Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen beats Firouzja

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/20/2020 – After Monday's round, the Magnus Carlsen Invitational has a sole leader in the world champion himself. Magnus Carlsen got a 2½:1½ victory over 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja, thus gaining three points for the overall standings. Firouzja did get to win a game, when Carlsen blundered the game away in one move. In the other match of the day, Hikaru Nakamura defeated Anish Giri. Round-up show by GM Daniel King. | Photo: Official site

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No hat-trick for Firouzja

A rivalry has developed the last weeks between Alireza Firouzja and Magnus Carlsen. The lack of over-the-board tournaments has put all the focus on online chess, a speccialty of the wunderkind. Carlsen is, of course, amazingly strong while playing in front of a screen as well, but recently lost two matches against the Iranian — first a 194-game bullet marathon and then a 16-game blitz confrontation. Both matches were closely contested, and we should not forget that these time controls lead to much larger variability in results, but seeing the world champ losing twice in a row is still shocking.

On Monday, Firouzja could not get his third straight win over the world number one. With a 15'+10" time control in place, Carlsen was his usual self and kept things under control pretty much from start to finish, with a noteworthy exception — in game two, the Norwegian had a better position with Black when he blundered the game away in one move; his young opponent, a brilliant tactician, did not miss that chance and inflicted Carlsen's third loss of the tournament.

The other match-up of the day saw Hikaru Nakamura beating Anish Giri. This was the Dutchman's second loss in two days, which, given the line-up, can happen to anybody. However, Giri's games have shown he is clearly in bad form. When asked about his colleague's unusual subpar play, Nakamura explained:

Anish has not played as much online chess as most of the other guys — especially like myself and Maxime. [...] It's slightly different looking at a screen for a couple of hours instead of looking at an actual board.

The American blitz and bullet specialist also referred to day one's Armageddon encounter against Carlsen, when a technical glitch created some confusion. 'Naka' used an example from the AlphaGo documentary to explain how difficult it is to eliminate all bugs in these situations:

I don't believe the result would have been different, so it's not such a big deal. [...] In the key game, when Lee Sedol won the game, the commentators said something like, 'Is this a bug from AlphaGo?', and then the point was that, with AlphaGo, if they would've eliminated bugs altogether, that's much bigger than solving the game of Go (smiles).

Carlsen 2½:1½ Firouzja

True to his tactical style, Firouzja employed one of the sharpest lines of the Ragozin Defence in game one — 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4 and 6...Nc6. The idea is that after 7.Rc1 Ne4 8.Nd2 Black can go 8...g5:


A very unusual setup ensued and, although Black did get some chances, Carlsen reacted proficiently, avoiding tactical traps while solidifying his positional advantage. The world champion got a fine 34-move win, which meant all five games he had played at the Invitational up to that point had favoured white.

The biggest shock of the day was seen in game two, as Carlsen first neutralized his opponent's play, then got a comfortable edge and finally blundered the game away in one move:


39...Rd2 loses to 40.Rb8+ Kh7 41.Qg4:


Carlsen resigned after 41...Qf1+ 42.Rg2 Qxg2+ 43.Kxg2, as there is no way to avoid the good-looking mate. He confessed afterwards:

I thought 41...Qf1+ was mate. Obviously it is mate, but I'm not the one that's mating.

Another Ragozin was seen in game three, except this time Firouzja did not go for 6...Nc6 and played the quieter 6...0-0 instead. Carlsen slowly but surely outplayed his opponent positionally until getting a 58-move win. A safe draw in which the world champion was the only one who got chances sealed match victory.

Carlsen was asked whether he is having issues staring at the screen for hours every day:

I feel very much adapted at this point. No worries there.


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Nakamura 2½:1½ Giri

A win for Nakamura in game one was the only decisive result in this match-up. Giri got to put pressure in an opposite-coloured bishop endgame in the second encounter and had the upper hand for a while in game four, but he could never make the most of his chances, and it sort of looked like Nakamura had the match in his pocket throughout.

The decisive game saw 'Naka' avoiding the Grünfeld with the white pieces, which led to a Benoni structure in which Black did not manage to find his way after getting a good position out of the opening. This is how Nakamura described the game:

The first game was pretty terrible for both of us. In the opening, I was probably just much worse I think. Then Anish just let me off the hook, he just started to play normal moves instead of trying to punish me. So I got pretty lucky and then turned it around into a victory.

Things came to a head when White pushed his central pawns:


After 35.e5 dxe5 36.d6 Na8, White can capture with 37.Nxe5 — 37...Rxe5 does not work due to 38.d7. The game continued with 37...Nb6, but after 38.d7 White is completely winning.

Nakamura also noted that five of his opponents are playing in the Candidates, which according to him certainly plays a role at this event:

All these guys have been playing the Candidates, so it's sort of like a cat and mouse game, where you decide what openings are you gonna play. [...] Anish playing his real openings kind of surprised me.


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Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020

Round-up show

GM Daniel King analysed the games of day three

All games


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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