World Champion Magnus Carlsen is out of his namesake tournament after two of his biggest rivals sprung surprises to make the final.
On a day of high drama, Dutch No.1 Anish Giri booked his place by beating Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader Wesley So.
But it was Russian star Ian Nepomniachtchi’s nerve-shredding win over Carlsen that sent shockwaves through the $220,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational event.
Carlsen started the day behind and fell further back after losing the second game. Levelling the tie looked like an impossible task as the world number 1 needed to win both remaining games.
Yet Carlsen is the master of bouncing back and after throwing everything at his opponent with some risky attacking play, he got back on terms to take the semi to a tiebreaker.
At that stage, Carlsen could partly thank Nepo who suffered an attack of nerves at the crucial moment to blunder away the final rapid game. Later that would be reversed.
With the momentum seemingly with Carlsen, Nepo then managed to compose himself again for the blitz play-offs. And after a first-game draw, he took control of the second to book his final place.
“Clearly today was a lottery, and I was the one who got the winning ticket,” Nepomniachtchi said afterward.
A downbeat Carlsen added: “Ultimately, what decided the match was that he managed to keep his head in the blitz, and I most certainly did not.”
Nepo is the only player in world chess to have a positive score against Carlsen in classical games and will face Giri, another big rival of Carlsen.
In Giri’s semi, the first three games ended in cagey draws with the Dutchman looking super-solid and showing no weaknesses.
It meant So, the US champ, was left needing a win in the last game to take the match to tiebreaks.
The pressure got to him, however, and out of nowhere So made a dramatic blunder.
It was game, set and match to Giri and the Dutch star was through to his first Meltwater Champions Chess Tour final.
“It’s really, really great. I am happy to be in the final!” he said afterward.
The two-day final starts tomorrow at 17:00 CET with Carlsen and So also playing in a third-place play-off.