Magnus Carlsen ensured the chess24 Legends of Chess adventure of his great predecessor Vladimir Kramnik came to an end as he won their match 3:1 to complete a perfect 9 wins in 9 in the preliminary stage. Magnus will now play Peter Svidler in the semi-finals, while Anish Giri takes on Ian Nepomniachtchi in a repeat of their Chessable Masters semi-final. Vasyl Ivanchuk beat Vishy Anand in Armageddon to finish as the top player outside the Final 4, while Boris Gelfand also ended on a high by defeating Nepo.
You can replay all the games from the chess24 Legends of Chess preliminary stage using the selector below – click on a game to open it with computer analysis:
Ding Liren, Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen picked up a full 3 points for winning in the four rapid games, while the points were split 2:1 after Armageddon in the other two encounters:
Judit Polgar once again commentated alongside Tania Sachdev, Jan Gustafsson and Alexander Grischuk, and you can replay their live show below:
Magnus would go on to assert his dominance on the board, but at the 2013 Candidates Tournament Kramnik came close to diverting the course of chess history by earning a World Championship rematch against Vishy Anand in place of Magnus. That didn’t happen, but as late as 2017 Vladimir beat Magnus in Norway Chess and came within 6 points of snatching the Norwegian’s no. 1 spot. Magnus at times mocked Kramnik’s over-optimistic post-game interviews, but at the same time there was a healthy respect between two great champions. When Big Vlad retired in 2019 one of the great losses was that we wouldn’t get to see any classical encounters between them again.
It was nicely set up, then, that they met in the last round of the chess24 Legends of Chess, with Vladimir needing to win on demand, in rapid chess, to have a chance of reaching the Final 4. That was a tough ask, and it looked tougher when he misplayed the opening in the first game and left Magnus with an open goal:
Here Magnus commented that “obviously the hand wants to go 27.Nf5!”, but after thinking 4 minutes he came up with a plan with 27.Nc6!? instead. He summed up:
So I guess the moral of the story is, don’t try this at home! Just go Nf5 and win the game without calculating a single variation.
Magnus was still much better in the game, but eventually a combination of inaccuracies and great resourcefulness by Kramnik let to an equal position. By the end it was even Vlad who was able to reject the first offer of a draw by repetition.
Carlsen’s best quote from his post-game interview was his first:
It seems that in the last few matches, to use a football analogy, I’m getting Lewandowski level chances but I’m converting them at a Firmino level, and for those who don’t watch football that’s pretty bad!
That quote applied as much to the second game as the first, where Vladimir failed to find a brilliant drawing mechanism spotted almost immediately by Judit Polgar:
50.Nf7+! Kg8 51.Nh6+!! is the point, and if 51…gxh6 then there’s no way of queening the h-pawns since Black’s bishop can’t control the h1-square. Vladimir can shuffle his king between h1 and adjacent squares and the game is a draw. That’s not where the idea ends, however, since if 51…Kh8 (or 51…Kf8) White has 52.Nf5! and now either Black has to give up the bishop (obviously a draw), or allow White to capture the g-pawn, when again the h-pawn can’t queen! 52…g5 53.Nxh4 is the same.
Judit explained it best:
Later on in the game Vlad did find a variation of that idea to save the game, but Game 3 was where Magnus made his move. Vlad’s opening choices didn’t get the approval of Alexander Grischuk:
Soon White had an overwhelming position, though Magnus denied afterwards that his smile was because he was enjoying beating Vladimir, commenting, “I probably thought of something funny but I cannot offhand tell you what that was”.
In any case, that win meant Vladimir’s chances of reaching the Final 4 had gone, since to do that he needed the full 3 points for winning the match in rapid games. Nevertheless, Vlad was still ready to go all out to level the match in the 4th game:
“At least the last two games were sort of ok, but he’s playing kind of suicidally in both of those games, so I didn’t really have to do all that much,” Magnus summed up, and in Game 4 Kramnik really did let go. He also sacrificed a bishop on h6:
The game and match were soon over.
Once again we can get an Anish Giri vs. Magnus Carlsen final of an event on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour after Anish beat Peter Svidler 2.5:1.5 to avoid Magnus in the semi-finals.
Both players pressed with the white pieces in the first two games of the day before Peter was punished impressively for getting too ambitious in the third game. Pascal Charbonneau takes a look at that encounter.
Peter never came close to winning on demand in the final game, but becoming the only legend to reach the Final 4 is already a major achievement.
Elsewhere the stakes were lower, with Ding Liren and Peter Leko, for instance, mainly playing to avoid last place. It was the Chinese no. 1 who managed that after winning the first game of the day and drawing the rest.
Arguably the day’s most enjoyable action came in Gelfand-Nepomniachtchi. “The first game was horrible,” said Boris, after he was convincingly beaten. Then Ian, who had already secured 2nd place, decided to start the second game 1.e4 c5 2.a3!? g6 3.Bc4 Bg7 4.h4, which looked like pure provocation against one of the most classical chess players of the last 30 years. Boris’ initial reaction may not have been perfect, but his wrath was a joy to behold later on!
Boris trained in the Tigran Petrosian Chess School as a kid and his mentor would have been glad to see the exchange sacrifice 24…Rxd5! 25.exd5 Qf5!, hitting the rook and weak d3-pawn. Boris did little wrong as he went on to claim victory.
He called the next game “a miracle save,” and it would be an understatement to say that Nepo saw the funny side when he blundered into allowing a draw by 3-fold repetition in a completely winning position:
The fourth game was a short draw, taking the match to Armageddon. Although Boris had beaten Peter Leko in the same format the day before the assumption was that he’d be a huge underdog with Black against Nepo, one of the fastest players in modern chess. As it turned out, however, Boris was the one to dominate. First on the chessboard, when he spotted why 16.b5?! was a mistake;
16…a4! 17.Qa2 Na5! 18.Bf1 Bxb5 won a pawn, and after many more twists and turns the game came down to a knight square on the queenside:
It looked like Nepo would simply go on to flag his opponent, but it says all you need to know about how the game went after this to note that 20 moves later there were still two black knights, but the white knights had departed the board!
“Not the best quality match!” said Gelfand, but it was one he could still be proud of. He was asked if he could concentrate online the way he would in normal over-the-board chess:
I think I can concentrate more or less the same… All of us learnt already what is the computer! To focus, it’s another story. Sometimes you have lapses of concentration, but it happens because we are humans, and not because it’s online. During over-the-board games I had a lot of lapses of concentration.
The final match to mention is Ivanchuk-Anand, a repeat of a pairing that was first seen 35 years ago in the 1985 World Junior Championship. It’s fair to say this wasn’t their most exciting meeting in all that time, as the first four games were all drawn. That meant Armageddon, but Magnus decided not to stick around for it, commenting:
This game has very little effect more than for flagging rights – is that the right term?
Vishy had White and looked to have excellent chances when he won a pawn, especially as he also kept an advantage on the clock. Vasyl brilliantly managed to win back that pawn, however, and liquidated all the material to secure a draw that gave him match victory. For Vishy it was a 4th loss in 4 in Armageddon, while for Vasyl the 2 points took him to the top spot below the Final Four participants. It also meant a healthy prize!
The Final 4 players have already secured at least $17,500, while the runner-up gets $30,000 and the winner gets not just $45,000 but a place in the $300,000 Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour final that starts shortly after the Legends ends. The Carlsen-Svidler and Giri-Nepo matches start on Friday, when each will take place over up to three days, with four rapid games each day.
Before that, however, there’s the one rest day on Thursday, when we have a Q&A session with Ian Nepomniachtchi at 18:00 CEST (ask him your questions here) followed by Banter Blitz with Peter Svidler at 21:00 CEST. Don’t miss it!
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