Magnus Carlsen played Ding Liren four hours earlier than usual to be able to “sweat” the final day of the Fantasy Premier League, and while the football didn’t go so well Magnus racked up a 6th match victory in six with a 2.5:1.5 win over the world no. 3. Ian Nepomniachtchi has won as many matches but fell a point behind as he could only beat Vishy Anand in Armageddon, while Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler also won in sudden death. Anish Giri was the other player to win in four games as he and Peter Leko defied the haters with the day’s lowest number of draws.
You can replay all the games from the chess24 Legends of Chess using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):
There are three points for a win in rapid chess, while the points are split 2:1 after Armageddon, meaning it was only Carlsen and Giri who picked up a full three points in Round 6:
You can replay the day’s commentary that first included Erwin l’Ami with Jan Gustafsson for the early show before Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Tania Sachdev and Alexander Grischuk later joined at the usual time:
World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen went into the final day of the English Premier League season, and therefore the Fantasy Premier League season, ranked no. 4 out of more than 7.5 million players of that game. The media interest was high, especially in Norway, which brought with it some obligations. It was agreed a couple of weeks in advance that Magnus would play this round four hours earlier, with Ding Liren happy to agree to the chance to start playing at 6pm in the evening rather than his usual 10pm. Suddenly we found out he was playing from a room with windows and a view over a park!
In football, as in chess, Magnus is all about taking
calculated risks that maximise the upside for him, and in this case it wasn’t
impossible that he could top the table:
It’s a long shot, but as long as there is a chance that’s cool and I would like to thank Ding for agreeing to play at an earlier time today so that I can sweat the games properly later today.
He took some bold decisions…
…but in the end it didn’t pay off. His weekly score was one of the lowest among players near the top, and he dropped from 4th to 11th on the provisional standings:
On the chessboard, however, Magnus goes from strength to strength. He described the first game of the day against Ding Liren as “uneventful”, with the 31-move draw most remarkable for the fact that the world nos. 1 and 3 managed to create a position never seen before at top level by move 4.
The second game was no offbeat theory, however, with Magnus navigating straight into the shark-infested waters of the Anti-Moscow Gambit. It’s somewhere where you have to know what you’re doing, and he did, since by move 18 Black was facing a tough dilemma over what to do about the impending e6-pawn push. 18…Be7! 19.e6 Qxe6 “and pray” is the computer’s recommended course of action, but Ding went astray with 18…Nc5?:
That seems to defend against the break, even if 19.e6 is in fact still playable, but 19.Qxd4! was completely winning, with the game coming to an end 7 moves later after 26.Qf3!
Magnus felt the result of the match hinged on Game 3, where he went for some bold defence after getting into a difficult position in the opening. Ding Liren decided to go for a technical position a pawn up, but although Magnus described it as “really, really ugly for Black,” he also felt his drawing chances were good. The position allowed Jan and Erwin to question the importance of one of the most famous endgame rules about when you can stop a passed pawn:
Ding Liren rushed his winning attempt and a draw was reached in 60 moves. Magnus summed up:
Obviously the third game was really, really tough, but when I survived that that was the key point for me.
In the final game Ding had to win on demand with the black pieces, and at the price of a pawn he did manage to marshal his pieces for a kingside assault. It never looked like being enough, however, and Magnus safely defused the situation to claim the full three match points. He’s now won all six matches so far, dropping a match point only to Vasyl Ivanchuk, who took their encounter to Armageddon.
This was the only other match that a player won without the need for Armageddon, though it started as a match with an image problem. Anish Giri has inherited the reputation Peter Leko used to have for making draws in top level chess games. Levon Aronian couldn’t resist!
The issue of draws was raised in Giri’s Q&A session after the day’s play – you can watch the whole session below:
Part of Giri’s response on draws was as follows:
A few people face certain criticism. If we take Vishy Anand, for example, a good example of a legendary player who’s achieved everything, a 6-time World Champion and whatnot, one of the greatest players of all time. For the past 20 years, some critics, after a bad tournament, say, “Vishy is too old”. You can never say that about, for example, Ding Liren. If Ding Liren plays badly are you going to say that Ding Liren is too old? No, you’re not going to say that. You’re just going to say Ding Liren has a bad tournament and that’s it. And you leave him in peace until he comes back in the next tournament, while Vishy, every time he has a bad tournament, he has to defend.
And the same thing with the draw thing. Everybody makes a draw, but only I have to be the one replying to that. Let’s say Grischuk makes 7 draws in a row with me, I have to face the conversation, while he gets to sleep and play the next day. Whether you are fighting or not, that’s not even relevant, honestly. Some people are not fighting and they don’t get any criticism…
Sometimes it motivates me more, sometimes it damages me, to an extent, because I have, let’s say, more pressure on me than others because of that. It really kind of sucks. The odds are high that you’re going to make a draw, and if every time you make a draw you feel bad about it, do something else.
The first game of the Round 6 match did nothing to dispel the players’ reputation for draws, but in the next game Anish managed to fashion a win from what looked like the driest of Catalan endings. Rustam felt that made Peter Leko angry, since in the next game the 2004 World Championship challenger pounced on the slightest of mistakes to win a magnificent positional game. After establishing complete dominance Peter moved to finish his opponent off:
44.Bb5! cxb5 45.c6 and what followed was just as elegant. Peter’s ruthlessness inspired Alexander Grischuk to remember something that had once been said about Mikhail Botvinnik:
Anish was also impressed:
Basically I just got totally outplayed - it was a great game!
2-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau took an in-depth look at the game:
The Dutch no. 1 didn’t dwell on that, however, as he came back to score a crushing win in the final rapid game to win the match. Grischuk said Leko had suffered, “an old-fashioned opening catastrophe,” where you find yourself totally lost, unlike the more modern “catastrophes” where you just have no advantage or a slightly worse position.
Three out of four games had proven decisive, meaning Anish could have the last laugh this time!
The other matches were all a lot of fun, with too much to summarise. Ian Nepomniachtchi also managed to win a 6th match in a row, but not without some difficulties. He failed to convert a close to winning position in the first game and also thought he’d missed chances of a masterpiece in the 3rd game. Between those, however, he’d won the second game after a hyper-sharp opening didn’t go Vishy’s way.
Needing to win with the black pieces in Game 4, most people had written off Vishy’s chances, but that’s just when he’s at his most dangerous as, for instance, the 2014 Candidates Tournament proved. Nepo confessed he got “over-optimistic” when he tempted Vishy to grab material in the opening. Anand didn’t need to be asked twice and went on to convert his advantage brilliantly, with a very memorable final position:
Black would be left with just one pawn after the forced
42.Ke2 Re1+ 43.Kd3 Rd1+, and the queen falls.
That meant a 3rd Armageddon in a row for Vishy, and it proved to be a 3rd Armageddon in which he was just too slow. It may be purely a technological issue – if, for instance, he doesn’t have a good mouse – but Grischuk also saw some historical “revenge” on behalf of all the people Vishy had blitzed in his long career!
This was a fantastic brawl between two players who first met 27 years ago in Linares 1993. Nowadays it’s 7-year-older Boris who’s working harder on chess, and he managed to catch Kramnik out in the opening in the first game, until by the end it was already high time to resign!
After a tense second game it looked as though Gelfand was about to win the match with a game to spare, but Kramnik managed to muddy the waters in a position where he was an exchange down until 47.Kc5? was a losing mistake:
Knights are tricky pieces, and 47…Na5! 48.Ra7 (48.Rdd7 was relatively best, but still losing) 48…Nb3+ and Vladimir had picked up a rook and levelled the score.
In the final rapid game it was Big Vlad who was pushing for a win, but Gelfand held to take the encounter to Armageddon. Vladimir had White and had to win, which he duly did, in a sparkling game in which he quickly saw that he could exchange off all the pieces to force a won pawn ending. Kramnik had many ways to win that ending, but instead he decided to show his internet blitz skills to flag his opponent, much to the amusement of our commentators!
Ivanchuk had tortured Magnus Carlsen the day before and he showed exactly the same hunger and talent against Peter Svidler. He took the early lead, with the final position picturesque:
It looked like Vasyl would storm to an almost unassailable 2:0 lead, but 33…gxf2+ was already a mistake in a winning position, while 34…Rf5? allowed Peter to completely turn the tables:
35.Nxd6! forced the sad 35…Rxf3+, since 35…Qxd6 runs into 36.Qc8+, picking up the undefended rook on f5. Peter went on to convert the extra exchange and level the match.
Vasyl could again have finished off the match in the final rapid game, but instead, after draws in Games 3 and 4, we got yet another Armageddon. What followed was a great battle with mutual mistakes, but starting with Black and a minute less on the clock Vasyl eventually flagged in a position where Peter still had 7 seconds to spare. As the 8-time Russian Champion put his head in his hands afterwards it was hard to tell who had won or lost!
That meant that after a spectacular day’s action Magnus is back in the sole lead, but Ian Nepomniachtchi also looks a sure bet for a place in the semi-finals.
The fate of the 3rd and 4th places in the Final 4 hangs completely in the balance with three rounds to go. Kramnik, Svidler and Giri are currently engaged in a race, with Anish perhaps favourite to join the other youngsters at the top. The struggles of Ding Liren, however, mean we’re going to see at least one legend in the knockout stages.
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