Hikaru Nakamura will play Daniil Dubov in the final of the $150,000 Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge after a thrilling final day of his semifinal against Magnus Carlsen was decided by a blunder in Armageddon. It completed an amazing comeback for Hikaru, who had lost 3:0 on the first day and was close to starting the second with another loss. He commented, “It still hasn’t completely sunk in yet but it’s great to beat Magnus - at least one time I found a way, so I’m pretty happy!”
Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura entered the final day of the semifinals tied at 1:1 and they would go on to trade blows before Hikaru eventually emerged victorious in Armageddon.
You can replay the day’s live commentary from Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent below:
And here’s the Aftershow for which Pascal Charbonneau was joined by world Top 10 player Wesley So:
Magnus Carlsen began the day by playing the Scotch Four Knights, against which Hikaru Nakamura played the system with 9…Bg4 that Jan Gustafsson recommended in his chess24 series. Jan had commented that Black had “not much to know or worry about here” of the position after 13…Qxc3, and it was only the World Champion’s 15.h3 that was a new move:
That got Hikaru thinking for a minute, but although the play that followed was tense White’s edge gradually fizzled away until the game was drawn on move 42. When Daniil Dubov came on our show a little later he took some of the blame, though Anish Giri had another theory!
A draw with the black pieces was of course a good start for Hikaru, and it would soon get much, much better. Magnus’ second opening surprise of the day, playing the Open Spanish (Ruy Lopez), backfired as he found himself an astonishing 11 minutes and 20 seconds behind on the clock in a position that had been reached in five top-level games:
Anish Giri, against Fabiano Caruana in Shamkir Chess 2016, was the first player to play 23…Rac8!, although he may have been lost in the final position of that game. Still, the move looks good and was repeated four more times:
Magnus instead spent just over 3 minutes before playing the tricky 23…Nxb2 24.Rb1 Qc4 25.Qxc4 Nxc4 26.dxe6, which was playable but no fun whatsoever for Black given the clock situation. Hikaru commented:
I knew this was nothing, but the thing was Magnus was using so much time to get to this point that I had a feeling that I would get chances to win, and I felt that in general he was too slow. I felt especially yesterday and today he was just too slow on the clock. I’m not sure why, but it just seemed that the flow of the moves was a little bit off in terms of timing.
The game suddenly went from roughly equal to lost on move 29, when again it looks as though Rc8 was the correct option:
After 30.Rc6! Ne3 31.Rd6! Rc8 32.Rd7 the e-pawn will eventually cost Black a whole rook. Magnus resigned on move 34.
That left Magnus once again staring defeat in the face. The day before he’d been unable to level the score in three games after losing the first, and here he had just two to spare. By far his best chance was with the white pieces in Game 3, so that the pressure couldn’t have been higher. He decided it was time to change openings again, this time going for 1.d4, a decision Daniil Dubov also took some credit for...
It's nice to see Magnus started to do the right things - we had a short talk yesterday and I told him to stop this 1.e4 nonsense.
Dubov’s point was that Hikaru has been very predictable with the black pieces against d4 and that the Queen’s Gambit Declined he tends to go for perfectly suits Magnus’ style. Leaving aside the question of whether it was wise for Daniil to give tips that might make him have to play the World Champion in the final, it seemed to work! Magnus soon had pressure in a position with almost all the pieces still on the board, and then 16…Ba4? was a blunder:
17.Nxa4! Nxa4 18.e4! and the pin down the d-file was winning material:
Still, although Magnus went on to win the game comfortably Hikaru saw reasons for hope. Play continued 18…Nxb2 19.exd5 Nxd1 20.Rxd1 exd5 21.Bxc4 Qe7 22.Bxd5 Bd6:
Hikaru pointed out afterwards that 23.Nxf7 is an immediate win, while after 23.Bxf7+, also objectively a good move, 23…Kh8 sent Magnus into a 1 minute 26 second think:
Even in this game Magnus was a little bit off, because he clearly did not see that I could just go 23…Kh8, but he has this 24.Qh5! Bxe5 25.Bg6 and it’s still quite easy… When I saw him on the webcam he seemed a little bit off. In general I just got the sense that he wasn’t feeling it, and so I think that gave me a lot of confidence throughout.
Magnus didn’t put a foot wrong in the rest of the game, however, and the match was tied at 1.5:1.5 with just one rapid game to go. We got a classical Ruy Lopez and Daniil was a little surprised that Hikaru didn’t go for something more forcing:
Hikaru retained an edge throughout, however, except for one slip missed by both players:
That e4-jab would have exploited the white rook leaving the e-file and the undefended bishop on d2. White is probably still fine, but Nakamura might have been knocked off balance. As it was he smoothly steered the game towards a draw, meaning the match would be decided in Armageddon.
As the winner of the preliminary stage Hikaru got to choose colours and he picked Black, meaning he had 4 minutes to Magnus’ 5, but a draw would put him in the final. We once again got the Queen’s Gambit Declined and it’s likely both players were happy with the outcome of the opening.
Magnus had a complicated position with chances, while for Nakamura:
I was very happy to get the position that I had because even if White is better my moves just sort of come naturally, so even if objectively White is better it just felt like I can just put my knights on b4 and d5 and just kind of wait, as opposed to Magnus asking a lot of questions where with one minute less on the clock I have to figure it out.
Still, Magnus managed to make progress, grabbing a pawn on a5, and although the response 36…Qe5 drew praise from our commentators it could also have been the losing move:
Hikaru is targeting both the a5-knight and the b2-pawn, and here Magnus sank into a 42-second think. Peter Svidler suggested 37.Bf7!, a move Hikaru admitted he’d missed, and it turns out it should win the game. After the straightforward 37…Rf8 38.Nc4 Bxc4 White gets a comfortable advantage, while moves such as 38.Nxc6 or 39.Rxc4 may be even stronger. Hikaru’s assessment was that White’s play is easy and he would have gone on to lose.
Instead Magnus picked 37.Nb3!? Nxa4 38.Bf7 (too late) 38…Rf8 39.Rc4 Rxf7 and here even if Magnus had spotted the danger and played a move like 40.Re4! it’s doubtful he would have gone on to get the win he needed. Instead he played 40.Rxb4?
That would be a winning move… if not for 40…Qe1+! 41.Kh2 Qxb4 and it was all over after 42.Qxc6 Rf8 showed Magnus his opponent wasn’t going to blunder back-rank mate. It had been an extremely dramatic finish to an epic match, and its impact reverberated around the chess world. Initially Hikaru was a little shell-shocked:
It still hasn’t completely sunk in yet. It’s great to beat Magnus. At least one time I found a way, so I’m pretty happy.
Watch the full interview with Hikaru:
A little later Hikaru celebrated in more standard fashion!
Magnus quoted Arnie:
But then a quote that could apply to himself or perhaps others:
Magnus also made an appearance on Norwegian TV:
He was impressed by Nakamura:
It won’t be much consolation for Magnus, but Hikaru’s victory is arguably good news for the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour. The winner of each of the first four events gains an automatic place in the $300,000 Grand Final, though of course it gets a little more complicated if one player wins more than one event. As it is, we now know that either Hikaru or his final opponent, Daniil Dubov, will take their place alongside Magnus in the Grand Final.
What does Hikaru think about facing Daniil?
He’s just a very creative player and he always has ideas. He tends to be one of these people who doesn’t really follow the main lines of theory, he tends to come up with new ideas around move 11, so it should be a lot of fun. I’m just going to go and prepare and hopefully good things happen!
That match, once again the “best of three sets”, starts on Monday after a rest day on Sunday. We say rest day, but there’s going to be a 12-hour Banterthon featuring a number of the tournament’s players, including Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Here’s the schedule:
All chess24 premium members can challenge our stars while everyone is welcome to watch.
Then, of course, at 16:00 CEST on Monday the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge final begins! Don’t miss all the action from 15:30 CEST right here on chess24.
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