Reports Apr 27, 2020 | 8:39 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 10: Ding & Nakamura catch Carlsen

Chinese no. 1 Ding Liren exploited some reckless decisions by Ian Nepomniachtchi to join the World Champion in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational lead. Hikaru Nakamura also joined the leaders, but he did it only after losing a hard-fought all-US battle against Fabiano Caruana in Armageddon. Fabi is just one point behind the leaders and likely to join them in the knockout stages, since there’s a 5-point gap to MVL and Nepo with just 2 rounds to go. The Top 4 play for the $70,000 top prize.

Even our youngest commentator wasn't impressed by Ding Liren's Berlin Defence 

You can replay all the Magnus Carlsen Invitational games using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):

That meant Ding Liren was the one player to take the full 3 match points for a win in rapid chess, while Caruana and Nakamura split the points 2:1 after Armageddon:

You can replay all the day’s action below, with Tania Sachdev and Lawrence Trent again doing the pre-show before they were joined by Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and later Alexander Grischuk. Magnus Carlsen was also on our Norwegian show, while Anish Giri appeared on the Russian show.

For a recap of all the day’s chess check out the after-show with 2018 US Champion Sam Shankland and 2-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau:

Ding Liren 2.5:1.5 Ian Nepomniachtchi

This match got off to a slow start as Ding Liren played the Berlin Defence, but it was far from a bore draw, with both sides having chances before it ended in 57 moves. It was noteworthy that Nepo, a famously fast player, got down to under a minute on his clock at one point. That, at least, was a “mistake” he wasn’t going to repeat.

The issue of time management reared its ugly head in Game 2, when Nepo blitzed out one move too many in the Grünfeld with 23…g5??

After 24.Nc7! Nepo thought for 6 times longer than he had on any previous move in the game, but it didn’t matter, since his position was already beyond repair. What had gone wrong? Well, Svidler explained it could have been one of those situations when you mix up the move-order and play the 2nd move of a variation first, since 23…Rac8! 24.Qe3 g5! is good. Or it was opening preparation gone wrong – Peter noted the position with 3 b-pawns would be hard to forget after seeing it once – but in either case not spending some time to check when you have over 15 minutes on your clock is hard to defend.

In the next game, however, Nepo was given a lifeline. The opening went badly for Ding Liren (Grischuk suggested the Chinese star probably missed the retreat 12.Bd2!) and, as Giri had reminded us the day before, everyone blunders when under pressure. Still, Peter commented of the move 22…Rxf5?? “I don't think I've seen Ding blunder this much in 1 move ever!”

23.Nf6+! is a nice tactic to win the black queen, but you don’t need to be a Top 5 player to spot it! Ding resigned on the spot.

That meant the match was level and the stakes were high, with just one game to decide if we’d go to Armageddon or get a winner. You might have expected Nepo to play with newfound caution, but once again he rushed to his doom. This was the critical position of the game and match:

Ding, with the white pieces, has boldly advanced his king, leaving Nepo with some tricky choices. He could defend the f-pawn with the admittedly sad 29…Rf8, or, if he dug in the position, he might have found 29…Rbd8!, when 30.Rxf7 can be met by the clever 30…Bc6+! and Black should draw comfortably. What did Nepo do? He played 29…Rd2? in just 2 seconds and only began to think, for almost 7 minutes, after 30.Rxf7 Re8+ 31.Kf5!, when White is already winning.

It’s possible Alexander Grischuk wouldn’t be the ideal chess coach!

But the Russian grandmaster does know all there is to know about having problems with time management. His issue is the opposite, that he often takes too long to find the absolutely best move in a position, so that he commented:

That's what Yuri Dokhoian was saying when he was the coach of our [Russian] national team - that if you combined me and Ian you'd actually get a very decent chess player!

Ding could have wrapped things up quicker…

…but he safely went on to convert his advantage and take the full 3 match points by a 2.5:1.5 scoreline.

Magnus Carlsen, on our Norwegian broadcast, commented:

Ding-Nepo was exciting, but not very well played. But Nakamura-Caruana has been very well played, and completely even until now.

Fabiano Caruana 3:2 Hikaru Nakamura

The all-US battle began with Hikaru Nakamura once again repeating the same line of the Queen’s Gambit Declined that he’s been using constantly with Black during the tournament, despite unconvincing results:

Super-grandmasters notice different moves than mere mortals, and one that appealed to Alexander Grischuk was in the following position:

He noted that Fabiano Caruana here played better than the computer, which wants moves like 23.Qg4, since although that's objectively better it would most likely only lead to a drawn rook endgame. Instead Fabiano secured his king and kept all the tension in the position with 23.g3!?, not worrying about the c5-pawn. 

It worked out perfectly, since Fabi managed to confuse his opponent until 41.Re8! was suddenly winning:

Surprisingly, there’s no way to defend the e6-pawn, and in the game we saw one of the reasons why: 41…Re7 42.Qd8! Rf7 43.Qd6 (43.Rxe6! would have been a nice flourish, with the point that 43…Qxe6 allows 44.Qg5#). Many roads led to Rome, and a few moves later it was time for Black to resign:

That was an impressive attacking game, but the way Hikaru hit back to win a technical ending in the second game was no less impressive. Magnus Carlsen was among the admirers:

Hikaru came very close to repeating that trick in the next game, but was unable to make an extra exchange count, while Game 4 was the one really dry game of the match. The draw there perhaps suited both players, because it guaranteed them at least one match point that would leave them in an excellent position to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.

Hikaru Nakamura won the toss for the Armageddon and chose the black pieces. That’s perhaps the conventional wisdom, since although the player with Black has a minute less on the clock he only needs to draw to win the match, but Peter Svidler felt that Nakamura’s struggles with the black pieces might make him think twice. But no, Hikaru repeated the same line:

Here Giri had played 7.Be2 against Nakamura, Nepo had once tried 7.a3 and once 7.c5, which was the move played by Carlsen, Firouzja and then twice Caruana earlier in the match. For the Armageddon, however, Fabi went for 7.cxd5!?, a move he’d actually mentioned as an option live on our show during an earlier round! Jan asked if it was a good policy to announce your ideas in advance:

This was entirely accidental! I mentioned this line, and Rustam [Kasimdzhanov, his coach], without knowing that, just asked me if this line was worth trying. So I looked at it for like 10 minutes. It wasn’t really the main choice, because probably Black has a good position in many ways, but I thought for the blitz format it was very good.

So it proved, with Hikaru’s 24…Rf6?!, aimed at stopping e4, described as “a bit awkward” by Fabiano. It didn’t work, since on move 27 the break came anyway:

27.e4 Qa3?! (27…Qf4!) 28.e5! and White’s advantage soon became overwhelming. An exchange of queens didn’t stop the march of White’s central pawns and resignation came in the most picturesque of final positions:

So Hikaru Nakamura had lost, but the one point he earned for that Armageddon loss was still enough to take him level with Magnus and now Ding at the top of the standings. 

Fabiano Caruana is also excellently placed in the fight to finish in the Top 4 places, though intrigue remains. For one thing, the semi-finals will be 1st vs. 4th and 2nd vs. 3rd, so there may be jostling for position. Besides that, the only player who is now mathematically out of contention for a Top 4 place is Alireza Firouzja. Anish Giri, with one more point, could still do it:

Round 6 begins on Tuesday, with Ian Nepomniachtchi absolutely needing to win his match against World Champion Magnus Carlsen:

As we’ve already seen, Giri also needs to beat Firouzja, though there’s no doubt the kid will want to end the tournament on a high note with just two matches remaining.

If you think you can predict what's going to happen don't miss the chance to win prizes with our Fantasy Chess Contest for Round 6! Then tune in again for the pre-show starting at 15:00 CEST here on chess24.

See also:

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