Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Nepomniachtchi knocks out Carlsen

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/20/2021 – Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri only needed draws on day 2 of the semis to reach the finals of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. While Giri in fact defeated Wesley So for a second day in a row, Nepomniachtchi knocked out Magnus Carlsen in the blitz tiebreakers. | Photo: Maria Emelianova / FIDE

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Carlsen and So to fight for third place

Four strong, in-form players made it into the semifinals of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. Although Magnus Carlsen is a perennial favourite — and won the preliminary stage — it is a known fact that Ian Nepomniachtchi has never been an easy opponent for the world champion. In the other semifinal, two players that are going through a run of excellent form faced each other, Anish Giri and Wesley So.

Despite both matches being difficult to predict, it is always a bit surprising to see Carlen being knocked out from any event, especially given how strong he has proven to be under heavy pressure — i.e. in quick-play tiebreakers. It is also noteworthy that Giri eliminated So under this format in particular, as the Dutchman has not made it past the quarterfinals in neither of the three events played so far, while the Filipino-born star is the current leader of the series after having won the Skilling Open and the Opera Euro Rapid Tournament.

Luckily for chess fans, the slightly unexpected results have left us with two highly attractive matchups, as Carlsen will try not to lose a third straight match against So while fellow Candidates Giri and Nepomniachtchi will likely have a tense confrontation in their last direct games prior to the much-anticipated second half of the tournament in Yekaterinburg.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational 2021

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Nepomniachtchi* 1½ : 2½ Carlsen

Won the blitz tiebreaker 1½ : ½

We could not have asked for a more dramatic second set in the match between the world champion and Russia’s highest-rated player. A draw in game 1 was followed by a strange occurrence — Carlsen, who reached the pinnacle of the chess world by squeezing wins from technical positions, was outplayed by his rival in a rather complex endgame:


White faltered a couple of times before reaching this position. Nepo showed great technical ability and caught the world champion in a mating net — 44.Kxf5 (44.Re7 offers more resistance) Rxe3 45.Rc5 g6+ 46.g4 Rfxf3


Carlsen resigned here, before allowing 47.Rf7 f5+ 48.Kh4 g5# (Black could give up a rook for a pawn, but the ensuing endgames are dead lost). Make sure to replay the full analysis by endgame specialist Karsten Müller below.

The world champion had lost the first set and was a point down in the second mini-match — i.e. he needed to win back-to-back wins on demand to keep the fight going. And he managed!

First, Nepomniachtchi missed a chance to force a perpetual check to put an end to the match in game 3:


Nepo exchanged the knights with 31.Nxd4 Rxd4 32.Qe2 here, and went on to lose the game in 55 moves. Instead, he could have gone for 31.Nxg7, when after 31...Kxg7 White can force a draw with 32.Qf6+ as White cannot escape the checks without allowing massive material losses — of course, if Black does not take the knight, he is just a pawn down and has the weaker king.

Fearlessly, the Russian grandmaster played a Sicilian Najdorf in game 4. Carlsen gained the initative in the early middlegame and duly outplayed his opponent to take the match to blitz tiebreakers.

The world champion surprised by choosing black in the first game of the playoff (he got to choose as he won the preliminary stage). The first encounter lasted no fewer than 142 moves, with Carlsen forcing his opponent to prove that he knows how to hold a draw in a rook and knight versus rook endgame.

In the end, it was nerves which decided the match. Nepomniachtchi beat Carlsen from a materially balanced queen endgame to get a spot in the finals. The world champion later explained:

What decided the match was that he managed to keep his head calm in the blitz and I certainly did not. 

Endgame analysis by Karsten Müller

Our in-house endgame specialist analysed games 2 and 3 of the second set. Not to be missed!



Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Giri 2½ : 1½ So

For a second day in a row, Giri managed to prevent his opponent from squeezing the sort of tachnical wins that have served him so well to win rapid tournaments in the past. After drawing three games in which, if anyone, it was Giri who missed small chances to get an edge, the Dutchman knocked out his opponent in style by winning the fourth encounter of the day:


26...Bd7 would have kept the fight going, with Black even a tad better in the tense middlegame position. Instead, So’s 26..Qc7 gave away the game — and the match — at once. The American resigned after 27.Rxe6, as 27...Rxe6 fails to 28.Qxf5+, winning the rook.

Giri himself joined ChessBase India’s live webcast to discuss his semifinal games and the Carlsen v Nepomniachtchi games live, in highly entertaining style!

Earlier, Vidit had also come aboard, adding some expert commentary to the excellent explanations given by Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal:



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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