MCT Finals: Ding impresses, beats Carlsen

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/10/2020 – Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura kicked off the semis of the Magnus Carlsen Tour closing tournament with impressive wins. Ding defeated world champion Magnus Carlsen in Armageddon, while Nakamura also reached the tiebreaks against Daniil Dubov but managed to secure victory without needing to play a sudden-death decider. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“A picture-perfect game”

The first day of the Magnus Carlsen Tour Finals was filled with excitement. All four participants showed strong performances, but Ding and Nakamura struck in the critical moments to win the first sets of their respective matchups. 

Both matches went to tiebreaks. While Carlsen and Ding traded wins in the first pair of blitz games, Nakamura won the second 5-minute encounter (after drawing the first one) to get ahead on the scoreboard against Dubov.

After his win, Nakamura was immediately interviewed by the broadcast team, which meant he could commentate on the Armageddon game in the other semi. When the American saw how Ding dominated Carlsen throughout the game, he was visibly amazed:

Yeah, Ding is on fire. Just a picture-perfect game. Literally, he could not have played better.

Carlsen came from winning no fewer than 19 mini-matches in a row, and will now need to come back from behind in the match played to the best of 5.

Despite not reaching Armageddon, the other semi was an exciting affair as well. Dubov overwhelmed Nakamura in the first game and had a winning position in the second, but a single blunder threw away the game and evened the score. After ‘Naka’ took the lead in game 3, Dubov won on demand with black to force tiebreaks. Finally, a draw in game 5 was followed by the American’s deciding win.

The second sets of the semifinals will be played on Monday, starting at 16:00 CEST (14:00 UTC, 10:00 ET).

Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour 2020

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Ding* 3½ : 3½ Carlsen

*Drew with black in Armageddon

In game 1, Ding showed a combination of deep positional understanding and accurate calculation skills to take down Carlsen’s Sicilian Defence:


Massive trades in the centre led to this position. White has a bit more space and a slightly more active bishop, so after thinking for around three minutes Ding decided to go ahead with 18.c4. Carlsen’s best reply according to the engines was 18...Rhb8, but that is not an obvious manoeuvre by any means — the world champion played 18...Rac8 instead, and Ding got the upper hand with 19.cxb5 Rc5 20.Qb3 axb5 21.a4 (using the pin) Rhc8 22.Bxb5.

The conversion for White was not trivial at all, but Ding had no major issues getting the full point in the technical phase.

Carlsen bounced back immediately, with a 24-move win. 

A strange occurrence was seen in game 3, as it was not clear whether there had been a disconnection or not. When the smoke cleared, the game ended in a draw. Afterwards, Tania Sachdev explained that it was not a disconnection but a technical glitch (one of the players did not ‘receive’ the move his opponent had made). The game was resumed; Ding missed a tactical shot to get a clear edge; and a draw was agreed after 43 moves.

An uneventful draw in game 4 was followed by blitz tiebreakers, and another strange situation came about in game 5:


Commentators Peter Leko and Yasser Seirawan did not understand why the relay of the moves had stopped, as the position seems equal despite White having an extra pawn. Later on, it was clarified that Ding had won on time.

For a second time in the mini-match, Carlsen bounced right back, taking the contest to Armageddon. Surprisingly for Nakamura — who had joined the commentary team — the world champion chose to play with the white pieces. Ding kept things under control in a great game with black and forced a draw from a position of strength to start the match with a victory.


Nakamura 3½ : 2½ Dubov

The repeat of the Lindores Abbey final match started with Nakamura playing a suspicious novelty in game 1:


10...Qxd5 is the almost-automatic move here, played by Leko, Ding and Wesley So, among others. Nakamura’s 10...Nxd5, on the other hand, was responded by a series of energetic moves that gave White a quick 17-move win. Nakamura later explained his tenth move by quipping, “I wasn’t awake enough”.

Dubov was also completely winning in game 2, until disaster struck:


Here Black needed to deal with the threat of Qxc8-Rd8+, getting out of trouble. The simplest way to do it was with 32...Ra8, planning to double on the a-file with ...Qa7 and getting a strong attack. Dubov instead blundered with 32...Ke7, allowing 33.Qg7. Black defended the f7-square with 33...Be8, but there was nothing he could do against 34.Rd6, threatening mate on f6 — and Black is anyway lost after 34...Qxd6 35.Rxd6 Kxd6, as the queen is too active. Dubov resigned.

Nakamura showed his best in game 3, with black. He gained a strong positional edge out of the opening, and played a nice exchange sacrifice to keep it all under control:


White was looking to muddy the waters on the kingside to save the game, so Nakamura decided to simplify into a positionally superior setup: 24...Re5 25.Bxe5 Ncxe5 and White had nothing better than 26.Nxc5, giving Black strong passers on the queenside. Nakamura went on to win in 47 moves.

Dubov won game 4, taking the set to tiebreaks. The first draw of the mini-match was seen in game 5, and Nakamura got the deciding win of the set in the second blitz tiebreaker.



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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