Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So tied the first day of the
Skilling Open final 2:2 after an incredible exchange of blows. Magnus ground
out an advantage and then finished off the first game in sparkling style. It
looked to be his day when Wesley missed a big chance in the next game and was
getting tortured again, but suddenly Magnus fell into a mating net. The World
Champion recovered to win Game 3, but Wesley had the last laugh in the final
game of the day. The $30,000 winner must be decided on Monday, when Magnus can wrap
his own 30th birthday present.
You can replay all the knockout games from the Skilling Open
using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare,
Jovanka Houska and David Howell, who were joined at one point by Anish Giri.
14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was the surprise guest
on the show featuring Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko.
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Game 1: Magnus gets off to a flying start
Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So are two of the most difficult
players to beat in world chess, and they’d been showing that in the Skilling
Open as well. Both players had suffered just three losses in getting to the
final, despite playing over 30 games each. A tightly balanced final looked
likely, and that was how the first game began, with queens exchanged on move 8
and the slightest of advantages for Magnus, who had White.
On move 23 Wesley could have played 23…Rc1!, with what our
commentators felt would be a certain draw, but even after 23…Rc7!? the game still
looked drawish. Magnus was digging deep, however, and 31…a4 allowed him to create
a critical situation on the board.
After 32.g5+! Kxg5 33.Rxb5+! Wesley was later surprised to
realise that 33…Kf6!, and a potential pawn ending that could arise by force, was
only a draw. Instead he played 33…Rf5?, which turned out to be losing by force
after 34.Rxb4. Both players got to queen their pawns and, at a glance, you might
have thought it was just a draw, but Magnus spotted the win.
40.Qf4+! g5 (provoking this move is vital to leave the
h5-rook undefended) 41.Qd6+! Qg6 42.Qf8+! Qg7 43.Rxh5+! and Wesley resigned. 43…Kg6
would run into 44.Rxg5+! and the black queen is lost. Even Wesley seemed to enjoy
what had been an elegant finish.
Game 2: Wesley gets there in the end
Vladimir Kramnik joined Peter and Tania for Game 2, and he
talked about how we tend to overestimate how big the difference is between Magnus
and the other top players… though he did add a caveat!
Even if Magnus is the best player in the world, the
difference with Wesley So is not so big. In one match anything can happen! I
wouldn’t say he has more than a 55% chance. He always has 55/60% against top
players, but gets to 100 at the end of the day. That’s the miracle of Magnus!
The way this game went seemed, until the very end, to
support that thesis. So got such a good position out of the opening that Kramnik
felt he had the pawn and the compensation, and Wesley did everything right
after that, until move 36.
The winning move was 36.Bd3!, and though Wesley said he was “still
not sure exactly why” after very briefly looking at it with the computer
afterwards, the main idea is clear. e5 by White would then be mate-in-1, and if
Black blocks with 36…e5 then 37.Bc4 again threatens mate. 36…Qd1 would run into
In the game, however, Wesley played 36.e5? immediately, when
the only move 36…Qd1! took away the d3-square from the bishop, as well as
potentially supporting the queening of the c-pawn. Suddenly Wesley had nothing
more than a draw by perpetual check, but he kept on playing, which ultimately
gave Magnus winning chances. The best summary of the extended sequence of play
that followed perhaps came from Kramnik: “I think both are trying to lose, but
probably it will be a draw in the end!”
The draw looked inevitable after 88…Qd6:
Wesley could simply have exchanged queens, but he decided to
give one more check, 89.Qe3+, that the watching Anish Giri described as “sort
of meaningless”. Most replies draw, but as Wesley commented, “Magnus was
generous enough to play 89…Kf8?? and run into a fortunate checkmate!”
As Anish put it, “wins feel good, but the lucky wins feel
Game 3: Magnus bounces back
It had been a tough blow for Magnus, but he managed to get
straight back to business in the next game, catching Wesley out in the opening
and then going for the bold 11.g4!?
Wesley called that “a fantastic move”, while his reply 11…g5?!
was already a mistake after Magnus calmly responded with 12.Bg3! Wesley felt he
was totally outplayed in what followed, which was perhaps a fair assessment,
although the computers also point out some moments when Black could have got
right back into the game. As Kramnik noted, however:
The most important is to play better than your opponent –
that’s enough. You don’t need more than that, you don’t need to play perfect
chess, it just has to be a little better than your opponent’s chess!
Magnus had taken a 2:1 lead and only needed a draw to clinch
victory in the mini-match.
That looked a tough ask for Wesley, given he was facing a
player who has been the undisputed king of chess for a decade and who Vladimir
Kramnik thinks only a player from a younger generation will overthrow.
Game 4: All square before the birthday decider
Once again, however, the opening went in White’s favour,
with the sideline 9.Qf3 a6 10.Qa3! seeming to catch Magnus off-guard. 11.Bg5! already
posed serious problems.
The ugly 11…f6 might be best, but Magnus went for the bold
concept of 11…Be7!? 12.Bxe7 Kxe7. It looked risky, but subsequent play seemed
to justify the World Champion’s choice until he played the loose 29…Bf5!?.
Wesley met that with 30.Rh5, an odd-looking move that left Kramnik and Leko
reflecting on how chess had changed.
There are no good replies, however, and after 30…Qc8
31.Qxb6! Ng4? Wesley struck with the devastating 32.Ba6!, after which a furious
Magnus knew that he was lost.
Black can’t keep defending the bishop on f5 since 32…Qd7
runs into 33.Bb5!, while in the game Magnus went for 32…Re1+ 33.Ka2 Qe8 34.Rxf5
and resigned a move later, a piece down.
Magnus had earlier told Kaja Snare:
What happens after I lose a game is that I break stuff, and
then I use the next hour putting these things together again!
Whether Magnus was slowly repairing the damage or not, Wesley
was busy talking about how surprised he was to have drawn blood on the first
day of the final:
Very surprised, because my goal in this match is to make it
interesting, to try to put up a good fight, at least, because Magnus is really
the better player and he’s the best player in the world right now, so just to
compete with him is a very good feeling, and he’s better in all parts of the
game than me. So I had to do my best or hope to catch him in an off day. I
think today has been slightly an off day for him. I don’t think he even lost any game in the
semi-finals [he lost one to Nepo] or the quarterfinals, so to beat him twice
today is very special.
The 2:2 draw means we’re all square again going
into the final and deciding day of the Skilling Open on Monday, which also
happens to be Magnus Carlsen’s 30th birthday.
The only way we can now get tiebreaks is if the mini-match
on Monday finishes 2:2, in which case we’ll have two blitz games and then
potentially Armageddon to decide the fate of the $30,000 top prize and 40
Champions Chess Tour points. The runner-up gets $15,000 and 20 points.