Reports Aug 20, 2020 | 8:23 PMby Colin McGourty

Magnus claims epic Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour victory

Magnus Carlsen has won the tour with his name on it after the 7th set decider against Hikaru Nakamura went all the way to Armageddon. The World Chess Champion got the draw he needed with the black pieces to clinch victory and described his emotions as “a feeling of relief, but also massive joy!” Magnus could dream of a comfortable day at the office after winning the first game, but Hikaru hit back in Game 3 and then took the lead in the first blitz game. Magnus said he was just “numb” and “so tired” at that point, but he found a way to claw his way back and claim the title.

The final day of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour was every bit as thrilling as what had gone before, with the final set going the distance until Magnus got the draw he needed with Black in Armageddon (the player with Black gets one less minute on the clock, but only needs to draw).

You can replay all the games using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Birthday Girl Tania Sachdev, Yasser Seirawan and Peter Leko:

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The victory meant that Magnus had clinched a 4:3 victory after becoming the first player to win two days in a row in the final.

Let’s take a look at the day’s action.

Game 1: Magnus takes the lead

In his post-match interview Magnus Carlsen revealed just how much of an ordeal the Finals had been:

It was not my best event, by any means, this final, and also the semi-final was just a struggle, just no rhythm, no flow, just back and forth and nerves and anger and joy and just everything at once, and it’s been unbelievably stressful. So this was clearly not my best event, but at the end it doesn’t matter!

Watch the full interview here:

The previous day had seen Magnus playing through back pain, but it had also given him hope, that carried forwards into the first game of the final set.

I was feeling a bit better health-wise, and also yesterday I felt like I played a lot better than he did, and obviously the first game sort of strengthened that feeling.

Magnus played the Berlin Defence and we soon got a position where although White had a beautiful knight outpost on f5, Black was clearly better. On move 24 Magnus correctly went for a pawn grab.

25.b3! was the right way to try and punish it, however, and after 25…Rd8 the best move would have been 26.Rd2 to up the pressure on that bishop. Instead the game saw 26…axb3 27.cxb3 Bxb3.

Again 28.Rd2 would have retained chances for White, but, in an echo of Magnus playing Nxg7 in the first game a day earlier, Hikaru went for 28.Nxg7?, a move that works in many lines, but not here! The point was 28…Kxg7 29.Nf5+, winning the black queen, though in this case even there Black is winning after 29…Qxf5. Magnus played the more brutal 28…Rxd4! 29.Rxd4 Kxg7 and then simply had to display some elementary caution after 30.Qg3+ to take home the full point.

It had been a perfect start to the day for Magnus, and agony for Hikaru.

Game 2: Magnus comes close to a huge win

Magnus had scored 4 points in the last 5 games against Hikaru and should have had the wind in his sails, but there was an issue.

Today I could really feel that I just had zero energy. Starting from the second game, I just felt absolutely beat and I wanted it to be over.

Magnus noted he’d played the chess24 Legends of Chess just before this event and the gruelling format was taking its toll, but that wasn’t obvious from Game 2 alone! After Nakamura played the Sicilian, he seemed to get an edge early on, but then Carlsen took over and went for a trademark grind.

It was close, but the game ended in stalemate on move 74.

Game 3: Hikaru strikes back!

In his final rapid game with the white pieces it was now or never for Nakamura, and he’d found just the “idea for one game” he needed.

Whatever the objective merits of the move it worked to perfection, with Hikaru going on to get an ideal attacking position.

At some moments the US Champion could have been even more precise, but it was one-way traffic, with a dramatic conclusion.

Magnus is assuming the queen on b1 is immune from capture due to the new queen, but in fact after 30.Rxb1! axb1=Q 31.Qxe5! the threat of mate on g7 meant it was time to resign! 31…Ne6 would simply be met by 32.Bd4.

Not again, must have gone through Magnus’ mind, since he’d been here before in the final.

It was incredibly frustrating. Three times! Twice I won the first game with Black and once I had the lead in the blitz and I only had to make a draw as White, and I almost lost all these three matches, which just says something about his resiliency and how good he plays even with his back against the wall.

Game 4: No fighting destiny

With the white pieces in Game 4 Magnus could have followed a theme of the final and aimed to force a draw to take the contest to blitz, but before the day began he’d decided against that.

I had some thoughts that if we get to a fourth game and it’s tied I’m going to at least try to win and not force a draw, which did happen to some extent, but there wasn’t a lot there. I felt the further the match goes it’s better for him, probably, but anyway, you’ve got to take it as it comes.

Magnus did press, but just as in Game 2 he ended up with an extra pawn but nothing better than a draw by stalemate. It was the perfect outcome for overall excitement, and this was something special.

Game 5: Nakamura takes the lead

The contest switched to blitz and the first game was a reminder of why Hikaru is currently the blitz world no. 1. He was already doing well against Magnus’ Berlin when he got a gift.

18…h6? (instead of e.g. 18...Nd7) simply gave up the pawn on c5 to 19.Qxc5, and although the opposite-coloured bishops held out some hope for Black, Hikaru went on to show near perfect technique to go on to win in 51 moves.

Magnus was suddenly staring defeat in the face, but exhaustion may have helped him to handle it!

To be honest, I wasn’t that upset after losing the first blitz game. What really upset me was losing the third rapid game. When I lost the blitz I was sort of numb. I was just so tired and I didn’t really believe I had a very good chance of coming back. I just thought, yeah, I’m going to play one more game, I’m going to give it a shot, but I didn’t really believe in it that much.

Game 6: Down to the wire!

Magnus now had to win on demand with the white pieces, and the prospects didn’t look great when in a roughly equal position he allowed himself to drop 2.5 minutes below his opponent on the clock! He later explained his 1 minute 38 seconds think on move 18.

I was just paralysed! What can I tell you? I was used to a different kind of rhythm and I was just thinking about what to do. Mainly I was thinking about whether to check on a2, or to go Ne1 immediately, and after I’d spent some time on these nuances I just glanced at the clock and saw that I had two minutes left. That was just insane!

A key moment came after Magnus played 28.Nc5.

Magnus explained:

28…axb4?! is a huge conceptual mistake. After he played axb4 I had some belief that I could actually win this.

The point was that Black could have played 28…Bxc5! 29.Qxc5 Qxc5 30.bxc5 a4!, with the bishop cemented on b3. After the move in the game Magnus commented, “he could probably have made a draw, but he was already under some pressure, so it’s not a shock that it went wrong for him”.

Who could have believed that the best of 7 sets final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour would actually go to 7 sets, and then to a 7th and final game!

Game 7: Armageddon!

When analysing on his Twitch channel, Nakamura commented, "I didn't really feel like I lost the match today because it came to Armageddon", adding,

What it comes down to in general terms is whoever gets the black pieces is likely to win, and Magnus got to choose.

Magnus had that right based on a principle that had been applied to the whole tour. In each qualifying event the best performing player in the preliminary stage got to choose colour, while in the final it was the best performing player on the tour. That was of course Magnus, who had won three events and reached one semi-final, while Hikaru picked up two runners-up spots and one quarterfinal place.

The Armageddon would cost Hikaru $60,000, but he still won $80,000 as runner-up

The player with Black gets just 4 minutes to White’s 5, but only needs a draw to win the match. The traditional wisdom is that it’s slightly preferable to pick Black, and Hikaru is on record as believing it’s almost always better, but it’s far from obvious. Players such as Alexander Grischuk always pick White, pointing out that most blitz games end decisively and more often in White’s favour, even without an extra minute. In the only other Armageddon in the final Magnus chose White, though it didn’t end well, and he admitted it might have been a rash decision.

It was emotional in the sense that at that point I thought the opposite of today – I’m tired of playing for a draw, let’s just try and win, try and play fast, but it just didn’t work. I guess that was definitely an emotional decision.   

This time Magnus had thought about it before the day began.

My one thought for today was that I was going to pick Black in Armageddon. It worked out so poorly with White the last time that I thought if I get to this point I’m just going to be so tired that it’s better if I can play for a draw. That’s what I thought. Obviously I was extremely worried that he would just play very fast and flag me, but that turned out not to be a problem.

The game got off to a curious start, as Hikaru actually got a bonus time advantage on the clock when Magnus delayed playing 2…Nc6 for 15 seconds. What had happened?

The short version is that I was going insane! But I’ll explain exactly how. At this point I had some idea, because I’m playing on a projector screen with an HDMI cable, that maybe the transmission is faster if I unplug it, so I just at this point decided to unplug the cable, and then for whatever reason the board was smaller on the screen, it was unusual, I tried adjusting the board on the browser and everything, and then I realised that I’d lost 15 seconds and I should play!

From there on, however, things went perfectly for Magnus. Hikaru went for another g4-push against the Berlin, but this time Carlsen castled queenside and was soon on top, before the position was equal when Hikaru played 40.Qxe5.

Magnus could simply move his queen, but instead he chose to give it up: 40…Rxd3 41.Qxe7 Rxd1+ 42.Kb2 Bc6. There were two questions – 1) could Magnus establish a fortress, and 2) would Hikaru be able to flag his opponent and win on time?

It turned out to be a “yes” to the first and a “no” to the second, although Nakamura said that if he didn’t push his pawns he might have been able to flag, just that he no longer likes to win that way! In any case, it was a dream end for Magnus, who had made a famous quote about fortresses during his 2016 World Championship match against Sergey Karjakin.

So an enthralling final had finally tipped in Magnus Carlsen’s favour, as he broke the pattern and managed to win two matches in a row at the vital moment!

Congratulations (to both players!) poured in:

It had been a decent summer for Magnus...

Magnus himself allowed himself some fun!

The reference to Sauron of course relates to Hikaru’s tweet back in 2013 about being the man to take down Magnus.

Magnus had already brought it up recently.

The back and forth on Twitter/Twitch is just good fun, however, with the mutual respect obvious!

Magnus talked afterwards about what made Nakamura so hard to play.

He’s just very, very resilient. That’s what I feel, and I just found the whole match just very difficult and unpleasant to play. At some points I felt that I was outplaying him, and then it started turning around. I never felt that I had the energy, I never felt that I was at any moment cruising, so it was just a never-ending struggle. That’s why it became so close.

Was Magnus just feeling relieved that it was over?

Nah, I’m also pretty happy! I think at some point in this match I thought, “it’s all just going so poorly and there’s just no controlling this match. I feel like I’m not getting the better of him at all, so if I just end up winning the match at all that’s a huge success”. Of course it’s a feeling of relief, but also massive joy, not necessarily with my play, but this is sport and a win is sometimes even sweeter when it comes like this.     

How will he celebrate?

I’m going to relax, I’m going to sleep and I’m going to just have a big smile on my face!

And after that?

I don’t think I’ll be playing anything very big for some time, but in general I loved the fact that people have been so passionate about the Tour, it’s been well-received, the players, the format, everything, so obviously we need your support every bit of the way, so thank you!

Hikaru can also now take things more easily.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and the good news is that the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, or something similar, is very likely to return. We can’t yet confirm the venues…

Thank you for watching and stick around for much more chess in the days, weeks and months to come! 

See also:

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