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Reports Mar 9, 2021 | 11:49 PMby Colin McGourty

Grandelius & Pichot complete Magnus Carlsen Invitational line-up

Argentina’s Alan Pichot will be the first South American player to compete in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour after topping the Magnus Carlsen Invitational qualifier with an unbeaten performance. He’s joined by Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, who admitted his performance hadn’t been “the most convincing of efforts”. It included rejecting a draw offer when a draw was all he needed to qualify!

The final Magnus Carlsen Invitational line-up

The inclusion of Alan Pichot and Nils Grandelius means the 16-player line-up for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational is now complete, with the action starting on Saturday March 13th at 17:00 CET. The final two places were decided in a qualifier tournament that featured twists and turns even before it began. Max Warmerdam came in as a replacement for the originally planned Andrey Esipenko, while Johan-Sebastian Christiansen had to pull out at the very last moment.

We all wish Johan-Sebastian a swift and full recovery.

22-year-old Alan Pichot fortunately agreed to take Johan’s place just hours before the event was announced, while one player not to feature in the qualifier was Anish Giri – much to Magnus’ disappointment!

The 4-player qualifier saw the participants face each other twice at a 10+5 time control, with the top two making it into the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. You can click any result in the table below to open that game with computer analysis:

And here’s the live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Laurent Fressinet.

Let’s take a quick look at how the top two made it to the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, starting with the winner, Alan Pichot.

As you can see, the young Argentinian managed to repeat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s feat in the Candidates of coming in as a late replacement but topping the table. He got off to a perfect start by confidently grinding out a win against Aryan Tari with the black pieces in the first game.

After that Alan wasn’t troubled and could if anything have scored more, while he might have finished off the decisive Round 5 game sooner. Max Warmerdam could have taken a draw by repetition on move 19, but thought for almost 6 minutes before deciding that he needed to play on to have any chance of qualifying for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. That backfired as he was soon losing, but he was given a lifeline.

25.Nf3+! is a completely forced mate-in-2. The only legal reply is 25…Bxf3, when 26.Qf5# ends the game. 

Pichot instead thought for 29 seconds before playing 25.Re3? Qh5 26.Qg8+?!, when the game went on. That moment might have haunted the Argentinian star if Max Warmerdam, who seconded Jorden van Foreest to victory in the Tata Steel Masters, hadn’t stumbled into another mate. Alan had qualified with a game to go!

Nils Grandelius, meanwhile, did things the hard way.

The Swedish no. 1 admitted afterwards, “As you could probably tell already, my brain is not in top shape today”, and added, “that was not the most convincing of efforts”.

Nelly couldn't save Nils in Round 1

He began with a calamitous loss to Max Warmerdam but was then gifted a pawn and the game by Aryan Tari in Round 2. Round 3 was perhaps the turning point, with Nils stumbling into a seemingly hopeless position.

Nils called that clash, “the craziest one, where I was an exchange and two pawns down for most of the game”. He told Jan and Laurent afterwards, however, that a training match had given him hope:

Yesterday I played some warm-up games and I just blundered a piece in one move against a decent grandmaster, and I was very close to resigning, but somehow I kept making moves and in the end I tricked him and won, and this actually gave me great confidence for this position today, because without the game yesterday I probably would have resigned as well this game.     

Pichot had won a 4 vs. 1 rook ending against Tari, but 3 vs. 1 proved a step too far against Grandelius, with 64.Kf4? surprisingly already only a draw.

A wild win against Max Warmerdam put Nils on the verge of qualification and in the end all he required was a draw in the final game against Pichot, who had qualified with a round to spare. There was still time for one moment of madness, as Nils dismissed his opponent’s very early draw offer. He was later asked if he’d seen the offer:

Yeah, but to be honest I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed or whatever. I thought why not make 20 moves… I had no intention of winning the game, definitely not!

Fressinet: Maybe of losing the game?

I was trying a bit, but then I stopped myself in time!

Nils is sure to be a fan favourite, but can he qualify for the knockout?

No harm was done, and it’s Nils who joins Pichot in the 16-player, $220,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational. What are his expectations?

Not so much. I would be happy if I can play a couple of good games, let’s say. I don’t think I have the right to have higher hopes. It’s very strong, and also a couple of players that I actually have not played before, which will be very interesting. I think Nepo, for instance, I never played.

Here’s the formidable line-up (check out the full details here):

#MC Invitational PlayerFEDAgeRatingRankRapid RatingRankQualified by
1Magnus Carlsen302847128811Tour standings (3rd)
2Ian Nepomniachtchi282791427789Tour standings (7th)
3Levon Aronian382781527788Tour standings (4th)
4Anish Giri2627767273125Popular vote
5Shakhriyar Mamedyarov3527708276113Wildcard
6Wesley So2727709274121Tour standings (1st)
7Teimour Radjabov34276510275814Tour standings (2nd)
8Alireza Firouzja17275913270334Wildcard
9Maxime Vachier-Lagrave3027581428602Tour standings (5th)
10Sergey Karjakin31275716270932Wildcard
11Hikaru Nakamura3327361828294Tour standings (6th)
12Daniil Dubov24271028277012Tour standings (8th)
13Jorden van Foreest212701372543314Wildcard
14David Anton25267362267464Popular vote
15Nils Grandelius272670662632123Qualifier
16Alan Pichot2226301442548410Qualifier

The action starts Saturday at 17:00 CET with all the games broadcast live here on chess24

See also:

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