Magnus Carlsen Invitational: On the brink of elimination

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/15/2021 – Anish Giri, Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So all scored 4/5 points on day 2 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational preliminaries. Giri thus kept his spot as leader of the event, with Carlsen still a half point behind in sole second place. The last five rounds of the preliminary stage will be played on Monday, when half the field will be eliminated before the knockout stage kicks off the day after. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

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Five rounds to climb up the standings

The format of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events makes for a very entertaining third day of action, with top grandmasters fighting to survive by finishing at the top half of the standings table. While the lowest-rated players have struggled so far in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational (all four participants rated below 2700 are in the last spots of the standings), some big names are also on the brink of elimination. 

Going into the last five rounds of the all-play-all section, only Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen can be truly confident about their chances to reach the knockout stage — they stand in clear first and second places on 8 an 7½ points respectively. Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura are doing well on 6½, but are still not that far away from the cut-off score of 5 points, as Levon Aronian, Daniil Dubov and Ian Nepomniachtchi are currently in 7th-9th places on a fifty percent score. At the Skilling Open preliminary stage — also a 16-player single round robin — two players were eliminated prior to the knockout after collecting 8/15 points.

Currently, the likes of Nepomniachtchi, Teimour Radjabov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov stand on the bottom half of the table, so we can expect them to come out swinging on Monday. 

Champions Chess Tour 2021

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Round 6: So’s dazzling win

After fighting chess was the rule on day 1 of the preliminaries, the players kept up the pace in the first round of day 2. Giri, Firouzja, Nepomniachtchi, So and Sergey Karjakin all scored full points out of the gate.

So, who unexpectedly lost twice with white on Saturday, defeated Aronian with a brilliant display out of a sharp opening variation:


Aronian’s 13...f5 was overly optimistic, as his queenside is completely undeveloped and White has his pieces near the weakened position of the black king. So did not shy away from going all-in for the attack, allowing his opponent to grab a piece with 14.Qh3 g4 15.Qxh6 gxf3 16.Bxf3 Qxd4:


17.0-0, of course! So continued to bring pieces to the attack, even giving up his remaining knight two moves later. The American finished off his opponent in style:


29.Re6, distracting the queen. Black has nothing better than 29...Qd7, but then came 30.Rxa8 Nc7 31.Rd8 Nxe6 32.Rxe8+ Nf8 and 33.Rxf8 — a brutal attack. Aronian resigned.

Endgame analysis by GM Karsten Müller (Pichot v Dubov)



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Round 7: Giri’s fifth win in a row

After his impressive performance in Wijk aan Zee, Giri continues to prove his strength at the fourth event of the Champions Chess Tour. The Dutchman won five consecutive games between rounds 3 and 7 at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. In round 7, he inflicted Aronian’s second defeat of the day:


There is no way to save White’s e-pawn, but Aronian’s choice was not the best to continue the fight in a double-edged position — there followed 36.Bf5 Rxe5 37.Bd7 Re3+ 38.Kh2 Bxd7 39.Rxd7 and 39...Ne5, forking the rooks. White threw in the towel.

So, Nakamura, Carlsen and Nils Grandelius also won in round 7.

Endgame analysis by GM Karsten Müller (Van Foreest v Radjabov)



Round 8: Carlsen beats Nepomniachtchi in sharp struggle

As Giri’s winning streak came to an end, Carlsen scored his second (of three) consecutive win in round 8. A tense battle out of a Sicilian emerged in his game against Nepomniachtchi, and the Russian incorrectly sacrificed a piece on move 46:


46.Bxc4 and, of course, Carlsen cannot capture due to 47.Rd6. The world champion did have 46...Rg8, however, when after 47.Qe5 Rg1+ 48.Ka2 Black can capture the bishop safely with 48...dxc4.

Two moves later, Carlsen overlooked a tactic Nepomniachtchi could have used to save a draw by perpetual check, but luckily for the world champion his opponent did not see the recourse either. Carlsen’s b-pawn was too much to handle for Nepo:


51...Ra1 — White cannot take due to 52...b2+ 53.Kb1 Ba2+ promoting. White instead resigned after 52.Qe5 Ra2+ 53.Kb1 Rxd2 54.Rxd2 b2.

Karjakin, David Anton and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also scored full points in round 8.


Round 9: Fighting chess

Like in round 5, seven out of eight games finished decisively in round 9, except that this time around the one draw was not a lifeless 14-move encounter —  Dubov and Giri split the point after fighing for 47 moves and leaving two bare kings on the board.

Argentine GM Alan Pichot, who qualified to participate by winning a 4-player double round robin, suffered his fifth loss of the event in round 9, against Vachier-Lagrave. The 22-year-old from Buenos Aires tweeted, “At times I ask myself if I'm playing against human beings!”

World champion Magnus Carlsen would later comment that, although he was not all that satisfied with his play, he was very happy to see his rivals fighting as hard as they had on the first two days of competition.


Round 10: Van Foreest’s massive blunder

It had not been a good day neither for Van Foreest (2 losses and 2 draws) nor for Aronian (3 losses and 1 draw), but Lady Luck smiled on the Armenian at the very end of Sunday’s last round. Van Foreest had a completely winning position, when he suddenly blundered into checkmate:


64...Qf5 fails to 65.Qh8+ Kg5 66.Qh4# — f5 was the king’s only escape square in this setup.

Giri, Karjakin and Firouzja also ended the day on a high note.


Standings after Round 10



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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