Opera Euro Rapid QF: Carlsen knocks out Dubov in Armageddon

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/11/2021 – Two out of four quarterfinal matches at the Opera Euro Rapid tournament went to tiebreaks, with Magnus Carlsen and Teimour Radjabov eliminating Daniil Dubov and Anish Giri in the blitz section of their matches. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So also moved on to the semifinals. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

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No lucky pairing

Four exciting matchups were set up in the quarterfinals of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. Magnus Carlsen was paired up against Daniil Dubov, who had knocked him out of the previous Champions Chess Tour event; Wesley So played the ever-fighting Jan-Krzysztof Duda; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was confronted against Levon Aronian in a match between two long-term members of the elite; and Anish Giri, who had a great performance in Wijk aan Zee, faced Teimour Radjabov, who won the previous event of the tour.

The second day of the quarterfinals saw two matches going to tiebreaks, with Carlsen beating Dubov and Radjabov defeating Giri in battles of very different nature. While Carlsen blundered his way into losing the day’s rapid mini-match, Giri and Radjabov drew all their games before the Azerbaijani managed to score the deciding victory.

Dubov, who is not one to mince his words, said after losing to the world champion in Armageddon:

Obviously we were both quite far from our normal standards, but still when you score 4 points against Magnus it means something.

He added, referring to the fact that his aggressive playing style has gained him many fans:

I think it’s a very bad sign for chess that my style is called unique or something. I think in general we have a very creative young generation, it’s not just about me, it’s also about Duda for instance — I think we have a very big number of young guys who want to play real games, who don’t want to play this Berlin, and who play a lot of decisive games, and they’re fine with both winning and losing.

Carlsen, on the other hand, was visibly disappointed after an error-filled performance:

Obviously it’s a relief the final result, but that was a thoroughly disgusting performance on my part. [...] I feel like the preliminaries were one step forward and this was two steps back.

Much like Dubov, Giri had a long day at the office and was eliminated from the tournament. The ever-joyful Dutchman did not look as dispirited as the world champion (who actually won his match) and reflected:

You cannot really have a lucky pairing here, it’s not this kind of tournament.

Opera Euro Rapid Chess 2021

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Carlsen* ½ : 2½ Dubov

*Won the tiebreaker 2 : 1

After drawing the first game, the contenders of the most exciting quarterfinal match played five consecutive decisive encounters. First, Dubov beat the world champion twice in a row to take the match to tiebreaks. In the blitz section, the players exchanged wins with white before Carlsen got his ticket to semis by beating his opponent — also with the white pieces — in Armageddon.

As pointed out by the Norwegian himself, his disgust was mainly provoked by his blunder in the second rapid game of the day:


In this rather calm position, White is the one with realistic chances to get something going in his favour — which, by the way, is the kind of situation in which Carlsen excels at. The world champion, however, got himself in trouble here with 18.Bd2 (instead of 18.f3 or the more straightforward 18.dxe4).

Dubov, of course, found the most challenging continuation with 18...Bg4 19.f3 Bxf3 and went on to score a much-needed victory shortly after.

This was only the first of a number of uncharacteristic mistakes by the world champion, who nevertheless defeated his former second.


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Radjabov* 2 : 2 Giri

*Won the tiebreaker 1½ : ½

Radjabov was the only player to finish the 15-round preliminaries undefeated, and he seemed to be heading for a mini-match victory on day 1 of the quarterfinals against Giri after winning game 3. However, the undefeated streak was broken when Giri beat him in game 4 to tie the score.

On day 2, Radjabov’s solid play served him well, though, as five consecutive draws were followed by a deciding win with the white pieces. Giri had played enterprisingly out of the opening, but instead of keeping things complicated entered an inferior endgame on move 21:


Perhaps fearing a direct attack against his vulnerable king, Giri offered a queen exchange with 21...Qg6. After all this was a blitz game, so the experienced Dutchman understandably considered that it was harder for his opponent to convert a better position in a long ending instead of in a sharp battle.

The plan did not work out well for Giri, though, as Radjabov exchanged the queens and went on to show good technique while aptly using his bishop pair to win the game.


Vachier-Lagrave 2 : 2 Aronian

Coming from getting a win in the first mini-match, Vachier-Lagrave only needed to keep the balance on day 2 to reach the semifinals. The fighting Frenchman is not one to play solid chess, though, and he kicked off the day with a Sicilian Najdorf. MVL was worse out of the opening, but Aronian made a mistake that cost him his advantage:


Aronian was an exchange up but had the worse pawn structure. In order to force a simplification that would ease his task going forward he needed to play 35.Rb1 here (planning to continue with Rb8 next), while his 35.Rd4 was met by 35...Bh4 36.Rxe2 Nxe2 37.Rd2 Bf2 38.Rxe2:


Black is out of the woods, and after 38...Bxc5 the game seemed to be heading towards a draw. However, Aronian erred again, with the overly ambitious 39.e5, when Vachier-Lagrave actually got a better position after the strong 39...f5.

MVL went on to win the game, which meant Aronian needed two wins and a draw to get the needed mini-match victory. The Armenian managed to score a full point in game 3, but that was not enough to keep the match going. Vachier-Lagrave will face Carlsen in the semis.

Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Our in-house endgame specialist took a closer look at two endgames from this match.



So 2 : 0 Duda

In the shortest mini-match of the day, So convincingly defeated Duda in their first two encounters to secure a spot in the semifinals. The Filipino-born grandmaster has always been a tough opponent for Duda, as their contrasting styles seem to favour him in the long run. So explained:

I think when you lose the first day it’s psychologically quite tough to bounce back on the second day. [...] You have to be very patient, and I think today it just didn’t suit Jan-Krzysztof’s style because he always plays for a win with both colours, and it backfired today.

So will face a player with a style more similar to his own in the next stage, as he is paired up against Radjabov in the semis.



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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