Wesley So pumped his fist after beating Magnus Carlsen on demand in the final game of the first day of the Opera Euro Rapid final to tie the match going into the Valentine’s Day decider. Magnus had earlier taken the lead by winning the 2nd game despite falling into some deep preparation that Wesley had published in his Chessable course. In the match for 3rd place White won the last three games, which meant Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader Teimour Radjabov now only needs a draw on the second day.
You can replay all the games from the Opera Euro Rapid knockout stage using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko, Tania Sachdev and guest Alejandro Ramirez.
And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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More than half the games were decisive on the penultimate day of the event.
The experience of the Skilling Open final meant there was little doubt this was going to be a fierce battle, and we saw that already in the first game of the day. At a glance you might think it was a quiet game, but it was full of drama from the moment Magnus played 11.a3? in the opening. That allowed the surprise blow 11…Nc5!
The trick is that the queen is trapped after 12.Qxb4? a5 13.Qb5 Ba6, while otherwise the queen is driven back and Bxc3+ forces White to accept doubled c-pawns. Instead in the game Wesley quickly played 11…Bxc3+, when after 12.Qxc3 Magnus had a decent position. In fact our commentator Peter Leko at one point felt White was on the verge of winning, though it seems Wesley always had a way to defend, while it was Black who had any winning chances when Magnus came close to pushing too hard.
Wesley carried that momentum into the second game of the day, when he got to play the first 21 moves of a sharp line he’d analysed for his Chessable course.
Magnus was in general unhappy that he’d gone for that opening:
I was kicking myself a little bit for allowing it, because I was checking this stuff during Wijk aan Zee but not today, for some reason. For whatever reason I thought he would go for the quiet lines, so that was really kind of stupid.
It got worse when he was asked if he’d known this was covered in Wesley’s Chessable course.
No, if I’d been aware of that I wouldn’t have played it!
Will he now watch the course?
Watch? Maybe I’ll make others do it!
It’s good to have others work for you, but at the board it was all Magnus, who made what turned out to be a fortunate blunder with 21…Qxd4? and not 21…bxc5.
As so often after a player reels off a long line of theory, Wesley failed to adapt to the first unexpected move. He commented:
Qxd4 is actually losing by force, but at the same time I didn’t know how to react and during the game I was confused as to what was happening. I thought I mixed up already some move order, because this opening is highly complicated - White is not better, but it’s just very unclear.
In fact 22.Bc4! would now have been close to winning, with Wesley explaining:
Black has a piece in return for two pawns, but his problem is his minor pieces are very badly-placed and all his pieces are in bad positions and the knight is pinned, so yeah, it’s a waste of good opening material, but it happens.
In the game 22.Qxd4?! Nxd4 and only now 23.Bc4+ was met by 23…Be6! and suddenly Black was completely on top. After that Magnus went on to do what he does best.
Game 3 was one of those games we became familiar with in last year’s Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour when the players’ motivations align to make a very quick draw. For Wesley, with the black pieces, a draw is almost always a good result against the World Champion, while for Magnus it brought him a game closer to victory on the first day of the final and meant that at worst he would go into the final day level. There was another reason he gave for the draw, however:
I was knackered, so I needed a very short game!
The problem for the World Champion in the final game of the day was that Wesley once again reeled off 20 moves of his Chessable course, with only 20.c4 a move not covered.
As Wesley noted:
In the course I recommended Rab1 instead of c4, but c4 looks very testing also, because Black only has one way to equalise, which is not so easy to find.
At a glance it seems the path to a draw may be 20…fxe5 21.Nxe5 Qd6!, not fearing 22.c5? which fails to 22…Bxc5! and the bishop can’t be captured or the knight on e5 would fall. Magnus instead played 20…Bc7?! and was very soon in a lot of trouble.
Here he had to play the ugly 22…gxf6, allowing Wesley to put a knight on f5 via h4, since, as he pointed out, 22…Rxf6 23.e4! was “very, very bad”. Magnus went on to give up a rook to eliminate the monster knight on f5, but just afterwards he collapsed.
33…Be5 would have kept the game going, but Magnus went for 33…Rxd5? only to run into the brutal 34.Rg4! There was no defence, with the game ending: 34…h5 35.Re8+! Kh7 36.Re7+! Kh8 and a move which the computer announces as mate-in-8, 37.Qc1! Magnus resigned, and we got to see some rare emotion from Wesley!
I’m very thrilled obviously to win on demand with the white pieces. White pieces are much easier than Black, but still it’s a very difficult thing to do.
That meant the players were level after Day 1 of the final, with Magnus not too upset by the loss in the final game:
It was ok. I made a mistake pretty early on and then I just had a very bad position. I probably could have fought a little bit better there by not taking on d5, but it was difficult. Anyway, I’m fairly happy with a draw today, so I’ll just try and push a little bit harder tomorrow.
Wesley claimed he didn’t expect Magnus to have checked his course:
I guess my Chessable course is mostly geared towards lower-rated players, because there’s a large public out there. I don’t expect World Champions to be looking at my Chessable courses and it seems like Magnus hasn’t, but maybe now he will.
He ended by answering a question on whether we’d see the same openings on Sunday:
It depends if Magnus is going to go skiing or if he’s going to look at my Chessable course!
It’s difficult to play a match for 3rd place after the disappointment of missing out on a place in the final, but at least Teimour Radjabov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did everything they could to keep us entertained, with only the first game of their clash ending in a draw.
Game 2 saw Maxime on the ropes early on in his Grünfeld, though he briefly had a chance to survive before 45…Kd7? allowed a crisp finish:
46.Rxe7+! Rxe7 47.Rxg8! Rf3 48.Rd8+ Kxd8 49.g8=Q+ Re8 and there was only one winning move, the sting in the tail 50.Qg5+!
Wherever the king goes Qg4+ will pick up the rook on f3.
Maxime hit back in Game 3 with an equally impressive crush, with the final move 36.Qh4! piling on the threats in a position a pawn down.
The main threat is Qd8+ and Bh6, while Rb8 and Ne7+ are also hanging in the air.
It was to be Teimour’s day, however, as Maxime’s Grünfeld took another battering in the final game of the day. By move 39 there was just one way for the French no. 1 to escape.
39…Bh3! followed by doubling rooks with 40…Rce7 gives Black the counterplay he needs, but after 39…Re6? 40.Bd5! Re7 41.Rxd6 the loss of an important pawn was just the start of Maxime’s problems. Dark clouds were also gathering over the black king and MVL resigned a couple of moves later.
So going into the final day of the Opera Euro Rapid it’s advantage Radjabov in the battle for 3rd place, but the clash that really matters is much too close to call. We’re either going to see Magnus get revenge for the Skilling Open final defeat to Wesley, or Wesley making it two finals, two victories against the World Champion on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour!
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