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Reports Nov 20, 2022 | 3:53 PMby Colin McGourty

MCCT Finals 6: Magnus wins with round to spare

Magnus Carlsen had already won the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour with a tournament to spare and now he’s won the Finals with a round to spare after defeating Praggnanandhaa 2.5:0.5. Magnus is still gunning to win all 7 matches, while Wesley So is up to 2nd place after he defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda to make it 4 wins in a row.

All four players with Black won in Game 1 of Saturday’s Round 6 of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals and then went on to win their matches with a game to spare.

Watch the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals live here on chess24!

All eyes on were on Magnus Carlsen, who would guarantee himself first place if he could beat 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa in rapid chess.

Magnus began with an opening he uses very rarely, the Caro-Kann, though Pragg explained that he was ready for surprises.

I knew it would come as a surprise, so in that way there was no surprise! I got a good position in the first two games and it’s just bad that I didn’t even make a draw in both of the games.

For a long time it was Pragg pushing, but Magnus held things together and then was able to drive White off the c-file.

Soon he won the white a and b-pawns and was close to winning, but by move 33 the position was level and, with both players down to around a minute, Magnus might have been tempted to take a draw by repetition. Why didn’t he? “I thought I was better!” he told Tania.

33…Nb6!? worked like a dream, since Pragg immediately blundered with a move Magnus called “desperation”, 34.Bf6?

Moving the rook or else playing 34.Nf6+! gxf6 35.Bd2+! would have drawn, but in the game after 34…Rxd1+! 35.Qxd1 Nd7! Magnus was simply winning. He wrapped things up in 55 moves.

Pragg commented afterwards on the missed move:

Usually I would find it, even with little time, but I just missed it today, so something went wrong.

Winning with Black was a big advantage, but you might feel Magnus levelled the playing field by starting Game 2 with Adhiban’s favourite first move 1.b3.

The opening would become the modest Colle-Zukertort that Magnus had used in the darkest moment of his career, his loss (after 7 draws) in Game 8 of the 2016 World Championship match. Back then Magnus had played 5.b3, but the outcome was the same.

The computer’s top move, 14.Qe2, would have transposed to that game exactly, while 14.Be2!?15.Bf3 was a not entirely convincing deviation. Magnus commented:

In this game I had some severe PTSD from the game against Karjakin that I lost in the World Championship. The position was similar, at the very least, so the openings aren’t working great, but also in this game he was outplaying me at some point, weakening my king a bit, but you know, at the decisive moments I’ve been a little bit better, that’s all it’s been so far.

When Pragg’s queen broke into the position around Carlsen’s king it would have been very easy for White to collapse, but Magnus kept finding only moves. Pragg could have taken a draw at will, but kept pressing despite his low time, later admitting, “with little time I was just playing terribly today”.

His first real misstep of the game was 36…Qb1+?!, while the very next move, 37…exd5?, was a losing blunder.

“That was just crazy, because Black can never win,” said Magnus, and he pounced with 38.Qc8+! Kh7 39.Qc2+ Qxc2 40.Kxc2 Kg6 41.b4!, creating a passed pawn for a winning endgame.

What followed would still be a thriller, however, with some curious moments. Magnus could have taken Pragg’s knight on move 50, but didn’t, fearing getting his king trapped. Then a few moves later there was this position:

Magnus played 52.Kc5, which looked unremarkable, but he later confessed:

My technique was not great! At some point I just mouse-slipped. I was quite unsure whether to go Ke4 immediately, and then I just clicked on the c5-square, which I didn’t intend to, and then the king just went there, so at that point I was just uffff, out of it, but fortunately it was not enough to mess up the win.

After 52…g5 the king went back with 53.Kd5, though for one fleeting moment it seems Pragg still could have escaped, with 57…g3!

The white pawn is much harder to stop on the h-file than the g-file, while after 58.h4 g2 the knight gets stuck on e2, stopping the pawn queening, while Black can also try to manoeuvre his knight to e.g. d4.

That was incredibly tricky, however, as was the path Magnus now found to victory after 57…Nc7, but he made it look easy.

It was now a must-win game for Pragg, who went for a sacrificial attack against Carlsen’s French Defence. It looked unlikely to succeed, but Magnus noted:

I think his attack was maybe a bit stronger than I thought at first, so I had to play carefully, but I think I did it sufficiently.

Here Magnus actually had a fantastic line to get an advantage — 32…fxg6! 33.Rg3 Bxf2+! 34.Kxf2 Qe8!, taking advantage of the pinned knight, and g6 is defended, with Black on top.

There was no need for such heroics, however. Magnus simply played 32…Bxe3 and Pragg had nothing better than to force a draw by perpetual check with 33.Nh5+ Kg8 34.Nf6+ Kg7 and so on.

That meant Magnus had won all six of his matches, five of them in rapid chess, and could no longer be caught. His dominance was incredible — he’d won five of the nine events on the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, including two of the three Majors.

Magnus wasn’t quite celebrating yet, however, since he still has to play Jan-Krzysztof Duda in Sunday’s final round. Duda is the only other player to have won more than one event, and Magnus told Tania:

I have to do well tomorrow as well, but it’s obviously big when we’re gathered here. I’ve had a couple of poor events in a row and to do well now it’s a big deal!

One Q&A that followed summed things up:

Tania: Ever since you’ve announced that you will not be playing the World Championship does every tournament have that extra meaning for you, where you want to prove that regardless of which tournament you play you’re still the best player in the world?

Magnus (with a smile): Yep!

In hindsight, the very first round in San Francisco, where Magnus Carlsen took on Wesley So, has gained in significance. If Wesley had won, and he had two great winning chances with the white pieces, he could be leading the event, after he defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda to move up to second place.

Wesley made things look easy, exploiting an early mistake by Duda in Game 1 to take over and gradually grind out a win. Then the next game was crucial, with Jan-Krzysztof getting a chance to hit back.

21.Nxf8?! instead of 21.cxd4! was a mistake, with Wesley commenting:

The 2nd game was a very complicated Grünfeld where objectively Jan should have won. I sacrificed a pawn out of the opening but got very good compensation, but in the critical position with the knight on g6 very close to his king I shouldn’t have taken the rook, it turns out. I should just take the centre pawn and play this manoeuvre Ra3, which I totally missed, and it turns out White is just close to winning.

Duda has been struggling after a great start, however, and, as So put it, “then he just started blundering one move after another”, until by the end Wesley was about to give checkmate when Duda resigned.

Trailing 2:0 Duda’s task looked impossible, especially when he blundered early in the opening of Game 3, but briefly he had an unexpected chance.

12.Be4!, relying on 12…Bxe4 13.Qa4+, would have equalised, but after 12.Be3? 0-0 Wesley had a huge advantage and went on to win smoothly.

Wesley commented on his 4th win in a row:

I’m very pleased, for sure! Also Anish lost a lot of games. I look at some Anish games and I just can’t explain why he’s losing so much. He’s such a great player, and he’s seeded no. 2 or something, but I also can’t explain why I’m winning so much. It’s a great feeling, because this is my 4th tournament in a row, like playing five tournaments in less than two months.

That brings us to Anish Giri, who was again unrecognisable as he lost a 4th match in a row. His opponent was fellow struggler Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who was in fact playing from an airport on the way to the World Team Championship in Jerusalem. The 1st game felt like a game between two players struggling with form, with Shakh finally grinding out an 81-move win — his 1st win in 15 games.

Both players seemed to want a break as they drew in 13 moves in the next game, before Shakh wrapped up victory by spotting a checkmating net in the 3rd game. Before that he’d also spotted a beautiful trick, which plunged Anish into a 5-minute think, even if it didn’t dramatically alter the evaluation of the position.

The remaining match, between Liem Le and Arjun Erigaisi, also featured a streak, with Arjun seeming to have adapted to starting at 1:30 am in India, since after three losses he’s now won his last three matches.

Arjun spotted a long tactical sequence to win a rook in the first game and then was completely crushing out of the opening in the second.

He went on to win, though not entirely smoothly, before making a draw in a won position in the final game to clinch the match. Arjun is up to clear 4th place.

2nd spot is still up for grabs on the final day, when So plays Giri while Carlsen takes on Duda. Magnus has already stated how much he wants to make it 7 wins in 7, and if he wins in rapid chess his winnings will be a cool $50,000. We also have the all-Indian clash Erigaisi-Praggnanandhaa.

The games begin at 12 noon in San Francisco (15:00 ET, 21:00 CET, 01:30 IST).

Watch the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals live here on chess24!

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