Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Carlsen wins prelims, Aronian barely qualifies

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/16/2021 – Half the field moved on to the knockout stage of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after three days of preliminary action. Carlsen himself won the round robin after scoring 3/5 points on day 3 to finish atop the standings a half point ahead of former sole leader Anish Giri. Levon Aronian was the last player to secure his spot in the knockout — the Armenian will face the world champion in quarterfinals. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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The world champion wins the prelims, again 

In previous years, Magnus Carlsen frequently started slow and only gained momentum later in a tournament — which he more often than not ended up winning. At the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, a different trend was set by the Norwegian in the first three events of the series, as he won the preliminary stages all three times but has yet to win a tournament. At the Mangus Carlsen Invitational, he has also managed to win the prelims, with a 10½/15 score, ahead of former sole leader Anish Giri.  

Hikaru Nakamura, Alireza Firouzja and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made it into the knockout stage by drawing all their games on day 3; Wesley So and Levon Aronian won one game and drew the rest and also qualified; while Ian Nepomniachtchi had the strongest performance on Monday, scoring 4 points to climb to 5th place after a disappointing showing in the first ten rounds of the prelims.

Aronian qualified with 8/15, the same score achieved by Sergey Karjakin — the first tiebreak criterion was the result in their direct encounter, and Aronian beat the Russian in round 3.

Given the format, some players chose to prioritize safety in the last rounds, securing their spots at the top half of the standings table. Nakamura, who was in fact the only player to finish the prelims undefeated, even agreed on a 6-move draw with Carlsen in the last round. Moreover, they did it by repeating the position out of a “Bong Cloud” opening — 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 3.Ke1 Ke8 4.Ke2 Ke7, etc.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2021

Click to enlarge

Round 11: Getting into the fight

Three players that desperately needed to start collecting wins in order to get into the fight for the top eight spots kicked off the day with a win — Nepomniachtchi, Karjakin and Teimour Radjabov. 

Karjakin had four pawns for a rook against Nils Grandelius, but the Swedish’s king was rather vulnerable on h2. A single mistake by Grandelius gave the Russian a massive advantage:


White needed to escape from the check with 31.Kh1, as his 31.Qg3 fails to 31...Qe2+ 32.Qg2 Bd6+ (the bishop joins the attack) 33.Kh1 Qd1+ 34.Qg1 Qd5+ and now White needs to give up his bishop with 35.Be4 as 35.Qg2 would be met by 35...Re1#


Karjakin grabbed the bishop and went on to get a 46-move win.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Round 12: Giri’s single loss

Although by that point Giri and Carlsen were fighting neck and neck atop the standings, the Dutchman had been showing a more solid performance throughout. However, Giri’s undefeated run came to an end in round 12, when he was defeated by Nepomniachtchi.

It was Giri’s imprecision on move 28 which allowed Nepo to get his second win of the day:


By moving his bishop, White will threaten a checkmate-in-1 on g7. Giri opted for 28.Bxe6 instead of the correct 28.Bf5 though — after the latter, Black must give up his queen for a rook and a bishop with 28...Qxg1 29.Qxg1 Bxf5. In the game, on the other hand, Nepo found 28...g6 29.f5 Kf8 30.fxg6 fxe6 and the king has escaped:


The game continued 31.Rd1 a3 32.Qf3+ Bf5 33.b3 Qxe5+ and White resigned with mate-in-2 on the board.


Round 13: Draws

For the first time in the event, most games finished drawn in a single round, with seven out of eight encounters giving half points to the contenders. Only Grandelius scored a win, as he beat Alan Pichot with the white pieces.

Pichot finished in last place on 2½/15 in the first elite tournament of his career. The 22-year-old shared on Facebook:

I tried an aggressive approach to find out how big the difference is between the world’s top players and me, and I never thought that the difference would be THAT big.

The Argentine has a 2630 Elo rating and won the U16 section of the World Youth Chess Championships in 2014.

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



Round 14: Aronian scores a much-needed win

A forgettable second day of action left Aronian in a tough position going into the last five rounds. The experienced grandmaster, however, kept things under control, avoiding defeats in rounds 11-13 and grabbing his chance against an out-of-form David Anton.

The Armenian took a couple of pawns on the queenside in the early middlegame, and slowly but surely increased his advantage. Anton only resigned on move 44:


White is a piece up and his b-pawn has made it to the seventh rank. Time to give up.


Round 15: The quickest draw

Although Karjakin and Radjabov still had chances to qualify — and were paired up against each other — once Aronian secured a draw against Grandelius there was no way either of them could make it into the knockout. Aronian had beaten Karjakin in their direct encounter and had more wins than Radjabov (the second tiebreak criterion).

The main story of the round, however, was the 6-move draw agreed by Carlsen and Nakamura. Both players were visibly enjoying their repetition of moves (1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 3.Ke1 Ke8 4.Ke2 Ke7, etc) and many chess fans celebrated ‘the bit’ on Twitter, but, of course, some were critical of the decision. Emil Sutovsky tweeted:

That is how a memorable preliminary stage came to an end. We now move on to the quarterfinals, where Carlsen, So (who won two of the three previous events) and Giri are the favourites to get the $60,000 first prize.


Final standings

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2021


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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Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 3/18/2021 09:06
@ Michael Jones, do you think that super GM's are considering themselves as a product to satisfy the viewers? If you have at least some self respect (and most GM's are quite smart in that area) you will not be playing chess to satisfy the crowd. Even the sponsors might sponsor you, you as a GM can still decide how you act and think. Let's hope they still have that liberty!.

I was analyzing from insisde the mind of the SuperGM , not from outside the mind as a spectator or a sponsor.
I don't think that the sponsor has any right on how to manipulate players how to play, unless that is stipulated in the contract and most SuperGM's would kindly refuse, if they have some balls/character.
But i got your point, too much draws like Carlsen Naka isn't nice. But i feel that these SuperGM's won't do that on purpose when the stakes are really high
Michael Jones Michael Jones 3/18/2021 12:35
@Minnesota Fats: Your analogy doesn't work. Unlike a GM, a company is operating solely for its own benefit; no-one is paying it to entertain people. No-one is questioning that in some circumstances a pre-arranged short draw may satisfy both players, but players' appearance fees and prize money are paid for by organisers and sponsors, who have a right to expect the players to do something in return for that money - namely, provide a spectacle which fans will want to watch. If players fail to do that, sponsors may withdraw funding for future tournaments.

Another idea, probably more workable than my last one: higher-placed finishes in the group stage are rewarded with byes through the subsequent rounds. For instance, places 5-8 play each other in the first elimination round. The winners of those two matches play places 3-4 in the quarter-finals, and the winners of those two play places 1-2 in the semi-finals. That way, even when a player is assured of a place in the top 8, he still has motivation to fight for the higher places because gaining them will take him further into the knockout stage.

@fgkdjlkag: While there may be some grey areas, there are many cases when it is clear that one or both players are making no effort to win the game, and playing obviously silly moves in order to reach a draw by repetition at the earliest point possible is one of them. As mentioned, tennis has no problem enforcing "best effort" rules without requiring the umpire to hook the players up to MRIs; assessing it by their demeanour is enough.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/17/2021 11:57
Yes, let's do just anything to bring more people into the game – what game, exactly?

No problem here with draws. Not even with arranged draws in some circumstances. But over-30-years olds behaving like schoolboys?
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 3/17/2021 11:08
Any attempt to have and enforce effort-based rules are silly IMO. How are the arbiters supposed to determine a player's motivation? Are we going to start using MRIs during games? There are many grey areas. Should not the arbiters have a clear instruction?
It's much better to incentivise players not to play for draws. Eg, in this event when players need only a certain number of points to advance to the next stage, there is no reason to fight once qualification has occurred. Such a format can be changed. But draws will always be frequent, that is the nature of chess until something like 960 is adopted.

As for bringing disrepute, it is possible that this episode will actually have an overall effect of bringing more players into the game. There was at least 1 mainstream press article about it and millennials are apt to see this kind of draw as a positive, not negative, occurrence.

@Minnesota fats, this opening is not a new idea, it has been used on the internet for years.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/17/2021 09:56
It's as funny as a fart pillow.
nirvana1963 nirvana1963 3/17/2021 12:23
To me it's clear Sutovsky lacks any sense of humor...
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 3/16/2021 11:08
In tennis, there is something like the 'best efforts rule'. Sometimes tennis players don't feel like playing (even Federer in a 1998 Swiss tournament), sometimes they don't want to waste energy on a set where they are already far behind. There is even a name for it: 'tanking', and it can be (and has been) sanctioned.
Drawing without playing a move in chess could be sanctioned with a loss for both players – no game has been played. Other instances are hard to prove; there are some well-known forced draws in opening theory. For the sake of preventing bad influence, you may expect from top professionals that they at least try to keep up appearances.
Sutovsky is completely right. The arbiter should at least have given Carlsen and Nakamura a warning.

I don't think these on line tournaments are to be taken seriously. Carlsen and Nakamura seem to think the same, so in a way, I'm pleased. But if I were an official International Arbiter, I would refuse to give such a tournament status when players won't do so themselves.
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 3/16/2021 10:22
@Michael Jones, suppose you are a strategic manager of a big country/big company... then:

Isn't drawing sometimes the smartest move? Instead of launching the guns in a battle that might have an outcome of unpredictable consequences?
You as the manager (chess grandmaster) of that situation, would you risk your country/company/standings in a tournament/ in such a situation ?
The application of a draw in a chess game can well be the uttermost important strategic decision ever to be made for a manger/politician/GM.
So we can see that chess isn't about only making moves on the board, but also deciding when it's the best way to launch an attack, and when it's best to shake hands and prepare for the next battle ahead.
Some philophical twist to the chess game strategy that might transcendent the chess board into a metaphore on how to achieve a better strategic outcome in the future.
Michael Jones Michael Jones 3/16/2021 09:47
Not only the Carlsen vs Naka effort but a whole bunch of other draws in under 20 moves, most of them almost identical. I guess it shows that there's no point in enforcing a rule against agreed draws [whether at all or in less than a certain number of moves] because players will just play out a predetermined repetition instead, which looks even worse. I completely agree with Sutovsky that this brings the game into disrepute. On the other hand, it's pretty difficult to force players to try for a win when a draw is all they need to qualify, and there isn't an obvious solution to this. Somewhat outlandish suggestion, which probably has all sorts of drawbacks I haven't thought of: rather than the traditional points system, players are ranked first by number of wins, then if those are equal, by number of draws. They still have an incentive to defend a worse position because a draw is better than a loss [and it prevents their opponent achieving a win], but no number of draws is better than a win. That may well not work, but does anyone have any better ideas?
Minnesota Fats Minnesota Fats 3/16/2021 06:36
Never have seen that Bong Cloud chess opening in the Carlsen Naka game before...Nor have i seen it mentioned in my chess opening books... We are seeing new ideas here!
The only time i remember when a king moved so quickly in a game was a suppposed online chess game between Fischer and Nigel Short in the nillies...
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 3/16/2021 04:07
Clearly Nakamura and Carlsen are teaching the influx of new players what 3-fold repetition is.
Vidmar Vidmar 3/16/2021 03:18
Funny quote from Pichot about the gap size between him at 2630 and the "top" players. It's also mind boggling because 2630 is Massively Strong and there is an entire level about that !