Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Caruana and Carlsen share the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/22/2020 – Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi won their round-two matches in sudden death at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Both of them did it after winning their fourth rapid encounters on demand. Caruana defeated Ding Liren, while Nepomniachtchi took down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. With two rounds completed, Caruana is sharing the lead with Magnus Carlsen on five points — incidentally, the co-leaders will face each other on Wednesday. Round-up show by GM Yannick Pelletier | Photo: Official site

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Tuesday's match-ups featured four participants of the 2020 Candidates. Pre-tournament favourites in Yekaterinburg Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren were paired up against each other, while current co-leaders Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave faced over the (digital) board after their round-seven crucial clash.

Ding and Vachier-Lagrave had a full-point lead after three rapid games. Coincidentally, both of them were defeated in game four and went on to lose the match in the Armageddon deciders. Caruana came from beating 'Nepo' without needing tiebreaks in round one (getting three points), and with this victory caught up with Carlsen in the shared lead on five points.

Given the fact that more than half the players live in Europe, the starting times of each round have been accommodated for them, which means Caruana, Nakamura and Ding play at a time chess players are not so used to competing — Ding late at night, and the Americans before noon. When asked about this, Caruana replied: 

I was pretty groggy. I usually start out the first game pretty groggy, but I start to get into it. But the nice thing is that I do have pretty much all day, and today it's actually kind of helpful because now I have a match coming up tomorrow.

Indeed, getting well-prepared for tomorrow's match might be key, as Caruana is set to play co-leader Carlsen on Wednesday. The world champion is not in the best of shapes chess-wise, as he told the Norwegian TV channel currently broadcasting the event. However, he is known for starting tournaments slowly and then gaining strength. His latest World Championship challenger will be a tough nut to crack nevertheless.

Nepomniachtchi 2:2 Vachier-Lagrave

Continuing the trend from his round-one match against Caruana, Nepomniachtchi kicked off his confrontation with Vachier-Lagrave letting a golden opportunity slip away:


'Nepo' had sacrificed a piece on f7, following a line played previously in correspondence chess. The try served him well, as in the diagrammed position he already had the upper hand. Here, however, he opted for the timid 20.Rab1 instead of the very strong 20.Re6, targetting c6 while keeping a strong initiative. The Russian later said about this decision:

What a shame. I was very tilted after this game.

He was tilted because not only did he fail to make the most of his successful opening choice but also went on to lose the game. He entered an inferior position by following his 20th-move blunder with two subpar consecutive decisions. 

In game two, the players continued their discussion on the French Winawer — 'MVL' beat the Russian from the white side of this opening in round seven of the Candidates. The Frenchman got an advantage once again, but this time it was him the one letting the opportunity go to waste. When asked about whether he is 'saving' preparation, 'Nepo' responded:

Everyone thinks my preparation is dumb after I played the Winawer, so at least I'm not worried to show the Winawer anymore (laughs).

In game three, Nepomniachtchi missed another golden opportunity:


White spent over one minute (these are rapid games) on 53.Qh8, failing to go for the winning 53.h4+, when capturing, for example, with 53...Kxh4 would run into the killer 54.Bf6+. After the text, five more moves were played before the draw was agreed.

The tilted Nepomniachtchi went on to win game three smoothly — by rapid-time-control standards — and showed a nice idea out of a Petroff Defence with Black in the Armageddon decider, one that he was surprised 'MVL' did not see in advance:


15...e5 is the move that justifies Black's previous play here. The idea is that after 16.dxe5, Black gives up a piece with 16...Nxe5, busting open the position. Capturing the knight or going 17.Bxh7+ are both acceptable continuations, while Vachier-Lagrave's 17.Bb5 is bad due to 17...Neg4 (attacking the e3-bishop) 18.Bxe8 Rxe8. White resigned the game and the match two moves later.


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Caruana 2:2 Ding

While 'Nepo' sacrificed a piece in the other match, Ding and Caruana entered another materially imbalanced position right out of the gate. This one, however, ended peacefully, after the world numbers two and three proved they knew how to handle the complications. 

Game two was a lengthy affair which ended with a theoretical stalemate position — a white queen versus Black's king and f-pawn on the second rank. The consecutive streak of decisive results started in the third encounter, when Caruana chose the wrong way to capture a pawn in a sharp position:


Caruana later confessed that he cannot understand why he played 24...gxf5 here, when 24...Nxf5 is the natural and correct way to take the pawn. The idea is that after 25.Rf4, attacking the queen as in the game, Black has 25...d4 and capturing with 26.Qxh4 would lose to 26...dxc3, while 26.Nb1 would fail to 26...Rc2 (you can try the variations on the diagram above). After the text, the continuation 25.Rf4 d4 26.Nb1 works for White, and Caruana found nothing better than 26...Qxf4, giving up the queen. The American did get a lot of play, but it was not enough to compensate for the material.

In game four, Caruana needed to win on demand to avoid defeat, and he won by outplaying his opponent in a 64-move struggle out of a Ruy Lopez. 

Ding got white in the Armageddon decider and saw his opponent showing both good preparation and confidence on the other side of the (digital) board. Caruana was a pawn down but had a strong initiative when the Chinese blundered decisively:


White faltered with 36.Qb2 and resigned after 36...Rxa2, as recapturing with the a-rook is impossible because the queen is attacking d1.


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Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020

Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier analysed the games of day four

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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