Reports Aug 10, 2020 | 11:08 PMby Colin McGourty

MCCT Finals 2: Naka close as Magnus hits back

Hikaru Nakamura took a giant step towards reaching the final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour after beating Daniil Dubov 3:1 on Day 2 to take a 2:0 lead. He now needs just one more win to clinch the match. In the other semi-final Magnus Carlsen bounced back to beat Ding Liren and level the score at 1:1. The World Chess Champion won the first two games of the day and then didn’t give Ding a glimmer of hope as he drew the next to win the set with a game to spare.

After 13 games and a thrilling trade of blows on Day 1 of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals there were 7 games and one-way traffic on Day 2. “I guess it’s good for our mental health!” said Magnus.

You can replay the games using the selector below:

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

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Magnus Carlsen 2.5:0.5 Ding Liren

Magnus lost in Armageddon on Day 1, but overall he didn’t think it had been such a bad day. He summed up:

My takeaways were that I played really poorly in the first game and then in the Armageddon game, but apart from that it wasn’t really that bad. I lost one game by basically not registering that my opponent had moved, because otherwise in that first blitz game objectively the position is fairly equal, but I felt like in practical terms I had excellent chances to win. And then just to sit there and watch your time run out is of course madness!

There were to be no such oversights on the second day, and fortunes were reversed.

Game 1 saw Ding Liren pick an opening where queens were exchanged on move 9, but it looked to be playing into the World Champion’s hands. Magnus commented:

I was surprised by his opening choice. I didn’t really know too much more than that this sort of position is a little bit more pleasant for White, but that is sort of the nature of the line that everywhere White is a little bit better and you just have to choose which line to go for, so I don’t think this came as a particular surprise to him either.

What was clearly a surprise was the rare 11.Bf4, which Magnus said was “no big deal”, though it cost Ding 3 minutes on the clock. The Chinese player looked to have things under control, however, until things almost imperceptibly slipped.

23…Rxb1! 24.Kxb1 seems to be what Ding needed to play, when the computer suggests he can even seize the initiative with the pawn sacrifice 24…e3! and the e4-square is perfect for the black knight. In the game the scales tipped the other direction after 23…Rab8?! 24.Rxb7+ Rxb7 25.Rd6! and suddenly White was taking over. Even Magnus was puzzled at how quickly things fell apart:

I think the first game I thought he was sort of equalising and then suddenly I was winning, so that was a bit weird.

Magnus explained his approach for Game 2, and how he didn’t stick to it for too long!

I just thought after the first game it made sense to play a no-nonsense solid style. Of course even in the second game the first chance I got to sacrifice something I jumped at it, so you cannot keep your instincts locked up for long, I guess, but yes, I just wanted to play something more or less common sense in the second, because I felt if I just played solidly I would have decent chances of winning the game even then because he has to take risks at some point.

That chance to sacrifice came after 14.c4 in a Giuoco Piano:

14…a5!? was Magnus’ move, and after serious reflection Ding took up the offer with 15.bxa5 and then responded to 15…Nc6 with 16.Bc3!?, a move that already seems to be too greedy since 16…Nh5! is much better for Black, according to the computer.

Magnus didn’t play that, opting for 16…Nd7, but the strategy was the same, as he went on to attack on the kingside and force Ding to make concessions, with the Chinese no. 1 swapping down into a bad ending. The end of the game was abrupt:

With the king heading to h5 and the c4-pawn poised to fall, Ding Liren panicked with 35.c5 bxc5 and resigned after 36.Rb8 – it seems plausible he might have mouse-slipped that instead of 36.Rb7, but in either case White is losing. Instead 35.Rc2! with the point of Rcc1 next and then aiming to exchange off Black’s rook may have given drawing chances.

Those are details, however, while Magnus agreed with Leko that it had been a great strategic success:

This was really a case of finding a plan, executing the plan and winning the game, so you don’t obviously get to see that very often. I think with the computer it’s not so clear-cut that this was all as easy as it looked in the game, but certainly it was a very pleasant game to play in the sense that I just managed to do everything that I wanted.

Ding now needed to win the next two games on demand to extend the match, but it never looked like happening. He played the King’s Indian Defence, one of Black’s most aggressive opening tries, but Magnus chose 9.dxe5 and exchanged queens. For the remainder of the game he was the only player who could be better, before a draw by repetition was reached on move 35.

That made the match level at one set all, and in the interview afterwards Magnus was asked about adopting a system of sets, with a combination of classical, rapid and blitz chess, for the World Championship. Tania Sachdev pointed out that Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov felt only classical chess should decide the World Champion. Magnus responded:

I’ve spoken about this before, and I think it all comes down to what you want to achieve. Do you want to have a classical World Champion or do you want to find out who the best player in the world is? I’ve always said that in order to find out the best player in the world the system that we have now is not very good, so I’m sort of fine either way, but I think that Garry and Anatoly, their opinions are also coloured by the fact that they played in a somewhat different time, where first of all there were more games, but also opening theory was not quite as advanced.

Garry had to face the Berlin in some games, and he didn’t get anywhere, right? That was sort of the start of people just banging their heads against openings they cannot crack at all in these matches, and that’s one of the reasons why I feel that in these matches there’s too little room to prove that you’re a better chess player, so I don’t think restricting it to classical chess is good if you want to find out who the best player is. If you’re not interested in finding out who the best player is, if you just want to have a show and continue a tradition, then I guess it’s fine.

Watch the full interview with Magnus here:

Hikaru Nakamura 3:1 Daniil Dubov

Daniil Dubov was on Magnus Carlsen’s World Championship team as Magnus adopted the Sveshnikov Sicilian in his match against Fabiano Caruana, and that was his weapon of choice against Hikaru. It already looked a less than obvious choice when Daniil found himself defending a position a pawn down that had Peter Leko ready to welcome death!

It was exemplary defence from Daniil, however, who only slipped once.

Here 60.Rg5! with the threats of Nf5+ and f5 looks to be winning, but after 60.Nc4 the moment had gone and the game was drawn in 91 moves.

Hikaru felt “the match hinged on the second game,” where it was Daniil’s turn to gain a big but never easily winning advantage in a heavy piece ending. Instead the decisive game was the next one, where Dubov’s Sveshnikov once again led him into trouble. Magnus commented:

It’s the kind of position that always looks a bit ugly for Black, but somehow holds up, so my guess would be that Black holds here, but that’s the thing about the Sveshnikov, that in some lines you tend to suffer a bit… It can be a question of whether you can equalise immediately. Otherwise you might never equalise at all.

Later in the same interview Magnus commented, “My first impression is that Bf5 is a sign that things have gone a little bit wrong”:

Hikaru also identified this moment, saying that the move had “no flow” and “no concept”. It blocked the f-file, so that Bh4 now wouldn’t be threatening to take on f2. Daniil seemed to admit the mistake by answering 30.Qd2 with 30…Be6 and after 31.Ne3!, and an exchange of the light-squared bishops, there was no stopping the b-pawn. Daniil threw in the towel on move 43.

The Russian now had to win on demand, and went for an offbeat line of the Vienna Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d4) that he’d used to beat Wesley So in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge prelims. Hikaru varied on move 5, however, and didn’t blunder on move 10, as Wesley had. In fact it was a smooth performance, with the US star simply picking up the material offered until resignation came on move 32.

That means Nakamura leads 2:0 in sets and needs to win just one of the next three sets to clinch a place in the final and at least $80,000 in prize money. That match could end Tuesday, but Carlsen-Ding will go to at least Wednesday, with everything still hanging in the balance.

The live show starts at 15:30 CEST here on chess24. Don’t miss it!

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