Hikaru Nakamura has failed to qualify for the knockout
stages of the Opera Euro Rapid after losing a totally winning position against Sam
Shankland in the final round. That allowed Daniil Dubov to sneak through in 8th
place and set up another clash with Magnus Carlsen, after the World Champion
topped the prelims for a 3rd Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event in a row.
Anish Giri matched Magnus’ score and is still on course for a Valentine’s Day
final against his rival, but Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk and Ding
Liren are all out.
You can replay all the Opera Euro Rapid preliminary games
using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer
analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results.
Replay the day’s action with the live commentary from Tania
Sachdev and Peter Leko.
Or from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.
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The Opera Euro Rapid preliminary stage is over, with the bottom
8 players all eliminated while the top 8 go forward to the quarterfinals.
Let’s take a look at each player in turn.
Magnus Carlsen, 1st
with 9.5/15 (6 wins, 7 draws, 2 losses)
The final day wasn’t a classic Magnus Carlsen performance – he
lost to Ding Liren and was losing or close to it at some point in all the
remaining games – but the World Champion nevertheless topped the preliminary
standings for a 3rd tour event in a row. After turning round a tough opening to
beat Vidit in the first game of the day, qualification was never in doubt.
I was on the back foot for most of the day, but at the end
of the day what happened today didn’t really matter so much since I was already
through, and maybe it was a little bit harder to be motivated today.
Magnus’ 4-game winning streak on Saturday had been the boost
he felt he needed.
I feel good. Saturday was a great day of chess for me, which
is already huge, so I definitely feel ready for the next challenges and
certainly with more confidence than I had after Tata.
Anish Giri, 2nd
with 9.5/15 (5 wins, 9 draws, 1 loss)
Anish Giri was edged into 2nd place by scoring one win less,
but he also lost only a single game and qualified with consummate ease after a
win over Matthias Bluebaum on the final day. It was an impressive comeback,
both from the heartbreak of losing the Tata Steel Masters playoff to Jorden van
Foreest and from failing to qualify for the knockout in the Airthings Masters. Talking
A final against Magnus ending on Valentine’s Day remains a
Wesley So, 3rd
with 9/15 (5 wins, 8 draws, 2 losses)
Wesley began the event in spectacular style by beating
Magnus and drew just one game in the first eight as he raced to a +3 score. Normal
service was resumed after that as Wesley cruised to qualification by drawing
his final seven games. The Skilling Open winner will again be a feared opponent in
the knockout stages.
4th with 8.5/15 (5 wins, 7 draws, 3 losses)
Levon also began the tournament with 7 out of 8 decisive
games before things quietened down, and once again his dog Ponchik was providing the
A 27-move crush of Ian Nepomniachtchi in Round 12 put him
firmly on course for qualification, while Levon could also have played on, if
he’d needed to, in the final position against Hikaru Nakamura in the following
Vachier-Lagrave, 5th with 8.5/15 (4 wins, 9 draws, 2 losses)
French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be Levon’s opponent
in the quarterfinals, a chance for Maxime to gain revenge not just for a loss
in Round 3 of the prelims but a semi-final defeat in the Airthings
Maxime had to do things the hard way on the final day,
starting with a 116-move defence of a pawn-down position against Hikaru Nakamura.
Maxime was also losing to Radjabov at one point, but quickly dispatching Ding
Liren in the penultimate round meant he could go into the final round with
Black against Magnus without needing to do anything dramatic. In the end he
even had winning chances before that game ended in a draw.
6th with 8/15 (4 wins, 8 draws, 3 losses)
The Polish no. 1 was one of the heroes of the final day,
despite feeling his chances had gone when he was well-beaten by Leinier
Dominguez in Round 12 to leave him a point adrift of the Top 8. He said he was
in “kamikaze mode” as he went for a piece sacrifice against Dubov in the next
round that led to one of the craziest games we’ve witnessed in a long time. A lot
had already happened before the queen sacrifice 33.Qxg8+! (capturing a rook on
g8) seemed to wrap up victory:
33…Kxg8 runs into 34.d7!, but after 33…Nxg8 34.e8=Q it turned out that was just the beginning! Dubov put up
great resistance and when Duda missed a less than obvious only move it was suddenly equal. The
game should logically have ended on move 48.
48…Qc2+ 49.Kh3 Qh7+ 50.Kg2 Qc2+ would have been a draw by
perpetual check, but Daniil felt it was Duda who had to prove a draw and instead made a second queen with 48…b1=Q?. In fact it turned out Duda was able to
dodge all the checks while creating a queen of his own and finally wrap up
Daniil still managed to enjoy it.
I think still it was a very fun game, and we were playing
rapid. It’s very difficult to play brilliant moves, but at least it was fun to
play and probably fun to watch, I hope – four queens, you don’t see it every day!
And he was glad that Duda qualified.
So first of all, congratulations, buddy! I want to say that
I’m happy for Jan-Krzysztof to qualify, because normally he manages to beat me
and miss qualification, so basically it makes no sense, he wins the game and
it’s like a lose-lose. This time at least it brings him to the KO stage, which
Don’t miss their post-game interview.
Duda now faces a daunting match against Wesley So in the quarterfinals.
It’s a difficult opponent, for everyone, obviously, but for
me especially, I guess. I’m looking forward to this match, but Wesley is
extremely strong, especially when he’s sure about his capabilities. He’s
winning against me all the time, so he will be for sure, but it will be fun and
a great experience for me.
It should perhaps be added that although he lost to Wesley
in the preliminary stage that was only after a misclick on move 74 in what had
been a tricky but drawn ending.
7th with 8/15 (1 win, 14 draws)
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader Teimour Radjabov had one
of the most remarkable routes to qualification – winning in Round 2 against Sam
Shankland and drawing every other game to feature prominently in the tournament stats.
In so far as it was a strategy it
could have backfired, since Teimour only just qualified and was risking losing
out on the “head-to-head” and “most wins” tiebreakers to other players.
There was also a potential banana skin, with Levon Aronian in with a chance of
getting revenge for the Airthings Masters final when they met in the final
round of the preliminaries.
In the end it all worked out, however, and it has to be said
that Teimour didn’t just make lifeless draws – he had serious winning chances against
both Magnus and MVL on the final day. He now faces Anish Giri in the quarterfinals,
which may be a case of what happens when two immovable objects meet, since
Anish only lost one game in the prelims.
Teimour can put his full focus on online chess since he’s
not involved in the Candidates Tournament after pulling out over what later
proved absolutely justified pandemic concerns. In an interview on the eve of
the Opera Euro Rapid he explained that he doesn’t regret his choices and expects
to get an invite to the next Candidates as compensation.
Daniil Dubov, 8th
with 7.5/15 (4 wins, 7 draws, 4 losses)
Daniil is a huge fan favourite for his always enterprising
play, but the lack of a pragmatic bone in his body makes him a nightmare to
watch in qualifying events. He went into the final day on -1 but came out
punching with impressive wins over Leinier Dominguez and Ding Liren, with the
Chinese no. 1 lost on move 15.
After 15…Nxh2 16.bxc6 Ng4 17.cxb7 the b-pawn is a monster.
Ding spent over 10 minutes (the players start with 15) on 15…Nxf2 but just resigned a piece down three moves
Dubov was suddenly in a qualifying position, but as we’ve
seen, he threw away the chance for a draw in the next game against Duda and was
back in trouble. Nevertheless, he came very close to beating Magnus (again) in
a 122-move game where the World Champion must have been very relieved when the 50-move rule kicked in i.e. a game is drawn if no pawn has been pushed or piece captured in 50 moves. As
he put it, “Against Magnus I was only given 150 moves, otherwise we would still
be playing this game!”
That meant Daniil went into the final round with Black
against Grischuk thinking he was in a must-win situation, only to be forced to
concede a draw in 87 moves. As it turned out, however, that was enough for
qualification – and to set up yet another quarterfinal against Magnus.
Daniil famously won that contest in the Airthings Masters and repeated his
For me it will be great fun as always. He’s still my
favourite opponent, so I’m obviously very happy to play him again.
By this stage Magnus may not share that enthusiasm, but he’ll
certainly be plotting his revenge.
9th win 7.5/15 (3 wins, 9 draws, 3 losses)
It was a tough day for Hikaru, with his three opening draws
including a 116-move squeeze against MVL and a dicey game against Aronian, but
it seemed he’d shown his champion’s quality by getting the result when it
mattered to beat Matthias Bluebaum with Black in 86 moves.
Hikaru went into the final round against his US rival Sam
Shankland knowing a draw might well be enough, but it seemed no calculators would be
required when he got off to a dream start and built up a totally winning
position. The clearest illustration of that is perhaps move 34.
34.Nc8! Bxc8 35.Qxc8 is essentially zugzwang. White can do
nothing and wait for his opponent to fall on his sword, or the idea of Bd8
followed by Qd7 will likely win a piece.
Instead, however, Hikaru took two minutes before going for a
more “standard” kill with 34.Qh7!?, only to realise to his horror after 34…f6
35.Qh8+?! Kf7 36.Bd3? Qf8! that all his advantage had gone.
Soon afterwards only a tricky sacrificial attack would have
saved Hikaru, but when he missed that he found himself lost – and it was perhaps symbolic that the knight that could have won the game was now stranded on a7.
There was no reprieve, with Hikaru ultimately knocked out on
the tiebreak of most wins – three to Dubov’s four – since their head-to-head game had
been drawn. For the first time on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour or the
Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, Hikaru had failed to reach the knockout stages, but
he’s sure to be back.
10th with 7/15 (4 wins, 6 draws, 5 losses)
That game capped an impressive tour debut for the 2018 US
Champion, with Sam also having chances against Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi on
the final day. As he explained himself, three losses in four games on Day 2 ultimately
proved to leave him with too much of a hill to climb.
Ian Nepomniachtchi, 11th with 7/15 (3 wins, 8 draws, 4 losses)
Ian is the other knockout regular to miss out on qualification,
and the way it happened was arguably even more of a shock than the case of
Nakamura. After reaching +2 on the first day, the Russian no. 1 seemed to be
cruising with six draws in a row, but then the wheels fell off.
He was lost in 20 moves against Aronian before blundering a
pawn on move 12 against Bluebaum. That seemed to mean only a win against Dominguez
in the final round would be enough to qualify, but as it happened, after
pushing too hard and falling into a mating attack with the white pieces, Ian
had to watch as it turned out a draw would have been enough to qualify ahead of Dubov and Nakamura.
12th with 6.5/15 (2 wins, 9 draws, 4 losses)
If Vidit had found a tricky win against Magnus Carlsen
in the first game of the final day he could have fought for qualification, but
the loss that followed ended those hopes. It was still a very decent outing for
the Indian star, who picked up some nice wins and was never a pushover.
13th with 6.5/15 (4 wins, 5 draws, 6 losses)
It was a case of what might have been for tour debutant
Leinier Dominguez, who was out of contention and had suffered six losses before
really catching fire. Leinier’s three wins in his last four games, against
Duda, Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi, wreaked havoc with the event, crushing the
dreams of two and almost three players.
14th with 6.5/15 (1 win, 11 draws, 3 losses)
From the moment Alexander mouse-slipped on move 4 of his
very first game you could guess that this wasn’t going to be his event, and
amazingly the 3-time World Blitz Champion went on to win just one game – and in that one he blundered a piece and missed a simple win against Ding Liren. The final
nail in his coffin was an opening disaster against Dominguez, where it was
enough for Leinier to follow Jan
Gustafsson’s Chessable course to be winning in 10 moves with Black!
15th with 5.5/15 (2 wins, 7 draws, 6 losses)
It was always going to be tough for German no. 1 Matthias
Bluebaum on his tour debut, but wins over Aronian and Nepomniachtchi meant
there were definitely positives to take from the event. The negative was that
he lost six and drew two of his games with the white pieces. On the other hand,
losing to the likes of Carlsen, So, Giri and Nakamura can happen with either
Ding Liren, 16th
with 5/15 (3 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses)
The Chinese no. 1 and world no. 3 was unrecognisable, with
one of the most shocking statistics his score of 0.5/8 with the black pieces.
There were glimmers of the real Ding, such as beating Magnus with an almost
flawless display when the World Champion over-pressed on the final day, but otherwise the less
said the better. The obvious explanation for the result is the brutal schedule
of playing from midnight to 5am in China, combined with some internet issues,
though Liren starred in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour despite the games usually
starting at 11pm. Perhaps the situation with the interrupted Candidates is also
weighing on his mind?
It’s now on to the quarterfinals, with Carlsen-Dubov and the
other matches starting today, Tuesday 9th February, at the same time of 17:00
Tune into all the live action right here on chess24!