Magnus Carlsen Invitational QF: Decisive games

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/17/2021 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So got off to winning starts in the quarterfinals of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, as both of them scored 2½:½ victories on Tuesday. The first mini-matches in Anish Giri v Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura v Ian Nepomniachtchi finished drawn. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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A prelude to another final?

Wesley So is the current leader of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. The American has as many points as Teimour Radjabov but has one more tournament victory than his colleague — three events have been played so far in the series; So won two and Radjabov won one. Remarkably, So obtained his two triumphs after beating Magnus Carlsen in the finals.

In the fourth event of the tour, So and Carlsen were seeded on opposite sides of the bracket and both scored 2½:½ wins in the first sets of their quarterfinal matches — the symmetry of their results makes us think that we might easily see a three-peat if they continue to get the better of their rivals. It will not be easy though, as the Opera Euro Rapid finalists are facing explosive opponents — Levon Aronian and Alireza Firouzja are totally capable of coming back from behind in Wednesday’s second sets.

Meanwhile, the first sets in Anish Giri v Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura v Ian Nepomniachtchi finished drawn. In both cases, the contenders first traded wins and then drew the remaining games. No fewer than 8 (out of 14) games finished decisively in the first mini-matches of the quarterfinals.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2021

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Carlsen 2½ : ½  Aronian

The world champion later described his first-set victory over Aronian as comfortable, explaining that he expects his rival to fight back on day 2 of the quarterfinals. Carlsen won the two first games in Tuesday’s mini-match, outplaying his opponent from queenless positions:


Playing black and already in the driver’s seat, Carlsen continued with 31...g3, vacating the g4-square for his bishop. Aronian resigned after 32.Nxc5 Bg4 33.Rxd6 cxd6:


Carlsen was a pawn up in a rook endgame in game 3, but agreeing to a draw was enough to get ahead on the scoreboard.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

So 2½ : ½  Firouzja

Both wins by So came after the American showed superior technique in rather complex endgames. GM Karsten Müller took a closer look at both (see below). In the second game, it all came down to a single blunder by Firouzja:


57.Rd8 failed to 57...Rxd8 58.Rxd8 Nd2+ 59.Ke2 Nxe4+ 60.Ke3 Nxf6+:


The black knight has done a good job, jumping from b3 to f6 in just three moves — 61.gxf6+ Kxf6 and the pure rook ending is winning for black thanks to his passer on the a-file.

Endgame analysis by Karsten Müller (two games)



Nakamura 2 : 2 Nepomniachtchi

The two rapid-play specialists traded wins in the first two games, each winning with the white pieces. While Nakamura took down Nepomniachtchi’s Sicilian in tactical fashion, the Russian defeated his famed opponent by playing an enterprising variation against the Berlin Defence:


Something has clearly gone wrong for black, but his 22...c5 simply gave away the game in one move. Nepo crashed through with 23.Rxf8 and Naka resigned before allowing 23...Kxf8 24.Bxe7+ Kxe7 25.Rxg7+ Kf8 26.Rf7+ Kg8 27.Nf6+:


After a draw in game 3, Nepomniachtchi reached a same-coloured bishop endgame a pawn up, but failed to find the precise continuations that would have given him a vital first-set victory.


Giri 2 : 2 Vachier-Lagrave

Unlike Naka and Nepo, Giri and Vachier-Lagrave traded wins with black in the first two games of their mini-match. Giri had the upper hand in game 1, but chose the wrong strategy on move 28:


White has more space and other positional pluses, thus the quiet 28.a3 or the improving 28.Bd3 would have kept his advantage, with Black needing to find a way to untangle his pieces. Instead, Giri was tempted to go for it with 28.c4.

White was not worse at that point, but allowed Black to get tactical resources to free his pieces. Giri misplayed the ensuing tactical skirmish and ended up losing the game.

The Dutchman bounced back in game 2, and draws in the last two encounters of the day meant the players go into day 2 of the quarterfinals with the score tied. Giri tweeted:



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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