Reports Apr 24, 2020 | 6:00 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 7: Carlsen cruises | Firouzja comeback falls short

"So far this tournament is more like Magnus Carlsen Triumphant than Invitational," said Alexander Grischuk, as the World Champion scored a 4th match win in a row to solidify his place at the top of the table. Magnus missed wins in two of the games but still emerged a 2.5:1.5 victor against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja seemed on the verge of a brilliant comeback after going 2:0 down against Fabiano Caruana, but he stumbled in the final rapid game and sank to a 4th match defeat in a row.

You can replay all the Magnus Carlsen Invitational games using the selector below:

That meant that both Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana had scored a full 3 match points:

You can replay the day's live commentary below - it began with a pre-show with Tania Sachdev and Jan Gustafsson:

And then the full commentary saw Jan and Peter Svidler joined by Daniil Dubov (still in Yekaterinburg - he decided to use his remaining pre-paid stay in the 5-star hotel after the Candidates Tournament was stopped!), Alexander Grischuk and later Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana after their wins:

Pascal Charbonneau's Aftershow recapped the day's action:

Magnus Carlsen 2.5:1.5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

“I’m just a little disappointed I couldn’t convert more positions, but in general it was good,” was Magnus Carlsen’s snap verdict after winning a 4th match in a row, this time against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The win was much more convincing than the scoreline suggests, and backed up Tania Sachdev’s comments in the pre-show:  

The way he's been playing it almost feels like he put a line-up of people he could just simply bully online. He’s just been crashing through, leading the tournament so convincingly. What he did against Fabi – just made it look so easy, but then these are the world’s top players! It makes me think if Magnus just put this line-up because is he just really mean, or is he just very strong, or maybe both?

After the Round 4 match others were asking similar questions:

It wasn’t so much the win, but the cavalier manner in which it was achieved. Maxime was going for his beloved Najdorf in Game 1 when Magnus suddenly veered off course with 5.Bc4!?

Seasoned chess grandmasters were shocked. So was Maxime, who spent almost a minute and a half before deciding not to call the bluff (?) and pick up a pawn with 5…Nxe4, when the World Champion’s options would have included 6.Bxf7+!? The subject was skipped after the game, so we never got confirmation if the 5th move was even intentional:

After 5…e6!? 6.0-0 Be7 (6…Nxe4 was still an option) Magnus gradually took over, but, not for the last time on the day, he missed a chance to win the game:

After 29.Qf3?! d2! the game fizzled out into a draw, but 29.b7! would have been winning.

The opening of the second game was almost as spectacular, with Magnus playing one of MVL’s specialities, the Grünfeld Defence. Alexander Grischuk would later say that the World Champion seemed to be trying to “humiliate” his opponents by playing their favourite weapons against them. Maxime wasn’t going to let Magnus get in all the shocks, however, and went for the provocative 3.h4!?

In the end that wouldn’t be what the game became noteworthy for, however, since Magnus would later comment, “I think the most memorable moment [of the match] was his pawn structure in the 2nd game!”

A cross between a literal fortress and something from the old arcade game Space Invaders, the double doubled pawns aren’t something to aim for in your games, but Magnus couldn’t find a way to exploit them and in fact had to scramble a little to make a draw in the end.

Game 3 was where the World Champion finally broke through. Maxime continued to experiment with playing the Slav Defence, but went astray in the middlegame:

Magnus commented:

It was pretty insane to do what he did, to spend no time going for 17…cxd4!?, which clearly loses.

Magnus was expecting 17…0-0 when he intended 18.h4!?, an idea the computer doesn’t really approve of, but which would have led to a very sharp position. Instead we saw 17...cxd4 18.Bf3! Rc8 19.Rc1! and the pin down the c-file is highly problematic, though 19…Qb6!, supporting dxe3 later, might still have saved the day. Instead we got 19…Qd7?! 20.Qc2 Na7 21.Qxc8+:

21…Qxc8 might have been the lesser evil, since after 21…Nxc8 22.Bc6! Nb6 23.Bxd7+ Kxd7 24.exd4 Magnus effortlessly went on to convert the extra exchange.

The final game saw Magnus once again “trolling” Maxime in the opening (in the opinion of our commentators) by adopting the Slav Defence himself and going for one of the sharpest approaches possible. The World Champion later explained why he wasn’t trying to steer the game towards the draw he needed to clinch the match:

I just realised that I cannot play for a draw at all, so I’d rather play something bad!

To no-one’s great surprise, Magnus ended up with a better position anyway, and Maxime found himself in the worst of all possible situations:

Grischuk: It's painful to watch. It's like you're already knocked out and the guy keeps punching you. You want to give up the match, but the guy says no!

Dubov: You can do Firouzja style and play random moves and resign?

It’s hard not to have your head turned by Grischuk when he’s in such a commentary mood:

“I was probably winning at some point in the rook ending, but I just couldn’t find it,” said Magnus, though it felt as though if his life – or even match victory – had depended on it he might have looked harder and got there. Instead Maxime ended with a respectable 1.5 game points, but it was Magnus who marched on with another three match points to take his tally to 11.

You can watch him talk about the games afterwards:

Alireza Firouzja 1:3 Fabiano Caruana

There were no draws in Firouzja-Caruana, with the players trading blows from the first moves. The world no. 2 had offered an exchange sacrifice on c4, but when Alireza refused to accept it Fabiano was tempted into the pawn grab 20…Rxb4?, only to run into 21.Rxb4 Bxb4 22.Bxb5+!

22…axb5 23.Qxb5+ Qd7 24.Qxb4 and White would have been close to positionally winning. Fabi didn’t pretend afterwards that this had been part of his plan:

I just blundered. I was rushing as usual, and I blundered Bxb5. I thought he was going for Qg4 and some speculative stuff. I thought it was desperation, then Bxb5 and he’s already probably a bit better.

Caruana and the computers both felt that after 22…Nd7 White should have played 23.Ba4!, since after 23.Nd3 in the game the position was soon equal. Black had as much right as White to try and play for a win, but what 16-year-old Firouzja soon didn’t have was time on his clock. At the critical moment he was down to under 30 seconds, while Fabi still had over 7 minutes remaining.

“I played this last ditch winning attempt, 35…Bh5!, based on his time,” said Fabi, and after 36.Rc8+ Kh7 Alireza had 22 seconds to spot that he had only one move to save the game:

37.Bf6!! would have led to what Fabiano called “a really pretty draw”: 37…Rh1+! 38.Kxh1 Qf1+ 39.Kh2 Bf3! – the same trick! – and when White takes the bishop Black makes a draw by perpetual check.

In time trouble Alireza missed that, however, and after 37.Qc2+? Bg6 38.Qc5 Qf1 39.Bf6 (too late) 39…Be4 it was time to resign:

“He just collapsed out of the opening,” was how Caruana summed up the second game, where Firouzja dropped a pawn for no compensation and sank without a trace. That was a 5th loss in a row for the young Iranian after his controversial disconnection draw against Hikaru Nakamura, and it seemed all hope was lost.

Alireza isn’t one to go down without a fight, however, and in Game 3, despite squandering an opening advantage, he managed to hit back. Fabi commented:

I was completely out of the woods and I was up on time, but then my head started spinning with all the variations.

Alireza managed to get his king all the way from f1 to f5:

“Once I started getting under pressure I collapsed,” said Fabi, and things went downhill fast: 59…Bd8? 60.Bc3 Rc1 61.Bg7 Kc7 62.Nd4 Nxb4 (62…Ne7+ 63.Ke6! Nc8 64.Be5+! and mate-in-2 was an idea Grischuk pointed out) 63.Ne6+ Black resigns

The comeback was suddenly on, and in the next game Firouzja played the rare move 6…Ne4!? in the King's Indian. Fabi said he hadn’t had time to check his opponent’s games, and if he had he’d have realised that Alireza used this to beat our commentator Peter Svidler in the 2018 World Rapid Championship and had also played it against Bartosz Socko and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in last year’s World Blitz Championship.

Objectively White was doing well, but Fabiano stumbled and admitted things were looking bad:

I was really worried. I think I was completely dead in the last game, and to spoil a 2:0 would be kind of disastrous - but somewhere swindled him.

Caruana correctly assessed the endgame as losing after the exchange of queens, but it was very tricky:

As you can see above, White’s play is based on the weakness of the black king – 27…Qxh5?? 28.Qf6# is of course checkmate. Those same mating net ideas continued even without queens, with Fabi able to play the tricky 34.Bd5!

34…Rxd5?? 35.Rf8+ would be mate. Black is nevertheless a pawn up and still favourite to win the game, but 36.f4! proved to be the winning move:

36…exf3! and the fight would have gone on, but 36…gxf4? 37.gxf4 and Black’s position had collapsed. The game ended 37…Ng4 38.Rd6! Ne3 39.Be6! Re8 and Fabi once more got to demonstrate the same mating net trick 40.Rxd7!

Black can't take the bishop since Rd8+ would give mate. Fabiano was happy with his day's work and his tournament situation: “I think the goal is to get Top 4 and I’m in a good position to do that”. Watch his full post-game interview below:

For Alireza Firouzja it was a 4th loss in a row, leaving him tied with Anish Giri on 0 points. Even if he now wins the remaining matches without Armageddon to pick up 9 points that may well be insufficient to qualify for the knockout stages:

Fabiano is in 2nd place, but Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren could all match or overtake him when they play their Round 4 matches today:

Nakamura-Nepomniachtchi is a match-up between two rapid and blitz specialists who seem to be in good form, while the question hanging over Ding Liren-Giri will first and foremost be whether Anish can win his first game of the tournament! Tune in again for the pre-show starting at 15:00 CEST here on chess24.

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