Hikaru Nakamura is in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge semi-finals after Levon Aronian collapsed in the first and final games of the day to fall to a 3:1 defeat. Hikaru’s opponent will be Magnus Carlsen unless Wesley So can beat Magnus on Tuesday to force a decider. One player who did manage a comeback win was Ding Liren, who scored a crushing win in the first game of the day against Yu Yangyi and forced a draw from a winning position in the 4th to clinch victory. They’ll now play again on Wednesday.
After both matches lasted 5 games on Day 1 of the quarterfinals, then 3 games on Day 2, the matches both took 4 games on Day 3!
You can replay the day’s live commentary from Tania Sachdev, Peter Leko and Jan Gustafsson using the selector below:
Pascal Charbonneau again recapped the day’s action in his Aftershow:
Let’s take a look at the day’s matches.
Levon Aronian had been a draw in the 4th game on Saturday’s match against Hikaru Nakamura away from winning the first mini-match of the series, but from there on things went badly astray for the Armenian no. 1. Hikaru won a complicated rapid game, then Armageddon and then today opened with a win. As he commented afterwards:
I think generally speaking the first game, if it’s decisive, tends to set the tone for the whole match.
You can check out the full interview with Hikaru below:
The loss was particularly tough for Levon since it came out of nowhere. Despite playing the Petroff Defence, Levon reached a position that he would have found very familiar from one of his favourite openings, the Marshall, which also happens to be a speciality of our commentators Peter Leko and Jan Gustafsson. As Jan put it:
Black’s position looked bulletproof, but Hikaru suggested the super-solid looking 26…a6!? (26…Nb6!?) was already an inaccuracy, with Hikaru seizing the chance to open up the position with 27.c4!
Still, 27…bxc4 looks good, and even after 27…Nc7 in the game it was hard to imagine how much could go wrong so quickly. There followed 28.Kg2 Ne6 29.Bf2 Qe7 30.Qe4 (“it’s still probably holdable but it’s very, very dangerous with very little time on the clock”) 30…bxa4? and instead of capturing (31.Bxa4 c5!) Hikaru unleashed 31.Bc2!, a move he felt was easy to miss:
The threat is mate-in-2 with Qh7+ and Qh8# and none of the possible defences are appealing. Hikaru suggested 31…Ng5 and trying to survive the ending after 32.Qxe7, while after 31…Qg5? it was all over. “The whole thing collapses instantly, basically”, said Hikaru, who played the best move 32.c5!, leaving the bishop without a good square and all the black pawns sitting ducks. Levon resigned 7 moves later:
In Game 2 Hikaru once again played the ugly-looking Queen’s Gambit Declined setup that he’s been repeating constantly in recent online matches. When challenged about that he explained:
I think if anything it’s on my opponents to prove it. Of course I think at some point it gets a little bit tiring playing the same thing, but I felt for the most part in the recent matches I’ve gotten good positions. The first couple of days in the Magnus Invite I got really bad positions, but since then, for the most part, I think I’ve gotten really stable positions and, as I said, everyone has to waste their preparation, so I don’t care – they’re going to have less things to show when over the board chess returns!
This was not a game that was likely to dissuade Hikaru from playing the same system, since he got to play an interesting exchange sacrifice:
25…Rxc3! 26.Rxc3 Bxa5 27.bxa5 Rxa5 28.Be1 Ne4 Nakamura said that in a normal game he would have played on, but with a lead in the match he didn’t want to take any risks and therefore settled for a draw by repetition of moves.
Game 3 really was a draw with nothing to talk about, meaning Levon Aronian was staking everything on White in Game 4, when he switched from 1.d4 to 1.e4. It worked out well, with Hikaru treating 17.c4 as a provocation that required to be met by 17…f5!?
Computers, at least at a low depth, disagree with that decision, but Hikaru, who had been behind on the clock, felt good about the new landscape:
Playing c4 he forced me to play f5, and then all my moves become almost only moves. If it’s bad it’s bad, but if it’s not bad then I’m completely fine. I thought what I did was pretty good.
We got 18.Nxf5 Bxf5 19.exf5 e4! 20.Re1 e3 and here is where it all seemed to slip away from Levon:
21.d4!, preventing Be5, seems to work, based on various tactical details, but after 2 minutes Levon went for 21.Qc1? and must have been shocked to see 21…g4! follow. At a glance it looks as though 22.Rxe3 should punish that move, but in fact 22…Qf6! is then winning for Black.
After almost 5 minutes of thought Levon blitzed out a losing sequence: 22.Nh4 Rhe8 23.c5? Be5 24.Qxe3, when 24…Qd7!, the move Hikaru assumed his opponent missed, just made it game over. A few moves later White’s position was in ruins and Levon resigned:
Hikaru will now have a few days off before he plays in the
semifinals, when his opponent is currently likely to be Magnus Carlsen, who leads
Wesley So after Day 1 of their quarterfinal. In that case Hikaru could already
consider the tournament a success, whatever the outcome. As he said during the
Magnus Carlsen Invitational:
Maybe I shouldn’t say this, because it probably helps my opponents a bit, but I feel like whenever I play these blitz or rapid events I feel this great pressure that I either have to finish first or play Magnus in the final match, and if I don’t do that I feel like I’ve failed in a way.
Hikaru also gave an interesting answer when Tania asked if he pays attention to his opponent’s webcam. His response was that he does, since in some ways it’s more useful than body language in over the board games:
You’ve seen Magnus when he loses some games he throws his hands up in the air, he has a big reaction, I’ve had a couple of them as well, and I know that over the board we’d be really unhappy, but the reaction wouldn’t come out until we’re away from the board because everyone’s watching. Online you kind of forget sometimes about this and so it’s actually in some ways much easier to have tells and sort of giveaways in a way that you wouldn’t over the board.
This match looks closer on paper, but in fact it followed almost exactly the same scenario, only that Game 1 was even more convincing. Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren, who had lost on time in a won position in the Armageddon game of their first mini-match, simply steamrollered his opponent with the kind of positional crush you don’t often see nowadays:
Depending on his levels of sadism Ding could have done almost anything here without spoiling his position, but instead he went for a crisp kill: 34.Bc5+ Kg7 35.Be7 Re8 36.Rxd7 Bxd7 37.Bf6+ and Black resigned, since it's mate-in-3.
Yu Yangyi got some chances in a double-edged second game, but couldn’t stop Games 2 and 3 ending in draws, so that just like Levon he needed to win with White in the final game to force Armageddon. It was a surprise, therefore, that Ding went for the sharp Two Knights’ Defence with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6, and made it sharper still after 8.Qf3:
8…cxb5!? is a rare exchange sac you don’t want to try at home (unless you’ve checked out Jan’s Chessable series, where it seems he recommended this!), but it worked out perfectly for Ding, who later spent 5 minutes before unleashing 16…Qh3!
It had all the makings of a minor masterpiece: 17.Rf2 Bb7! 18.Qh7 Rxg2+! 19.Rxg2 Bxe3+ 20.Kh1 Qxf3 21.Qg8+ Ke7 22.Nc3 Bg5 23.Rg1 Qf2 24.Qb8:
White is paralysed and 24…Qb6 is winning, but this is where Ding decided it wasn’t time for any heroics. 24…Bxg2+ 25.Rxg2 Qf1+ 26.Rg1 Qf3+ forced an instant draw by repetition and meant he’d won the mini-match.
Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi will now play a decider on Wednesday. They’ll only be joined by other pairings if Sergey Karjakin can come back against Daniil Dubov or Wesley So can hit back against Magnus Carlsen. Those are tomorrow’s pairings and you can watch all the action live here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST (with the pre-show beginning at 15:30 CEST).
Before that there's Banter Blitz with Chinese prodigy Wei Yi at 14:30 CEST. He'll be speaking Chinese, but all chess24 Premium users are welcome to challenge him to a game!
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