Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Ding defeats "offbeat Carlsen"

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/30/2020 – The seventh round of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational saw world numbers one and two, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, losing to Ding Liren and Anish Giri respectively. Carlsen played some dicey openings against Ding and, despite equalizing in the middlegame, made critical mistakes in three of the four rapid games. Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura also won. The first semi-final between Caruana and Nakamura will be played on Friday. Round-up show by IM Lawrence Trent. | Photo: Official site

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A preview of the semis

The seventh and final round of the all-play-all section at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational was all about fighting, uncompromising chess. With four matches played simultaneously and two of them going to Armageddon — totalling eighteen games — no more than three encounters finished drawn. Ding v Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi v Firouzja, in fact, only had decisive results.

The world champion decided to show his adventurous side by responding to 1.e4 with 1...Nc6, playing 3...h5 out of a Rossolimo Sicilian and going for the King's Gambit in a must-win situation. The experiment entertained the audience, but also resulted in a 3:1 victory for Ding. It must be noted, though, that Carlsen's extravagant opening choices were not the culprit for his losses.

Meanwhile, Anish Giri scored his second match victory of the event by beating Fabiano Caruana 2½:1½, which means he beat world numbers one and two and lost all his remaining encounters. Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi also won, but they did it in Armageddon, taking down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Alireza Firouzja respectively.

These results left Nakamura in first place in the standings table, followed by Ding, Carlsen and Caruana, in that order. The all-American clash between 'Naka' and Caruana will be the first semi-final, to be played on Friday. Carlsen and Ding will face each other again on Saturday, when the world champion is expected to use more of a classical approach

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020

Ding 3:1 Carlsen

As mentioned above, the highlight of this match was Carlsen playing the kind of openings we are most likely to find in a blitz online tournament for club players. Using this approach was certainly a deliberate decision, as the Norwegian showed it is never easy to refute eccentric systems in a rapid game, even for someone as strong as Ding.

The Chinese grandmaster nevertheless won all three games in which Carlsen went out of book, showing great tactical alertness to take advantage of the Norwegian's mistakes in the ensuing sharp middlegames. For example, in game three:


Ding had just captured on e5, gaining a piece. At this point, Carlsen needed to castle and get ready to defend on the kingside. Instead, he captured the rook with 15...Bxe5, allowing Ding to start a deadly attack — 16.Qxf7+ Kd8 17.Ba3 a6 18.Rd1 and the black king is doomed. Carlsen continued until move 27, but there was no way out.

The players had traded wins in games one and two, so the world champion needed to win in the last rapid encounter if he wanted to tie the score. He played the King's Gambit nonetheless and went on to lose after 23 moves. 

As Tarjei J. Svensen reported on his Twitter account, Carlsen told the Norwegian press:

Things didn't go quite according to the plan. I got a pretty good position from the opening in all games, but I blundered in three of the games and he brutally took advantage of it. [...] Now it's dead serious. From now on you will see me from a completely different side.


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Nakamura 2:2 Vachier-Lagrave

Quick-play specialist Hikaru Nakamura was perhaps the most stable player throughout the round-robin section, rightfully finishing in first place and comfortably reaching the semi-finals. His last rival in the all-play-all phase was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who after losing in Armageddon was relegated to last place in the standings table.

The match started with Nakamura failing to convert a winning queenless position and even losing game one. A well-played draw followed, and the American tied the score in game three. Once again, Nakamura blew up a winning position in game four, twice. First, he did not see he had a lethal attack as early as move 6 and later missed a two-move winning continuation:


Instead of the positional 14.Rc1, White could have gone for 14.Bxf7 Rxf7 15.Rd8+ Kh7 (15...Rf8+ would be responded with 16.Nxg6+) 16.Rxc8, with an enormous edge. In the game, 'Naka' got a superior ending after missing these chances, which he could not convert.

The American apparently was too relaxed by game four, which was proven once again when he failed to capture a free rook in the sudden-death blitz decider:


'MVL' was playing below his level tactically throughout and, after getting the upper hand out of the opening, first entered an inferior position and later failed to notice Black was defending d8 before going for 40.Rd8+. In a case of mutual blindness, Nakamura replied 40...Kh7 and only captured the loose rook after he Frenchman played 41.Nd6.

The commentators talked with 'Naka' afterwards and let him know he could choose the colour in his first rapid game of the semi-finals. The American immediately chose black. His opponent on Friday will be Fabiano Caruana, who beat him in Armageddon in round five, when Nakamura also started with the black pieces.


Giri 2½:1½ Caruana

The tournament result was probably disappointing for Anish Giri, but beating both Carlsen and Caruana — the two highest-rated players in the world — surely compensates to a certain extent having lost the remaining matches. In typical style, the Dutchman tweeted:


Nepomniachtchi 2:2 Firouzja

Two of the sharpest players in the circuit played five decisive games in their round-seven match-up. Firouzja won first, Nepomniachtchi got full points in games two and three and then failed to convert — and even lost — a superior position in game four. Firouzja picked black in the Armageddon after winning the coin toss and lost what Alexander Grischuk described as "a fantastic game". 'Nepo' quipped afterwards:

Probably I felt we need an Armageddon instead of winning in a boring way, like in a winning position in game four.

With this win, the Russian secured fifth place in the standings, taking home US$22,500. After losing his first four encounters, Firouzja finished sixth, ahead of Giri and Vachier-Lagrave.


Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2020

Round-up show

IM Lawrence Trent analysed the action of the day

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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