Skilling Open Final: White wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/30/2020 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So go into the last day of the Skilling Open with the score tied after trading wins with white in the first four games of the final match. It all comes down to the second 4-game mini-match, while another tied score will lead to a blitz tiebreaker. The deciding confrontation will be played on Carlsen’s 30th birthday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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All ready for the birthday celebration?

It almost looks as it was scripted, as everything is set up for an exciting final day at the Skilling Open. Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So go into the last mini-match of the tournament with the score tied after having traded blows in the first 4-game confrontation. Moreover, the deciding matchup will be played on the world champion’s 30th birthday.

All four games on Sunday favoured the player with the white pieces. So was the last one to get a win, and later talked to the commentators — as humble as ever, he acknowledged the fact that he is not the favourite to win the event:

My goal in this match is to make it interesting, to try to put up a good fight at least, because Magnus is clearly the better player, and he’s the best player in the world right now, so just to compete with him is a very good feeling. He’s better in all parts of the game, so I have to do my best or try to catch him on an off day.

Of course, we all know that So can beat Carlsen on any given day, but will he manage to do it on the champ’s birthday? After seeing the fierce fight on the first mini-match of the finals, we can safely anticipate another exciting day of online chess.

Skilling Open 2020

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Game 1

So kicked off the day by entering a line which Le Quang Liem used twice in the preliminary stage of the tournament — the Vietnamese lost to Anish Giri and drew Jan-Krzysztof Duda with this setup. Black avoids entering sharp continuations, but needs to defend against White’s initiative from the get go:

 

Black needs to continue to be precise after 19.f4, when the central pawn is going to fall but he will get a pair of active rooks — 19...Bg7 20.Rae1 Rf8 21.fxe5 Rf5 22.e6 Bxb2 23.Rd1 Rc7:

 

White kept putting pressure starting with 24.g4, but So continued to find precise defensive resources at every turn. Until disaster struck on move 33:

 

Correct here was 33...Kf6, when all simplifications only lead to a draw, albeit with precise play by Black. So’s 33...Rf5, on the other hand, was duly punished by Carlsen, who noticed that entering an endgame with new queens for both sides was favourable to him — 34.Rxb3 axb3 35.e7 bxa2 36.e8Q a1Q:

 

Getting to give the first check is key in these open positions with heavy pieces on the board. There followed 37.Qe7+ Kh6 38.Rh4+ Rh5 39.Qf8+ Qg7:

 

Carlsen knew he had the win by this point, as everything is forced — 40.Qf4+ g5 41.Qd6+ Qg6 42.Qf8+ Qg7 43.Rxh5+:

 

Game over. 

 

Game 2

It was a dramatic day throughout, but certainly the most dramatic game of the day was the second one. So, playing white, obtained a winning position in a sharp setup with queens and bishops of opposite colours on the board:

 

The key feature of the position is the weakness of the black king, but if White gives his opponent a couple of tempi he will be able to push his dangerous c-pawn and create threats along the dark squares. 

So needed to be precise to convert his advantage, by going for 36.Bd3 here, when after 36...Qd1 there is 37.Qxd6, protecting the bishop and threatening to go ahead with the discovered attack. As the engines point out, White wins in every line (even after 37...e5, which is not the strongest). Of course, seeing all this in a rapid game is very difficult, and So opted for 36.e5 instead. 

The evaluation was now balanced, but precise calculation was still needed to avoid falling for a deadly attack with each side controlling either the light or the dark squares. So could have gone for a perpetual, but continued to put pressure. Carlsen defended accurately for quite a while — until he faltered on move 89:

 

89...Be5 would have kept things going, while 89...Kf8 loses on the spot. White now has mate in five: 90.Qe8+ Kg7 91.Qf7+ Kh6 92.Qh7+ Kg5 93.Qh5+ and Carlsen resigned without allowing 93...Kf4 94.Qf5#.

 

Game 3

In the third game of the day, Carlsen played a novelty on move 11, to which So responded with a pawn push that left him struggling to restore equality from the early stages of the game:

 

11.g4 was Carlsen’s novelty. So responded symmetrically, with 11...g5, and after 12.Bg3 Ne4 the world champion spent over 4 minutes deciding on the strong 13.h4, not fearing 13...Nxg3 14.fxg3. White kept his pawns doubled and the h-file opened up by responding to 14...gxh4 with 15.Rxh4:

 

White has the worse structure, but also better dynamic chances. It was not all smooth sailing for Carlsen from this point on, but he ended up getting the win in a double rook endgame in which he had the more active pieces:

 

So resigned in this position.

 

Game 4

Carlsen went for a Sicilian against So’s 1.e4 in game 4. The American got a better position out of the opening as he seemed to be better prepared in the chosen variation. The world champion equalized in the middlegame, but a tactical oversight ended up costing him the game:

 

29...Bf5 was not the best alternative in the position (29...Qc5 was better), but it was not the decisive mistake either. The blunder came after 30.Rh5 Qc8 31.Qxb6:

 

Carlsen’s 32...Ng4 was a miscalculation. Now White has 33.Ba6, when Black cannot keep everything defended — after 33...Qd7, for example, there follows 34.Bb5 and the queen is overloaded. The game continued 33...Re1+ 34.Ka2 Qe8 35.Rxf5 Ne3 36.Bb5 Qe7 and Carlsen resigned.

 

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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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