Magnus Carlsen described his play as “decent” and his lead as “solid” as he top-scored with 6.5/9 on the first day of the Tata Steel Chess India Blitz, extending his lead over Hikaru Nakamura to a massive five points. Hikaru was 2nd top scorer alongside Ian Nepomniachtchi with 5.5/9 while no-one else could manage more than 50%. Vishy Anand’s qualification for the London Grand Chess Tour finals remains the great unknown, with his current score just enough to see him qualify ahead of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
You can replay all the games from the Tata Steel Chess Indian Rapid and Blitz using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary from Saint Louis and Kolkata:
It’s hard to summarise a day of blitz, but as you can see, Magnus Carlsen didn’t slow down: his one loss, to Ding Liren, was sandwiched between a streak of four wins. Other top performers were Hikaru Nakamura, who like Magnus has only lost one game in Kolkata, and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who finally got some sleep and is recognisably himself again. The same can’t be said about Levon Aronian, who described his play as a “disaster”:
Let’s take a look at some of the moves of the day (both good and bad):
This is the position after Levon has played 33…Rxf2:
It seems as though Black has survived, since if White promotes the a-pawn Black can give perpetual check by capturing on g2. At first glance there’s no way to interfere with that drawing construction, but Magnus found 34.Rc2!!
Black has no choice but to capture the rook, but what does that change? Well, after 34…Rbxc2 Carlsen could now play 35.a8=Q! and, without the rook getting in the way on c6, there’s no 35…Rxg2, as White can now capture on g2 with the queen. Levon played on a rook down with 35…h5, but it was a hopeless cause.
This was the closest we came all day to a real battle, since if Hikaru had won he’d have cut the World Champion’s lead to “only” three points. He decided to go all-in with a bold but unsound attack, though it was, as Peter Svidler noted, a rare case of Magnus misevaluating a position on the side of being too pessimistic! Carlsen was scared before he needed to be (he was right to “underestimate” 22.Qh5?!), but Hikaru did then come up with a great resource: 25.Ne4!!
Magnus admitted this was “really nice”, since neither 25…fxe4 26.Rf7+ nor 25…Qxe4 26.Qf7+ are playable. The game instead ended in a draw after 25…Re7 26.Ng5+ Kg7 27.Rg3 hxg5 28.Qxg5+ Kf7 29.Qh5+ and perpetual check. Although Magnus suspected he might have missed something, and the watching Nepomniachtchi clearly felt the same, there was nothing there and a draw was the “correct” result. Quite a game!
Sometimes it’s worth paying attention to Magnus’s “fun” sessions online, and a case in point was his 2.5-hour Banter Blitz warm-up for Kolkata here on chess24 on Sunday 17th November. Magnus scored 27.5/28, despite playing some very strong players, and what was his weapon of choice? The Scandinavian with Qd6!
He played it 7 times, winning all 7, including games against GMs Jorden van Foreest (chess24 username “Jorden”), Alireza Firouzja (“FantasticStar”), Nodirbek Abdusattorov (“ChessWarrior04”) and Srinath Narayanan (“narayanan.srinath.9”). It’s not just that he won, but that in all those games (check them out with computer analysis here) he had a won position with Black by move 14! Srinath lamented:
He probably feels better now, since Magnus played the same supposedly “dodgy” opening in Kolkata against Ian Nepomniachtchi (Black was better after 12 moves) and Vishy Anand (Black was better after 11 moves). Magnus won both games, citing the technical grind against Vishy as perhaps his best game of the day, while the win over Nepo was the first defeat in 10 games for the Russian!
Nepo had a good day at the office after saying he’d finally managed to get over jetlag and get some sleep, and he was resourceful even in defeat. He decided to try and get the point against Magnus by putting the kings on the wrong squares after the game to signal a win for White!
His only mistake: he revealed his cunning plot to Magnus.
Although the digital board did signal a win for Nepo it was reversed when
Magnus went back and corrected the “mistake”.
Ding Liren has had a disappointing event in Kolkata, but on the first day of blitz he managed to pull off another first. After becoming the first player in a decade to beat Magnus Carlsen in a playoff to win the Sinquefield Cup he was the first to beat Magnus in Kolkata:
Here Ding played 19…Kf7! which was the start of a bold evacuation of the king all the way to c8. He later explained:
It looks very risky, but I think White will slowly develop and beat me - so I don’t want to wait!
The concept seemed to provoke Magnus, who met fire with fire by going on to sacrifice a pawn and an exchange. He went too far when he grabbed the g5-pawn, opening a path to his own king. Ding didn’t falter when it came to delivering the final blows:
The only decisive game of the 3rd round of blitz saw Vidit winning on move 30, but 31.Qxa7? gave Ian Nepomniachtchi the chance to turn the tables with 31…Qd1+! 32.Kg2 and now…
32…Ne3+!! The only winning (or indeed non-losing) move. Play continued 33.fxe3 Rxb2+! 34.Nxb2 f3+ 35.Nxf3 Qxf3+ and White resigned as it was mate-in-2. It’s a beautiful move, but the main reason for picking it was that it sent Jennifer Shahade into a fit of uncontrollable laughter after Maurice described it as, “like a punch to the kidney”. Peter Svidler took over:
Peter: This show is all about Maurice Ashley graphically describing grievous bodily harm. This is what we live for!
Jennifer (still laughing): He’s got another kidney!
Peter: That was awfully specific somehow. That felt personal in some way.
Jennifer: Is he going to get another kidney?
Maurice: We’ve got to keep awake – it’s 3 in the morning here!
Peter: I’m not criticising. I enjoyed that!
Anish Giri scored just under 50% on Day 1 of the blitz, but had an eventful day. Even his draw with Magnus, about which he thought there was little to say, provided a memorable moment!
Some things went well, with 34.Nxb4?!, forking both black rooks, proving to be an inspired losing move in what should have been an equal position after 34.Nf4:
Anish had chosen his opponent well here, since Levon Aronian was having a truly awful day (2/9) and, instead of just winning a piece with the pin 34…Rb2! played the flawed 34…Rb5? The problem? Simply 35.Qf3+! Kg8 36.Nxa2 left White up a rook.
At other times it was Anish who suffered… 50.Bc7? gets a question mark not because it’s a particularly bad move – 50.Be6 might have been stronger, but the move in the game also left White much better:
The problem was the calamitous way it was played, with Giri managing to lose on time!
Actually here the star moves were perhaps 25…g5! and 27…Qh4! but this position is a nice illustration of the power of a long-term pin:
White’s g3-knight is permanently pinned, and it’s just a question of whether Nakamura can manoeuvre another piece to attack and win it. He went about it with 35…Re8! 36.Rxe8+ Nxe8 37.Bf3 Nd6 38.b3 and finally 38…Nf5, when it was time for White to resign.
Hikaru has had a great tournament and only lost a single game to Magnus, but he still finds himself trailing the World Champion by an eye-watering 5 points. Magnus needs another 5 points on the final day to match his score in Abidjan, while with 21.5 points he’s already exceeded the 21 points that gave MVL victory in Paris and the 20 points that Aronian needed in Bucharest.
Magnus was downplaying his day to Tania Sachdev:
It was decent. I thought I played fairly well as Black and then not so well as White, but overall it’s a pretty good score. I think I keep a solid lead.
What can he do better?
Play faster, but it’s difficult to strike a balance between trying to think and to play fast, so I’m trying to in general play good chess and play as if it was a longer game, not play in blitz mode. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
Like Nakamura he emphasised the importance of making almost no blunders:
So far even in blitz I feel like I’m making relatively few serious mistakes, and when you do that then things are generally going to go well. And I’m enjoying playing - that’s the most important thing!
Tania pressed him on how it often seems that the others are only playing for 2nd place when he’s involved:
I guess when I’m at my best I’m a little bit better than the others.
There’s still one day to go in Kolkata – the action starts an hour earlier than usual – and it’s safe to say we know who's going to finish in overall 1st place. The real goal for Magnus, perhaps, will be to regain supremacy on all three ratings lists – he’s no. 1 in classical and rapid and now all he needs is to make up a 12-point gap to Hikaru Nakamura to be first in blitz as well.
By this stage Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi have no hope of reaching the London Grand Chess Tour finals, so the remaining intrigue is whether Vishy Anand or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will join Magnus, Ding Liren and Levon Aronian. Vishy still needs to get 5 points by finishing in 6th place or better.
You can once again follow all the action from 8:30 CET (one hour earlier than usual) LIVE here on chess24 with commentary in English and Russian!
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