Reports Apr 19, 2020 | 8:45 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 2: MVL and Caruana join Ding in the lead

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave showed the Grünfeld Defence isn’t the only opening he knows against 1.d4 as he cruised to a 3:1 victory over Anish Giri on Day 2 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Fabiano Caruana had a much tougher day at the office against Ian Nepomniachtchi, admitting he should have lost at least one of the first two games before he finally claimed a 2.5:1.5 win with victory in the 4th and final rapid game. We’re now all set for Carlsen-Firouzja on Monday!

This is the closest four of the chess world's Top 5 are going to get to each other for a while!

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

Once again, there are 3 points for a win without needing Armageddon, so that Maxime and Fabi picked up full points:

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson, Peter Svidler, Lawrence Trent, Alexander Grischuk (a cameo at the end) and a certain World Champion Magnus Carlsen!

For a video recap of the action check out the aftershow with 2-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau and 2018 US Champion Sam Shankland:

Day 2 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational featured two very different matches:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 3:1 Anish Giri

The first game of this match looked destined to end in a draw when the first new move, 23.Re1, was also the same move number at which Nikita Vitiugov and Fabiano Caruana had agreed a draw after 23. Rb1 in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. There were equal pawns and opposite-coloured bishops, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave managed to squeeze a win seemingly out of nowhere:

Everything has been going right on the chessboard for Maxime since he unexpectedly got the chance to play in the Candidates Tournament, and perhaps it was that confidence that saw the French no. 1 do what for him is almost the unthinkable… respond to 1.d4 with anything other than 1…Nf6 (and the Grünfeld). His 1…d5 was a move he’d last played in an over-the-board game in the 2014 (!) Gibraltar Masters (against our Chinese commentator Li Chao), and the watching Magnus Carlsen was amazed to see Maxime go for the Slav Defence. 

Giri must have been rocked, and he adopted a line Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had played against him in last year’s Sinquefield Cup. Maxime went for a different plan with 10…c5!, however, and had soon completely taken over – while also returning to familiar ground!

The world’s other leading Grünfeld expert Peter Svidler noted it was a very good Grünfeld and soon everything was collapsing around Giri. We got to witness a beautiful final move:

26…Qf3! and Giri resigned. The only plausible defence is 27.Rxd1, but after the forced 27…Qxd1+ 28.Rg1 Qf3+ 29.Rg2 Black has 29…Rd8! and the threat of Rd1+ ends the game. “Unforgivable” is how Magnus summed up the way Giri had played the opening.

That left Anish with a mountain to climb and, though neither the third or the fourth games were entirely convincing by Maxime, he nevertheless held draws that saw him clinch a 3:1 victory, putting him top of the standings after the best win of any player in Round 1.

Fabiano Caruana 2.5:1.5 Ian Nepomniachtchi

The score alone tells you this was a close match, but in fact the outcome could have been totally different. US no. 1 Fabiano Caruana admitted afterwards, “I definitely should have lost one of the first two games”. In the first Ian Nepomniachtchi stuck to the super-sharp Winawer French he’d played in the Candidates Tournament, and for 10 moves he followed the line that had seen him lose the crucial 7th round game to MVL. This time he didn’t defend the g7-pawn, and in the complications that followed there was a sudden chance for Black to take over after 20.Bd3?

20…e4! wins a piece one way or another e.g. 21.fxe4? dxe4! 22.Nxe4 Bxe4 23.Bxe4 Rxd2+, or 21.Bb5 e3+! 22.Bxe3 d4:

Instead Nepo played 20…Kf7!? and nevertheless took over and won a pawn, but he couldn’t quite squeeze out a win in a minor piece endgame.

It was possible to criticise both players for playing too fast, though when challenged on that later Fabiano explained it was somehow related to playing online:

I think the quality in general online is much lower than over the board. I couldn’t even imagine playing a classical game online, for example. I remember during the Fischer Random World Championship playing these 40-minute games, and it felt like an absolute eternity.

Other players seem to take to playing online far more naturally, and when Magnus Carlsen was asked about playing too fast in the games he’d lost to Hikaru Nakamura the day before he responded:

I didn’t feel like I played quickly. I felt like I played quite normally and usually when I spent time I blundered, so I probably should have played more quickly!

It had been a tough day for Magnus!

Fabiano called the way he played in the second game of his match “egregious”, and correctly pointed out the moment at which his opponent could have improved:

Although the endgame was very tempting, Fabi commented, “If he had just continued attacking in some way I’m sure it was completely done.” 34.Nh4! was the way to do that, since however Black responds to the threat of capturing on g6 his position is dramatically weakened.

Queens came off with 34.Rxd6 Rb6 35.Rxf6 Qxf4 36.Rxf4 and Caruana commented, “the endgame is also borderline winning, but at least I don’t get mated and my moves become a lot easier”. He managed to escape again in 68 moves. The 3rd game was a quiet draw, which the players made in a dead drawn pawn ending without making the 40 moves technically required by the regulations.

That meant we were one game away from Armageddon, but we never got there. Nepo was made to pay for his missed chances, including a strange decision not to capture on b4 when he had the chance. Instead he let Fabiano infiltrate with the black pieces first on queenside and then everywhere:

44…Rg1+! 45.Qxg1 Rxg1+ 46.Kxg1 Qe1+ and although other things being equal White might have sufficient material for the queen, other things weren’t equal. Nepo’s forces were uncoordinated but above all his king was perilously weak and it was gradually driven from g1 to its doom on f6:

It was a good start to the day for Fabiano, who noted:

I have the whole day ahead of me! I start playing at 9 o’clock, I wake up at 7, and now it’s midday.

His options for moving around are as curtailed as for most of us right now, but he did note, “I have a balcony.” A curiosity is that when he plays his next match at 9am in Saint Louis on Tuesday his opponent Ding Liren will be playing at 10pm at night in China.

Both players go into that match in the lead, although Maxime edges first place on the tiebreak of having scored the most points in individual games:

So Day 2 had been a somewhat quieter day than the first, although chess fans got most of what they were hoping for!

Tomorrow’s Day 3, the start of Round 2, has the potential to be epic. Barely have Magnus Carlsen and Alireza Firouzja had the chance to recover from the Banter Blitz Cup final last Wednesday before they’re meeting again:

Can Magnus exact revenge for being put to the sword in that match by his 16-year-old opponent?  If you think you know what’s going to happen next you might want to try out our Fantasy Chess Contest, with entries for Round 2 now open!

Check out all the action LIVE here on chess24 from 16:00 CEST, when we can expect some of today’s players to join the commentary as well.

See also:

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