Opera Euro Rapid: Carlsen wins four in a row

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/7/2021 – Day 1 of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament finished with Magnus Carlsen alone atop the standings table on 4/5. Carlsen had lost his first game against Wesley So, but managed to win four in a row to go into day 2 half a point ahead of So and Ian Nepomniachtchi. The preliminary round robin serves as a qualifier to the knockout stage — 8 out of 16 players will advance to the quarterfinals. | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Saint Louis Chess Club

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“A very enjoyable day of chess”

Four participants at the Opera Euro Rapid tournament played the supertournament in Wijk aan Zee during the second half of January. The rest have barely played anything other than online tournaments in about a year. Some of them are rusty, while others seem eager to show new ideas in the high-paying rapid event. These factors combined have led to a first day of action in which more than half the games finished decisively, with plenty of excitement throughout the five rounds of 15-minute games.

After scoring four consecutive wins to finish day 1 as sole leader, Magnus Carlsen was interviewed by Kaja Snare and said:

What I have to say in general is that this was a very, very enjoyable day of chess. I tried to win every game, including the first one — obviously in that one I was beaten quite soundly [by Wesley So], but I think the other games were just a lot of fun.

The world champion pointed out that he felt there were not many unbeaten players, and he was right, as only Teimour Radjabov managed to end the day without a loss (he won one and drew four games).

Going into day 2, Carlsen has two players a half point behind in the standings — Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi — while the main goal for the rest of the field is to stay away from the bottom half of the table, as only eight of them will get a spot in the knockout stage.

Opera Euro Rapid 2021

Click image to enlarge

Round 1: So beats the champ

Carlsen kicked off the event playing black against the winner of the Skilling Open — not an easy task by any measures — but that did not prevent him from playing the Sicilian. After 40 moves, White was a pawn up, but more importantly the black king was more vulnerable to attacks than his white counterpart:


Using the fact that only the black queen is defending the h7-square, So transferred his knight to g5 with 41.Ne6 Rc2 42.Ng5. White had the initiative and traded into a winning endgame at the right moment — the Filipino-born grandmaster got the full point on move 53.

A highlight from round 1 was Alexander Grischuk playing 4.Kf1 instead of castling against Anish Giri. It was a mouse-slip, of course, after which the Russian star managed to keep his cool and hold a draw despite the early accident.

Karsten Müller analysed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s victory over Daniil Dubov in a really instructive endgame.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Round 2: Nepo and MVL keep a perfect score

Two of the strongest rapid and blitz players in the world started the Opera Euro Rapid with two straight wins. Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Grischuk, while Vachier-Lagrave got the better of Dubov and So.

After beating Carlsen, So could not hold a rook endgame a pawn down against MVL:


Vachier-Lagrave demonstrated for a second game in a row that he knows how to convert superior endings even when he has little time on the clock.

Sam Shankland, Radjabov and Carlsen also won in round 2.


Round 3: Both leaders lose

Nepo and MVL could not continue their winning streaks and, in fact, were both defeated in the third round. Nepomniachtchi was outplayed by Giri while Vachier-Lagrave made a mistake when he played a forcing move against Levon Aronian:


White has the upper hand in this position, with his knight clearly better positioned than Black’s bishop. The forcing sequence 30...Re1+ 31.Rd1 Rxd1 32.Kxd1 Rxb2 33.Rxa4 was the best Black had here, entering a rook endgame that might be drawn with precise play. Instead, MVL’s 30...a3 was responded by the strong 31.b4, and in fact it was the passer on the b-file the one that gave Aronian his second win of the day.

Carlsen, So and Shankland also scored full points in round 3 — none of these three players had signed a single draw by that point.


Round 4: Ding and Nakamura score first wins

While Hikaru Nakamura had drawn his first three games, Ding Liren came from having a rough start, as he had lost against Aronian and Shankland and drawn Matthias Bluebaum. The two elite players scored their first wins of the event in round 4. Nakamura beat Giri with white, while Ding captured Leinier Dominguez’s knight to finally collect a full point:


A good-looking final position.

Carlsen defeated Shankland to grab the sole lead.


Round 5: Six decisive results

Playing five rapid games against top opposition on a single day is a demanding task. The most enduring players got to finish the day with victories, improving their chances to secure a spot in the knockout stage.

In a wild game, Carlsen got the better of Dominguez from the black side of a Sicilian Dragon. Things could have gone differently had the Cuban-born grandmaster found 28.Rd4 in the following position:


If Black manages to escape a potential mating attack (as he did in the game), he has the better position going forward. At this point, White could have got a massive advantage with 28.Rd4 — instead of 28.Rh1+ — when Black will need to give up material to avoid a quick loss.

After Dominguez’s missed opportunity, getting the win was by no means a straightforward task for the world champion, however, as he only secured the full point after 72 moves. In fact, even deep into the bishop endgame Dominguez had some chances to save a half point — Karsten Müller shows us how.

The other winners of the round were Dubov, So, Duda, Giri and Nepomniachtchi.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller



Standings after round 5



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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