Reports Apr 30, 2021 | 1:54 AMby Colin McGourty

New in Chess Classic, SF1: Naka leads as Lev hits back to tie Magnus

Hikaru Nakamura leads Shakhriyar Mamedyarov going into Day 2 of the New in Chess Classic semi-finals after emerging victorious from a brutal four decisive games. There was just as much drama in the other match, with Magnus Carlsen tricking Levon Aronian into a terrible blunder in the third game. Peter Leko wondered how Levon would be able to play the fourth, but in fact the Armenian star was pressing throughout before grabbing a win just when Magnus seemed to have escaped. 

Shakhriyar Mameydarov, Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura will battle it out for the final four days of the New in Chess Classic

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the New in Chess Classic, the 5th event on the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

For the semi-finals and finals we have Tania Sachdev returning alongside Peter Leko, who had been unavailable as a commentator until now because he was helping Ian Nepomniachtchi. Peter revealed that he’d in fact been a second of Nepo’s since at least February 2020, before the event began, and the first hour of the show was devoted to questions for Peter, which you can rewatch below.

You can also watch the commentary from Oslo with Kaja, Jovanka and David, including an interview with Carlsen and Aronian at the end. 

Don't miss out on a special offer on the New in Chess magazine, and more deals, at

There were 6 decisive games in 8 on Day 1 of the New in Chess Classic semi-finals.

Carlsen 2:2 Aronian

It was clear from the first game of this match that it was going to be a lot of fun.

Levon’s kingside pawn lunge seemed to be born of desperation, but afterwards he talked of wanting to have some fun.

Every time I play against Magnus I try to do my best. This time I was trying to have some fun, while trying to do my best, of course. I took my chances, and of course my play in the first game was very dubious, but I said to myself, why not, I can play one game like that!

Magnus had a big advantage, but 20.Be2? was the first sign he wasn’t on the top of his game.

20…Nxd5! 21.Qxd5 Qxe3+ 22.Kh1 Qxe2 won a pawn and completely transformed the game, but Magnus found a nice plan to push his b-pawn and weaken the d6-square, until he was able to land a blow of his own.

30.Nxd6! Rxd6 31.Qxe5+, and though White was still a pawn down the exposed black king meant Levon had nothing more than a draw. 

Game 2 was the only relatively quiet game of the match, while in Game 3 we first saw some curious opening choices that left Magnus “playing Black” with the white pieces. 

He gradually found harmony in the white setup, however, and was pressing before the game seemed destined to end in a draw. In fact it at first looked as though it was White who had to force the draw, but Magnus is an expert at taking calculated risks and decided to keep the game alive a little longer. It would pay off in the most unlikely manner.

Here Levon could simply have repeated moves with 42…Qc5+, but Magnus tempted Levon to go for a pawn ending where at a glance it seemed only Black could have chances. Levon played 42…Qxd2+ 43.Kxd2 and the only logical follow-up, 43…f6? - as Peter pointed out, if you just want a draw you keep the queens on the board. 

It turns out 43…f5 or 43…Kg7 would still be a draw, but the move in the game was losing!

The game ended 44.Kc3! e5 45.fxe5 fxe5 46.Kb4! Black resigns

It might seem that one of the black pawns should queen, but after 46…e4 47.Kc3! (not 47.Kxb5 e3! and the pawn would queen) it turns out the white king is in time to stop both pawns whatever Black does. 

That was a shocking loss for Levon and meant he had to pull himself together and beat Magnus Carlsen on demand in the final game of the day… which is just what he did, much to Magnus’ annoyance!

First of all I think we got a sort of appropriate result in the end. Obviously it’s very, very disappointing to have given away a lead. I don’t think I deserved to win the match today, but especially after I managed to come back in the game it’s really disappointing to blow it all again.

Magnus played a Hedgehog setup, but it soon went wrong, so that he was grimly trying to hold on in a very difficult position. He managed, and was within a move or two of sealing match victory with a draw, before 57…Ba5? was the last straw.

58.Re8!, a chance Levon had missed a move earlier, put the black king in a mating net, so that a white pawn on g5 would be devastating. Levon began to threaten that by meeting 58…Bc7 with 59.h4!, and despite Magnus’ best efforts, a white pawn got to the key square 9 moves later.

Magnus had nothing better than to give up his rook for the pawn (68…Kg7 69.Bc3+!) and instead resigned. He summed up:

It’s a little bit like the first day against Radja that I didn’t feel like I played so well, so in that sense 2:2 is ok, and I’ll just have to try and do better tomorrow, but regardless of how it happens, giving up a lead in the last game is disappointing. 

Nakamura-Mamedyarov: Deja vu

Hikaru’s tweet before this clash recalled when he’d first played Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in 2005.

It was a game they played almost a decade later in 2014 that would be relevant to the first game, however. Hikaru won a pawn but then seemed to have greatly complicated his task when he allowed all the pawns on one side of the board to be swapped off. He may have been attracted, however, to a position it would be hard to forget - his last round loss to Mamedyarov in the 2014 Olympiad in Tromso, a game that cost the USA the match.

Back then it was Mamedyarov who was ready to take on f7 when Nakamura resigned, while this time Hikaru got to take the f7-pawn and won with ease.

Hikaru’s teammate Sam Shankland also recalled the game.

When it comes to recalling games, Magnus Carlsen’s ability borders on the magical…

Hikaru had taken the lead and was 23 games unbeaten in the New in Chess Classic, but that didn’t stop Shakhriyar Mamedyarov hitting back in the very next game. He did it in a wildly complex opening that had first occurred in a match between Ding Liren and Veselin Topalov in 2018. 

Hikaru eventually played Ding’s 17…Bg4 only after 18.Qc2 to deviate with 18…Qe7 instead of 18…gxf4, a move which back in 2018 had cost the Chinese no. 1 17 minutes. The 23.Bh7+, 24.Bf5 manoeuvre provoked the losing 24…Ng7.

Mamedyarov first pinned the e5-knight with 25.Bg3! and after 25…Bh5 he upped the pressure with 26.Qc3! Hikaru’s 26…Rae8 invited the killer blow 27.Ne6!

All that was left was a choice of how Black loses material, with Hikaru going for 27…Rxe6 28.Bxe6 f6, after which Shakh traded down into a position where he was an exchange up with an overwhelming attack to boot. 33.g4! was a brutally efficient final touch, with Hikaru resigning after playing one more move.

Suddenly the momentum was with Shakhriyar, but he spoilt it in the next game, when he blundered and allowed a white knight to wreak havoc in the black camp. 

Shakh now needed to win on demand, and was perhaps not too disappointed to be able to play the same line as in his win in Game 2. This time, however, Hikaru had clearly done his homework and played Ding’s 18…exf4 from 2018. A move later Hikaru deviated from the earlier game with 19…Nd5, when 20.fxg5? (e.g. 20.Rb3!) already looks to have been a mistake. 

Hikaru thought for almost 9 minutes, which wasn’t a good sign for Shakh, since it meant he’d played a move so dubious the computer didn’t show it. Simply 20…Nxc3! had no refutation, and although there were some fleeting chances for Mamedyarov to draw in the play that followed, he instead fell to defeat. 

Shakh will now have to win on demand on Friday to force a playoff for a place in the final, while Carlsen-Aronian is all square. Tune into all the action live here on chess24 from 19:00 CEST!

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