Reports May 3, 2020 | 6:29 PMby Colin McGourty

Magnus wins the Magnus Carlsen Invitational

Magnus Carlsen has won the tournament with his name on it after winning a thrilling final match against Hikaru Nakamura 2.5:1.5. It was vintage Magnus in Game 1 as the World Chess Champion ground down Nakamura in a drawish endgame, while Game 3 was a positional masterpiece. Sandwiched between, however, was an equally impressive technical win by Hikaru Nakamura. The US star almost repeated that feat in the final game, but Magnus held a draw to claim the $70,000 top prize. "Happy to have pulled through!" he summed up.

After 16 days of intense action the Magnus Carlsen Invitational came down to a final match between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and world blitz no. 1 Hikaru Nakamura. It was another great match, but Magnus emerged victorious:

You can replay the games using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):

And here's the full day's live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Lawrence Trent, Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk, with Magnus Carlsen joining for an interview at the end:

For a recap of the day’s action check out the after-show with 2-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau and 2018 US Champion Sam Shankland:

A lot to live up to

The 13 days of preliminary matches in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational provided a huge number of memorable moments, but it was with this weekend’s knockout stage that the tournament really achieved lift-off. Magnus commented on the semi-finals:

They were, I think, some of the better chess entertainment we’ve had in a long, long time.

Caruana-Nakamura featured an epic comeback by Fabiano Caruana in Game 4 before agony was replaced by ecstasy for Hikaru Nakamura in the blitz playoff. That seemed hard to top, but Carlsen-Ding Liren arguably managed. Usually a day later you’d expect a more sober assessment of the match, but Alexander Grischuk had only revised his opinion upwards:

The final couldn’t quite compete with that level of excitement and intensity, but it was still a great match. It’s in the position above, while Grischuk is speaking, that Magnus had realised it was going to be another very tough day at the office… but let’s take things in order.

Game 1: Vintage Magnus Carlsen

The first game of the match began relatively quietly, but Hikaru Nakamura’s decision on move 14 was a risky one:

14…Nd4!? was steering the game towards the ending we got with: 15.Bxd4 Bxg2 16.Kxg2 exd4 17.Qxc7 Rxe2 18.Qxd8+ Rxd8 19.Nc4!

Black is unable to keep a rook on White’s second rank and is clearly worse. It was perhaps a sign of the potential danger looming that Alexander Grischuk decided to show up as early as Game 1! He’d come dressed for the occasion:

Sure enough, 28…Bg5?! suddenly allowed Magnus to make progress with 29.b6!

Hikaru was also playing confidently and seemed to go on to solve most of his problems, but as so often in games between these two players, the pressure applied by Magnus eventually told, with move 63 a critical moment:

63…Kf5 might have held the status quo, but 63…Be5?! was a bold decision, met by 64.Rxe6 Kf5 65.Ke2!. In hindsight exchanging rooks with 65…Kxe6 66.Kxd1 might have been the best chance, since it’s possible Black has a fortress a pawn down in the minor piece ending. In the game after 65…Rg1 66.Rh6 Bxg3 67.Rxh5+ the h-pawn just proved too strong, although resignation only came on move 84:

“It feels a bit like the old Magnus, not this new dynamic Magnus playing for the attack,” said Jan Gustafssson afterwards.

Game 2: Hikaru hits back

Alexander Grischuk commented, “Now some miracle needs to happen for Hikaru to win this match,” but that seemed to be ignoring what we’d witnessed on Day 1 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Back then Magnus won two very convincing games with the white pieces, but both times Hikaru hit back just as convincingly. Magnus was asked about that after the match:

I think in general I’ve been doing great in my white games against him, in almost every game I’ve been better or considerably better from the opening, so certainly that has something to do with it. Apparently I just cannot defend anymore, so there’s that!

In Game 2 Magnus accepted a big space disadvantage after playing the Queen’s Gambit Declined and then went for premature simplifications:

22…bxc5?! 23.bxc5 met with instant disapproval from our commentators, and Magnus later agreed:

Probably already trading on c5 was a little bit dubious, and then I was feeling sort of safe until he went Qa3, which I’d missed on move 30, and then basically at this point I realised that I’m probably lost, so that was a bit unpleasant. Yeah, you could certainly say that the opening choice didn’t do me any good there, but after the first game I felt good and I was just trying to play solidly as Black and I felt that if I don’t do anything too stupid then he’s not going to be able to hurt me - but clearly that was a miscalculation!

Here’s the position after 30.Qa3!

Black is paralysed with the white queen ready to punish any attempts by Black to become active, and after 30…Kg7 31.Nde5 Bxe5 32.fxe5 Hikaru went on to get sweet revenge, winning a technical ending every bit as impressively as Magnus had the game before (the World Champion also had one or two chances to save himself, with e.g. 36…gxf5!).

Game 3: The pattern continues

That was a tough blow for Magnus to face, but it helped to get over it that in the next game he blitzed out 11 moves of theory until 11.Ng5, which had given Radek Wojtaszek an excellent position against Dmitry Andreikin in last year’s Jerusalem Grand Prix. Hikaru sank into a 3 minutes 33 seconds think, and when he continued his first new move, 13…Qe7!?, seemed a dubious one. Magnus had the advantage and seized the chance to exchange down into an endgame, as he’d seen the crucial follow-up 25.Bb4!, a move which gained high praise from Grischuk:

This was one position where the rook and a pawn were better than two minor pieces, with the white kingside pawn majority ready to advance. Hikaru tried to stop that with the radical 28…g5?!, but only created more weaknesses, and it was very much a case of Magnus doing what he does best:

It was a minor positional masterpiece:

Game 4: Hikaru falls just short

In a game Magnus only needed to draw he played the Cambridge Springs Defence, and on move 16 he found a break that surprised our commentators but seemed to be the perfect drawing mechanism:

“It’s GG yo,” Grischuk said shortly afterwards, imitating Hikaru, but it wasn’t over yet! 20…Qb8?! seemed to be another “long think, wrong think” by Magnus, who instead put the blame for some further suffering on 26…Ke8!?:

Hikaru didn’t hesitate to play the tricky 27.Rd7!, when 27…Rxc6?? would lose instantly to 28.Rxe7+. Magnus later commented:

I think in the last game there’s really nothing wrong with my position if I don’t play Ke8. I’m slightly worse, but I’m just comfortably holding, so I don’t think there was anything particularly wrong there.

He classed what followed as “a mess,” and after 27…Bf6 28.Rc5! Rxc6 29.Rxa7 Rxc5 30.Nxc5 Be7 31.Ne4 Hikaru was once again better in a technical endgame, with an outside passed pawn:

It was far from easy for White, however, with Sam Shankland later explaining in the after-show that the bishop is a better minor piece than the knight, but that if Hikaru exchanges minor pieces, as he eventually did, it only leads to a drawn rook endgame.

Magnus was eventually able to force a draw by repetition, with the final stages captured in Jose Huwaidi’s final video recap:

“Magnus Carlsen wins the Magnus Carlsen Invitational brought to you by Magnus Carlsen,” Jan summed up! It had been a fitting end to 16 days of non-stop top-level chess:

Hikaru Nakamura had pushed Magnus all the way and took home the $45,000 second prize:

Magnus was interviewed immediately after the end of the games:

Where did he think winning the event ranked among his achievements?

It’s a big deal. Obviously it would have been a disappointment if I hadn’t, I’m not going to lie, but yeah, I’m really, really happy both to beat Hikaru today but especially to have gotten through against Ding. I never felt like I really got in full gear in this tournament and I’m just so happy that I managed to pull through. I don’t know how it ranks. Certainly it’s one of a kind so far, so that’s I suppose a very good thing.

He’d had no small role in setting up the tournament. How did he think it had gone?

I’m in general very happy. I think the format has worked pretty well - lots of excitement, especially the semi-finals. They were I think some of the better chess entertainment we’ve had in a long, long time, so I don’t know, it all depends on what other people think, obviously, but personally I couldn’t be happier with how everything’s gone.

And will he celebrate?

I haven’t really thought about it, only been trying to win the tournament, but yeah, I don’t celebrate much these days, so it’ll probably be a bit muted, but you never know!

The full breakdown of the prizes for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational was as follows:

So that’s all for the world’s first online chess supertournament in a couple of decades. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and it provided a much needed distraction in these difficult times. The good news is that there’s a lot more to come, with more announcements to follow! There’s going to be no lack of top-level chess in the coming days, weeks and months. 

If you'd like to support us putting on similar events in future please consider Going Premium - there's still a chance to get 40% off by entering the voucher code STAYATHOME

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