Opera Euro Rapid SF: Carlsen and So reach the final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/13/2021 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So advanced to the final of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament, to be played on Saturday and Sunday starting at 17.00 CET. For a second time in a row, Carlsen knocked out his opponent in the Armageddon decider, while So had a much shorter day at the office, as it was impossible for Teimour Radjabov to win the match once the American collected two points in their second mini-match. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

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A repeat final

The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour is the second tour of online tournaments organized by the Play Magnus Group. In the first one, Magnus Carlsen had a magnificent showing winning all but one event, including the tour final. In the current series, however, the world champion has yet to win a tournament, as he was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Airthings Masters and lost the final against Wesley So in the Skilling Open.

Luckily for him, though, he will get a chance to redeem himself in the final of the Opera Rapid Euro tournament, as he will once again face So in the final match. 

If we look at the results achieved by both finalists in the knockout stage, it is difficult to call Carlsen the favourite, as his matches against both Daniil Dubov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were only decided in Armageddon, while So achieved cleaner victories over Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Teimour Radjabov.

Facing a motivated Carlsen is never easy, though, especially when he is in good spirits. After his victory over MVL, a visibly cheerful world champion told Kaja Snare:

This was very different from the match against Dubov. I felt in that match I made it very, very difficult for myself — I feel like today it was more about Maxime playing well and posing me some very difficult problems.

The Norwegian nevertheless acknowledged the fact that he is not playing at his usual level:

I’m still making horrendous blunders in some of these games, but at least I had a lot more fun today than I did against Dubov.

Will Carlsen manage his first tournament victory in the tour? Or will So, unprecedentedly, defeat the world champion in two consecutive finals?

Opera Euro Rapid Chess 2021

Click to enlarge

Carlsen* 1 : 3 Vachier-Lagrave

Won the tiebreaker 2:1

Draws in the first two games were followed by a couple of wins by Vachier-Lagrave. As mentioned by the man himself, “horrendous blunders” gave away the last two rapid games. In game 3, Carlsen’s bishop got trapped in the middlegame:

 

17...Ne7 allowed the simple 18.b4 and the bishop has nowhere to go — 18...axb4 19.axb4 Rxa1 20.Bxa1 Nf5 21.bxc5 bxc5 and White is a piece up. Carlsen continued playing until move 31, but the result was never in doubt.

In the blitz tiebreaker, Carlsen kicked off with a win but saw MVL convincingly bouncing back in the rematch — both players won with white. The world champion headed to a second sudden-death decider in a row, and for a second time got to play with the white pieces.

Perhaps Carlsen’s good mood during the post-match interview had a lot to do with his performance in the Armageddon game, as he obtained a convincing win against an in-form opponent. His 27th move was particularly enjoyable:

 

27.Qh6 is a killer blow. Black can only avoid a quick mate with 27...Rf6, but after 28.Bxf6 exf6 29.Rxe8+ Qxe8 30.Qe3 it is difficult to put up much resistance even in a blitz game. Resignation came on move 40.


Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

Endgame specialist Karsten Müller took a closer look at three games from this match.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games


 

So 2 : 1 Radjabov

For a second match in a row, So qualified to the following stage of the knockout without even needing to play four games in his second mini-match. Against Radjabov, he drew the first two encounters and won the third to secure a spot in the final — the American had won the first ‘set’, so it was already impossible for Radjabov to tie the overall score.

So’s win in game 3 came after Radjabov, understandably, played a risky opening, leaving his king in the centre while marshalling the white pieces — not a great idea against a player as technically strong as So:

 

The Filipino-born grandmaster had not trouble finding the lethal 18...Nd3+, when White is forced to give up his queen with 19.Qxd3 Bxd3 20.Rxb2. The alternatives do not work: 19.Ke3 is met by 19...Nxf4 (attacking the queen) 20.gxf4 Qxc3+; while 19.Nxd3 allows 19...Rxd2+.

So converted his advantage into a deciding 52-move win.


Analysis by GM Karsten Müller

 

 

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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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