Skilling Open: A thrilling qualifier

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/25/2020 – The knockout stage of the Skilling Open is about to begin after eight participants qualified from a 16-player single round robin preliminary stage. Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura topped the standings on 9 out of 15; Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Levon Aronian finished a half point behind; while five players tied on 8 points, with Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri advancing to the quarterfinals. | Photo: Levon Aronian

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No runaway leader

Usual suspects Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura finished at the top of the standings in the preliminaries of the Skilling Open after Anish Giri had ended days 1 and 2 as the sole leader. The shared winners of the round robin did not get a massive score though, as +3 was enough to finish ahead — not an impressive total given the fact that they played 15 rounds. Evidently, it was a closely disputed competition all around.

If we look back at the standings after 10 rounds, only one player climbed to the top half of the table on day 3: Levon Aronian. The Armenian was the strongest in the final five rounds, scoring three wins and two draws to reach the quarterfinals. Ding Liren, who lost twice and drew the rest on Tuesday, was the one player leaving the top half of the table.

Aronian ended up sharing third to fifth place with Wesley So and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who played steadily throughout. Below these three players on +2, no fewer than five participants tied on 8 points, but only three got into the quarterfinals — Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri had the best tiebreak scores (amount of points against players with the same overall score). Alireza Firouzja and Le Quang Liem were left out of contention.

It was particularly painful to see Firouzja being eliminated, as he had started the day with three impressive wins in a row. Consecutive losses against Nakamura and Le meant he would not move on to the knockout.

Skilling Open 2020

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After losing twice on Monday and finding himself needing to come from behind on the last day of the preliminaries, Aronian had a brilliant performance in the last five rounds to reach the quarterfinals. Right out of the gate, he defeated a hapless Jan-Krzysztof Duda: 

 

The Armenian came out of a knotty middlegame with a better position. Duda, already in trouble, erred here with 29...Rfd8, further weakening the f7-square. There followed 30.Nc4 Qa6 31.d6 Nf4 32.Ne5:

 

White leaves his passer undefended, but brings another piece to attack the weakness on f7. After 32...Rxd6 33.Nxf7 Bxf7 34.Rxf7+ Kg6 White immediately pushed his opponent to resign by doubling on the seventh rank:

 

35.Qc7 and Duda resigned.

Levon Aronian

Two rounds later, the Armenian ended the game against former co-leader Anish Giri in similar fashion. This time around, it was the rook that was placed on c7 to create a double attack along the seventh rank:

 

Giri’s 32...Ba6 quickly put the lid on the struggle — 33.Bxa6 Qxa6 and...

 

34.Rc7 Game over. Giri came from losing against Firouzja in the previous round. Despite having been the leader at the end of the first two days of action, the Dutchman barely made it into the knockout stage after safely holding draws in his last two encounters.

Anish Giri

As mentioned above, Firouzja kicked off the day with three straight wins, beating Ding, Giri and Sergey Karjakin to climb to shared first place with two rounds remaining. It was online-chess specialist Hikaru Nakamura who stopped the youngster’s run:

 

Firouzja had actually achieved a better position in the middlegame. By this point, however, the game was dynamically balanced with White having more chances to create threats against the opposite king. Suddenly, Black faltered decisively with 30...Rfd8 though (30...a5 was called for). Nakamura quickly found 31.Qxb7:

 

Black is lost after the forced 31...Qxb7 32.Rxd8+ Kh7 33.Ng6, threatening mate on h8. Firouzja must now enter a lost knight endgame with 33...Qc8 34.Rxc8 Nxc8:

 

Black transferred his king to the queenside to stop the passer while White calmly took his monarch to e5, fully controlling the position. Resignation came on move 43.


Final standings - Preliminaries

 

All games - Preliminaries

 

Links


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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