Magnus Carlsen could afford to “have a little bit of fun” with a double Bongcloud draw (1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 3.Ke1 Ke8…) against Hikaru Nakamura in the final round and still top the preliminary stage for the 4th Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event in a row. He plays Levon Aronian in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational quarterfinals after the Armenian star squeezed in on the tiebreak of beating Sergey Karjakin in their head-to-head clash. Ian Nepomniachtchi was the only player to qualify after starting the day outside the Top 8, taking the place of Daniil Dubov, while Alireza Firouzja is in the knockout for the 1st time.
You can replay all the games from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational quarterfinals using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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Magnus vowed he’d be “aiming pretty hard for the no. 1 seed” on the final day of the preliminaries and he lived up to his word, catching Anish Giri in the first round by beating Alan Pichot. When the Dutch no. 1 lost in the next round Magnus was able to take top spot by drawing his remaining games.
Magnus missed big chances against both Levon Aronian and Daniil Dubov, and summed up:
I’m obviously thrilled about the score, and I think overall it was pretty fair as well, when considering the positions that I had.
That means Magnus has finished 1st in all four Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events this season, though he’s yet to win a tournament. When David Howell pointed that out and asked what Magnus can do differently, the reply was succinct: “Beat Wesley So!”
Despite the games mentioned above, full of drama and tension, the encounter that will be remembered is the final round against Hikaru Nakamura. It began 1.e4 e5 before Magnus “unleashed” the Bongcloud 2.Ke2 that has been a favourite of Hikaru’s. Peter Leko had once explained that if he faced that opening he’d reply in kind with 2…Ke7, and that’s just what Hikaru did, before the game ended in a 6-move draw by repetition after 3.Ke1 Ke8 4.Ke2 Ke7 and so on.
If chess is a draw anyway, this one achieved a kind of
perfection, though former World Champion Veselin Topalov, a famous enemy of
short draws, may almost have choked on his 46th birthday cake!
Anish Giri immediately tweeted:
He was referring to the 14 (or thereabouts) move draw in the Berlin Defence that has become the quick draw weapon of choice in these online tournaments. Hikaru alone made it three times on the final day, once against Anish in the first round.
Magnus explained that he was thinking along the same lines:
There have been so many draws with this Qe4 Qd4, Qe6 Qd6 in the Berlin, so I thought I’d show people that there are other ways to repeat as well. I just wanted to have a little bit of fun there!
The World Champion was asked if the high number of draws among the top players annoyed him.
It’s ok. It was a little bit annoying when Wesley played for a draw against me, it was so annoying that I made a mistake at some point and almost lost, but I guess apart from that, 15 rounds is a lot, so I understand that some people want to take a break sometimes. As for myself, I’ve massively enjoyed playing here so I just want to play and have some fun.
You could say the quick draws on the last day spread almost like a virus, with 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja infected. After three normal games to start the day he made the 14-move draw against Nakamura and then again in the final round against Jorden van Foreest.
It was understandable, however,
since Alireza still had fresh in his mind what had happened after he led the Skilling
Open preliminaries with two rounds to go. He explained:
I’m very happy because it’s my first time I actually qualified so last time I got knocked out in the last round. Same situation, I had the white pieces, so this time I learned my lesson at least.
Alireza is in fact the only player in the quarterfinals not to have been there before during the Tour, proving just how tough a club it is to break into. With so many stars in action, some had to miss out.
You need to earn the right to cruise to qualification by making draws, and big guns Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Sergey Karjakin, Teimour Radjabov and Ian Nepomniachtchi all began the final day outside the Top 8 and with no such luxury. It was only Nepo who managed to dig himself out of that hole.
The Russian no. 1 top scored with 4/5, with his defeat of Mamedyarov in Round 11 effectively ending the Azerbaijan star’s chances. He then inflicted the only loss of the event on tournament leader Anish Giri, before what proved to be important fast draws against Karjakin and Radjabov. A thumping last-round win over Alan Pichot completed the task.
In an entertaining post-game interview Ian Nepomniachtchi talked about how he’d found motivation to qualify and how his loss to Magnus Carlsen the day before could partly be explained by his out-of-control cat!
The quick draws Karjakin and Radjabov took against Nepomniachtchi, and particularly Teimour’s in the penultimate round, were heavily punished, since it turned out the two stars were playing a meaningless game in the final round after Nepo’s win and Levon Aronian taking a draw against Nils Grandelius. When Karjakin ultimately beat Radjabov he was level on points with Aronian, but lost out on the tiebreaker of losing their head-to-head clash.
“The good news, you qualified, the bad news, you play Magnus tomorrow!” Anish helpfully told Aronian after the game, with the Dutch star commenting of Levon:
I have a feeling he’s had many bad days in these tournaments but he always ends up qualifying one way or the other, and I think it’s quite impressive, especially in the last moment, when there’s the nerves and the tension.
Anish also noted that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s seemingly serene five draws to qualify on the final day were anything but.
I had a feeling looking at Maxime’s games this tournament that he doesn’t really want to qualify, that he just wants to go back to his training [for the Candidates]. That was also my thing, because I have training schedules, so I have hotel bookings and stuff, so this is really interfering with my preparation. I think it’s the same for him and he played really reckless chess. I thought he was playing very irresponsibly with both colours, so it just goes to show how talented he is. Even with such reckless play he still made it.
Anish perhaps still hadn’t forgiven Maxime for pulling off the feat of finishing their last-round game with over 20 minutes on the clock, despite the players starting with 15 and only getting 10 seconds extra each move!
The one player who started the day in the Top 8 but missed out was fan favourite Daniil Dubov, who at least could have no regrets over quick draws. He gave himself a mountain to climb by losing to Jorden van Foreest in the first round of the day and missed some chances against Maxime in the next. He was also lucky to survive against Magnus...
...before a last-round win over David Anton was too little, too late. That was the Russian star’s first win since Round 3.
Among the other players, Jorden van Foreest in particular had an impressive final day and overall showed he’s capable of beating the very best, but qualification never came close. Last-placed Alan Pichot, who got the chance to play through the qualifier at the very last moment, perhaps gave the best impression of the level of the world’s top players. The 22-year-old Argentinian no. 1, who made 5 draws and lost the remaining 10 games, wrote on Facebook:
I've finally finished the tournament! A really incredible experience for a player of my level, unaccustomed to receiving invitations to play in this type of tournament! Of course I would have liked to score more points or win a game, but the truth is I'm not upset with my level. Aiming to play the tournament aggressively in order to get to know the difference between the best players in the world and myself, I never imagined that the difference would be SO great. I played some really excellent games but my opponents always found one move more and beat me! NOW is when my great challenge starts, and that's to see if from here, in the next 15-20 years, I can get to this level. I've no idea if I'll manage, but I'm going to do everything in my power to try and be one of the best one day. I want to say thank you to the enormous quantity of people who wrote to me and I couldn't respond to (of course I'm going to do it now), and for the coverage in the media (in Clarin, Infobae etc.). I've had an unforgettable week that's left me with a lot of material to keep improving. Never in my life have I been so happy to finish last. To win big you have to pay the price of losing many games. Thank you to chess24.es Meltwater Champions Chess Tour!
There’s no break for the qualifiers, as the knockout tournament starts on Tuesday March 16th at the usual time of 17:00 CET. The winner of the already mentioned Carlsen-Aronian will play the winner of Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi in the semi-final, while in the other half of the draw it’s So-Firouzja and MVL-Giri. While that last match has a Candidates feel to it, a lot of eyes will be on how Alireza Firouzja does in his first knockout of either this Tour or the last. He commented on playing Wesley:
We’ve played a lot online and we’ve also played a lot of casual games. I have a good score against him, but we will see. I managed to win the last game we played in the other tournament, the Skilling Open, and this time we made a draw, so I have a good result, I have a good feeling, so we will see.
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