Magnus Carlsen is the New in Chess Classic champion after finally winning an event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour at his 5th attempt. Hikaru Nakamura landed the first blow with a win in Game 1 but lived to regret taking a draw in a promising position in Game 2. Magnus struck back brilliantly in Game 3, leaving Hikaru needing to win on demand with the black pieces. Instead he was losing when he offered a draw that conceded match defeat. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov beat Levon Aronian in the battle for 3rd place in an amazing match where Black won all but one of the games.
You can replay all the games from the New in Chess Classic, the 5th event on the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.
And here's the final day's live commentary from Peter Svidler, Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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The final day of the New in Chess Classic was over without the need for playoffs.
That meant that after winning the preliminary stage of all five of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events Magnus Carlsen had finally also won the knockout, earning a perfect 10 (1st in the prelims) + 40 (winner of the knockout) = 50 Tour points.
It had been a long wait for any kind of tournament victory for the World Champion, who last won an event, Altibox Norway Chess, in October, before he'd yet turned 30.
He commented immediately afterwards:
I’m really, really relieved. I sort of felt after yesterday that I’d gotten away with one, but I knew it would still be difficult today, and no, I don’t think any of us played a particularly good match, but I don’t care about that right now. I’m just so happy to have won one of these tournaments and it feels really, really good!
What was different this time round?
I think, to be honest, I was a little luckier this time - I think that’s it. I feel like my play was probably a little bit better last time out, but I had the necessary luck this time, and I think overall in the Tour it’s not unfair that I finally win one, but that it turned out to be this one was a little bit lucky.
The match was once again highly entertaining on Day 2. Hikaru Nakamura knew he had to win in the first four rapid games to force a playoff, and he got off to the perfect start… though not without some twists along the way!
The opening was a 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian, but on move 8 Magnus decided not to go for the active 8…g5, the move that Jan Gustafsson in his chess24 video series explained was the whole point of Black’s setup.
Magnus of course knew and had played that move in the past, but his 8…Be6 was perhaps in keeping with his match strategy of trying to dodge any sharp preparation from his opponent. It backfired, however, as Hikaru gradually achieved total domination, with a pawn on d6 a thorn in Black’s side. Magnus tried to go for active counterplay, but it was very tricky.
Black wants to play h4 to deflect the white bishop and target the g2-square, but how can you make it work? It turns out 28…b6! was the best start, distracting the black queen from the defence of the d6-square, so that ideas such as 29.Qc4 h4 30.Bxh4 Rxd6! would be in the air, taking advantage of the d2-rook needing to guard g2.
That theme would soon return in much more spectacular form, but for now Magnus thought almost two minutes before playing the panicky 28…Kh7?, which did nothing to improve his position. Hikaru took over completely until 35.Bf4? was his one real mistake of the game.
35…Rxd6!! relies on the surprising tactical detail that 36.Bxd6 loses the queen to 36…Nh3+ 37.Kh1 Bxg2+!
Perhaps Magnus would have found that move if 35…Nh3+ immediately hadn’t also been a good option that suddenly saw his position swing from dead lost to dynamically equal. He soon went astray again, however, since after 36.Kh1 f5! 37.Qe6 he played 37…Nxf4?, swapping off the knight that he could have used to force a draw in some lines. His idea was 38.Rxf4 Ra8.
Here, however, White could defend either with 39.Qe5, covering the a1-square, or the move Hikaru played, 39.Kg1!, ready to respond to 39…Ra1+ with 40.Rf1. After 40…Rxf1+ 41.Kxf1 Rd8 42.h3! (the kind of only move to win you could easily overlook) 42…Qg5 43.d7 Qxe3 Hikaru found the path to victory.
44.Qg6+! Kh8 45.Qh5+ (not strictly necessary) 45…Qh6 46.Qe8+! Kh7 47.Qxd8. 47…Bxg2+ was a nice final try, but Hikaru had time to come up with the most clinical response, 48.Ke2!, when there were no more checks… or at least useful checks! 48…Bf1+ 49.Kd1 was how the game ended.
That was quite a blow, with Magnus summing things up:
I made a few poor decisions in the opening, he was clearly well-prepared and I just chose a poor continuation at some point. Then I actually got some chances, I could have even have won at some point, and I saw that a couple of moves later - that’s why I was really upset there!
Magnus described the turning point of the match as Game 2, when Hikaru had a real chance to take an almost unassailable 2:0 lead, despite playing with the black pieces. The key moment came when Magnus met 19…Bxf3 with 20.Qd2?!
It turned out here that our Peters were wrong - not about the evaluation of the position, which was suddenly very tough for White, but the World Champion’s motivations. As he explained, he hadn’t overlooked that 20.gxf3! was a draw, but at that point he was hoping for more!
I think for me one turning point was the 2nd game, since after he took on c3 and then on f3 I saw gxf3 was a draw by force, and then sort of out of inertia I played Qd2, and after I made the move Qd2 I realised that you could just go 20…b6, retreat this bishop, and my position is awful.
Instead, however, we got a draw with 20…Qe6 21.Qe3 Qd7 22.Qd2 (Magnus said he even considered rejecting the draw with 22.Ne4?!) and so on. Peter explained the temptation to take draws in chess with a “life hack” born of bitter experience.
Magnus wasn’t too surprised that Hikaru took a draw:
I think he probably was just in the mindset that a draw was good, and even if he felt he was somewhat better he would take a draw. If he felt he was much better he might have played on, but I didn’t get the impression that he was very, very confident throughout the match in general, and this was probably a prime example of that.
Magnus went into Game 3 in a much better mood:
I sort of felt I’d gotten away with one there, because obviously it’s not a great situation, but it’s still two games and I have to win one of them. It could be a lot worse.
The game was his crowning achievement of the final, though it felt like self-inflicted damage from Hikaru that he decided to go on the offensive in what seemed to be a solid, equal position.
19.f4!? Ng7 20.f5?! g5 suddenly gave Black chances, and although 21.Ne5 looked like an ideal square for the knight, it would have its domination brutally cut short after 21…Qc7 22.h4?! g4 23.Qc3 Ngh5 24.Qe1.
24…Rxe5! dxe5 25.Qxe5 was an absolutely justified exchange sacrifice, after which Black was close to winning.
One of the most striking moments in the play that followed was when Magnus went for 32…Kf8!, a move that our commentators felt highlighted that White was in zugzwang.
They weren’t wrong, but it’s likely Magnus had a much more concrete point. The immediate 32…Nge4 is still quite strong, but in the line after 33.Bxe4 Nxe4 34.Rxd5 Nxf2 35.Rxe5 Black can’t play the otherwise winning 35…Nxd1 because the rook on e8 is undefended.
After the quiet king move that line would be devastating, so that Hikaru had to do something about it. He chose 33.Rd3, when 33…Nfe4!? (33…Nge4!) was a slight inaccuracy from Magnus, but after 34.Qe1? (34.Rxd5! is best) it didn’t matter. 34…Qf6!, with the black queen entering via the h-file, signalled the end, and White could only stumble on five more moves before resigning.
Suddenly from Magnus being in a must-win situation it was Hikaru who needed a win, with the black pieces, and he was clearly dismayed to see the World Champion go for 2.c3 against his Sicilian.
As we saw in the final stages of the Candidates, trying to play for a win with the black pieces against the world’s best players more often than not leaves you in deep trouble, and that was the case with Hikaru. After the first few moves he was essentially fighting just to hang on and praying for a blunder, but none came, until the US star offered a draw in what was already a dead-lost position. Magnus gratefully accepted, since it wrapped up match victory. It was clear what it meant to him!
The victory saw Magnus not only finally win a Tour event but become the top earner, while also opening up a 40-point lead over Wesley So, the player who had beaten him in two of the finals.
Although Hikaru had fallen just short, he’d proven once again that he can inflict real damage on Magnus in this format, and this was his best performance of the Tour so far.
His runners-up spot cemented his place in the Top 8, meaning an automatic invitation for the next event on the Tour, a $220,000 Major starting in 3 weeks time on May 23rd.
The winner of that event will be guaranteed a place in the Finals in San Francisco in September.
Even if they’ve been a little more vulnerable that we’re used to this season, no-one is surprised to see Magnus and Hikaru competing for the top honours in an online event, but Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has been a revelation. After failing to qualify for the knockout in his first attempt on the Tour, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, this time he stormed through the prelims, winning the highest number of games and having a chance to top the table if he’d beaten Magnus with White in the final game.
His 7 wins were then supplemented by an incredible 12 rapid wins in the knockout stages, to make 19 in total, which Shakh felt might be an all-time record! Shakh reminded us that he’s a former World Rapid Champion:
Of course it’s a fantastic result for me, it’s an absolutely fantastic result, but ok, it’s rapid, it’s not blitz. We all know I am World Rapid Champion in 2013, and it is sure I play rapid not bad. It was a good tournament, and I hope in the next tournaments I can play again good games and good results.
Shakh had also lost a lot of games, with his final against Levon Aronian remarkable for the number of victories for Black. All four games were won by Black on Day 1, and on Day 2 Shakh started with another spectacular win.
Here he ignored the attacked knight with 23…Be6!, and it turns out that Levon’s decision to accept the sacrifice with 24.Bxe6? fxe6 25.gxf4 was a mistake, since after 25…Qxf4 26.Nh2 Qxf2+ the pawns on b4 and h4 were also falling. The study-like way Shakh ultimately converted seemed unnecessary, but he got the job done.
The turning point of the match was arguably the rare decision for Shakh to take a quick draw with the white pieces in Game 2, thereby ending a sequences of 5 wins for Black in a row.
Today I tried to do one draw with White, and I think for me it’s absolutely not easy to draw with White, but ok, if you want to win the match you need to draw!
Normal service was restored for what became the final game, as Mamedyarov once again won absolutely convincingly with the black pieces. There was again time for a flourish.
19…Nd4!, based on the undefended bishop on a2, helped swap off pieces until Shakh’s extra pawn on a4 could later advance to a3 and force resignation. An impressive performance!
So that wraps up another Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event, with three weeks to go before the next. As always, there’s lots going on in the meantime. The Russian Team Championship is taking place right now in Sochi (if you check out just one game make it this one!), there's an Indian qualifier for the Tour from May 7-10, and then there's the MrDodgy Invitational 2.0 from May 12-16. The inevitable trailers have begun!
We hope you enjoyed the Tour and the almost non-stop top-level action since the FIDE Candidates resumed!
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