Opera Euro Rapid QF: Carlsen, So and MVL off to winning starts

by André Schulz
2/10/2021 – The imaginative Daniil Dubov is an uncomfortable opponent for all players, including Magnus Carlsen. On the first day of the Opera Euro Rapid quarterfinals, however, the world champion defeated the Russian convincingly. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So also won their mini-matches. | Photo: Niki Riga / World Chess

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The first mini-matches of the Opera Euro Rapid knockout stage were played on Tuesday. Each confrontation consists of two 4-game mini-matches, and in case of a tie a blitz playoff will follow immediately after the second ‘set’.

Magnus Carlsen was the first one to score a mini-match victory, as he took down Daniil Dubov — who had knocked him out of the Airthings Masters a bit over a month ago — after winning two out of their three first encounters. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So obtained 2½:1½ wins over Levon Aronian and Jan-Krzysztof Duda respectively, while Anish Giri managed to win game 4 on demand to tie the score with Teimour Radjabov.

Opera Euro Rapid 2021

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Carlsen 2½ : ½ Dubov

The world champion was ruthless on day 1 of his quarterfinal match against Daniil Dubov. Carlsen kicked off with a win.


21.Qb3 Qd7 22.Nf5 Threatens to capture on d4 and then play Qc4.

22...Ng4? [22...Nh5!? with the idea 23.N5xd4 exd4 24.e5 Nf4 25.Re4 Qf7 26.Qd1 Qg6 getting counterplaY.]

23.N5xd4 exd4 24.e5 The knight on g4 is in trouble.

24...h5 25.Qc4 The pawn on d4 is not defensible. Black tries to complicate matters.

25...Rxf3 26.gxf3 Nh6 27.Rc1 Nf5


28.Qxc7 Cold-blooded. The queen captures the pawn before rushing back to the defence.

28...Qd5 29.Qc2 [29.Qc4 Qxf3 30.Qxe6+ Kh7 31.Qf7 Qg4+ 32.Kf1 Ne3+ 33.Ke1 Ng2+ 34.Kd2 requires precise calculation, but also wins.]



30.Qe2 White has to be careful once more. He should not let the queen to capture on f3.

30...Nxf3+ 31.Kh1 Nxe5+ 32.f3 [32.Qe4 Qxb5 33.Rc8+ Kf7 34.Rc7+ Kg8 35.Kg1 Qb1+ 36.Kg2+–]

32...Qxb5 33.Re1 Nxd3 34.Rd1 1–0

After a draw in the second game, Carlsen also won the third game and thus ended the mini-match earlier than expected.

Carlsen, M. - Dubov, D.
Opera Euro Rapid KO, Game 3

1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 The “Dubov-Frischmann” variation.


6.Nb5 Qd8 7.Be2

[Other attempts:

7.Bf4 Nd5 8.Bg3 a6 9.Na3 e5 10.dxe5 Bb4+ 11.Nd2 h5 12.h4 Bg4 0–1 (28) Karjakin,S (2752)-Dubov,D (2699) chess24.com INT 2020;

7.c4 e6 8.Be2 Bb4+ 9.Nc3 0–0 10.0–0 b6 11.Bg5 Bxc3 12.bxc3 h6 13.Bh4 Bb7 1–0 (42) Ter Sahakyan,S (2640)-Dubov,D (2699) chess. com INT 2020]

7...a6 8.Na3 Bg4 9.Nc4 e6 10.0–0 Be7 11.c3 0–0 12.a4 Nd5 13.a5 Bd6 14.Re1 Re8 15.Bg5 f6 16.Bh4 Nce7 17.Bg3 Bxg3 18.hxg3 Nf5


19.Qb3 White has a space advantage and is in a good position.

19...Rb8 20.Bd3 Bh5 21.Ncd2 Bf7 22.Qc2 Bg6 23.Nb3 Qd6 24.Nc5 b6 25.axb6 cxb6


26.Ne4 This knight has had a tremendous run. Nb1–c3–b5–a3–c4–d2–b3–c5–e4. [Or 26.Rxa6 Nc7 27.Ne4]

26...Qc7 27.Rxa6 Wins a pawn.

27...Rbc8 28.Qa4 h5 29.Ned2 Kh7 30.c4 b5 31.cxb5 [Or 31.Qxb5 Rb8 32.Qa5 Qxa5 33.Rxa5 Nb4 34.Bb1+–]

31...h4 32.gxh4 Nf4 33.Bf1 Bh5 34.Rc6 Qf7 35.Qc2 Qg6 Threatens Nh3 after all.


36.Kh2 Pragmatic. [36.Rxc8 Nh3+ 37.Kh2 Nxf2 threatening a perpetual check 38.Ng5+ was the alternative.]

36...Rcd8 37.Qe4 Nd5 38.Rxe6 Nc7 39.Rxe8 Rxe8 40.Qb1 Rxe1 41.Qxe1 Nd5 42.Qe4 1–0


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

So 2½ : 1½ Duda

After a draw in the first game, Wesley So made a big mistake against Jan-Krzystof in the second game and fell behind on the scoreboard. GM Karsten Müller analysed the materially-imbalanced endgame. 


With two wins in games 3 and 4, however, the American grandmaster turned the tables around and won the first set of the match.

In the third game, So needed 103 moves to win the endgame. Here is Karsten Müller's analysis.


A queen and bishop attack put an end to the fourth game:


27...Rd2+ 28.Bxd2 [28.Kf1 Rc2] 28...Qxd2+ 29.Kf1 Qxe3 30.Qe4 Qc1+ 31.Kg2 Qg5+ 32.Qg4 Qd2+ 33.Kh3 gxf5 34.Qh5 [34.Bxf5 Rg8] 34...Be5 35.f4 Qxf4 0–1


Vachier-Lagrave 2½ : 1½ Aronian

In the match between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian the first game also ended without a winner. Then, in the second game, the French star demonstrated the explosive power of piece play in the Grünfeld Defence with the black pieces in a display of tactical fireworks. Aronian was literally overrun.

Aronian, L. - Vachier-Lagrave, M.
Opera Euro Rapid KO, Game 2

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 Be6!? is played rather rarely compared to other variations.

[The main move is 6...0–0 and after 7.e4 has also already been played before 7...Be6 8.d5 Bc8!? 0–1 (38) Van Foreest,J (2612)-Vachier Lagrave,M (2780) chess.com INT 2019]


7.Qa4+ [The main variation is 7.Qb5+ Bd7 8.Qxb7 Nc6 9.Qb3 Rb8 10.Qd1 Bf5 with compensation.]

7...Bd7 8.Qb3 c5 Black had good results in previous games following this line.

9.d5 b5 10.Nxb5 Na6 11.Nc3 Rb8 12.Qd1 Qa5


13.Qd2 [13.Nd2 Nxd5 14.Nxd5 Ba4 15.b3 Bc6 0–1 (15) Drenchev,P (2434)-Ivic,V (2548) Bajina Basta 2020]

13...Nb4 14.e4 Ba4 White is outplayed and loses material.

15.b3 Bxb3 16.Rb1 Bc2 17.Rb3 Bxb3 18.axb3 Nd7 With the intention of playing Bxc3 and Nd3.

19.Bb2 0–0–+ [19...Nxd5!?–+]


20.Be2 Na2 [20...Nxd5 21.Nxd5 Qxd2+ 22.Nxd2 Bxb2 23.Nxe7+ Kg7–+]

21.Na4 Qxa4! Very pretty and the prelude to tactical fireworks.


22.Bxg7 [22.bxa4 Rxb2 23.Qe3 (23.Qd1 Nc3; 23.Qd3 Nc1) 23...Bc3+–+]

22...Rxb3 23.Bxf8 Rb1+ 24.Bd1 Qxe4+ 25.Kf1 Nc3 26.Qxc3 Rxd1+ 27.Ne1 Nxf8 Black has two extra pawns and is clearly better.

28.h4 Qxd5 29.Rh3 Ne6 30.Re3 Rd4 31.Nf3 Qc4+ 32.Qxc4 Rxc4 33.Ra3 Nd4 34.Nxd4 cxd4 35.Rxa7 d3 36.Ke1 Re4+ 37.Kd2 Re2+ 38.Kxd3 Rxf2 A pragmatic end to a spectacular game. 0–1

In the next game Aronian was about to equalize, but after a mistake Maxime Vachier-Lagrave managed to escape with a draw. 


Giri 2 : 2 Radjabov

In the match between Anish Giri and Teimour Radjabov, the Azerbaijani took the lead with a win in the third game, but Giri bounced back and equalized in the fourth game.

Karsten Müller took a look at the deadly zugzwang that gave Radjabov his win of the day.



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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