Ian Nepomniachtchi will play the chess24 Legends of Chess final against Magnus Carlsen after beating Anish Giri in a tense match that went to blitz tiebreakers. Nepo, who said he’d wanted to break things in his house after losing the day before, admitted he was in trouble in almost all the games but broke through after five draws with a brilliant final win. Ian has the extra incentive of playing not just for the $45,000 top prize but a place in the $300,000 Tour Final, while Magnus has already booked his spot.
The final of the chess24 Legends of Chess starts today, with Magnus rested after beating Peter Svidler 2:0, while Ian needed a 3rd day to qualify (replay the games on our broadcast page).
12th World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov was the special guest on the broadcast and will return for the final, where he’ll again be joined by Judit Polgar, Jan Gustafsson and Alexander Grischuk. Magnus Carlsen also joined the show for the first game, in what was the definition of an embarrassment of riches!
You can replay the Day 11 coverage below:
Day 2 of the Nepo-Giri semi-final had finished in high drama as Anish Giri won in Armageddon after a late twist. Ian called it “an incredibly stupid way” to lose a match, noting that he’d been “absolute sure there’s something wrong” with his losing 31.f3? but played it anyway, despite having seen good “super comfortable” alternatives. After that loss the “tilt was real”, as Nepo said!
Just in case the deciding day wasn’t hyped up enough already, Alexander Grischuk joined the show and called it “the most grudge match-up we have currently in chess”.
That was news to Nepo when he was asked about it later by Tania!
I think there is nothing - this is just a semi-final match and a tiebreaker match, since it was 1:1 because I lost yesterday.
He added that you get, “mad and tilted when you lose, especially in not such a logical way,” but it seems there’s no vendetta! You can watch the full post-match interview with Ian below:
But let’s get to the games!
Things got off to a rocky start for Nepo as he later explained he mixed up his move-order in the opening, playing 6…Nf6 first instead of 6…Bd6. He soon found himself a pawn down in a heavy piece ending. The watching Magnus Carlsen noted that Ian is actually the world’s best player in such endings, but he felt the bold 22…Rd1?! was one of those moves you want to play because of how cool it looks, not its objective strength.
Magnus, and the computer, pointed out 23.Rcxd1! Qxd1 24.Qe3! and if 24…Qc2 then 25.Qc1! and White has serious winning chances.
Instead Giri went for the immediate 23.Qe3!? Rd2 24.Rb1!?, with Magnus describing himself as “speechless” about the decision to leave the black rook alive on the second rank. Soon it was Nepo, if anyone, who had chances, but Anish had everything covered, with Magnus “impressed” by 27.g3.
Magnus was on a roll, and if Anish had some reason to feel offended he was soon joined by approximately 100 million Liverpool fans Magnus was given the opportunity to backtrack on the interview he gave after beating Vladimir Kramnik in Round 9 of the prelims – with one quote having gone around the world…
Magnus didn’t exactly apologise!
The only way the Norwegian kid can dig himself out of this hole is with a cute pic/story…
But let’s get back to the match…
In Game 2 Nepo seemed to get some real chances in the late middlegame, but Anish, who Anatoly Karpov compared to Tigran Petrosian, successfully defended. In fact he did it so successfully that he was a pawn up, but Anatoly was on hand to give his verdict on the position.
Nepo admitted he was lost at some point in this game, but revealed he had in fact, as Grischuk suspected, encouraged his opponent to play a move that’s hard to resist:
32.Ba6!? Qa7 33.Bxb7!? Nothing could be more logical than this pawn grab, but Ian later commented:
Once I found the trick with making him put his bishop on b7, I think it’s not so simple practically. There are some hopes for me.
Grischuk felt the game had showcased the best and worst of both players:
Anish showed very nice strategical play and then this uncertainty when converting a big advantage, and Ian showed not great playing in this Queen’s Gambit structure but then amazing resourcefulness, just amazing!
What began as a quiet Berlin Defence suddenly livened up, with Ian later saying, “I was doing literally everything wrong”. Giri was able to seize the initiative.
Nepo had to dig in to defend, but he did, and the match had gone to blitz games. Ian said he was feeling good since the four draws in rapid hadn’t been so draining, plus...
In general I consider myself a favourite in the blitz section against Anish, but I could never prove it before, and I’m happy that today it worked pretty good!
Magnus had said earlier in the day that he thinks Ian simply believes he should win every game against Anish, but Ian himself explained the reason for his confidence was that he plays a lot of internet blitz and is rated around 200 points above Anish there.
The first 5+3 blitz game was a Grünfeld Defence, where Nepo said his opponent’s 15.h4 was the critical try.
It’s hard to give any quick assessment of the outcome of the opening, but what is clear is that Giri blundered with 26.Qc2?, allowing 26…Nxf3!
27.gxf3 Rxd5 28.exd5 Qxe3+ 29.Kg2 Qg5+ followed, but in a tricky position Nepo failed to find the best try and Anish was able to hold with accurate defence.
Ian put the time between rounds to better use than he might have done.
I was just planning to be very upset and to punch walls for nothing, but instead I used this 5-minute break to repeat this h4-line. It’s very tricky. Basically it’s somewhat worse for White, but if your opponent is not expecting this it’s hard to react properly.
We also used the time well with Alexander Grischuk giving a wonderful description of classical chess when asked about the difference in fatigue between playing one classical game and multiple rapid – he felt the rapid is ultimately more tiring, but…
The h4 Nepo had been checking in the break was in the Scotch, and it worked to perfection. He felt 9…Ba6 by Anish was already inaccurate, and he got to push his h-pawn up to h6, much to Grischuk’s delight:
Ian joked “this is the AlphaZero level of play, finally”, but the star move came after 16…f6?!:
17.Ne4! both threatens to take on f6 (e.g. 17…Bb7 18.Nxf6 Bxf6 19.Rxh6!) and what happened in the game, 17…fxe5 18.Nc5!, hitting the queen and bishop and winning a piece.
It was far from easy to extricate the knight after it captured on a6, but by the time it fell White had a big positional advantage. It was so big that Nepo missed the chance to grab a free pawn on d6.
Nepo explained that with:
I was so pleased my bishop is finally going to f3 I didn’t care about anything else. This is the ultimate free roll for White.
Though he did later note that it shows the level of play wasn’t that high.
What’s wrong with taking a pawn and playing the same position but even more winning than before? I probably won’t see this in my nightmares, since I won anyway. All’s well that ends well!
Indeed it was, as Nepo comfortably went on to win the game and match.
That meant Anish Giri had to settle for $17,500 and won’t be playing in the final of the tour, while Ian Nepomniachtchi is guaranteed $30,000 but will get $45,000 and a final place if he can beat the World Champion. Ding Liren will be cheering on Magnus, however, since if Magnus wins, the line-up for the $300,000 final will be Carlsen, Dubov, Nakamura and Ding.
It’s going to be tough for Nepo against Magnus, who had an extra day to rest, but he can take inspiration from their preliminary clash. Magnus won that in Armageddon after blundering in Game 4, when he only needed a draw with White.
That was more evidence for Garry Kasparov’s thesis that Magnus blunders more than he used to and Nepo is one player who can take advantage.
Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi could also easily be a future World Championship match, given Nepo leads the Candidates, so there’s every reason to stock up on popcorn and follow the action! Don’t miss the live commentary from 15:30 CEST.
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