Anish Giri finally winning a game at his 15th attempt was the highlight of Day 8 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, but it was Chinese no. 1Ding Liren who won the match in Armageddon. US Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura moved into 2nd place, just one point behind Magnus Carlsen, after easing to victory against Ian Nepomniachtchi, who never recovered from the insanity of blitzing into a dead lost position in the first game of the day.
You can replay all the games from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):
That meant Hikaru Nakamura picked up the full 3 points for winning without the need for Armageddon. Ding Liren won the Armageddon since he had the black pieces and only needed a draw, giving him 2 points to Giri’s 1:
You can replay all the day’s action, including a pre-show with Tania Sachdev and then commentary from World Champion Magnus Carlsen, world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson, Lawrence Trent and an interview with Hikaru Nakamura below:
For a video recap of the day’s action check out Pascal Charbonneau’s aftershow:
We saw on Friday that Magnus Carlsen crushed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave “by the narrowest of margins”, and this match was more of the same. Hikaru Nakamura was right afterwards when he called it “very smooth” and pointed out he was winning at some point in every game.
The tone was set by Game 1, where Ian Nepomniachtchi blitzed out the hyper-sharp Winawer French and never slowed down until disaster struck. He’d been accumulating the 10 seconds added to the clock every move so that when he made the first bad move, 21…b5!?, he had 17 minutes - 2 minutes more than he started with. That clock situation had barely changed when he played the losing blunder 24…Rg6?, allowing 25.Rxd5. After 25…Rxf6 we got the position on which Nepo had perhaps pinned his hopes:
26.Rxb5?? would give away the advantage to the little tactic 26…Rxf3! 27.Kxf3 (even here 27.Rc5! and White is slightly better) 27…Nd4+, forking the king and rook. That would have been sweet, but Hikaru here took two minutes to choose between good options and picked the best – 26.Rc5!. When the knight moved he was able to take the b-pawn a move later. When Nepo finally did pause for serious thought, spending 3 minutes on 30…Nc6?, it was another blunder, and the game ended swiftly a few moves later:
Magnus Carlsen’s “that wasn’t pretty” summed things up well. What had gone wrong for Nepo? Well, we’re used to this from Ian, and when it goes well – as it often does since he’s an incredibly quick thinker – his speed of play puts huge pressure on his opponents. As he’d said earlier in the event, however, he’s been playing as if the time control is 3 minutes to play the game instead of 15, and when it goes wrong it’s too late to do anything about the situation on the board.
There was another theory - that he needed some more coffee. It wasn’t much of a theory, but the interaction between Lawrence Trent and Magnus Carlsen was a lot of fun!
Things didn’t get any better for Nepo after that game, as his 19.Qb2?! in the next game was heavily criticised by Magnus:
Black was soon totally dominant, but Hikaru missed a study-like win that would effectively have wrapped up the match.
In Game 3 there was again a goalmouth moment for Hikaru:
He’d seen 20.Nf5! gxf5 21.Qxh5, but also some ghosts. He said after the match that he had it in the back of his mind that his opponent really needed to win the match without Armageddon (getting 3 points for a win), while a draw in Game 3 would ensure that at worst the match would go to Armageddon and the points would be split 2:1. After 20.Rb8!? things soon fizzled out into a draw.
Nepo had White in the final rapid game and needed a win, but he never came close, with Black the side pressing until the game ended with bare kings on move 66. A very easy day at the office for Hikaru, who has won three matches and lost only one, in Armageddon, to Magnus.
The first game of this match was instantly forgettable, but Game 2 saw the suffering go on for Anish Giri. The Dutchman put all his hopes in his passed d-pawn, eventually sacrificing a piece to try and queen it:
Here taking the pawn with 31…Rxd7 32.Qxc6 is only a draw, but the Chinese no. 1 finished things off with the crisp: 31…Qd1+! 32.Kh2 Qd6+! and only now that the c6-knight was defended, 33.g3 Rxd7! and White resigned.
The darkest hour comes just before the dawn, however, and in the next game things finally turned Giri’s way:
24.bxc4?! turned out to be a mistake, and after 24…axb5 25.axb5 d5! Black was suddenly on top. Seasoned Anish watchers didn’t dare to believe, but despite Ding Liren putting up stiff resistance our man finally picked up enough pawns that there was no choice but for White to resign. He’d done it!
You can see the moment of victory in our daily video recap of the action:
Disaster almost struck in the next game. Ding Liren had Black but managed to marshal all his forces for an attack on the white king, and objectively it was game over. The Chinese star went stray, however, and Anish was able to save the game:
39.Re7! and suddenly there was nothing better for Black than to force a draw by perpetual check with 39…Qh5+ 40.Kg1 Qd1+ and so on. Everyone was on Team Anish:
That meant we were going to Armageddon, but the dream scenario of Anish getting Black and only needing a draw to win the match didn’t come true. He lost the toss:
He had White and only a win would do, but instead it was yet another Armageddon opening debacle. By move 11 Giri was lost, but if we expected anyone to rage quit in disgust it wasn’t one of our commentators, Alexander Grischuk:
Another farce in Armageddon - every Armageddon is a farce! It’s ridiculous. Bullet games of Nakamura or Alireza are of much higher quality. What is this? It’s just disgusting to watch… Ok, see you tomorrow!
The twist was that Giri actually managed to fight his way back into a position that was a clear draw. Our commentators were sure that Nakamura or Firouzja would have had no trouble flagging Ding (playing faster and winning on time), but Anish made at best a half-hearted attempt before the game ended on move 58.
Ding Liren had won the match, and joins Fabiano Caruana in joint 3rd place, but Giri was finally off the mark:
It’s still a mountain to climb for Anish to qualify for the Final Four, of course, and the first step on that journey is playing Magnus Carlsen tomorrow:
The other match is hardly going to be less exciting, as 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja hunts for his first match points of the event against rapid world no. 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Since Alireza currently lives in France you could also describe this as a battle for the French no. 1 spot!
Tune in again for the pre-show starting at 15:00 CEST here on chess24.
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