Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen and Caruana score convincing wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/25/2020 – World numbers one and two, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, won their round-four matches without needing tiebreaks, thus collecting three points each. Carlsen has won all his confrontations so far and is the clear leader with eleven points. He defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Caruana inflicted Alireza Firouzja's fourth straight loss. | Photo: Official site

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A memorable pawn structure

Just by looking at the results of Friday's round at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational it is hard to figure out how the matches developed. Caruana got a 3:1 victory over Firouzja and even started the match-up with two wins, but the confrontation was in fact very close to end tied, as the youngster almost mounted a nice comeback. Meanwhile, Carlsen beat Vachier-Lagrave by the smallest of margins (without tiebreaks), but had things under control from start to finish. The world champion declared:

In general, I was probably closer to winning with a bigger score than he was to evening the match. I'm just a little disappointed that I couldn't convert more positions.

Among a number of curiosities seen on day one of the fourth round, the most memorable, according to the world champion himself, was the pawn structure in game two of his match, when 'MVL' created a position that looked like an actual fortress:

 

A picturesque position indeed! 

The results of the day left Carlsen atop the standings with 11 points, which all but secures him a spot in the four-player knockout. Realistically, five participants are in the fight for the remaining three spots, as Firouzja and Anish Giri have not scored a single match point yet. Giri might still get an outside chance if he beats Ding Liren on Saturday, while Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi will face each other in a key match-up on day two of the fourth round.

Carlsen 2½:1½ Vachier-Lagrave

This match-up kicked off with a strange sequence of moves. The commentators wondered whether Carlsen's fifth move was a 'mouse slip' or not:

 

Instead of the perennial 5.Nc3 here, Carlsen went for 5.Bc4. Vachier-Lagrave apparently feared the world champion had something strange prepared and did not capture on e4 — he played 5...e6 instead. White got the upper hand in the middlegame, but missed a chance to convert his edge:

 

Carlsen advanced his b-pawn two moves later, but the immediate 29.b7 was winning. After 29.Qf3 d2 Black had created enough counterplay to keep the balance, and the draw was agreed on move 51.

The one win for Carlsen in the match came in round three, when his opponent underestimated White's pins on the c-file:

 

There followed 20.Qc2 Na7 and 21.Qxc8+, counting on 21...Nxc8 22.Bc6, recovering the queen and getting a superior position. Ten moves later, Vachier-Lagrave resigned.

Throughout the event so far, Carlsen has shown a particularly fighting spirit. The commentators noticed he even goes for the win when he does not need to. When asked about this, he responded:

I just realized I cannot play for a draw at all.

 

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Caruana 3:1 Firouzja

Things have not been working out for the young Firouzja the last couple of rounds. After a topsy-turvy match against Nakamura, in which a series of technical difficulties provoked him to lose the last three encounters, he had to face none other than world number two Fabiano Caruana.

Things went from bad to worse when the 16-year-old missed a tactic and lost game one against the famed American:

 

The presence of heavy pieces and bishops of opposite colours means the player that gets to attack the opposite king more effectively will win the game. A single misstep by Firouzja gave away the game — 37.Qc2+ (going for 37.Bf6 immediately was necessary) Bg6 38.Qc5 Qf1 39.Bf6 Be4 and White resigned. Giving the check from c2 simply gave Black a couple of tempi to improve his bishop.

Caruana won game two convincingly, inflicting Firouzja's fifth consecutive loss in the event. But the youngster is not one to give up easily. He won game three with white and needed one more full point to get what would have been a memorable comeback. In a must-win situation, he got a better position, but Caruana found ways to complicate matters and finally even getting a win:

 

Here Black needed to capture en passant with 36...exf3, as after Firouzja's 36...gxf4 Black got to pin the d7-bishop decisively with 37.gxf4 Ng4 38.Rd6. Firouzja tried 38...Ne3, but resigned after 39.Be6 Re8 40.Rxd7.

 

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Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020


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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.