future World Champions, but of course it was not an easy match for him. We played a good match with many interesting games but ok, I think from the openings he got bad positions and I think on the first day and also the second day every time he got a very bad position from the openings. 

It was a very impressive debut in the knockout stage for Shakhriyar, who had been knocked out in the preliminaries of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, especially as he noted he’d barely played internet chess for 10 years. When he learned he was going to play Hikaru Nakamura in the semi-finals it came as something of a shock!

Against Hikaru… he’s crushed me on the internet! Our last match he beat me in a 3-minute match 9:1, I think… In internet chess he’s the best, or one of the best, he and Magnus or Alireza. But of course it’s absolutely different chess. Rapid is not blitz, not 3 minutes, and here it’s not easy to play for flag and I will try to play. I think Hikaru’s a very interesting chess player and it’s every time very nice to play against him, and I think it will be a very nice and a very interesting match.

Nakamura survives Le’s onslaught

If there was a game of the day, or even the tournament so far, it was the first game of Day 2 of this quarterfinal clash. Liem Quang Le had lost the first day but came out fighting with a hyper-aggressive approach. On move 16 he correctly sacrificed a piece which Hikaru probably shouldn’t have accepted, but that would have deprived us of a lot of fun. Liem brought his queen in, then found a dramatic continuation of the attack with 19.Rh5!?

It was inspired, even if it turns out that playing 19.Nc7! first was even stronger. The game continued 19…Qa5+! 20.Rc3! Qxb5 21.Rxg5! Re8!

22.Bg6! Ke7 (22…fxg6? 23.Rxg6 is mate-in-3) 23.Qxf7+ Kd6

24.e4!? A brilliant continuation of the attack suggested by Harikrishna as well, though 24.Qxe8 may have been objectively stronger. 24…Bxd4! (the only defence) 25.e5+ Bxe5 26.Rxe5 Qxb2 (26…Re7!) 27.Ree3 Re7 28.h7!? Qa1+ 29.Ke2 Qb2+ 30.Kf1 Qa1+

Here the natural end of the game would have been a draw by repetition of moves, but Liem Quang Le decided to gamble with 31.Re1? and the show went on! He was losing, then drawing, then winning, then drawing again, until he finally went astray with 46.Qc4? (e.g. 46.Rc1 is still fine).

After 46…Nb6! all three of White’s pieces were attacked. 47.Qc5 Bxf5! simply left White a piece down (48.Qxf5 Qxc3) and there were to be no more twists. Nevertheless, what a game!

Hikaru would later sum up:

I think the first day seemed pretty smooth, I got a lot of good positions, I was pressing in both my white games, I wasn’t really in danger with Black. Today, of course, was quite different, but a lot hinged on the first game. There were moments when probably I could have won that game, there were moments when Liem could also probably have won, it was very back and forth, and I think the fact I won yesterday, when the first game didn’t go his way, definitely gave him an uphill battle. 

Hikaru kept control as the second game was drawn, meaning Liem had to win the next two games on demand. That’s almost impossible against a player as good and pragmatic as Hikaru, but the Vietnamese star was very close to getting at least half of the way. He’d let an advantage slip when Hikaru’s 77…f5? gave him a open goal.

78.Rb6+! is a simple win, with the point that after 78…Rxb6 (otherwise Black just loses a rook) White has the zwischenzug 79.gxf5+ with check. After 79…Kxf5 80.Kxb6 the a-pawn wins the race and White would win the game. 

Instead 78.Kb5? let the chance slip and Hikaru sealed victory in the match. He commented afterwards:

Overall I’m pretty happy. I think it’s the first time I’ve won a quarterfinals match in 4 months or something – it’s been a while!

He was right, since he only won in the quarterfinals of the 1st event on this year’s tour, beating MVL in the Skilling Open before losing to Wesley So in the semi-finals. In the Airthings Masters he lost to Aronian in the quarterfinals, in the Opera Euro Rapid he finished 9th in the Prelims and narrowly missed out on the knockout, while in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational he lost his quarterfinal to man of the moment Ian Nepomniachtchi.

That means that it’s only now we might get to see what was the recurring highlight of the first Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, a Carlsen-Nakamura final. That was also on Hikaru’s mind, though there’s work to be done first.

I have the best possible situation in that I can avoid both Magnus and Wesley, who probably are the two hottest players, or they have been the two players for the most part in the Champions Tour, so it’s set up for that, but Shakhriyar’s a very strong player and I’ll have to play well against him before anyone can really dream of that.

For commentary on the semi-finals we see the return of Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko, who was seconding Ian Nepomniachtchi at the Candidates. They’re going to join an hour early, at 18:00 CEST, for a Candidates special here on chess24! Don’t miss the chance to ask Peter a question:

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