Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Ding and Nakamura join the lead

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/28/2020 – After Carlsen's loss on Sunday, two players joined him in the lead the very next day. Ding Liren defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi 2½:1½ to catch up with the world champion, while Hikaru Nakamura got one point in his match against Fabiano Caruana after losing on tiebreaks to also reach Carlsen's mark of eleven points. With two rounds to go in the round-robin section, there are four clear favourites to reach the semis. Round-up show by GM Daniel King. | Photo: Official site

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Semi-finalists almost set in stone

With two rounds to go at the round-robin section of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, four players have all but secured a spot in the semi-finals. Carlsen, Ding and Nakamura are sharing the lead on 11 points while Caruana is a point behind. No fewer than five points back, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are sharing fifth place, and they would need "at least some small miracles" (Caruana) to catch up and finish among the top four.

Things would not look as clear had Caruana not beaten Nakamura, while the fact that the match was decided in Armageddon was enough for the latter to join the leading pack. This does not mean the players at the bottom of the standings table have nothing to play for any more, as plenty of prize money is still at stake — the difference between the fifth and the eighth prizes is a hefty US$7,500.

On Monday, the American representatives played a high-quality well-fought match, with Caruana managing to get the win by defeating Nakamura with the white pieces in the sudden-death blitz decider. Meanwhile, Nepomniachtchi's overly quick play backfired against Ding, who took advantage of a couple of the Russian's hasty decisions to score a 2½:1½ victory.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020

Caruana 2:2 Nakamura

The Americans repeated their openings throughout the rapid section of the match, with the player marshalling the white pieces getting wins in games one and two. In the first encounter, Caruana outplayed his opponent in an endgame with a queen, a rook and four pawns per side:

 

Black was already in trouble, as his opponent had a strong initiative with his heavy pieces strongly placed on enemy camp, but his 40...Rf7 was the mistake that decided the game. Caruana played 41.Re8, attacking the weakness on e6, and after 41...Re7 42.Qd8 Rf7 White is completely winning. At that point, the world number two did not find the killer 43.Rxe6, but his 43.Qd6 was enough to secure a win.

Nakamura bounced back immediately, scoring a full point after slowly grinding a win in a materially balanced knight endgame. On move 35, he made way to activate his king with a nice pawn push:

 

White went 35.f3, and after 35...Nxe3 36.Nxb4 Nd1 37.Kf1 Black's only hope for survival is to drum up quick counterplay on the kingside, where he has a 4 v 3 advantage. As the game proved, White's queenside is quicker though, and Caruana had to accept defeat on move 55.

Nakamura was an exchange up with black in game three, but could never break Caruana's defences and a draw was eventually agreed. The point was also split in the last rapid game, which meant the winner would be decided in Armageddon. Nakamura played black, and a "counter-intuitive" (Svidler) 24th move left him with an inferior position:

 

24...Rf6 places the rook on an awkward square and gives up control of the b-file — Caruana immediately took the chance to double up with 25.Rdb1 and pushed Black's rook away quickly after 25...Qd6 26.g5. Nakamura's 26...Re6 demonstrated his rook manoeuvre had not been very useful, and White immediately started pushing his central pawns with 27.e4 Qa3 28.e5.

Caruana's central advance could never be stopped by Black, as a passer on the d-file decided the game and the match in his favour. The final position:

 

Black resigned.

 

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Ding 2½:1½ Nepomniachtchi

This match-up was more chaotic than the all-American clash, with blunders at critical points giving either player big edges in the games that finished decisively. All three decisive encounters favoured white here as well, which means in all six decisive game of the day Black was on the losing side.

After a 57-move draw, Ding got ahead on the scoreboard. Nepomniachtchi miscalculated on move 23:

 

True to his style, 'Nepo' did not spend much time in a critical and tactically complex position and went for 23...g5 here. Ding is not one to miss tactical chances and continued with 24.Nc7 Qe5 25.Nxa8 Rxa8 26.Nd5, when White is up material and has a strong knight, while Black's bishop pair is not really capable of building up a decisive attack against the king. Nepomniachtchi threw in the towel eight moves later.

Much like Nakamura, 'Nepo' bounced back immediately, putting pressure on his Chinese opponent and pushing him to blunder on move 22:

 

Ding's 22...Rxf5 loses to 23.Nf6+, when there is no way to save the queen. Black resigned.

Nepomniachtchi's overly quick play was — once again — the culprit of his defeat in the fourth rapid game. He had about 12 minutes on the clock (each player starts with 15 minutes) when he played the wrong move almost instantly in a critical position:

 

With White's rooks doubled on the seventh, Black went for 29...Rd2 instead of the more cautious 29...Rbd8 or 29...Rf8. Ding captured on f7, took his king to safety on g4 and pushed his opponent to give up material in order to avoid mate. Nepomniachtchi resigned on move 45.

Alexander Grischuk, who joined the commentary team, referred to 'Nepo' and Ding as "the sprinters", given how quickly their match-up was decided. Talking about his compatriot's hasty play, he shared a curious anecdote (Grischuk is known for spending a lot of time on each move and finding himself in deep time trouble frequently):

Yuri Dokhoian [said] when he was the coach of our national team that if you combined me and Ian you would actually get a very decent chess player.

 

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Round-up show

GM Daniel King analysed the action of the day


All games

 

The Magnus Carlsen Invitational is brought to you by chess24.com. Learn more about the tournament at magnuscarlsen.com/en/invitational

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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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