Reports May 9, 2019 | 11:56 AMby Colin McGourty

Côte d’Ivoire, Day 1: Carlsen & Wei Yi lead

Magnus Carlsen continued right where he’d left off in Baden-Baden by defeating rivals Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi in the first two rounds of the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid and Blitz in Abidjan. In Round 3 Hikaru Nakamura missed a tricky chance for more but did hold a draw against the World Champion, allowing 19-year-old Wei Yi to take the joint lead on 5/6 by defeating his compatriot Ding Liren in a long, tough game.

4 or 5 years ago Wei Yi was being touted as a potential challenger for Magnus Carlsen's crown... the talk has since died down, but there's still time | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour is underway, and you can check out all the games from the Côte d’Ivoire Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:

And here’s the English live commentary, with Yannick Pelletier, Tania Sachdev, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley:

Magnus can’t stop winning

The fact that Magnus Carlsen’s live classical rating was higher than his rapid rating was the topic of a question from Jan Gustafsson in his recent interview with the World Champion, with Magnus responding:

It’s very clear that I’ve struggled with rapid chess for a long time and I’m hoping to rectify that, particularly because I will be forced to play some kind of rapid tiebreaks in case I make draws in Norway Chess, so at the very least it’s practice for that.

“Struggle” in this case meant having a world best 2869 rating and having finished in the tie for 2nd place at the last World Rapid Championship! In any case, all it took to end the anomaly was one game against Wesley So in Abidjan that got his rapid rating back up to 2877.2 – surpassing his 2875.4 in classical chess.

The 2019 Grand Chess Tour is underway! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Jan isn’t just an interviewer, but a second of the World Champion, and after 11.Qd3 was played that suddenly became relevant:

They were following a Sunday morning Chess Bundesliga game Jan had won, in some style, against German FM Christoph Eichler, who thought for 27 minutes in this position. The world no. 4 wasn’t overly impressed!

It was an extremely tense game. Magnus followed his recent trend of sacrificing pawns, but giving up the d4-pawn looked risky, especially when the World Champion took the paradoxical decision to swap off queens as well. White had the bishop pair, open files and advanced pawns, however, and it all turned swiftly when Wesley missed a chance to act:

Now was the time for 30…f6!, since in the game after 30…Bd7?! 31.Rc7 Rxc7 32.Rxc7 f6 Wesley ended up in a similar position but with Carlsen’s rook crucially ready to gobble material on the 7th rank. Precision was then required from Black, but Wesley crumbled fast and in the final position his knight was totally dominated:

If the knight came to e6 or g6 it would be swapped off immediately since White is winning the pawn ending.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would later comment that Magnus was “getting away with things”, but the next game had real flashes of genius, even if it found both players in a curious mood!

A fascinating, unbalanced Sicilian became truly special on move 29:

29…e3!! left Ian Nepomniachtchi, who should have eliminated the pawn a move earlier, with no choice but to grab the piece, when Magnus followed up with the quietly brilliant 30…Re8!!

He was asked afterwards if he’d seen it in advance:

Yeah, I did see 30…Re8 in advance. Obviously when I went for e4 to begin with my original idea was 30…Ba6 and I was calculating 31.g6 and seeing if that ending was winning, but then at the end I knew that Re8 was also decent, mainly because I hadn’t seen his defence 31.Kh2, because I thought Re8 was just very, very strong. I thought when I come to this I will just decide what to do.

Norway's no. 2 Jon Ludvig Hammer explains more about that key moment:

Magnus wasn't initially thrilled with what followed in the game:

I really, really wanted to avoid what we had in the game, where I get the new queen but don’t have any threats, but fortunately it seemed that everything works and the two queens just protect each other and a lot of squares.

There was no reason to fear the multiple queens, however, and he didn’t put a foot wrong as he went on to win the game:

He summed up his 4/4 start (it’s 2 points for a win in rapid):

As you could see, I spent a lot of time on this game, and the first one with Wesley I was also struggling quite a bit. The results are definitely better than how it’s been looking so far, but obviously I cannot complain!

Nepomniachtchi's facial expressions were a treasure trove! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The final game of the day was the showdown with Hikaru Nakamura. The reigning American Champion is also the reigning Grand Chess Tour Champion, and the world no. 2 in both rapid and blitz. He came into the game after impressively beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 1 (the French no. 1’s latest pawn sacrifice might have been ill-judged, but he didn’t feel he did too much wrong in the game) and then falling just short against Sergey Karjakin in Round 2:

It’s move 100, and 100.Kf5! is mate-in-33 according to the tablebases. Instead 100.h6 was premature, and after 100…Nh4 there was no way to stop both white pawns getting eliminated.

Carlsen-Nakamura is always a key battle in rapid and blitz events | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Hikaru was playing well and, despite handling the opening slowly, he could have been fighting for a win against Magnus if he’d made a different choice on move 16:

16…Nb4! is the move Nakamura said he spent all his time on trying to make work, and it would have done, but only if he spotted a key move after 17.axb4 axb4 18.Bxe5 Bxe5 19.Nxe5 Ra1+ 20.Kd2:

20…Ra5! makes all the difference, but Hikaru missed it in analysis. He felt in a classical game he would think 25 minutes and find it, but in rapid, since he had a reasonable option with 16…Qxc5, he went for that instead. It would soon be the turn of Magnus to miss a computer suggestion, but overall the draw that followed felt like a fair result.

Wei Yi + confidence = a star player?

Wei Yi is the world's top junior, but still yet to enter the absolute elite | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

That draw left the door open for Wei Yi to end the day as co-leader. The 19-year-old Chinese player started with a quiet draw against fellow wild-card Veselin Topalov and then beat another wild-card, Bassem Amin, in Round 2. Wei Yi commented at the end of the day:

I am satisfied with my performance today, and I feel I’m very lucky! In the second game I think the position is not good for me, but my opponent makes some mistakes.

The computer disagrees, and thinks Wei Yi played an almost perfect game. If Africa’s top player Bassem Amin can have real regrets about his results it’s that he lost the first game after out-preparing Ding Liren:

Bassem Amin correctly point out that Nxf7! here was strong

Ding Liren was also Wei Yi’s opponent in the last round of the day, with the youngster managing to push his connected queenside passed pawns to victory. He commented:

It was a very difficult game, a very long game. I felt very nervous when I had less than one minute, because with the delay you can’t get more time back by repetitions.

In the end, though, one seemingly vulnerable pawn was enough for victory, with the knight interrupted on its journey from h7 to e2 by the resignation of Ding Liren:

That leaves the standings as follows after the first day:

On Day 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will have a chance to make an impact, since he begins with White against Wei Yi and then in the next round plays Magnus Carlsen with Black. The French no. 1 has certainly been in heroic mood in Abidjan!

Day 2 also starts at 19:00 CEST, so don't miss all the games and live commentary in four languages here at chess24!

See also:

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