Reports Sep 23, 2022 | 6:35 AMby Colin McGourty

Generation Cup QFs: Carlsen through but Niemann out

We won’t get a Carlsen-Niemann final in the Julius Baer Generation Cup after Liem Le beat Hans Niemann 2.5:1.5 in the quarterfinals. Magnus did progress, storming back to beat Levon Aronian 3:1 after losing the first game, and now plays Vincent Keymer, who defeated Praggnanandhaa. Arjun Erigaisi faces Le in the semis after edging a thrilling battle against Christopher Yoo.

The quarterfinals of the Julius Baer Generation Cup began with a bang with a decisive first game in all four matches. The winner of that game ultimately went on to win each match… except one!

Carlsen 3:1 Aronian

Magnus Carlsen was unbeaten in the Preliminaries in every game where he didn’t resign after one move, but he fell to defeat with the white pieces in Game 1 of the quarterfinal against Levon Aronian. 

Magnus explained:

It was kind of a weird match. First game I think was pretty reasonable from both sides, but he played a lot faster than I did and then I just made a big mistake and he exploited it very nicely for a while. Then I felt that I was getting some small chances, but I couldn’t quite find them.

Magnus thinking almost 7 minutes over moves 13 and 14 ultimately proved costly, since 30.Bc1? allowed Levon to take over with 30…Rc2! 31.f5 (it’s difficult to suggest a move) 31…c4!

Levon rushed the conversion, but even though Magnus might have escaped with 32.a6! instead of 32.Kf2? Qxf4+ 0-1, it was anything but easy, as noted by a Norwegian International Master.

Magnus agreed:

I did have a study-like way to draw, but even then we would have had this famous queen ending where he would still have had chances. And so it was obviously a poor start, but I still knew with three games to go I would only need a +1 to take it to tiebreaks. I wasn’t quite panicking yet.

Levon had won with Black and now had the white pieces, but what followed was a horror show for the Armenian GM who now represents the USA. His 12.Bd3?? (12.a3! would have avoided all that followed) ran into 12…0-0-0!... and White could resign!

The problem is he simply loses the pinned bishop on d3, either to Nb4, as happened in the game, or e.g. to Bc4 if White blocks the knight move. Levon heroically managed to drag the encounter out to move 48, but the final position was appropriate to what had gone before.

Levon commented:

I can say it was a bit disappointing, because after winning the 1st game I felt that the match is in my hands, then this second game was of course ridiculous. To get a losing position with White in 10 moves… I just completely forgot something I was intending to do and blundered very early on.

Magnus agreed it was the turning point.

Obviously I got a massive gift in the 2nd game and I felt like after that I was pretty much in control.

Magnus took the lead in Game 3 after Levon went for an extremely bold sacrifice of a full piece to get play along the g-file. Magnus dug deep and found the only clearly winning line 21.g4! Qg7 22.e4!

All kinds of brilliant lines are possible, including the queen sacrifice 22…Rh6 23.Qxh6!, but in the game we saw the more modest 22…fxg4 23.f5! Rh6 24.Qxg4, when Magnus needed to find a couple more precise moves to resist Levon’s threatened counterattack.

“I’m very happy with the 3rd game today, the way I handled his pressure there and beat back the attack,” said Magnus.

The drama didn’t stop, with Levon sacrificing a knight in what proved to be the final game.

It was a beautiful idea, since after 20…Qxh7 21.Re3 it turned out Magnus had to play 21…f5!, giving up his queen to 22.Rh3. He had good compensation, however, and some more accurate moves stabilised the position until he ultimately won when Levon overpushed — if you can overpush in a must-win game!

Magnus concluded:

The 4th game was a little bit shaky and the 2nd game was a little bit of a non-game, so I didn’t feel like the day was a great day, but any time you win three games in a row against such a good player you should be happy!

He was also happy with his year and particularly his recent form, noting, “both my energy and my level of chess has been good for a while now”.

Of course we didn’t get to see as much of Magnus as we might have recently after he pulled out of the Sinquefield Cup, with Magnus commenting of the reaction of his colleagues to his latest interview:

I can say that some people have been saying maybe more supportive things privately than they have publicly, which I very much understand and I certainly appreciate.

The topic of course was his relationship with Hans Niemann, who he refused to play in the Prelims. He again put off a direct response to the situation, saying “that’s going to be addressed next week” to the question of whether he would be providing evidence of cheating.

For now, however, the prospect of facing Hans Niemann in the final has gone, since the US 19-year-old was knocked out by a member of Magnus’ generation, Liem Le.

Le 2.5:1.5 Niemann

Levon Aronian and Anish Giri both noted earlier in the Julius Baer Generation Cup that it can be difficult mentally to play against a player under suspicion of cheating, but Liem Le has been impervious to any such doubts. He commented:

I just treat this as a normal game. Regarding the Magnus-Hans situation, I don’t have a clear opinion, because I feel like we are not given enough information, so I don’t know what to think. I’m just waiting for more information, more evidence to come, if there’s any. Based on his games in the Sinquefield Cup and in this tournament, I don’t think he cheated. I just feel very normal and try to focus on chess and not think too much about this stuff.

It’s been working for Liem as he convincingly beat Hans in the Prelims and did it again in the first game of their quarterfinal, which had echoes of the earlier game.

Then Liem could have taken an almost unassailable 2:0 lead.

He commented:

Perhaps I could have finished it a bit earlier, because I was completely winning in Game 2, but there were some tactics I couldn’t see. When he played Nd7 I had a feeling I was winning, but I did not see this fxg and Be4, so that was a big miss, right there.

The point was that after 20.fxg6! fxg6 21.Bxe4!! the bishop is distracted from the defence of the f7-square, and 21…Bxe4 22.Nf7!, with Nh6+ next, proves to be lethal.

Instead after 20.Nxd7 Qxd7 White’s attack came to a halt and Hans took over to win a fine game. 

The third game was a tense draw, while in the final rapid game Le’s d-pawn proved decisive.

The last chance for Hans was 22…Nb3!, intending Nd4, since after 22…Nc6 23.Nxc6 Qxc6 24.d7! the pawn was just too powerful, with resignation coming on move 44.

Hans will now have some time to reflect on a few weeks that have turned his world upside down.

Keymer 3:1 Praggnanandhaa

Praggnanandhaa-Carlsen clashes have been a big part of this year’s Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, but it’s 17-year-old Vincent Keymer that Magnus will face in the semi-final this time round.

Vincent noted that no longer going to school is one of the reasons for his recent climb above 2700.

First of all I finished school in February, or March, which means that basically now for the past few months I’ve been a chess professional. I just have much more time to work on chess, but also the year before worked out quite well.

His fellow 17-year-old Pragg knows all about successfully combining chess and school, but in the first game of the match he underestimated Vincent’s kingside attack.

In the final position Pragg couldn’t capture on f7 with his knight since Vincent wouldn’t recapture but would give checkmate with Ng6#.

This was the tightest match of the day, with the next two games drawn, before Pragg got some chances to level the match in Game 4. His a-pawn was potentially unstoppable if he could tie down Black on the kingside, but 38.Qc2? (38.Qh5!) was the last mistake, after which 38…d3! made it clear Keymer’s passed pawn was going to be the decisive one.

Vincent nearly beat Magnus in the Prelims and now he has a chance in the semi-finals. Is he looking forward to it?

Very much! Of course it will be an extremely tough match, but I think just having the chance of playing Magnus in a match is already great, so I’ll just try to enjoy it as much as I can and learn as much as I can and we’ll see.

The final match to finish was between 19-year-old Arjun Erigaisi and 15-year-old Christopher Yoo.

Erigaisi 3.5:2.5 Yoo

The results tell you just how exciting the match became.

Arjun opened the scoring by outplaying Yoo in a rook endgame, but Christopher struck right back to win the second game — like an old pro he won the strategic battle then patiently probed until he dismantled his opponent’s potential fortress, winning in 80 moves.

Arjun then again took the lead in Game 3, where one of his knights went on a remarkable adventure.

This was only halfway through its journey, but White is already winning.

Could Arjun then hold a draw in the 4th game and clinch the match? No!

It was a lot more difficult than I expected it to be, and I think I should have made a draw in the 4th game, but nerves kind of got to me and I made a lot of silly inaccuracies.

It has to be said there was also brilliant play from Yoo, who gave up his queen for a rook and bishop.

The position was objectively equal, but Christopher won the a7-pawn and eventually managed to queen his own a-pawn and take the match to tiebreaks.

Christopher was in fact doing very well in the first blitz game, until he was perhaps too tactically alert! He could simply have captured on e2 with an advantage, but he saw a way to win a pawn.

White can’t recapture on b2 without losing the e1-rook, while his queen is attacked, but after 27.Qd2! the focus suddenly switches to Qxg5, with the black king in huge danger. Arjun didn’t look back.

The final game was a rollercoaster, but Yoo couldn’t get the win he needed to force Armageddon.

That means that Arjun, who had previously twice been knocked out in Meltwater Champions Chess Tour quarterfinals, will reach the final if he beats Liem Le, who he defeated in the Prelims. The full pairings are as follows.

The semi-finals will also be a one-day battle over four rapid games (and potential tiebreaks), and the stakes are even higher. The winners will not only reach the 2-day final, but will also qualify for the final Major of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. That takes place in person in San Francisco this November.

Tune in to the Julius Baer Generation Cup action each day from 12pm ET/18:00 CEST!

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