Reports Sep 26, 2020 | 6:17 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen-Aronian and So-Le in the semi-finals

Magnus Carlsen declared himself “very unhappy” to lose a game to Anish Giri, but his 5.5:1.5 victory set up a chess24 Banter Series semi-final against Levon Aronian, who won the last three games to clinch a thriller against Alexander Grischuk. Wesley So went one better and won the last four games in a row to shock Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, though the overall shock of the tournament so far has been his semi-final opponent Liem Quang Le. The one qualifier to reach the quarterfinals went on to conquer world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana 5.5:3.5.

And then there were four! This Saturday the semi-finals of the chess24 Banter Series will take place, with all four players commentating live as they play:

You can also watch the streams side-by-side on our chess24 Banter Series homepage.

Let’s take a look at the quarterfinal action.

Carlsen 5.5:1.5 Giri

Rewatch Magnus Carlsen’s stream:

Rewatch Anish Giri’s stream:

This was by far the most anticipated encounter of the quarterfinals, but while the quality of the chess was as high as expected it was a little disappointingly one-side. “What can I say? He played well in most of the games,” Anish Giri summed up at the end, after getting blown away in the first three games.

In Game 1 Magnus missed a win with 15.Bb4!, but just when it seemed we were going to start with a draw, 29…Nc5? allowed a double attack:

30.Nf5! and there was no way to both stop the Ne7+ fork of king and rook and to defend the g7-point. 30…Re8 31.Bxg7 Be6 32.Nd6 Rd8 33.Be5! followed and Magnus didn’t look back.

In the second game Magnus withstood pressure out of the opening before seizing the initiative with the black pieces.

"Clearly in the first couple of games we were both struggling a bit with time management - too much yapping!" said Magnus, but it was still a fine win.

“That was pretty good, I’ve got to say,” was how Magnus summed up his third win in a row, as he smoothly overpowered his opponent in 32 moves. In Game 4 Magnus commented, “You’re three games down, dude, you can’t just simplify!”, but psychologically the draw that followed made a lot of sense – if only to annoy the World Champion. “He’s on the scoreboard – the sweep is not on,” Magnus lamented.

The outcome of the match was all but determined in Game  4, when Magnus outcalculated his opponent in a tricky middlegame position where Giri could have taken over with some accurate moves of his own. 4.5:0.5 left Magnus needing only to win one of the next five games, or make two draws. Nevertheless, Anish did strike in the next game, with 18.e5! and later 24.Nc4! giving him the quickest win of the match.

Giri had described his approach earlier as the easier said than done, “We've just got to stick to the plan, guys - play quickly and well!” but by the final game that had been adapted to current circumstances: “Just make some moves and hope for a blunder - that's Plan A, Plan B and Plan C!”

It didn’t work, as Magnus went on to clinch the match with a 5th win.

The World Champion summed up:

I’ve got to say it was a pretty tense match, but overall I think I was a lot better when we were both short of time, and it felt like in some games he was sort of missing the critical moments. I’m very unhappy with the fact that I lost a game. As I said, I would have loved to keep a clean sheet, if not sweep him, but nevertheless, it’s an emphatic scoreline against a very strong player, so I shouldn’t be unhappy!

Indian comedian and chess streamer Samay Raina’s support for Anish continued after the match was over…

Magnus now goes forward to play Levon Aronian in the semi-finals.

Aronian 5.5:3.5 Grischuk

Levon Aronian’s stream:

Alexander Grischuk’s stream:

Levon Aronian later summed up his day:

I think it was a very equal match. Once again I think I was playing well when I was down to the last seconds. Openings-wise I had some troubles, but once I started playing more solidly without exposing my position too much I think things worked out well for me. Sasha used too much time and I managed to get good positions and more time, so I’m quite happy with my play. I think I only blundered 3-4 times, so that’s pretty good for my standards!

Levon’s troubles in the opening didn’t stop him winning the first two games, with the Armenian going for a speculative exchange sacrifice his great countryman Tigran Petrosian might have been proud of in Game 1.

26…Rxe4!? 27.fxe4 Qxe4+ worked out in the end, though it took 97 moves.

Levon exploited an early blunder in the next game to take a 2:0 lead, but that was when the comeback began. “A knock on the door to inform me that the dinner is being served... and I'm being served as well!" said Levon, as he was ground down in 93 moves from a quiet ending in Game 3. “Some ridiculous things go through my brain,” he lamented in the next, as one rash pawn move condemned him to another defeat. After a draw in the next game Alexander insisted on a break - he's had a lot to handle during these matches!

It seemed to work, as he came back and won the next game, but that was the signal for Levon to go on a surge. Another intuitive, if objectively losing, exchange sac gave him a win in Game 7, and then he won a 19-move miniature in the next.

The Armenian was so focused by the end that he didn’t realise he’d won the match!

A thrilling encounter, though you get the feeling some of Levon’s tricks won’t work as well against a Magnus in the form he’s shown so far in the Banter Series.

Liem Quang Le 5.5:3.5 Fabiano Caruana

Liem Quang Le’s stream:

Fabiano Caruana’s stream:

Le Quang Liem was another player who didn’t realise immediately that he’d won the match, but that was understandable after such a wild encounter. He explained he’d been “very lucky” in some games, but also “quite unfortunate” in others.

It could have gone either way. This result is shocking to me because I’m clearly the underdog and I think he’s the heavy favourite to win this, but probably this is not his best day and I would like to thank him anyway for playing with me and thank chess24 for organising this and I look forward to the next match.

The game started with two draws, before a rollercoaster Game 3.

Fabi had an easier win earlier, but now 28.Rxe6! or 28.Nxe6! were both winning moves. The world no. 2 said he was playing on intuition here, but it let him down. After 28.Qh5 Rxd4! he was one move too late with 29.Rxe6? fxe6 30.Nxe6 and now White would be winning if not for 30…Rxh4!. That turned the tables and Le Quang Liem went on to win.

Somehow the next three games were drawn, though in every one of them one of the players missed a wide open goal. In Game 6 it was both of them:

51.Be6+!! Kxe6 52.Rg7+ Kxd6 53.Qb8+! is the path to that mate-in-5, though 51.Rxf6+ is much more natural and also winning. 51.Qc8+ also spoilt nothing, though after 51…Kg5 52.Rxf6? Qf1+! it's suddenly Black who’s winning, but only if Fabiano had responded to 53.Ke4 with 53.Qb1+! It was the kind of position an in-form Fabi is arguably the best in the world at calculating, but at blitz speed it was near impossible. Le took a draw by repetition in the end in what was still in fact a winning position.

Fabi was shaken but relieved when he finally found a mating net at the end of the next game to level the scores.

Was it Fabi’s time to take over? No! Liem Quang Le had come from behind to win the last three games and beat Teimour Radjabov in the previous round and this time he suddenly found top gear again – smoothly winning the last two games to clinch the match!

So 6:4 MVL

Wesley So’s stream:

MVL’s stream (in French):

This match began with four draws, but that was absolutely no reflection on the kind of play we saw. The first game started wild and got wilder.

In the second Wesley So spoilt a totally winning position and was so disgusted with himself that he also squandered some chances in what became a 108-move ending.

Wesley was pressing in other games as well, but it was Maxime who took the lead by ending Games 5 and 6 by catching his opponent’s king:

It looked like it was going to be the French no. 1’s day, but then everything changed when Wesley managed to fashion a win out of nowhere in the next game.

The next two games were convincing wins for the US/Philippine star, and he noted that Maxime was beginning to play his “real” openings now that things were getting desperate. For the must-win Game 10 Maxime finally went for his long-time weapon of choice, the Najdorf, but Wesley had something in store.  

It worked to perfection in the end, with Wesley pouncing on a last tactical mistake by his opponent to seal victory.

Wesley had, in the end, enjoyed it!

I’d like to say thank you to Maxime and chess24 for this great match. This has been one of my most interesting matches in recent years and recent months and also the results in the end were shocking. In the beginning I was playing badly and he was playing quite well, and I was down minus 2, and at that point he had all the initiative in the match, but then some miracles happened in the end! It’s a very fun match and I’d like to thank Maxime and also wish him all the best for the Candidates. We’re rooting for him!

So-Le will be a semi-final between two players who compete to be modest about their own play. Carlsen-Aronian will be a little different, but in any case, you don’t want to miss all the action live here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST onwards on Saturday 26th September!

See also:

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