Wesley So does it again, beats Magnus Carlsen to win Opera Euro Rapid

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/15/2021 – Wesley So defeated Magnus Carlsen in the final of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament to bag a second consecutive victory in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. Carlsen lost game 1 after playing a speculative piece sacrifice and never managed to bounce back, missing opportunities in games 3 and 4. Meanwhile, Teimour Radjabov convincingly beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to claim third place.

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Bad timing

Wesley So defeated Magnus Carlsen in two consecutive finals of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, and both times he did it on special dates, first on the world champion’s 30th birthday and now on Valentine’s Day. The ever-humble American grandmaster later apologized for having ruined his opponent’s celebrations.

For Carlsen, it was all about bad timing chess-wise on day 2 of the finals, as he incorrectly sacrificed a piece in game 1 and failed to play correct sacrifices in games 3 and 4. The world champion explained:

There were a few instances today of not following my intuition, which were just frustrating, especially considering the first game, where I did go for a sacrifice which didn’t work at all. [...] Overall, no shame in losing, but I just feel that I could have done a lot better with the chances I had today. It’s not gonna sit well tonight I think.

So also mentioned that the level of play in the final had been very low. Nevertheless, both Carlsen and the commentators agreed that So was a very deserving winner, as he was clearly superior in the two previous stages of the knockout and showed good nerves during the final.

Talking to Kaja Snare, So referred to his routine during these tournaments, noting that it is much more important to relax while the event is taking place, as in his case most of the preparatory work is done in advance.

The Filipino-born grandmaster is leading the overall standings of the tour.

Opera Euro Rapid Chess 2021

Tied in points atop the tour standings is Teimour Radjabov, who won the first event of the series and finished third in the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. The Azerbaijani convincingly defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the match for third place. After winning the first mini-match, Radjabov won the first two games of Sunday’s ‘set’ to secure match victory.

An incredible blunder (for an elite player) by MVL gifted ‘Raja’ the second win of the day:


White can move his king to any square around the rook, as if Black is the one exchanging the rooks on the next move a drawn pawn endgame will arise. The one move White must not play is 46.Rxg5, Vachier-Lagrave’s choice — 46...Kxg5 immediately gains the opposition and Black will promote his pawn.

Referring to the Frenchman’s blunder, grandmaster Jonathan Rowson twitted:

It’s hard to explain quite how shocking this is. 

If we ever had to create a chess version of ‘do something that communicates to the outside world you have been taken hostage in a way that your captors won’t understand’  this would be it.

Teimour Radjabov

So 2½ : 1½ Carlsen

The second mini-match of the finals had all to do with Carlsen’s piece sacrifices — the one he played and the ones he rejected. In game 1, he was overly optimistic on move 14:


14...Bxh4 simply does not work. As So proved during his semifinal match against Radjabov, he is not one to miss his chances when up material against dubious compensation. The American grandmaster continued with 15.gxh4 Nxh4 16.Nxh4 Qxh4 17.Re3 and went on to get a 28-move win.

In game 2, Carlsen got a slightly better position in the middlegame thanks to his pair of bishops. However, there were not enough imbalances in the position to create much against So’s solid play. The draw meant the world champion only had one game with white left to try and tie the score.

Carlsen, however, did not have to wait until his next game with white to get a chance to bounce back from his initial loss. In game 3, he rejected going for a sacrifice that would have given him a massive advantage:


So’s 18.Qxd4 was a blunder, as the queen is cut off from the defence of the king’s position — had he captured with the c-pawn, the queen could quickly access the queenside along the d1-h5 diagonal. In the diagrammed position, both 18...Bxh3 and especially 18...Nxg2 are good for black.

The world champion later confessed that he had missed that after 18...Nxg2 19.Kxg2 Bxh3+ 20.Kh2 Nh4 (threatening a fork on f3) 21.Bd1...


...Black has 21...Bg2 winning. Carlsen anyway gave up a piece for three pawns later, but that was only enough for a draw.

It all came down to game 4, when the world champion was in a must-win situation. A critical position arose on move 23:


The light-squared bishop is threatened, but White could simply ignore the threat and drum up a direct attack against Black’s king with 23.Kh1 axb3 24.Rg1+ Kh8 and the lethal 25.e6:


By advancing the e-pawn, White free the e5-square for his dark-squared bishop and Black is busted. None of this was seen in the game, though, as Carlsen played 23.Bd1 and found himself in a worse position soon afterwards. The Norwegian confessed:

My intuition was just screaming Kh1.

Things could have gone differently, but So showed great nerves throughout the event, demonstrating that, given the chance, he can take down any player from the elite, including the world champion himself.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Analyses by GM Karsten Müller

Our in-house endgame specialist took a closer look at both games from day 2 of the match for third place. In the first one, Radjabov defeated Vachier-Lagrave from a materially balanced endgame with four rooks on the board.



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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