Reports Feb 8, 2021 | 1:18 AMby Colin McGourty

Opera Euro Rapid Day 2: Carlsen shocks Nakamura

Magnus Carlsen called Hikaru Nakamura “a bit naïve” to fall for a knockout blow that left the World Chess Champion as the sole leader going into the final day of the Opera Euro Rapid preliminary stage. Hikaru is on 50% and in a fierce battle for one of the eight places in the quarterfinals, though currently no-one is completely safe or out of contention. Everything will be decided in Monday’s final five rounds, with Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Daniil Dubov all currently in the drop zone.

Magnus lands a killer blow

You can replay all the games from the Opera Euro Rapid preliminary stage using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

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Day 2 of the Opera Euro Rapid saw less of the manic action we witnessed on Day 1, but there were only two players who drew all their games – the tour leader and still unbeaten Teimour Radjabov, who put the emphasis on solidity, and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who alternated lightning-fast draws (including 11 moves vs. Ding Liren) with chaotic adventures.

Magnus Carlsen admitted he was “just so unbelievably lost” against Nepo and would have gone down if his Russian opponent hadn’t play so fast and carelessly, while against Vidit, Ian discovered mid-game that he’d just blundered his rook…

It was trickier than it looked, however, and four moves later Nepo was right back in the game before going on to draw.

The remaining 14 players all played decisive games, but it was a day when no-one collapsed or performed incredibly well. Everyone picked up at least one win (struggler Matthias Bluebaum took down Levon Aronian while last-placed Leinier Dominguez beat the co-leader at that point, Wesley So), with the score range varying only from 3.5/5 (Anish Giri) to 1.5/5 (Sam Shankland, Ding Liren). 3/5 proved enough for Magnus Carlsen to retain the sole lead, after another lively day at the office:

I feel pretty much every game has been exciting. It’s been fun, and not always correct, but fun to play and hopefully fun to watch!

Magnus didn’t think he’d played so well on Day 2 and he started with two shaky games against Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexander Grischuk. The 3rd game of the day was against his arch-rival Anish Giri, and the 1.e3 he opened with was no mouse-slip. Magnus later lamented:

I thought, why not? Let’s play something normal and get a game, and then at the first opportunity I gave him a chance to give a perpetual check. That really, really bugged me, because I wanted to win that game, obviously, but it wasn’t to be.

Anish enjoyed the 20-move draw!

And in general he could boast of a very successful day at the office, despite all five of his opponents being from the world top 10. He drew three games and picked up wins over Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with the latter game a slow motion crush that gave the French no. 1 endless time to regret his rash opening choices.

So Magnus was having a difficult time before playing Hikaru Nakamura in the final round of the day. The US star, meanwhile, had scored three draws (including pressing Vidit for 156 moves!) and then snatched a win against Ding Liren. The Chinese no. 1 at one point had a better position, but his lack of time threatened to give Peter Leko a heart attack.

It ended as such games often do against Hikaru online, with the world blitz no. 1 taking over until we got a picturesque final position – the knight on d4 has so many options, but all of them bad.

So it was Hikaru who had the initiative going into the final round of the day against his key online rival, and he maintained pressure, particularly on the clock. Magnus had gained a slight edge on the board near the end, but his 32.Bc2 didn’t suggest the drama that was about to follow.

Magnus explained afterwards:

Before I played 32.Bc2 I was looking at a number of different moves, but my time was just running out, and actually I saw that after Bc2 he could go 32…Nd4, and then I would go probably 33.Bd3 back, not to allow any counterplay. So basically I’d decided just to repeat the position once and we’ll see what happens. Probably I would have made a draw at that point because I couldn’t really find the way forward. So it was probably a bit naïve from him, but I’ve missed tactics before, so I’m not shocked that he thought I’d done it again. But not this time, fortunately!

Hikaru’s move to “punish” Magnus was 32…Re1?, based on the black queen and bishop hitting f2, which is no longer protected by the a2-rook. Peter Leko had seen that move in advance, but also instantly spotted the refutation: 33.Bxg6! and suddenly there’s nothing Black can do to prevent a catastrophic loss of material. Hikaru went through the stages of grief before finally resigning, as you can watch in the video below.

Magnus commented:

I didn’t quite think that he would go for 32…Re1, since when you spot such a move, especially when you have a couple of minutes like he actually had, you sort of want to check that it actually works, because it’s a pretty big chance to take if it doesn’t work. So yeah, I’m a bit surprised that he went for it, but obviously massive relief for me.

That left Magnus well on course to qualify for the knockout stages, and even to top the preliminary stage for the 3rd Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event in a row. As the World Champion noted, however, finishing top hasn’t helped him in the knockouts so far. For Hikaru, there’s a lot of work still to do, though if the event stopped now he would in fact make it as one of the top eight players.

The margins are very fine, however, with Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexander Grischuk on the same points total but currently missing out on tiebreakers. No-one can be ruled out, however, as previous tour events have been littered with players who led right at the end (e.g. Alireza Firouzja) but still missed out, or whose situation looked hopeless (MVL) but they came through anyway.

One giant who could still challenge if he returned to his normal form is world no. 3 Ding Liren, whose midnight to 5 am schedule in China has so far proven a hurdle too far. He suffered with three losses in four games at the start of Day 2, and at times it seemed everything that could go wrong did go wrong. For instance, the game against Grischuk. The Chinese no. 1 trapped his opponent’s rook(s):

But that wasn’t the end of the story, with Grischuk somehow getting a chance to snatch victory with the simple 56…Rxg7! (57.hxg7 g1=Q) only to play 56…Re6? instead.

Ultimately Grischuk did bring home the full point after spotting a trick at the end of the game. 

It seemed Ding had completely given up on the tournament, but then in the final round of the day he was provoked into finding a kill against Vidit.

49.Qf7+ Ke5 (49…Kd6 50.Qxe7+) 50.Qf4+ Ke6 51.Qxg5 and, with the loose rook off the board, the Indian star resigned.

Ding Liren would need to win four or five games on Monday to have a real chance, but he doesn't exactly have ideal pairings, facing the super-solid Radjabov and So as well as the World Champion...

No-one said it was going to be easy!

Don't miss the final day of the preliminary stage, live from 17:00 CET right here on chess24

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