Reports Dec 4, 2020 | 11:57 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen & Nakamura remain on Speed Chess collision course

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen and blitz world no. 1 Hikaru Nakamura remain on course to meet in the Speed Chess final after winning their quarterfinals. The way they did it couldn’t have been more different, however, with Magnus admitting it was a “massive struggle” to overcome Vladislav Artemiev, though you might not think that from the 13.5:9.5 scoreline. Hikaru, meanwhile, crushed Vladimir Fedoseev 21.5:5.5 after winning the first 9 games in a row. Vladimir said he’d been on tilt from the start due to internet issues.

Next weekend's semi-finals are set

Carlsen 13.5:9.5 Artemiev

You can replay all the games from this Speed Chess quarterfinal played on using the selector below.

And here’s the live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler.

Magnus Carlsen took on 22-year-old Russian star Vladislav Artemiev just days after turning 30 and losing the final of the Skilling Open to Wesley So.

Even when Magnus won the preliminary stage of the Skilling Open it was anything but easy, and it was clear after the first game that nothing had changed in Speed Chess. Artemiev’s 23…Bd6, threatening to play Nc5 and trap the white queen, signalled that the Russian was taking over.

Still, there was no need to sacrifice a piece with 24.Nxe6? (a move like 24.Bd3 would make an escape square for the queen). Although Magnus picked up three pawns, it only gave Anish Giri a chance to get some revenge for Carlsen’s Do more of what makes you happy tweet when Artemiev was beating him.

Magnus hit back in Game 2, but Vladislav regained the lead in style in Game 4 when he was able to strike right out of the opening.

“If you don’t die in the next 5 moves here your position might improve dramatically, but how exactly are you not supposed to die here?” asked Peter, and indeed it turned out Artemiev had everything figured out in the tactical sequence that followed.

Magnus got into trouble in the next game as well, but benefited when his opponent blundered with almost no time on the clock. The pattern of the match was set. Magnus told Danny Rensch and Jon Ludvig Hammer:

I have to say that the match overall was tough. Almost every game was tough. I think over the course of the match there was one game which I won without any hiccups, so if you’re talking about angry, that was sort of my constant mood throughout the match. Every game was long, it felt like I was outplayed in almost every game, and it was just a massive struggle. I’d played Vlad before, so I knew that he’s very strong and I knew that the match was never going to be easy, but still, when you’re there I think we both really, really felt the tension very much and in that sense it was a very interesting and very open match as well.

Vladislav also summed things up well:

I think that the match was very interesting and uncompromising, but also I can say that I have big problems when I have the last seconds and probably I missed some great chances, but ok, it’s a fight, and it’s only my problem, so thank you, Magnus, and congratulations!

Magnus took the lead for the first time in the match in Game 7, but again it was an incredible fight.

Magnus’ last move was in fact a mistake, and Vladislav pounced with 16…Rxc3! 17.Bxc3 Be4!, catching the queen, but fortunately for the World Champion 18.Nxf7! was enough to hold the balance. In fact after 18…Qc7? (18…Rxf7!) 19.Nh6+ Kh8 20.Qg5 Magnus was winning.

So Magnus took a 5:3 lead into the 3-minute section, but things didn’t get any easier when he blundered a pawn in the very first game.

18.Kxf2 Qxe3+ wouldn’t have ended well for the white king, but after 18.Re1 Magnus somehow managed to survive. He was also struggling in the next game, but the way he held on had our commentators admiring the World Champion’s resilience even when out of form.

Magnus lost the next game but bounced back immediately to exploit a rare tactical error by his opponent in the 4th 3-minute game, before finally playing that one game “without any hiccups”.

18.f4! Bxd3 19.fxe5! Nf5 20.Qxd3 dxe5 21.Ne4! left White completely on top, and our commentators also noticed this was a rare game where everything worked out for Magnus.

That gave Magnus a 3-point lead, but the outcome of the match was determined by his winning two completely lost positions in the final two games of the 3-minute session. In the first, Magnus managed to win despite only having a knight and two pawns against a queen.

Vladislav called what happened next “more crazy”.

Black’s three connected passed pawns give him an overwhelming advantage, but the white pawns have to be dealt with first. Here 52…Rb5! would do the job, as Black captures one of the pawns and is in time to get behind the other. Instead after 52…Rc2? 53.c6! Vladislav was no longer better, and things would only get worse from there!

Magnus had no magic recipe for how he manages to claw out such wins:

I don’t know! Keep making moves and sometimes I escape, sometimes I don’t. I’ve had experience in this format as well. I played overall in this format so many games with Grischuk, for instance, and he just outplays me every time, a bit like Vlad does, so I have a lot of experience in trying to fight back and be as resourceful as possible. I think just knowing when to start playing fast helps, and also to be on the constant look out for tricks.

With the score at 10:5 going into the bullet the outcome of the match was essentially decided, though other controversies continued...

Vladislav kept going, however, winning the first 1-minute game and later winning two in a row to cut Carlsen’s lead to 3 points. At the end of that second loss, Magnus played on to mate and delayed his moves so as to take away as much time as possible for further games.

He explained afterwards that it was simply that he was still uncomfortable and didn’t want to take any risks:

Even though I was leading by quite a big score there was no moment in the match when I felt like I’m taking over, he’s starting to crack. It always felt like the games were very balanced, in the sense that we both had chances and it never felt like I was breaking away. And in that sense, I thought I have to be careful because I didn’t really feel that I could control the match very much. It was good just to let it run out. I was very mindful of that. Who knows, if the match had gone on for another half hour it could have ended differently!

As it was, Magnus won the next game and it really was over, with the match ending with a draw for a 13.5:9.5 victory for the World Champion.

Up next for Carlsen is a semi-final against French no. 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with Magnus expecting something completely different.

I think he’s very different player than Vladislav in this format. Maxime is a lot more reliant on tactics and speed, so it’s certainly going to be a very, very different experience.

Nakamura 21.5:5.5 Fedoseev

After Vladimir Fedoseev had beaten Alireza Firouzja in the previous round the expectation was that this match would at least be competitive, but instead Fedoseev was simply blown away. You can replay all the games below.

And here’s live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.

The 5-minute section was simply a massacre, with Fedoseev making it worse by playing on and losing some dead drawn positions. If there was a coach to throw in the towel, it might have happened early on.

The most painful game was the last of the session, when Fedoseev had a winning position which he seemed to simplify into something he at the very least just couldn’t lose:

33.f4!? was the first unnecessary weakening of the white king, however, and remarkably quickly White’s advantage had slipped away. What followed was a nightmare for Fedoseev, and one Tania could barely watch.

What was up with Fedoseev? He later explained:

The match started with a huge disconnection from my side, then I got tilted, and I don’t think that in the world we can name a second player who is as good as Hikaru in situations when your opponent is tilted. That’s why this match ended how it ended, and also he was perfectly concentrated to the end of the match. I found many great tactical ideas, but he always was better physically, mentally and again and again outplayed me in a tense game.

Hikaru noted he’d also done special preparation for his opponent, so that it was a perfect storm for Fedoseev. The drawback of the Speed Chess format is that even when the outcome of a match is no longer in any doubt you have to keep playing, and in this case that meant another 90 minutes where the Russian player’s goal was simply to avoid more humiliation.

Fedoseev made a bad start, since after spotting a rare Hikaru blunder in the first 3-minute game he nevertheless went on to lose the game. That meant he was facing the prospect of getting “adopted” – losing 10 games in a row to the same opponent. It looked almost inevitable when Hikaru reached an ending two pawns up, but the US star allowed the exchange of minor pieces and a drawn pawn ending. Vladimir could breathe a sigh of relief.

In game 13 Vladimir finally picked up a win, and by the end the 21.5:5.5 scoreline was crushing, but it felt as though it could have been even worse!

It was just one draw different from the 21:5 score by which Nakamura had beaten Haik Martirosyan in the previous round.

Up next for Hikaru is Wesley So, who beat him in the semi-finals of the Skilling Open. How will Hikaru approach another clash with his US colleague?

I think it’s more of the same – just play good, solid chess. But certainly it’s payback time - so I’m going to be out for blood! I will say that much.

The semi-finals and final will be held in a week’s time, on Friday-Sunday 11-13 December. 

See also:

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