Magnus Carlsen will play Hikaru Nakamura for the $140,000 Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour top prize after clinching a 3:1 victory over Ding Liren. A relieved Magnus said his Chinese opponent, “put up an unbelievable fight,” after Ding bounced back from losing the first game to mate Magnus in Game 2. The World Champion described what followed as “a total mess” and could easily have lost three games before the match was decided by a dramatic turnaround in the final blitz game.
There was a huge amount at stake on Day 4 of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals and the Carlsen-Ding Liren match didn’t disappoint.
You can replay the games using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Peter Leko, Tania Sachdev and also 9-year-old Tani Adewumi.
Magnus Carlsen went into Day 4 of the finals knowing a win would clinch a place in the final and for one game it seemed as though he might have an easy day at the office. The game followed the razor-sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit line in which Magnus had recently beaten Ding in 26 moves in the chess24 Legends of Chess, until 9…b4.
The whole b4-line does not have a great reputation, so I cannot say that I knew too much about it, but I was pretty happy with the position that I got. I felt that I would have excellent compensation, and of course the fact that he was thinking for a long time after Qa3 was pretty encouraging as well.
Ding used 7 minutes, almost half his time, on the response 9…g4.
It seemed Magnus could do no wrong as he built up a big edge and then easily converted a rook ending into a win.
That was only the beginning of an epic day of chess, however, with Magnus later commenting:
I think it was quite similar to the final match I had against Giri in the Chessable Masters in that the first game was good and after that it was a total mess. I can’t believe that I actually escaped, but that’s the way it is sometimes.
You can watch the full interview with Magnus below:
Game 2 was a demonstration of just how dangerous Ding Liren can be when he gets the chance.
Something had gone badly wrong in the opening and Magnus admitted, “I thought the position was unbelievably dangerous for me in general, but that I could sort of escape”. What he’d missed, however, were two hammer blows: 24.Bxh6! Qf6 25.Bh7+! Kh8 and the powerful follow-up 26.Rxe8!
Black is busted, with 26…Bxh6 offering the most resistance. Instead, with under 10 seconds on his clock, Magnus played 26…Rfxe8 27.Ng6+ Kxh7 28.Nf8+ Kxh6 29.Qh7+ Kg5 30.Qh4+ Kf5 31.Qf4#
It looked to all the world as though Magnus had just decided that it was such a beautiful attack by his opponent that it deserved to end in checkmate. The World Champion has said he’s not one for such gestures in the past, however, and here he admitted he’d just been surprised:
In this case I just thought he was going to play Rf1+ and win and I was going to resign then, and it turned out he had mate-in-1, so I think at least sometimes when people play till mate-in-one it’s because they don’t see it, and certainly that was the case today!
From the way Magnus approached the next game with the white pieces it seemed as though he’d decided to stop the bleeding after that shock, but all he ended up doing was slipping into a deeply unpleasant endgame. Nevertheless, he thought the worst was behind him when he played 37.g3.
I thought maybe it was holdable, maybe it was lost, but again such considerations are not very interesting when you’re at the board. You just try and find a way to play, whether it’s playing for a win or for a draw. Of course it was very dangerous but at the moment when I played g3 here I felt fairly safe. Such endings with pawns on both sides and the bishop, when the bishop has targets like on a4, they’re usually drawn, so this I did not feel so bad about, but certainly it was dangerous.
Magnus eventually survived in 53 moves, with only Yasser Seirawan having suffered more (at the hands of Tani!):
Magnus was on the ropes, and it was perhaps no surprise that things didn’t improve when he had the black pieces in the final rapid game.
I was very shaky, and in this game I considered my position to be pretty much lost after the opening. I really didn’t play well at all and he was just crushing me, but somehow I was fighting back and I managed to hold. I don’t really know how!
Things went wrong for Magnus from as early as move 6.
Ding’s seemingly completely new move is offering up the pawn on c4, and in hindsight Magnus should probably have grabbed it, since he went on to suffer for nothing after 6…Qa5!? In what followed there were no completely obvious open goals, but the computer evaluation was overwhelming:
Sesse was giving between +3 or +4 for White here after 31.Qa4 (one idea is to play b6 next), but after 31.Rc5 f6 32.Qc1 Black was right back in the game and managed to survive.
That meant the match went to a pair of 5+3 blitz games, and in the first of them Carlsen’s reliable London System once more delivered, as he sacrificed an exchange to gain a beautiful position.
Even at the very end White was still on top, but with around 10 seconds on his clock Magnus decided to force a draw by repetition, later lamenting:
I was unhappy that I couldn’t make any more of my position than I actually did, but as I said, it was just a mess. Even this game I wasn’t that thrilled about.
He nearly paid for that decision when he blundered in the final blitz game with 25…Qb7?
26.Bxa5! simply won a crucial pawn, since 26…Nxa5 would now run into 27.Rc7, hitting the queen and bishop. Magnus played on with 26…Bg5 27.Bxb6 Bxc1 28.Bc5, when White had two minor pieces for a rook. Usually that material balance will eventually lead to a win for the player with the minor pieces, but there was a last twist in the game and match, when Ding Liren played 32.h4? (the computer suggests the somewhat ugly 32.Ba3, emphasising that this is actually a tricky position for White).
That lost to 32…Qa8! and suddenly there’s no good defence to the threat of Ra1+ and mate on h1. Magnus explained:
[32.h4] is a very natural move, but one that loses, I guess, from what should be a very good position. I would say that even though White is a lot better, in a blitz game with very little time it’s not obvious. I still had serious hopes of holding this, but of course winning is just a bit much.
Even at the very end of the game Ding had a decent chance of holding if he’d played 45.Qc8+!, but 45.Kg4? ran into 45…f5+ and Rh1 would be mate next move.
So after Nakamura qualified for the final in 3 sets, Magnus had done it in 4, earning him a rest day on Thursday.
How did Magnus feel?
Yeah, obviously relief! He put up an unbelievable fight today. I just needed every inch to win this particular match and the main takeaway is I’ve just got to be better in the final.
That final starts Friday and is best of 7 sets, i.e. the first player to reach 4 sets wins. Magnus agreed that Hikaru deserved to be in the final:
Certainly he’s been very, very strong in the entire tour, so it’s no coincidence that he’s in the final and I absolutely agree that he deserves it based on the way that he’s played.
The final promises to be epic, and is the perfect way to round off the tour. Magnus and Hikaru played on the first day of the first event, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, with all 5 games decisive and Magnus winning in Armageddon. They then played in the final of that event, where after trading blows for another 3 games Magnus held a draw in the 4th to clinch victory.
Hikaru got revenge in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge by winning their semi-final in Armageddon despite starting with a 3:0 loss in the first set. That was intense, also after the chess was over!
Magnus responded “I’ll be back!” and then:
He was indeed back soon, winning the Chessable Masters. Although he beat Hikaru 1.5:0.5 in their mini-match in the preliminary stage they didn’t meet in the knockout, so there was no real chance for revenge... until now.
It’s the dream final for the tour, with not just pride at stake. There’s also the small matter of the $60k difference between the first prize of $140k and the runners-up prize of $80k. If you think you can predict what will happen check out our FantasyChess Contest!
Then don’t miss all the action from Friday. The live show starts at 15:30 CEST here on chess24.
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