New in Chess Classic: Eventful mini-matches

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
4/30/2021 – Hikaru Nakamura won the first set of his semifinal match against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian drew their first mini-match. Both Carlsen and Nakamura were undefeated before the semis, and both were beaten for the first time in the New in Chess Classic on Thursday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Coincidences, traps

It was an eventful day of chess at the outset of the New in Chess Classic semifinals. No draws were seen in Hikaru Nakamura v Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Levon Aronian inflicted Magnus Carlsen’s first defeat of the event in a must-win situation — the Armenian had lost from a drawn position in game 3 and made the most of the world champion’s imprecise play in game 4.

Although Nakamura got a convincing 3-1 victory over Mamedyarov in the first set, he will have a hard time trying to keep things under control in Friday’s second set — as he usually does in these situations — since it seems impossible to prevent Shakh from creating chaos on the board in this tournament. The Azerbaijani has drawn only 8 out of the 26 games he has played so far, in contrast to his American opponent, who has drawn no fewer than 20 times in as many games.

It’s as difficult to make a prediction in the other semi, as Aronian’s creative play in the first set seemed to take Carlsen out of his comfort zone at some points. The Armenian told Kaja Snare:

Every time I play against Magnus I try to do my best, this time I was trying to have some fun while trying to do my best. I took my chances. Of course, my play in the first game was very dubious, but I said to myself, why not, I can play a game like that.

New in Chess Classic 2021

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Aronian 2 - 2 Carlsen

When Aronian referred to his ‘very dubious’ play in game 1, he referred to the variation he entered with black as early as move 5:


5...Qf6 does appear in the database, but mostly in club-level games or encounters between unrated players. Carlsen got an edge out of the opening, but Aronian quickly managed to get counterplay. The game ended drawn in 43 moves.

Another draw was followed by Carlsen setting what Peter Leko described as “a devilish trap” in a pawn endgame:


This position arose from an equal queen endgame. As Leko explained, it is clear that Carlsen allowed the queen swap knowing that his opponent might err in the diagrammed position. Black blundered with 43...f6, as quickly getting a passed pawn on the e-file with 44.Kc3 e5 45.fxe5 fxe5 46.Kb4 loses.


The white king can stop both passed pawns — they are not far apart enough nor far advanced enough on their way to promotion. Aronian resigned.

Given Carlsen’s unbeaten streak in the tournament, it was somewhat unexpected to see Aronian bouncing back on demand to draw the first set. Carlsen confessed:

I think we got a sort of appropriate result in the end. Obviously, it’s very disappointing to have given away the lead. I don’t think I deserved to win the match today. 


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Nakamura 3 - 1 Mamedyarov

Having Leko as a commentator can be very instructive. On Thursday, the former World Championship challenger noticed that the position reached in the first game of the Nakamura v Mamedyarov mini-match resembled an endgame he had seen before — coincidentally, the structure had been seen in a game between the two same players.


The position above was seen in the very last round of the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, and Mamedyarov had the white pieces. The Azerbaijani showed good technique to win the game, which was the only decisive game of the match. Thanks to the victory, Azerbaijan finished the tournament with 17 match points, enough to tie with four other teams that got 2 match points less than the winners from China. Azerbaijan had the worst tiebreaker score of the four teams and finished fifth.

Sam Shankland, who was playing board 4 in that match, tweeted:

As Shankland notes, the position which appeared on the board in the New in Chess Classic semifinals had the colours reversed.


Much like his colleague almost seven years ago, Nakamura managed to convert this position into a win. GM Karsten Müller analysed the endgame:


Mamedyarov bounced back immediately, winning game 2 with white. Naka scored the third win for the white player and went into game 4 with a 1-point lead. Naturally, Shakh played aggressively in the last game of the set, but his rival’s sharp tactical eye led to yet another win for the American, who thus got a 3-1 victory.



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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