Boris Gelfand, world no. 3 in 1990, scored a famous 3:1 victory over current world no. 3 Ding Liren on Day 1 of the chess24 Legends of Chess. Magnus Carlsen also won 3:1, though he did miss mate-in-4 against Anish Giri. Peter Svidler edged a win over Vishy Anand, while Kramnik-Nepo and Leko-Ivanchuk went to Armageddon. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Peter Leko won in the end, but not before the legends had some fun. "Did Chucky actually win with the King’s Gambit? That’s awesome!" said Magnus, and it was hard to disagree.
Five draws in Game 1 of Round 1 of the chess24 Legends of Chess was a slow start, but from then on it was a fantastic first day’s action. You can replay the games using the selector below:
There are 3 points for a win before Armageddon, while if a match is tied 2:2 and goes to Armageddon the winner gets 2 points and the loser 1. That made the scores as follows:
Relive the day’s action with the live commentary from Tania Sachdev, Jan Gustafsson, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Alexander Grischuk:
Let’s take the matches one at a time:
This first round pairing looked too good to be true when it was produced at the drawing of lots – a ceremony open to all the players, but in fact only virtually attended by Vasyl Ivanchuk!
The match was perhaps something of an anti-climax, however. The first game was a safe draw, during which the main thing we learnt, from the Norwegian media, was that World Champion Magnus Carlsen was in fact on a boat. He would later confirm it, though he’ll be back on dry land for Round 3.
Game 2, however, got off to an explosive start when Carlsen’s rare 6.Bd2 was followed up by the novelty 7.g4!?
The time control is 15 minutes for all moves with a 10-second bonus each move, and Anish now sank into a 5-minute think. Initially his response seemed ok, but Magnus noted that 11.g5 needed to be met by 11…h5 rather than 11…hxg5, after which 12.h4! blew Black’s king position wide open.
It was one-way traffic from there, but Magnus suffered a small hiccup along the way when he missed something he called, “more than a little embarrassing”:
Magnus admitted that in the 35 seconds he spent here he completely overlooked 24.Rh8+! Kxh8 25.Qxf8+ Kh7 26.Rh1+ and Black has to put his queen in the firing line with e.g. 26…Qh6, but instead of capturing it White can also give mate with 27.Qxg7#
Magnus played 24.Qe5 instead, but wasn’t made to pay as he went on to win comfortably anyway. Anish needed to make a comeback, but the World Champion felt his opponent wasn’t burning any bridges with the white pieces in Game 3:
The third game I felt like he played as if he was in a must-draw situation… because he didn’t really try very much.
Magnus called Giri’s adopting a King’s Indian Defence setup with Black in the 4th game, “an honest try,” but felt his position was always too solid. Anish tried to rock the boat but only ended up losing a second game, and the match. It had been a tough start for the Dutch no. 1, who also came in for the lion's share of criticism over the Twitter exchanges with Magnus. Alexander Grischuk quoted Eminem:
Meanwhile Magnus addressed the same topic, and whether their interchanges had taken a serious turn:
If he indeed feels offended by something then that wasn’t supposed to happen. It was always friendly banter to me. I do take pretty serious exception to the notion that there’s a PR campaign against him because Team Magnus sees him as a serious threat. If it’s banter then it’s ok, and it’s just a little bit above my head, but if he does believe it that sounds more on the delusional side to me, but I don’t know.
Watch the full interview with Tania Sachdev:
Magnus ended, when quizzed about his motivation since he’d already qualified for the $300,000 Grand Final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour:
Any event I’m playing I’m playing to win and this was an excellent start. I’m just hoping to get some legendary games going in the next few days!
Ding Liren will qualify for the Grand Final if he reaches the semi-finals in the Legends (or if he doesn’t, but Magnus wins the event), but he got off to the toughest of starts. “I think youngsters underestimate the legends,” said Alexander Grischuk, and Boris Gelfand, a player who was world no. 3 before Ding was born, is not to be underestimated! He won both black games, and the style in which he did it was devastating. In Game 2 he'd foreseen a powerful trick:
If Black simply captured on d5 then White can take on f6, but after 21…Nf5! 22.Qh3 exd5 the white bishop had to retreat while Gelfand picked up the d4-pawn. He went on to convert that extra pawn in a rook endgame.
Boris very nearly won the match with a game to spare, but stumbled into perpetual check in a complicated but winning position in the next game. He shrugged off that disappointment to win the next game in just 16 moves, though there was a shaky moment along the way:
Gelfand said he was afraid of 10.Nc4! (threatening Bxf4) 10...g5 11.e5! here, and he was right to be, since it seems White is completely winning. Ding instead played 10.b3? and soon sank to defeat.
Boris said afterwards it was “a big privilege to be invited to this tournament”, but on this form the privilege will be all ours. If there had ever been any doubt how seriously he was approaching the event he dispelled it by noting he’d played some training games in the last week against “very strong players”.
This match was a tight struggle for three games, with Peter Svidler coming closest to open the scoring in Game 2 when he was unable to convert an extra pawn in a rook ending. It then seemed that Vishy Anand was going to continue the momentum that had seen him win 8 classical games to Peter’s 0 over their long careers, but suddenly Vishy lost the thread in a complex position before a dramatic finale in mutual time trouble:
Peter’s last move, 35.Nxe4?! (35.Rxf7!), was actually a mistake, since if Black ignored the threat of a fork on f6 with 35…c2! he'd have more than enough compensation – a new queen will replace the old. Instead 35…Be7? allowed 36.Rxe7! and it was suddenly time for Vishy to resign the game and match. If he recaptures on e7 the a8-rook is lost.
That brings us to the two matches that went to Armageddon:
This was the other battle of the generations on Day 1, but it was soon clear that Big Vlad was not going to be the chess “pensioner” of his chess24 username. He won a pawn in the first game and racked up 98 moves as he tried to grind Nepo down. Vlad's endgame skills are legendary, with Rustam Kasimdzhanov telling a wonderful story of the 14th World Champion’s approach to a tactics puzzle at the 2018 Berlin Candidates:
Grischuk responded when asked how much he thinks Kramnik now works on chess, “I think he works five times less than when he was a professional... so still more than me!” Too much opening prowess wasn’t needed in Game 2, however, with Ian seeming to have gone astray by move 6, while Vlad could pick up material after 22.h3 (22.Qc2! says the computer, and White is ok):
22…b4! 23.Bd2 Bh2+ 24.Kh1 Be5 and Black was winning the exchange, with Vlad going on to win with the final flourish 36…Bxa6!
37.Qxa6 runs into 37…Rd1+!, so Nepo resigned.
That seemed to wake Ian up, however, and he found the quickest mate at the end of the next game:
32…Rxh2+! 33.Kg1 Rg3+! 34.Kxh2 Qf2+ 35.Kh1 Rh3#
After that exchange of blows the final rapid game was a quiet draw, meaning we’d reached Armageddon. Kramnik had White and 5 minutes to Nepo’s 4, but he had to win on demand. On the board Vlad managed to get an interesting game with some chances, but he failed on the clock, soon falling a minute behind before going on to lose on time, though by then the position was hopeless anyway.
Last, but by no means least, we have:
This match got off to a rocky start, since for the first 20 minutes Vasyl lived up to his absent-minded genius reputation by sitting oblivious with the wrong tab open on his computer, failing to respond to increasingly frantic messages from the arbiters. Eventually communication was re-established with Planet Chucky, however, and the game could start normally, if delayed. By the end of that encounter it was Vasyl pressing for a win, but no more.
Game 2 also looked set to fizzle out into a draw, but right at the end Vasyl misjudged a queen ending and suddenly Peter Leko had taken the lead. Vasyl immediately switched to playing for a win, with an early d6 and g6 in Game 3, but could only draw, so it all came down to Game 4. What do you play with White in a must-win situation? The King’s Gambit! 1.e4 e5 2.f4!?
Vasyl had history here, having previously beaten Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Sergey Karjakin and Ding Liren with the most famous “Romantic” opening in chess, and he added Peter Leko’s name to his list of victims. It was a wonderful game, with Vasyl already an exchange down in this position, while the e3-bishop and d1-knight are both under attack:
How do you save both pieces? You don’t! Vasyl unleashed 31.e5!!, when it turns out after 31…Bxd1 32.Qb7+! White is simply better. Instead we saw 31…f5 32.Qxd6 Bxd1 33.Bxf5, and, despite being a full rook down, it turned out Vasyl had all-but-unstoppable pawns ready to decide the game.
That was a real masterpiece and had the current World Champion enthusing, “Did Chucky actually win with the King’s Gambit? That’s awesome! That’s my boy!” But the Armageddon lived up to the fears Vasyl had expressed about the format in his Q&A session before the tournament. Peter Leko had Black and only needed a draw, and he never looked in danger before even going on to win after Vasyl made a desperate attempt at the end.
That loss in Armageddon still earned Vasyl a point, however, so that the standings look as follows after Day 1:
There are still 8 rounds to go, with Wednesday’s Round 2 including the World Championship rematch Carlsen-Anand. The other clash of the generations is Kramnik-Giri (Vlad taking on his 2018 Candidates Tournament second), while the remaining encounters are Nepo-Ding, Ivanchuk-Gelfand and Svidler-Leko.
Don’t miss the chess24 Legends of Chess from 15:30 CEST each day!
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