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World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was critical of his play in the penultimate round of the Oslo Esports Cup, but his 2.5:0.5 win over Eric Hansen was enough to take him back into the lead after Praggnanandhaa lost by the same scoreline to Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Liem Le is also in the hunt for 1st place after defeating Anish Giri with some help from a mouse-slip, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov pulled off a comeback when Jorden van Foreest missed countless chances to wrap up victory.
You can replay all the games from the Oslo Esports Cup using the selector below.
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev…
…and from David Howell, Jovanka Houska, Kaja Snare and Simon Williams.
At first it looked as though all matches in Round 6 would be over in just three games, but in the end Mamedyarov-Van Foreest became a marathon which went to a blitz playoff.
In terms of the tournament there was no option for Magnus Carlsen but to beat last-placed Eric Hansen in rapid chess and keep up the pressure on Praggnanandhaa. In the end that’s what happened, though the scoreline was more emphatic than the play. Magnus admitted:
I think I missed a lot of things today. I didn’t play so well, but he didn’t have his best day either, so eventually it was pretty comfortable.
Game 1 saw Eric play the Grünfeld and gradually equalise what at first looked a tricky position. The Canadian would afterwards lament one-move blunders, however, and the casual 25…Kh8? (25…exf4!), “getting the king out of the line of fire”, was a howler. After 26.fxe5! Magnus was suddenly winning.
The point is that White can pile up his forces on the opened f-file, among other things threatening checkmate on f8, and there’s no good response. The game ended 26…fxe5 27.Rf1 Rf7 28.Rxf7 Qxf7 29.Rf3 Qe7 30.h5! Qd6 31.Qf2 gxh5 32.Bg5! and Eric resigned.
The rook or bishop will come to f6, and Black can only stave off checkmate with heavy losses.
Game 2 saw Eric play a 3.g3 system against the Sicilian system that Magnus had played himself against Vishy Anand in the 2014 World Championship.
It was no surprise that Magnus knew exactly what he was doing, but just when he looked on the verge of victory he let things slip out of his grasp. Eric showed impressive handling of the position.
22.Qb4! Nb6 23.Nc5! Bxc2 24.Nxb7 Qf6 25.Nc5 gave White good positional compensation for the missing pawn, and later on there was one brief scare for Magnus.
32.h5! Bxh5 (otherwise the f7-pawn falls) 33.e6! and suddenly Black is in trouble, with the computer’s suggested defence of 33…f5! 34.e7 Qb1! looking like the definition of “hanging by a thread”. Eric instead played 32.Bd3?! and the game fizzled out into a draw.
Magnus had White in the third game and, to no-one’s great surprise, wrapped up the match, but once again it was a single move that all but ended Black’s hopes, and once again that move was the unhelpful 29…Kh8. Magnus manoeuvred cleverly until he seemed to experience some mild frustration near the end.
38.Rf3 looks like the move to crown his play, but, as Peter Leko pointed out, 38…Bc6! would spoil the picture, even if Magnus would still be winning that position. After a couple of minutes the World Champion instead switched course with 38.Rd3! b5 39.g4! g5 40.f4! and, with a white pawn set to end up on g5 and win the rook, Eric resigned… just before his time ran out.
Magnus noted of his final match against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on Thursday.
I’ve just got to play a good match tomorrow. The last couple of days haven’t been great, so I’ve got to raise my level!
The win for Magnus meant he again edged ahead of Praggnanandhaa on the tiebreak of having won their individual clash, since Jan-Krzysztof Duda gave himself a belated birthday present. The Polish no. 1 seemed to have decided to surprise an opponent who has so far been extremely well-prepared in Oslo.
It was a risky strategy and, for a while, seemed as though it might backfire, since Pragg was clearly better in the late middlegame.
Pragg’s coach would later note that his student had pushed too hard.
31…f4!? was the start of an operation that went wrong. Duda half-joked that tricky knights are worth more than bishops in time trouble, and with 32.exf4 cxd4 33.Ng3! Rd8 34.Nh5! Qe7 35.Nxg7 he swapped the minor pieces off to get a position where White was the one pressing. Duda gradually exploited every inaccuracy until he wrapped up victory in 65 moves.
Game 2 saw Praggnanandhaa win the opening battle and seem to have good chances of hitting back, but, clearly struggling to find a plan, he went for the rash 24.c6?!
The position was very sharp, but after 24…Nxc6 25.Rxe6 Qxa2 26.Qe3 Nxd4?! (24…Bc4!) 27.Re8+ Kf7 Pragg made a final mistake.
It seems that after 28.Re1!, threatening to play Rxd8 and win, White has good chances of holding (e.g. 28…Nxc2 29.Re7+! and White forces a draw), but after 28.Rxd8? Rxd8 White’s pressure on the e-file had gone and there was no longer any path to survival. Duda wrapped things up in brutal style.
That meant Pragg needed, as against Magnus, to win the final two rapid games on demand, but Duda picked an opening that left very little for Indian fans to hope for.
In fact it was only Duda who looked likely to win, but he settled for a draw to clinch the match and put himself right in the hunt for 1st place, just one point behind Magnus and Pragg.
It was announced on Wednesday that Anish Giri had become an ambassador for the Play Magnus Group that includes chess24, and the Dutch no. 1 enthusiastically shared a genuine quote from the press release.
He would have a tough day at the Oslo office, however, with almost everything that could go wrong in his match against Liem Le going wrong.
It began in the first game, when Anish emerged as the player with any hopes of winning a knight endgame.
If he wanted to be sure nothing bad could happen in the game, Anish could have played Nb6, or Kc3 and then Nb6, Nxc4, eliminating the queenside pawns. Instead he played more ambitiously with 38.d7 and we soon got a potential race on both sides of the board. Things only finally fell apart on move 49.
49.Kd3! and, again, White is fine. The black knight is pinned to defending c3, and b3 is met by Kc2. 49…c2 and 50.Nxc2 makes an easy draw (50…b2 51.Na3). Instead, however, after 49.Kc1? Nc5! Black was already winning, and Le made no mistake as he took over and finished off the game.
Things would get much worse for Anish on move 11 of the 2nd game.
Here he played the move 11…0-0-0?, castling into huge trouble! It was as much a surprise to Anish as to those watching.
Afterwards, when pondering what went wrong, Anish talked about the “synergy between the clicking and the dragging”…
It looks as though he initially clicked his king, planning 11…0-0, but then later tried to drag his a8-rook to d8 to play 11…Rd8. Unfortunately clicking the king, then the rook, is one of the ways of castling (essential for chess960), and the moment Anish clicked the a8-rook (without cancelling the previous click) the fateful 11…0-0-0 move was made!
Liem happily played 12.0-0 then set about attacking the black king, and in fact three moves later he had an overwhelming attack. He didn’t quite execute it as forcefully as he might have done, but he maintained a big advantage and, when Anish when for a desperate last attack, he only fell into a mating net.
Once again winning on demand proved impossible, with Liem taking a draw in a completely winning position to wrap up victory in three games. The Vietnamese star is, like Duda, just one point behind the leaders.
The first hint that this match might be something special came when in the first game Jorden van Foreest won an exchange, and a pawn, but it turned out there was no way through when Shakh completely blocked the position.
Things then swung Jorden’s way in Game 2, when 33.Be3? suddenly lost a level position to 33…Be4!
The attacked knight is defending the rook on e1, and it turns out there’s nothing White can do save his pieces.
At least it wasn’t a scenario Mamedyarov was unfamiliar with, since he’d lost the first or second game in his last four matches, while in the last two he’d mounted a comeback to reach a blitz playoff. Nevertheless, Jorden was very close to wrapping up victory with a game to spare.
37.g5! was perhaps the clearest chance to avoid what followed, since after 37.gxf5!? Kf6 Jorden was unable to make progress with his doubled f-pawns, despite the game stretching to move 88.
That still meant Jorden only needed a draw in the 4th game, but this time he at least experienced some discomfort.
He already felt it had all gone wrong when he exchanged queens on move 54, but as late as move 61 there was still a chance.
61…g5! 62.hxg5 Kg6! and it seems Black would have enough compensation on the kingside to shrug off the imminent fall of the pawn on b4.
Instead after 61…Ke6? 62.Kc4 g5 63.hxg5 h4 64.gxh4 Bxf4 the black king was misplaced, and the combined forces of the white b and h-pawns would eventually decide the game in Shakh’s favour.
Jorden described that as ridiculous, but at first it seemed he would bounce back again in the blitz… until he suffered another self-inflicted blow in the first playoff game.
46.Qe6! was essential first, or 46.Qe4+ and then Qe6, since from this position Shakh went on to play 46…Qd6+ and give 44 (!) checks in a row before Jorden finally on move 90 accepted he wasn’t going to be able to escape.
There would be more drama in the final blitz game, but this time it was Shakh who was better or winning until he finally wrapped up victory in 77 moves.
Given the circumstances, Jorden did well to keep a level head afterwards.
A little bit frustrating, but I know Shakh is a great fighter, so I never was counting on the match as mine. But it’s a bit frustrating, as I had very good positions in the 3rd game, the 4th game I shouldn’t have lost, and then in the blitz of course anything can happen, but even there in the 1st game I think I should have won, so all in all I think I have to work a bit on my conversion skills, but it’s been a good match! It’s been very fun playing against such a strong player, of course, and I’ll take it as a learning experience.
Mamedyarov’s second comeback win in a row means he can make it three match wins in a row if he defeats Magnus Carlsen in the final round. That’s easier said than done, of course, with Shakh commenting:
I will try to play good chess. He will try to play for first place, for this reason we will play a good interesting match. It’s more important to play all four games! If I will play all four games it will be good.
The standings look as follows going into the final round.
Magnus will clinch the trophy if he wins his match against Mamedyarov in rapid chess, but Praggnanandhaa will be hoping to exert maximum pressure by doing well against Anish Giri. Liem Quang Le (vs. JordenVan Foreest) and Jan-Krzysztof Duda (vs. Eric Hansen) can also win the tournament or tie for first if the leaders don’t score maximum points.
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