Daniil Dubov is in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge final after demolishing Ding Liren 2.5:0.5, but we still don’t know who he’ll play. Hikaru Nakamura came back to beat Magnus Carlsen 2.5:1.5 and set up a decider on Saturday after the fate of the match turned on the first game of the day. Hikaru ran into some powerful opening preparation and may objectively have been lost, but Magnus got behind on the clock and rejected a draw only to stumble into a mating net. He had chances in the next game, but ultimately Hikaru didn’t let his lead slip.
Friday’s action saw Daniil Dubov continue to show a rare ability to make the world’s best players look average, while any thoughts that we were going to see a one-sided Carlsen-Nakamura contest lasted less than a single game:
You can replay the live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko below:
And here’s Pascal Charbonneau’s Aftershow:
On Day 1 of the semifinals Magnus had used some fine opening preparation to get off to a winning start, and it looked as though history might repeat itself. This time he went for a piece sacrifice on g4 in the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3 and then played the new move 10…Be7. The most recent game to have gone 10…Bd6 instead was Leko-Navara 2018, and we were lucky enough to have Peter on our show to explain a funny story about that!
Nakamura’s 11.Kh1!? may already have been an inaccuracy (11.Kg2, defending the knight, would have allowed the queen to get out of the pin), but the next nine moves all took Magnus over a minute each, a very rare way for the World Champion to use his time in a rapid game. Clocks aside, however, it seemed White was on the verge of being completely busted:
15…Bxf3+! 16.Qxf3 g4! 17.Qg2 Qd6 and long castles next and Black looks to have an overwhelming position. Instead 15…Bc5!? allowed Hikaru to go for the bold plan of 16.Bc3! Bxf2 17.Nbd2! giving up the exchange on g1 in order to get to the e5-pawn with his minor pieces. Still, it was a position only Black should have been playing to win, since Magnus had the opportunity to force a draw by perpetual check:
Simply 26…Qg3+ and Qh3+ would have meant starting the match with a perfectly acceptable draw with the black pieces, but Magnus wanted more. There was a way to get more, here or the move before – 26…Rd8 27.Qc4 Rd5!! and, at the cost of a full rook, Black delays mate on f7 long enough to advance his f and g-pawns and most likely win the game:
Hikaru was right, however, when he commented, “I think this is supposed to be winning for Black, but in a rapid or blitz game it’s completely insane to expect someone to find”. What Magnus came up with was 26.g3?, a move that caught Hikaru by surprise:
The funny thing about this is that first of all I didn’t actually see that he could play g3. I thought it was just going to be a repetition, and then I saw g3 and I panicked, because I didn’t realise that it covered the d7-square actually.
Fortunately for Hikaru, however, after 27.Nf3! he was already better, and after 27…g2 28.Re1! Qxf3? it was game-over.
If Nakamura had been in serious time trouble he might just have taken a draw by perpetual check, but with over 8 minutes on his clock to less than 30 seconds for Magnus he had no trouble spotting 29.Qe5+ Kd8 30.Qf6+ Ke8 31.Bb4! and the bishop joining the attack made all the difference. It was soon over.
There were still three games for Magnus to rescue the situation, and in the next he again seemed to be the player springing the opening surprises, until he froze after 12…c6:
Hikaru assumed Magnus was thinking about 13.Bc4, while the computer suggests the even cooler 13.Kb1. Hikaru explained the dilemma:
I think considering the match situation it’s very hard to play this, because again, if Magnus is right he’s probably winning here, but if he’s wrong he’s just going to lose the game and essentially lose the match.
After an epic 9 minutes and 49 seconds (remember, these are 15-minute games), Magnus backed down with 13.Bxf6?!. It had been a critical moment, Hikaru agreed, but he also stated the obvious when he noted, “I think he used too much time”. From that moment on things got out of hand, with the US star later summing up:
Game number 2 was a complete mess, also a game that could have been three results at many different moments.
Magnus got right back into the game and was maybe better, then he found himself two pawns down for nebulous compensation, then he regained both pawns and came close to winning:
50.Rd5 or 50.Re5 and White can soon take the h5-pawn, but instead Magnus played 50.Rdd2 after 14 seconds thought. Our commentators thought it was a mouse slip given the World Champion’s reaction…
…but it may have been, as Hikaru assumed, just that Magnus had realised he missed a much better option.
Things could still easily have gone White’s way, with Hikaru worried about the threat of Be8-a4 until, with under a minute on his clock, he spotted that 52…g6! saves the day!
White had enough pawns to shrug off the loss of the bishop and easily make a draw, but it was a draw that still left Magnus needing to win at least one of the next two games.
We could expect fireworks, but as Hikaru accurately summed up:
It’s funny because I think Games 3 and 4 were actually pretty mild compared to the first two games.
In Game 3 Hikaru no longer felt the need to play the Anti-Berlin and instead took an easy 33-move draw from a position of strength. It meant if he was going to lose the match it would only be in Armageddon, but he could avoid even that test if he made a draw in the 4th game. That’s what he did, as Magnus was unable to fashion any real chances in a tricky 4-bishop ending:
38…c5! 39.e6+ Kf6 40.dxc5 g6! was extremely precise and ensured the draw a few moves later.
Hikaru explained how he managed to brush off his 3:0 loss the day before:
I basically didn’t think about it. I decided to stream and clear my head and have a good time and just not think about it. That’s what I did. I didn’t do anything special. Obviously I reviewed some stuff, but mainly just to keep my head clear and not let the negativity affect me, and I thought today certainly the first game was quite shaky and it all could have gone wrong, but I was very proud of myself for the way that I held it together even if objectively Magnus came up with some very strong ideas in the opening. I was very happy throughout that I stayed relatively calm, I didn’t panic too much and I followed the game plan, which was really just to try and put pressure on him on the clock and get positions that were messy. I think it worked today.
Watch the full interview below:
Hikaru also claimed his “good luck, Magnus” tweet the day before had been innocent, though some watching Dutch no. 1s were unconvinced:
There was definitely some trolling going on, with Hikaru safely waiting until the day was over to tweet the same Twitch emote that Magnus had used after two wins the day before:
Magnus was understandably not thrilled with how the day had gone:
You keep expecting Daniil Dubov to return to earth, or at least earth orbit, but his run of incredible results continues:
The puzzle of how Daniil keeps beating some of the world’s most solid grandmasters in around 20 moves with either colour will take some more investigation, but a good starting point seems to be to throw the h-pawn up the board as soon as possible. In the first game of the day Daniil went for 8…h5, and noted that you should probably respond with h4, “if you’re not insane.” Instead the h-pawn was able to advance to h4 and take on g3, though there was still a precedent until 12.hxg3:
Here Wesley So played 12…Rc8 and… got brutally crushed in 22 moves by Levon Aronian in a blitz game in the 2016 Your Next Move Grand Chess Your event in Leuven.
Dubov chose 12…Qc8 and then shortly afterwards was angered by his opponent disconnecting. Ding regularly has internet issues since connecting from China can be tricky, but Daniil thought there should be at least some penalty – he suggested 2 minutes – since his opponent gained some time which he could use to contemplate a tricky position. It seemed more like Ding used up nervous energy trying to solve his internet issues, but in any case, the game would have a very sudden denouement!
Ding allowed himself to be distracted on the queenside until the killer blow landed like a bolt from the blue on the kingside:
21…Bg2! and Black is threatening Rh1+ and Qh3# 22.Kxg2 of course fails to 22…Qh3+, while 22.g4 is met by 22…Bxf3, when Rh1# and Qxg4+ can’t be parried. There was nothing for it but for Ding to resign.
By this stage it seems almost trolling, but just as Daniil had played 8…h5 in the previous he now played 8.h4!, and this time it looked like a good novelty, with the h-pawn ready to support a bishop or knight going to g5.
In hindsight Ding should have forced a draw by repetition when he had the chance, but he played on until that h-pawn was ready to inflict more misery:
28.h5! Qxh5 (other options were also bleak) 29.e4!, exploiting the pin along the 5th rank just as Daniil had done in the first game the day before. After 29…Rc4 30.Rxc4 bxc4 we perhaps got a reminder that Daniil’s most dangerous enemy is sometimes himself:
31.exd5! was simple and good, but Daniil went for 31.Be3!!? with the trick that after 31…Nxe3 32.Rxd7+ Ke8 he has 33.Qd2! and the knight can’t go anywhere as Qd6 would threaten mate:
Daniil admitted, “I didn’t need this brilliancy with Be3 at all,” since it turns out that after 33…Rb8! 34.fxe3 c3! from Ding the position after 35.Qd6 Rb1+ was actually a draw. Black was able to give perpetual check, but low on time, the Chinese no. 1 didn’t manage to find it and Daniil took a 2:0 lead.
That was of course a mountain to climb, and Ding never came close before the 3rd game was drawn. In fact it was Dubov who missed a one move chance to seal the deal:
Had he seen it? “No, luckily for me I was just told after the game - obviously it would be tough to continue the game!” No harm was done, and it’s Daniil Dubov who finds himself with two days to rest before the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge final begins on Monday. Jan Gustafsson asked him about the final:
Jan: Who would you rather face in the final, Magnus or Hikaru?
Daniil: I would definitely prefer to play Magnus.
Because you think he’s weaker or it’s the more fun challenge?
I just think it’s much more interesting to play him - I just prefer to play the best players. Obviously Magnus is much stronger than Hikaru, but why not? I want to praise Magnus… We had many great World Champions but actually it took me many, many years to play like four rapid and blitz games against Kramnik, and against Magnus he’s always there to face us and to prove again he’s the best. So basically guys like me, or Alireza, or Duda, if you’re young and ambitious, basically once you win three games in a row or something you get a chance to play Magnus.
Daniil isn't afraid of a challenge!
Whether a match against Magnus awaits is still something to be decided, however, with all the focus exclusively on Carlsen vs. Nakamura when they play the 3rd and final match of their 3-match series on Saturday. We keep saying it, but you definitely don’t want to miss this, from 15:30 CEST right here on chess24.
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