Magnus Carlsen triumphs at Magnus Carlsen Tour Final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/21/2020 – Seven days of intense chess fights ended with Magnus Carlsen drawing the Armageddon decider with black in the deciding set of the final against Hikaru Nakamura to win the tournament and the $140,000 first prize. Carlsen won four out of the five events that made up the Magnus Carlsen Tour, a series of online tournaments organized by the world champion during the coronavirus crisis. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“What do I have to do to kill this guy?”

Not only did Magnus Carlsen win an epic match that went down to the wire, but he also did it after having been down on the scoreboard once and again — he bounced back thrice after losing sets 1, 3 and 5, and in the seventh set won on demand after losing the first blitz tiebreaker to take the mini-match to Armageddon. As Yasser Seirawan put it, Hikaru Nakamura must have been wondering, “What do I have to do to kill this guy?” 

Carlsen was aware of the fact that having such a long and fighting match go the distance and be decided by a single 5-minute game means a player will end up inevitably heartbroken. The world champion praised his opponent repeatedly during his interview:

In regard to sympathy for my opponent, the format is extremely harsh, such that at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, there’s a winner and there’s a loser, so it’s extremely harsh on him — he played a great match, he made it extremely difficult for me, so it’s rough obviously.

He had mentioned earlier to Tania Sachdev:

Ultimately, it’s a bit random that everything is decided by one game, but it has to end at some point. I don’t know what to say.

After many of his numerous tournament victories, the world champion has given the public a sense that he had everything under control from start to finish despite the presence of difficulties, while once this matchup came to an end he was markedly tired and could only refer to how tough it had been:

He’s just very, very resilient, that’s what I feel. I just found the whole match very difficult and unpleasant to play. At some point I felt that I was outplaying him, and then he started turning around — I never felt that I had the energy, I never felt that I was cruising. So it was a never-ending struggle. 

We got to witness two gladiators facing off in a format in which, despite Nakamura’s marvellous display, the world champion proved to be the strongest player — not for having won the Armageddon decider, but for having consistently performed at the very highest level throughout the last five months, winning four out of the five events of his tour plus the Steinitz Memorial and the Clutch Chess International.

The Norwegian continues to add to his list of triumphs, and we can only wonder whether he is ever going to stop.

Magnus Carlsen Tour Finals 2020

Click to enlarge

Carlsen* 3½ : 3½ Nakamura

*Drew with black in Armageddon

Coming from the cleanest set victory of the match, Carlsen kicked off the day with a win. Nakamura, much like the world champion the previous day, sacrificed a knight on g7 to start things off — his attempt at an attack was unsuccessful, however:

 

28.Nxg7 failed to 28...Rxd4 29.Rxd4 Kxg7 30.Qg3+ Kf8 and, although White still tried some tricks against the somewhat exposed king, Black was simply a piece up with two strong passed pawns on the queenside to boot. Carlsen defended against the threats and went on to score a 43-move victory.

Carlsen had the upper hand in game 2 as well, but his edge was too small to be converted into a full point. After the 74-move draw, Nakamura evened the score with the white pieces:

 

Black is two pawns up and has a strong passer on the a-file, while White is an exchange up and counts with the ever-present threat of a potential mate on g7. The engines think White is better, but, given the format, accidents could still happen. None of that mattered after Carlsen blundered with 29...Ra8 though — 30.Rxb1 axb1Q 31.Qxe5 wins on the spot.

A well-played draw in game 4 took the set to tiebreaks. The momentum was on Nakamura’s side, who seemed poised to win the epic match after getting ahead on the scoreboard by scoring a full point in the first blitz tiebreaker:

 

Nakamura had outsmarted his opponent out of the opening to gain a pawn on the queenside. The American did not falter in conversion from this position, and only needed a draw with the black pieces to win the final.

In another position with rooks and bishops of opposite colours, it was Carlsen who was in the driver’s seat in the second blitz tiebreaker. Nakamura entered the inferior endgame after missing a chance to create practical problems for his opponent:

 

The American grandmaster went for 34...Rdxf3 here, allowing 35.Rb2 Ba4 36.Rxb7 and White soon created a dangerous passed pawn on the queenside. Instead, Black could have played 34...Bd1 in the diagrammed position, when White would have needed to decide between giving up an exchange or defending passively with 35.Rf2. After the text, Carlsen went on to get the needed win to stay in the fight.

By entering the finals as the top seed thanks to his three tournament wins in the previous events of the series, Carlsen gained the right to choose his colour in Armageddon. He had lost after choosing white in set 5, and had a clear plan if the deciding set reached sudden death. He told Tania Sachdev:

It worked out so poorly with white the last time that I thought, if I get to this point, I’m gonna be so tired that it’s better if I can play for a draw. [...] Obviously, I was extremely worried that he would just play very fast and flag me, but that turned out not to be a problem.

A 67-move draw meant Carlsen had won the tournament. Has the world champion any big plans to celebrate such an epic victory? He happily replied:

I’m gonna relax, I’m gonna sleep and I’m gonna just have a big smile on my face!

 

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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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dumkof dumkof 8/26/2020 02:36
In tennis, tiebreaker serves may last for hours, until a 2 point difference is reached. No player is forced to play on a bigger field or serve with the opposite hand, to speed up the process. They keep on playing under equal conditions. Takes long sometimes, but finally we have a deserved winner. Why can't we have the same in chess?
genem genem 8/25/2020 10:26
{ "Carlsen gained the right to choose his colour in Armageddon." } Is nothing about the current Armageddon Chess rules even and fair? Also, until the players *bid* for the minimum amount of clock time they would accept for the privilege of playing as Black with the highly valuable Draw Odds, Armageddon will remain unfair. Implement bidding, and then Armageddon is reasonable and fair.
tom_70 tom_70 8/22/2020 10:12
No, both players can NOT be winners. This isn't a 3rd grade talent show where everybody gets a trophy. This is a real world competition. Only one can be champion. That's what makes it special. If you declare everybody a winner, then nobody is a winner.
Gerald C Gerald C 8/22/2020 07:25
I do agree with Dummkopf. Both players should have been declared winners.
dumkof dumkof 8/21/2020 09:06
İt's easier to hold with black, than winning with white, despite the little time advantage white has. Deciding the winner by a coin would ensure an equal 50% chance at least. Armageddon has just ruined everything.

This tournament should have had 2 winners with equally shared price. They performed equally well.
Even the armageddon ended in a draw, which is not a decisive result.
RobertaArdenzi RobertaArdenzi 8/21/2020 05:35
Magnus Carlsen 'triumphs', drawing the Armageddon.
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 8/21/2020 04:22
Simply one of the great matches of all time.
morphic6 morphic6 8/21/2020 12:38
Mighty Magnus strikes again! Congrats!
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