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Reports Apr 22, 2020 | 6:26 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 5: Carlsen leads as Firouzja suffers

Magnus Carlsen took control of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after defeating Fabiano Caruana 3:1 with powerful wins in the first two games. The other Round 3 match was mired in controversy after 16-year-old star Alireza Firouzja lost connection in a good position in the first game. The regulations specified the game would resume quickly, but after a long delay it was decided to declare a draw. Alireza missed one great chance as he lost the next 3 games, before he later had an appeal to replay the match rejected by the Appeals Committee.

Magnus Carlsen played Alekhine's Defence and later crashed through in style in the first game

You can check out all the Round 3, Day 1 games using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):

That meant that both Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura had taken a full 3 points for winning without the need for Armageddon:

You can replay the day’s live commentary from Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson, Alexander Grischuk, Tania Sachdev and Lawrence Trent – including cameos from Ian Nepomniachtchi and later Magnus Carlsen – below:

Canadian GM Pascal Charbonneau also recapped the day's action:

Magnus Carlsen 3:1 Fabiano Caruana

“Today was definitely my best day by far”, said World Champion Magnus Carlsen after winning a third match in a row to ensure he’ll go into Round 4 as the sole leader of the event with his name on it. He was in high spirits as he began talking about his day:

Carlsen: I think it was pretty good. The first game I made one really, really bad move, and otherwise it was ok.
Svider: What move is that?
Carlsen: 1...Nf6 wasn’t very good!        

Magnus explained that was just a joke, though it must have come as at a least a minor surprise to Fabiano Caruana that at a slower time control Carlsen repeated the Alekhine’s Defence (1.e4 Nf6) he’d played four times in last week’s Banter Blitz Cup final against Alireza Firouzja. The opening is rare at the very highest level, but Fabiano’s four pawns attack seemed to catch Magnus a little off-guard, and when Fabi sacrificed his a1-rook for Black’s powerful dark-squared bishop White’s position looked at least visually promising. 

Magnus seems to have been right, however, that it was just one move, 23…c6?!, that turned a good position into a shaky one:

Magnus regretted not playing 23…Rd7, to double rooks and prepare Bd3. Instead after what he called the “very, very good” 24.Qc3! the threat of g4 and trapping the f5-bishop forced him to play the weakening 24…h5. If Fabiano had followed up with 25.c5, preparing Bc4, Black would have been under pressure, but in the coming moves the US star lost the thread and allowed Magnus to build up a powerful counterattack with his rooks on the d-file.

The last, best hope for White was to play 30.Kg1, since after 30.Kg3? R8d3! there was no way back (Magnus thought Fabi could try 31.Kh4, but that should also end badly). The game finished dramatically with 31.Qh6 Bxh3!!

After 32.gxh3 the nicest, if not the fastest, win is 32…Qxh3+ 33.Kxh3 Rxf3+ 34.Kh4 Rh2+ 35.Kg5 Rg3#. Fabi thought for 3 minutes and played 32.Kh4 instead, but after 32…Rxg2! he resigned. Qg4+ and mate-in-2 is just one of Black’s many threats.

Caruana had Black in the next game and the task of ending a sequence of Magnus winning all four of his previous games with White in the tournament. He played (or arguably misplayed) the Vienna, and by move 16 queens had been exchanged:

The only real imbalance in the position is that white has the pair of bishops, but it turned out that was enough for Magnus to wrap up a win:

Now Fabi really did have a mountain to climb, needing to win on demand in the third game to keep the match alive. He arguably got some help from his opponent, since Alexander Grischuk at least felt 6…Bc5 in the Ruy Lopez was not the move to play when you only need a draw to win a match:

In an Armageddon game in the World Championship what are the odds he's going for Bc5 against Caruana? I would say exactly zero.

His Russian colleague Ian Nepomniachtchi felt that going too far, and added, “At least I don't know the refutation... hopefully Lawrence can share some thoughts!"

The position certainly got wild, with Caruana posting a rook on a7. Even the exchange operations were spectacular:

19.Rxe7+ Qxe7 20.Qxg4 Qc5+ 21.Kh1 Nf2+ 22.Rxf2 Qxf2. There was once more a discussion over what Magnus was playing for:

Nepomniachtchi: Don't forget Magnus needs only a draw here.
Grischuk: He's not trying to make a draw - no way!
Nepo: I think if he sees a perpetual, he'll go for it.
Grischuk: I don't think so. I think if he gets a draw offer before the game he refuses!

Magnus missed some details in the latter stages of the game and could have been made to suffer more for a draw, but he concluded:

I don’t think I played particularly badly, even though I was under some pressure. I think it was just a very difficult position that he played pretty well.

The position that was eventually drawn reminded Grischuk of a position he’d played against an AI version of Magnus! Don’t miss his story:

It’s hard to disagree with:

The draw in that game meant the match was over as a contest, but game points still matter – the Final Four after the 7 rounds will play a knockout for the $70,000 top prize, and if players are tied for 4th place game points will matter. It’s hard to expect either player to go all out for blood, however, and a picturesque draw by repetition after 36 moves saw the match end 3:1 in Carlsen’s favour. Check out his comments on the games:

Alireza Firouzja 0.5:3.5 Hikaru Nakamura

This was a match between two explosive players, and in the end there was as much action off the board as on it. In Game 1 our commentators were surprised to see Alireza Firouzja take on Hikaru Nakamura in a Queen’s Gambit Declined structure where the US player had long experience, but it was hard to argue with the results. Alireza got long-term positional pressure, but only the final move of the game, 45…Rb2+?! by Nakamura, seemed to put White indisputably on top:

On the face of it that prepares a2, but if you met 46.Kg3 by 46…a2?? you'd lose on the spot to 47.Rxe5!. That meant Nakamura was just improving his opponent’s king position, though it was still a very unclear position for both players to play with under a minute on their clocks. This is where things went wrong, however, as Firouzja lost his connection and ran out of time. The frustration of both players was obvious from their webcams.

The tournament regulations foresaw such situations, under Article 4:

In case a player is disconnected from the playing server at no fault of his own, the game shall be resumed from the current position as soon as possible. The clock times will be adjusted accordingly, based on the information provided by the playing server.
The Chief Arbiter may decide otherwise in exceptional circumstances.

In this case “no fault” means only that the player didn’t deliberately disconnect. The aim was not to punish players for any internet issues and let the chess decide the outcome.

Chief Arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos had to explain the FIDE rules on draws to Alireza after he lost to Magnus at the World Blitz Championship last year | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The arbiters, led by Chief Arbiter Takis Nikolopoulos, therefore tried to restart the game from the same position and the same times. That proved an issue, however, as Hikaru had left for a 10-minute break, assuming he’d simply won the game. After that delay restarting the game would be highly problematic – not only had the players had time to think about the position (recalling the Kramnik-Radjabov Candidates Match from 2011 where Vladimir won a drawn position after a crucial blitz game was interrupted by a clock malfunction), but to check the game with chess engines.

In such circumstances there was no good solution that would satisfy both players, but after long discussions the arbiters decided to declare the first game a draw, with Alireza given the option to appeal afterwards. He did, asking for the match to be replayed, and an Appeals Committee was convened. Ultimately they rejected the appeal on the grounds that there were “exceptional circumstances”:

On the appeal of Alireza Firouzja about the first game of his match vs Hikaru Nakamura, the Appeals Committee, after taking into account:

  • a) the MCI Regulations (especially Article 4)
  • b) the Chief Arbiter's Report on the incident
  • c) the Appeal of Alireza Firouzja (by email)
  • d) the data provided by chess24

we unanimously decide that the Chief Arbiter's decision was in accordance with the MCI Regulations, taken under 'exceptional circumstances' and justified by them, and thus decide to reject said appeal.

MCI Appeals Committee

IA Gunnar Bjornsson
IA Arild Rimestad
IA Jesus Garcia Valer

For future rounds it's now been clarified to the players that they should remain after a game until they've been informed that all is good and given the time of the next game.

The draw in the first game of course left the match in the balance, though in Game 2 Hikaru struck. Right at the end the computeresque 36…axb4! might have given Black enough counterplay for a draw, but Firouzja took the more natural approach of getting out of a potential check and instead found himself lost:

There’s no way for Black to avoid losing a rook by force.

Game 3 was the real turning point of the match, with Alireza again doing well out of the opening (“In both his white games he made a lot happen from this particular structure” – Magnus). By the latter stages Hikaru was trying to hold a fortress which neither Carlsen nor the computers had any faith in:

There was no obvious way to make progress, however, and once again Alireza was low on time. It must have been bad if the chess player with the world’s most notorious time management pointed it out:

Grischuk: It's a good lesson for a young player not to go low on time for no reason.
Svidler: Said Alexander Grischuk.

That comment was made after it had all gone wrong. First 56.Qe4? let all of White's advantage slip:

56…f5! and Black is objectively fine. It was time for Alireza to switch to playing for a draw, which he seemed to have done before 71.Be7? was an entirely self-inflicted wound:

Our commentators pointed out this would be a bad move even if it didn’t drop a pawn, as it did, to 71…Na6. Any other bishop move, except to f6, and White would have had an unlosable position, but now with the b4-pawn dropping only accurate play could secure the draw. More horrors followed as Firouzja sank to a defeat which also meant he’d lost the match.

The fourth game was the definition of “tilt”. Firouzja blitzed out the Scandinavian Defence (1.e4 d5!?), played a dubious novelty on move 6, a reckless pawn break on move 11, and was dead lost after 13…Be6??, with 14.Nxf7! wrapping up the game:

There’s nothing Black can do to avoid heavy material losses – not something we’re used to seeing in top-level chess, especially in a position where both players had more time than they started the game with. It was clear Firouzja was in no mood to play any more.

That means that 16-year-old Alireza has lost all three of his matches so far, while Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura are well on the way to qualifying for the Top Four:

The players whose names are greyed out there are yet to play their Round 3 matches, and on Thursday we have another all Candidates line-up: MVL vs. Ding Liren and Giri vs. Nepomniachtchi.

The first match-up is a heavyweight struggle between the world nos. 3 and 5, while Giri will be hoping to get his first match points on the board, though world no. 4 and rapid and blitz specialist Ian Nepomniachtchi isn’t the easiest person to do it again. At least Anish got some preparation the day before in a hugely enjoyable Banter Blitz session where he played and beat his wife Sopiko Guramishvili (why, Anish, why?), defied a dream…

…beat Laurent Fressinet…

…but then couldn’t beat French reinforcements in the form of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave! You can replay the whole session here.

Tune in again for all the Magnus Carlsen Invitational action from 15:30 CEST here on chess24.  

See also:

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