Reports Apr 30, 2020 | 6:50 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 13: The Chess King's Gambit Fails?

Magnus Carlsen playing the King's Gambit was one of his less outrageous opening choices as he lost his match against Ding Liren 3:1, but if, as Alexander Grischuk suggested, it was a ploy to avoid the same opponent in the semi-finals, it didn't work! They play again on Saturday, while it's Hikaru Nakamura (who beat MVL in Armageddon) vs. Fabiano Caruana (who lost to Giri) in the other semi-final on Friday. Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Alireza Firouzja in Armageddon in the battle for 5th place.

Romantic chess, but in the end it only brought Magnus Carlsen a third loss of the day to Ding Liren!

You can replay all the games from Round 7 using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis): 

That gave the players the following match points:

You can replay the day's live coverage with Peter Svidler, Tania Sachdev, Jan Gustafsson and Alexander Grischuk below:

Pascal Charbonneau once again recapped the day's action:

Going into the final round of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational preliminary stage we already knew that Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura had qualified for the semi-finals, so the last day could easily have been an anti-climax, but fortunately the players were in the mood to have some fun! Let’s take the matches one at a time:

Ding Liren 3:1 Magnus Carlsen

This was the day’s one match between two semi-finalists, which meant some mind games were inevitable. Did Magnus want to play a semi-final against the Chinese no. 1, who had beaten him in the Sinquefield Cup playoff last year? Would the players go all-out to win and make a psychological point, or was it more about hiding ideas for when it really mattered?

Things started off with Magnus meeting 1.e4 with 1…Nc6!?, the rare Nimzowitsch Defence we’d seen him use in his previous match against Nepomniachtchi. The element of surprise had gone, and Ding varied with 2.Nf3 (Nepo had played 2.d4) and then didn’t blink when Magnus went for the most aggressive 2…d5!? Magnus would later claim his positions had been ok out of the opening, which was true to some extent, except that he was always walking a tightrope where one mistake could be fatal. 

In this case he was lost by move 14, with the position after 17…Kd7 already ripe for a killer blow:

18.Rc3 would be very strong here if not for the defence 18…Qb5, which might have helped Liren find the computer’s crushing 18.d5!!, cutting the board in two and interfering with that defence. After the best move 18…Nxd5 White can simply play 19.Rd1 and there’s no good way to stop c4 next. Ding instead played 18.Rd1!? immediately, but it also proved sufficient, with Magnus about to get mated when he resigned on move 29:

Magnus began Game 2 with the Grand Prix attack, 1.e4 c5 2.f4, and looked in the mood to level the scores. As Jan Gustafsson commented:

Magnus went in thinking, I will clown around a bit, I’ll play e4 Nc6 and so on, but he lost the first game and now it’s game face Magnus who is saying, I am the World Champion, I shall not be beaten at chess, at anything, by anybody, so now he’s just cool, calm, collected, focused, ready for action…

Ding’s exchanged sacrifice looked good, giving him a swirling mass of pawns and minor pieces, but by the final position no less than three of those pieces were under attack!

If that seemed a sign that “serious Magnus” was back, the opening of Game 3 didn’t exactly support that impression. In the Rossolimo Sicilian with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Magnus found a move that was none of the 18 options that had been tried in a combined almost 60,000 games in the chess24 database: 3…h5?!

How could it be explained?

Anish Giri quipped:

Another tournament participant, Ian Nepomniachtchi, later reflected:

Why didn’t he do this on move 1? Why would he wait for two moves to punish with the h5-move? This is the only question which arises for me inbetween the games. This c5 and Nc6 is unnecessary… you’re just shortening your opportunities!

Our commentators were dumbfounded, including:

Peter: It’s great content, but also the thing with doing these things in chess is you’re clearly taking the piss, but you’re somewhat taking the piss at your opponent’s expense.

Jan: The problem is you might still win and then it looks embarrassing for Ding to not have won after h5, but Magnus, as I think Peter talked about this the other day, he likes approaching the line but he’s never disrespecting the game, and I think even here there will be some method to this h5 madness.

Ding responded modestly at first, with 4.h3, but there was nothing modest about the later 13.Qf3!?, aiming to take full advantage of the weakening of the white king:

Play continued 13…Nxe5 14.Qf4! Bd6 (this took Magnus over 5 minutes – it seems there’s nothing better) 15.Rxe5! and here it seems Black might scrape a draw after 15…0-0!, but instead after 15…Bxe5 16.Qxf7+ Kd8 the black king was in desperate trouble in the middle of the board. Once again, Ding could perhaps have found even better moves in what followed, but what he did proved perfectly sufficient to crush the World Champion in 27 moves!

This is when, with Alexander Grischuk joining the show, it became a day of conspiracy theories. If Magnus won the match then Ding, who started with a point less than the other semi-finalists, would definitely finish 4th, and there would be a good chance that Magnus would finish 1st, meaning they’d play again in Friday’s semi-final. Grischuk felt that didn’t suit Magnus, who was trying to lose!

When the game ended and Magnus smiled it was just adding fuel to the fire:

It was going to be hard to top that, but Magnus managed by starting Game 4 with, what else, the King’s Gambit – 1.e4 e5 2.f4!? – the famous “Romantic” opening that has fallen totally out of fashion at top level for the simple reason that it turns out giving up a key pawn in front of your king on move 2 is objectively a bad idea. As Jan commented after Peter told a story of how he once blundered a piece by move 10 in the King’s Gambit after a lunch involving lots of alcohol:

That's an important lesson, kids - drink as much as you like but never play the King's Gambit!    

Magnus had basically battled back to equality before blundering on move 13 and going on to lose in 23 moves:

The irony, at least from a conspiracy theory point of view, was that Magnus and Ding will play each other in the semi-finals anyway, since they finished in 3rd and 2nd positions! Magnus is promising changes:

Before that, however, you can get the chance to play Magnus yourself when he takes on chess24 Premium users at 14:00 CEST on Friday, two hours before the other semi-final!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2-3 Hikaru Nakamura

The winner of the preliminary stage ended up being blitz world no. 1 Hikaru Nakamura, but his victory over MVL, who finished rock bottom, was also far from smooth. Peter Svidler commented, “The whole day was a little bit slapstick”, and Hikaru concurred, saying of the first game he lost, “It was just an absolutely ridiculous game”. In a better position Hikaru was conflicted about whether to play for a win or take a draw:

There’s nothing really to play for and I already felt bad – do I really want to try and beat Maxime here instead of just repeating and moving on? So this was the first problem, I had that internal debate, and then everything I did after that was completely insane too.

In the end Maxime managed to win a completely lost position (Grischuk called it “chess suicide”!), but Hikaru hit back in Game 3 and the match eventually went to Armageddon. Nakamura had Black and took over towards the end, though the final moments after 40.Rd8+ were again comic:

Black can just take the rook on d8, but instead Hikaru played 40…Kh7 and only after 41.Nd6 did he finally put Maxime out of his misery with 41…Nxd8. He commented:

Yeah, but I took the rook one move too late! It’s still winning, but obviously I’m not happy about it.

No harm was done, and Nakamura now plays his US rival Fabiano Caruana in the first semi-final.

Anish Giri 2.5:1.5 Fabiano Caruana

This victory for Anish Giri was only the Dutch no. 1’s second of the tournament, though the first was of course over Magnus Carlsen:

That meant he’d beaten the world numbers 1 and 2 in rapid chess, though traditionally Fabiano isn’t thought of as a speed chess specialist. As Anish said before the tournament:

As long as Fabiano is taking part I'm always hopeful, because they usually need one target. Once I become a target it's a bit nasty, but sometimes Fabi's the target, and then I'm doing fine!

In this event Fabiano in fact won 5 of his 7 matches, including against his semi-final opponent Hikaru Nakamura, but Anish did pick up a consolation win that saw him avoid last place. After the only draw in any match in Game 1 he won a long ending in Game 2 and then emerged victorious in what seemed destined to be only a draw in Game 3. Fabi cracked on move 52 and 55.Rg5! was a beautiful final move:

After Rh5+ White would give checkmate on g5.

Just like Caruana had done against MVL the day before, Giri had wrapped up victory 2.5:0.5 after just three games – but then, just like the day before, the losing player blitzed out all his moves to win the final game. Fabi still had over 15 minutes on the clock when Giri resigned on move 24.

Ian Nepomniachtchi 3:2 Alireza Firouzja

When it came to money and places for those who failed to make the semi-finals, this was the match which mattered most, with a clear winner guaranteed to take 5th place and $22,500. Afterwards Nepo wasn’t exactly building up its importance, however:

It was the most important match of the tournament, of course! The lucky loser match.

For 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja it was a chance to end an event that began badly with a 3rd win in a row, and that seemed a strong possibility after the first game. The finish was beautifully crisp: 62…h3! 63.Rxh3 d4!

This little jab is vital to deprive the white king of an escape route, so that now 64.cxd4 Nf4 and White can’t move the attacked rook on h3 since 65…Re2# is checkmate. In the game Nepo played 64.Ke4, but after 64…Re2+ Black will win the rook with the Nf4+ fork next move. The Russian resigned.

After that Nepo played the Dutch Defence and hit straight back before winning Game 3 as well, but Firouzja won the 4th game to ensure another Armageddon. So far the Armageddon games have largely been disappointing, even causing Grischuk to storm off mid-game in one round, but this one got his approval as he described it as “a fantastic game”. The finish was spectacular:

Firouzja needed to draw with Black and 38…Qf2 was a good try. Of course 39.Rxf2 Rb1+ will be mate, but it would have been more accurate to play 38…Qf4, since that would have stopped Nepo’s next move, 39.Qg5+! The game would go on after 39…Kd7, but after 39…Ke6 40.Qc1! there was no stopping the white queen coming to c6 with devastating effect. Nepo had sealed 5th place. He summed up:

I wasn’t taking it too serious, basically as another four games, and probably I felt like winning in Armageddon instead of winning in a boring way!

It was still a good finish for Alireza, who ended above two Top 10 players, MVL and Giri. He'll be back here on chess24 on the day of the final, playing chess24 users in Banter Blitz!

The prize money so far has been spilt as follows:

The remaining four players go through to the semi-finals on Friday and Saturday, with Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura both choosing to have the black pieces in Game 1, against Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana.

The system is the same as before with four rapid games, but the difference is that a 2:2 tie won’t immediately go to Armageddon. Instead a pair of 5+3 blitz games will be played. If still tied we’ll have one more pair of blitz games and only then Armageddon.

The action at 16:00 CEST on Friday is preceded by Banter Blitz with none other than Magnus Carlsen at 14:00 CEST! Make sure to Go Premium (use the voucher code STAYATHOME to get 40% off) to have a chance to play the World Chess Champion.  

See also:

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