Magnus Carlsen was an accurate move or two away from making it 4 wins in a row against Arjun Erigaisi in the Julius Baer Generation Cup, but despite winning Day 1 of the final with a game to spare, the World Champion drew attention to “some pretty bad moments”. Asked to give a positive, he replied, “I’m winning, that’s positive!”
The Julius Baer Generation Cup has seen one of the most convincing performances from Magnus Carlsen in a long time, and it continued in the final as he clinched the first mini-match 2.5:0.5. Arjun Erigaisi now needs to win the 2nd match on Sunday to force a blitz tiebreak.
The match saw Magnus open with the Reti Opening, 1.Nf3, and the game had soon left known waters. Magnus explained:
The first game was pretty random. I didn’t know what exactly he was going to play in the opening. He has a very wide repertoire, so I decided just to evade his preparation and go for something quiet. It worked out well, in the sense that I got a strategically superior position pretty soon.
Magnus getting to play 15.Ne5! was the moment Peter Leko declared the strategic battle won.
Chess isn’t only about strategy, however, and there was one big moment where Arjun could have hit back — if he’d played 23…g5!
24.fxg5 leaves the e5-knight weak, and both 24…Nxe5 or 24…Nxd4 are good for Black, while after 24.Bxg5 Black has 24…f6! with complications that also work in his favour. Arjun thought for over a minute, but opted for the immediate 23…f6 instead. He later lamented:
In the first game I think I could play g5 at some point, and I saw the move but I didn’t go for it — that’s what hurts me the most.
In the game Magnus soon had full control and could quietly build up on the kingside while Black’s queen and knight were stranded on the queenside.
It was a question of whether Magnus would find the perfect moment to go for the killer blow, and he did, with 35.Bxg6!
After 35…hxg6 36.Qxg6 Ne4?! (only 36…Kh8 puts up some resistance) White’s attack was unstoppable, and 40.Qxe6! brought resignation.
The most pressing threat is Rxg7+! and then the white queen taking the f5-rook.
Game 2 would turn out to be the most spectacular of the day, with Arjun perhaps unwisely going for a line he’d played against Liem Le the day before. It was also a line Ian Nepomniachtchi tried against Magnus in the final game in Dubai, though Nepo had played 7.Re1 instead of 7.Bg5.
In any case, Peter Leko, who worked on Nepo’s team for the match, suspected 8…Bd7!? was prep from back then.
It was a completely new move, if you don’t count one exception!
Magnus told a version of the Botvinnik anecdote when asked to explain the tweet of his head coach Peter Heine Nielsen, but he also said something that seemed to be backed up by his time usage.
The 2nd game I guess was an idea which is fairly new — I just couldn’t remember the point behind it! But it worked out ok and I got a much better position from the opening.
Here Magnus showed the powerful idea of 14…Qe7 and then castling queenside, but though he soon had a huge advantage, according to the computer, it got very complicated — arguably it was Arjun who was more in his element.
The madness was just beginning, since after 25.fxe3 Rxe3 26.Bf2 Qe7! Arjun shocked Magnus by capturing the rook on e3 with 27.Bxe3.
Technically it was a blunder, but it was at least a brilliant one. Arjun met 27…Qxe3+ with 28.Kf1, and devilish threats. The key one is that 28…Ng4? would run into 29.Nc6+!
29…bxc6 30.Rd8+ Kb7 31.Qa6# would be game over.
Magnus realised he had to block the d-file, but 28…N6d5? would lose the house to 29.Re1! and the queen is trapped with no square on f4, while Re8# is threatened. There was a move, however — 28…N4d5!
Frankly I was a bit lucky there. I hadn’t seriously considered the fact that he would take my rook, because I thought it would just lose, and then I’d missed this idea of Nxc6. So at that point I pretty quickly realised that every other move loses, so I had to play N4d5. And the fact that he has no defence after that was a little bit lucky, but considering the position it’s not too surprising. Fortunately, I had a couple of minutes there to calculate, so I could easily eliminate all the other alternatives.
There was no defence for White, with 29.Bxd5 running into another move where everything else loses for Black except the move Magnus played, 29…Ng4!
Two checkmates are threatened, Qf2# and Nh2#, and you can’t stop them both without massive material loss.
That meant Arjun needed to win the next two games on demand to draw the first mini-match — there are in fact no tiebreaks on the 1st day of the final. Needless to say that’s a very tough ask, and at first it seemed Magnus had absolutely everything under control.
Our commentary team had perhaps spoken too soon, however, since just when Peter was saying there was no way Magnus would exchange queens on Arjun’s terms, he did!
Magnus later commented:
I made several mistakes. I just landed in a very poor position, but I don’t know, it felt to me that he didn’t fully believe in it, which I kind of understand. So maybe he didn’t take his chances in the last game fully either, because I think at some point he had serious chances to press, but it didn’t feel like he was grasping the moment.
Carlsen in fact managed to take over until he was clearly winning — and a win would have been a 4th in a row against Arjun and also given Magnus a 2900 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour rating — but the World Champion rushed.
43.Kf2? let the win slip away, with Magnus explaining:
Of course at the end I thought I was just winning easily by bringing the king, and then I just miscalculated that he could drive me back with checks, so I had to force a draw.
If the king heads to d4 Black has Nc6+, while it turns out the winning trick was to play 43.h5! and then Ng6, ousting the black knight from e5, when the black position would fall apart.
Instead the game ended in bare kings, with Arjun getting on the scoreboard if only to confirm he’d lost the first mini-match 2.5:0.5.
"The score was obviously very good, but I’m far from satisfied with my play," was Magnus Carlsen's surprise verdict on the day's action. Arjun talked about playing Magnus:
I have been telling myself not to think too much about the fact that I’m playing against Magnus and just try to play it as if it’s any other opponent. I don’t know if that helped or not.
What does he need to do to get back in the match?
I’m not really sure. It’s just evident that he’s the better player, but hopefully things will go my way and I’ll try to play my best chess.
19-year-old Indian star Arjun felt that even if he loses he wins, however.
I think it’s always difficult to face Magnus but I’ll take it as a positive experience. It will help me become a better chess player, and with my chess in general, so it’s a good learning.
The match and tournament aren’t over yet, however!
If Arjun can win in four games on Sunday the match will go to a blitz playoff, with Arjun having won both of his previous matches in playoffs.
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