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

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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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