Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen in semis, Firouzja beats Giri

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/28/2020 – Day eleven of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational was ripe with strange occurrences. Carlsen was lost after merely seven moves in his first game against Ian Nepomniachtchi, but ended up winning the match in Armageddon, while Alireza Firouzja both wasted winning chances and managed to swindle Anish Giri before getting a 2½:1½ victory. Carlsen is already qualified to the semi-finals, while Nepomniachtchi is no longer in contention to reach the knockout stage. Round-up show by GM Yannick Pelletier. | Photo: Official site

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Stranger than fiction

The final results of day eleven were not surprising, but the way they were reached seemed to be taken out of some sensationalist tabloid — the strongest player in the world getting a lost position after seven moves, missed opportunities, swindles and some "flagging" in the Armageddon decider were among the highlights of the day.

In the end, Magnus Carlsen took down Ian Nepomniachtchi in the sudden-death tiebreaker, thus securing a spot in the semi-finals while leaving the Russian out of contention for a place among the top four. Meanwhile, Alireza Firouzja got his second straight match victory, defeating Anish Giri 2½:1½. Both Firouzja and Giri lost their first four matches, and by now have no chances to reach the knockout section.

Round six will be completed on Wednesday, when Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will need a victory over Fabiano Caruana if he wants to remain in the fight to reach the semis. Furthermore, the Frenchman needs to win in the four-game rapid phase of the match, as a victory in Armageddon would also leave him out. Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura will face each other in the other match-up of the day.

Some elite players have been following the event intently — Teimour Radjabov tweeted:

Carlsen 2:2 Nepomniachtchi

The world champion clearly has studied the strange line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Bc4 for White. He used it first against Vachier-Lagrave in round four and now against Nepomniachtchi. Unlike 'MVL', though, the Russian did not shy away from continuing with 5...Nxe4, and saw his opponent entering a completely losing position after 6.Qh5 e6 7.Nxe6:

 

Carlsen had spent over six minutes on this decision, later commenting:

That was pretty sick. I was completely blind. [...] I couldn't remember what to do. My mind was blank, there was just nothing.

After 7...Bxe6 8.Bxe6 Qe7 9.Bxf7+ Qxf7 10.Qe2 Qe7 Black is simply a piece up for little to no compensation. 'Nepo' got an unexpectedly easy 28-move win.

Carlsen chose an unorthodox approach yet again in round two, responding to 1.e4 with 1...Nc6. Nepomniachtchi had a better position in the middlegame, but could not make the most of it. A slip on move 41 by the Russian put Carlsen in the driver's seat, but, while in a completely winning endgame, the Norwegian faltered disastrously, failing to notice Nepomniachtchi had a perpetual check after his inexplicable continuation:

 

Centralizing the queen anywhere along the d-file is both natural and correct here, while Carlsen's 49...Kg5 is an immediate draw after 50.Qe3+, when there is no good way to escape the checks. A furious Carlsen profusely displayed his anger on camera, and rightly so.

Another strange setup was seen in game three. Nepomniachtchi, with black, did well in the opening, but lost the thread in the early middlegame, giving White a clearly superior position. Carlsen won the game after 56 moves and later explained:

The conversion was awful, but fortunately my position was so good that I couldn't mess it up.

A draw in game four gave way to Armageddon. Carlsen won the digital coin toss and chose white. The players entered a pure knight v bishop endgame on move 48, with White having an extra pawn. By move 58, Black's king and bishop were facing White's king, knight and pawn in a theoretically drawn position. However, the lack of increment gave Carlsen a big edge, as he could pre-move every single knight jump or king manoeuvre while Nepomniachtchi needed to react to Carlsen's specific moves. Such scenario led to 'Nepo' finally blundering on move 77, granting match victory to the Norwegian. The final position:

 

Nepomniachtchi resigned and quickly tweeted:

 

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Firouzja 2½:1½ Giri

The contenders in this match-up did not employ eccentric openings, but their games were full of unexpected turns. Firouzja got the cleanest win of the match in game one, but went on to miss a big chance to increase his lead in the following encounter:

 

Upping the pressure with 28...Rfg8 would have kept Black's large edge (the more positional 28...Nb6 is also good, for example), but Firouzja mistakenly considered that the flashy 28...Nxd4 worked out tactically. Giri captured the piece, neutralized Black's threats and went on to get an unexpected victory after Firouzja blundered again on move 36.

As Indian grandmaster Srinath Narayanan pointed out, Giri's technique with little time in this game surely deserved praise:

The roles were inverted in game three, as Giri did not make the most of a superior position and even lost the game eventually. The Dutchman did not see his opponent could create a mating net with his rook and bishop:

 

Giri's 58...Rf2 loses immediately to 59.d6+ Kf8 60.Rg6 when there is no way to prevent White from mating on g8. Black could have kept the balance with 58...Kd8.

A draw in the fourth rapid encounter gave Firouzja his second match victory in the event.

 

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Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020


Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier 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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