Anish Giri drew all five games on Day 2 of the Skilling Open, but that was enough to retain the sole lead after Sergey Karjakin took down Magnus Carlsen in the final round of the day. Of the eight highest classically rated players only Levon Aronian would currently miss out on the knockout stage, with his replacement a certain Hikaru Nakamura. Hikaru fell to a tactical blow from Liem Quang Le in the first game of the day but beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in the last, after karma came back to bite Nepo for three 14-move draws in a row with the white pieces.
You can replay all the games from Day 2 of the Skilling Open, the first event on the $1.5 million Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.
Once again we had multiple streams, including David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare from our studio in Oslo.
We also had Peter Leko in Szeged, Hungary and Tania Sachdev in New Delhi, India.
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Let’s start our review of the action this time with a quick reminder of the tournament format. The 16-player preliminary stage ends on Tuesday with the final 5 rounds, when the bottom 8 leave the tournament.
The remaining 8 players go forward to the quarterfinals, where the no. 1 ranked player will play the 8th ranked player, the 2nd the 7th, and so on. The matches are then held over two days, with a 4-game rapid mini-match each day. If the score is tied after Day 2, two 5+3 blitz games and then, if required, a sudden-death Armageddon game (who said chess is peaceful?) will decide the tie.
That means that Monday’s Day 2 of the Skilling Open was all about jockeying for position before the battle for the top eight places is decided on Day 3. Here’s how the players scored.
Ding, MVL, Radjabov, Karjakin: 3.5 points
So: 3 points
Giri, Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Firouzja, Le: 2.5 points
Svidler, Vidit: 2 points
Anton, Aronian: 1.5 points
Duda: 1 point
That left the standings as follows – if the preliminary stage was over the players on the left would have qualified to the knockout.
There are three players on the cut-off score of 5/10, or 50%, and in many ways the star of the day was 2019 World Cup winner Teimour Radjabov, who bounced back from three losses on the first day to get right back in contention.
He started his Day 2 campaign against 17-year-old Alireza Firouzja, who by move 6 had played a dubious novelty in what was already a rare sideline of the Four Knights. By around move 15 White was simply lost, with Teimour saying his opponent had played, “all the bad moves you could do in the opening”. One of the moments of the day was later Teimour asking Peter Leko if he knew the song YMCA, to which Peter replied, “Yes, it’s a fantastic song!”
Teimour took that declaration in his stride and continued:
I thought, young man, why are you doing this against me? From time to time I can strike back!
The game was memorable for more than the opening, however, since Firouzja went for what looked as though it might be an equalising tactic:
19.Bxf7+ Kxf7 20.Qb3+ Be6! Here the obvious continuation is 21.Qxb4, but after 21…Qxf1+!! 22.Kxf1 Rd1+ 23.Ke2 Black has only one winning move, but it’s a good one! 23…Bg4#!
“When I spotted this I was so happy!” said Teimour, while in the game after 21.Nxe6 Rxe6 you again can’t take the bishop due to 22.Qxb4 Qxf1+ 23.Kxf1 Rd1+ 24.Qe1 Rexe1# After 22.Be3 Be7 Firouzja resigned.
That was the perfect preparation for Radjabov’s next game, against Levon Aronian. That took place under the shadow of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Teimour felt Levon’s 7…c6 instead of 7…c5 in the opening was evidence of “an aggressive plan”, but it backfired as White soon built up a winning attack. Levon gave up his queen to try and establish a fortress, but it wasn’t enough.
Teimour was on a roll, and he felt it went to his head when he played 27…g4! in the next game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
I was really just cursing myself that I’ve played this stupid stuff, because I was like in my childhood, when you’re going like 6/6 in the European Championship, you’re just having your day, you’re just completely winning all of the games, and then you’re just so happy about your result that you’re doing whatever you want and you’re winning, and then I thought why am I doing this on the highest level? And after g4 I saw Kh1 is completely good for White.
In fact, however, by this point 27…g4! was more or less the only move, and although 28.Kh1! g3 29.Re2! was indeed good, the position would still be far from clear.
In the game 28.fxg4!? Bxg4 was still playable for White, but 29.Qe1? was a losing move (29.Rg2!), and after 29…Bf3+! it was just a question of choosing between different wins. Duda was coming to terms with losing another game.
Teimour’s day was spoilt a little by the next game against Ding Liren, when he said he just wanted to make a draw after the tactical battles in the previous games. He missed the moment, and it was the Chinese no. 1 who sparked into life to weave a net with his knights and win a first game after 8 draws.
Ding is well on course to reach the knockout as he moved up to joint 2nd place after also winning the last game of the day, against David Anton.
For Rajdabov, meanwhile, there was a tricky final round against tournament leader and his good friend, Anish Giri. Teimour explained that seeing Giri beat Vidit earlier in the event made it clear that “it’s not about friendship anymore, it’s about points!” He added that, “Anish is friendly on YouTube, but not in the tournament games - that’s the problem!” It was a tricky game, but Teimour held a draw to finish the day on 50%.
He’s joined there by David Anton, who with three losses had a tough day after ending Day 1 in 2nd place, and Alireza Firouzja, who won two but also lost two. The key game for both players was their individual encounter, where Firouzja played the King’s Indian Defence and looked to be on tilt after the loss to Radjabov we’ve already witnessed.
17…e4!!? was a bold attempt to create chaos in a position that was going Anton’s way, and, though computers don’t approve, it worked! 29.Qc6? was the losing move, and after 29…Qa5! 30.a4 it was already a countdown to mate. 30…Qb4+ 31.Kc1 Qa3+ 32.Kb1.
32…Ba2+! 33.Ka1 Bxc3+! 34.Nxc3 Qxc3+ and David resigned since it was mate-in-2.
Below 50% there are plenty of players who could still barge their way into the fight for the top 8 spots. Despite a day to forget, Levon Aronian is just half a point back, as are Liem Quang Le and Sergey Karjakin. Both picked up some major scalps on Monday.
After scoring just 1/5 on Day 1, Sergey began by beating Vidit (in a game where the Indian grandmaster rejected a draw by repetition) and then ended in style with a win over Magnus Carlsen.
Magnus employed the Philidor Defence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 that had been successfully employed by his second Daniil Dubov, for instance against Sergey in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge earlier in the year, but Magnus didn’t have the same success and by move 30 things were critical.
Magnus gave up his queen with 30…Qxc2!? (30…Nxf4!? was an alternative) and after 31.Rxc2 Nxc2 32.f5!? had a last chance to try and hunker down with 32…Ng7. Instead after 32…Rd2+ it seems to be game over, as Sergey went on to prove. Magnus’ attempts to set up a fortress were in vain.
Liem Quang Le’s scalp came against the 2nd favourite for the
whole Champions Chess Tour, Hikaru
Nakamura, in the first round of
the day. Hikaru had already spoilt a winning position when his 32.Nxc7? allowed 32…Rxe3!! and suddenly White can resign. Hikaru didn’t, but it just
prolonged the agony.
It was a tough day for Hikaru, who then couldn’t do what Giri had done the day before and beat Vidit in Rook + Bishop vs. Rook.
Then Nakamura was in trouble against Wesley So, before failing to win what was technically a winning position against Peter Svidler.
Only the final game of the day would get Hikaru back on qualification track, but more about that later!
Peter Svidler, the “veteran” of the field, blamed rustiness for missed chances.
Today wasn’t a particularly good day. I left a lot of points on the table today for no particular reason. I had a winning position in like three out of the five games, and the last one was the only one that I have no complaints about, because my tournament situation is such that I felt I had to play sharply for a win with Black and sometimes you get punished for that.
Peter is still just one point behind the qualification cut-off, but Jan-Krzysztof Duda (who lost his first four games of the day), and Vidit probably need to win at least four of their last five games to have a chance. Vidit is yet to pick up a win, but he had something to cheer not just for surviving the ending against Nakamura but for receiving high praise for his opening preparation in Round 9.
Until move 20 that game was following the stunning Vidit-Nepomniachtchi from the FIDE Online Olympiad, but instead of Nepo’s 20…Bxb2, Maxime went for 20…Rd8.
Here Vidit showed what he must have had in store for Nepo! 21.c5! Rxd2 22.cxb6 Rxb2 23.Rc8+! and, despite being a piece down with an uncastled king, it turns out it’s White who’s pushing. In fact Vidit could have won if he’d found 39.Bc4! later, but the game ended in a draw.
It’s time to turn towards the top of the table. It’s refreshing to see Maxime Vachier-Lagrave doing well again, and even more refreshing that he’s back playing his Grünfeld and Najdorf Defences after spending the last online “season” seemingly saving those for the Candidates Tournament that never resumed. This is the Maxime we know and love.
Computers could defend this position for White, but for a human like Liem Quang Le it wasn’t so easy. After 21.Nb3?! (21.Nb5!!) 21…Rxb3! 22.cxb3 Qxe4+ 23.Ka1? (23.Bd3!) 23…Bxf6! the Vietnamese no. 1 resigned two moves later.
At the very top, however, it was Magnus Carlsen who caught Anish Giri by beating Duda in Round 7, and they were still tied for 1st going into their Round 9 clash. Magnus was on top, and Giri was worried when the World Champion traded most of the pieces for a promising heavy-piece endgame.
I was very sceptical about my heavy piece endgame. I thought he has an attack and I actually didn’t see the defence until the last moment, but then I spotted it so in the end it was not so bad, but at some point I was quite concerned.
It was close, but Giri was in time to eliminate a dangerous passed c-pawn and then had things under control when 36.Qh6 appeared on the board.
With the e5-pawn on the board so the queen can come to f6 White would have a winning attack, but after 36…Qxe5! 37.Qxh7+ Kf8 there was no more than a draw, that Magnus accepted with 38.Qh8+.
Giri put the time between games to good use.
He commented of tweeting in general:
It raises the stakes and I think it’s good. Also, of course, I’m used to it. The problem is when you lose after that. That’s painful, but I’ve experienced it already so many times I’m immune, whereas my opponents, for them upping the stakes is not very pleasant.
It’s fair to assume Magnus is used to these psychological games as well, but after the last round loss to Karjakin he’s again half a point behind. Giri admitted that despite his five draws it had been “a lot less smooth than yesterday”, but he should be able almost to cruise to qualification on the final day of the preliminaries… which brings us to...
Wesley So has always been one to take no risks when he finds himself in a good tournament position, but he took things to extremes on Monday. It was pointed out that he had some chances of inflicting a significant blow on Hikaru Nakamura, though he would have had even more if he’d found 38…g5! just before the end. David, Jovanka and Kaja were shocked.
In a way that was nothing, however, compared to the previous round against Sergey Karjakin.
Material is equal and almost all the pieces are still on the board, but this was no place to take a draw by repetition as Wesley did. The computer evaluation is around +4 in White’s favour, and even if pawn breaks such as f6 or g6 are tough to calculate, it’s clear that for now it’s Black who’s in mortal danger.
It’s hard to criticise Wesley too much, however, since he started the day on +1 and he did in any case win another game, a smooth demolition of Liem Quang Le. He’s right on target to qualify for the knockout.
It’s somewhat easier to criticise Ian Nepomniachtchi, who made exactly the same 14-move Berlin draw with White (one we also saw regularly in last year’s Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour) in three consecutive games!
Nepo's best defence, of course, is that it was his opponents playing the famously drawish Berlin Defence with Black, while he was accelerating the process.
reached a +2 score, so again it could be said to be moving him closer to the
knockout stage, but if chess karma exists it came back to bite him in the last game
of the day against Hikaru Nakamura.
14…b5?? is worth two question marks for being blitzed out Nepo-style while the Russian no. 1 still had more time than he started with.
This time Black was lost in 14 moves, since after 15.b4! Nb7 (other moves don’t help) 16.cxb5 axb5 17.Bh6! (a finesse so that the a1-rook is defended and Nxb4 isn’t later an option, though 17.Bd3 also wins) 17…Re8 18.Bd3! the b5-pawn can’t be defended (18…Qb6 19.Be3).
18…Nxd5 was met by 19.Qf3 and both knights were attacked. Nepo could have resigned there and then, but fought on to the end. That game could end up being important to both players’ final standings.
The preliminary stage ends on Tuesday, when 16 players must be reduced to 8! The action starts at 17:45 CET (11:45 ET) and you can follow it all live here on chess24 with multiple commentary streams in different languages.
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