Skilling Open: “Ugly” wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/26/2020 – The quarterfinals of the Skilling Open kicked off on Wednesday. Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov won their first mini-matches to go into day two of the confrontations only needing a draw in order to move on to the semis. Carlsen was not all that satisfied with his performance, as his opponent, Anish Giri, missed opportunities from better positions more than once. | Photo: Alina l'Ami

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Giri lets chances slip

A very particular friendship/rivalry has developed between Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen in the last few years. Giri, a very creative Twitterer, frequently publishes witty remarks that might or might not be taken personally by the world champion. After beating Giri in the first mini-match of their quarterfinal confrontation, Carlsen told the official commentators:

I stopped replying and started playing better!

Carlsen’s victory was not achieved swiftly though, as Giri was clearly better in game 1 and had the upper hand at some point in the next two encounters. The world champion explained:

In the first three games he genuinely just played a bit better than me...but he hasn’t really got over the hump in these matches against me.

He had given a more descriptive assessment of the day’s play earlier in the interview:

I think today was certainly a case of winning ugly.

Going into day 2 of the quarterfinals, Carlsen only needs a draw in the second mini-match to reach the semifinals. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov are in the same situation, as they defeated Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So, respectively, at the outset of the knockout stage.

Skilling Open 2020

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Carlsen 2½ : 1½ Giri

Despite starting the mini-match with black, it was Giri who got the first chance to strike in the most anticipated matchup of the quarterfinals. After building up a massive advantage, the Dutchman could not find the right continuation in a critical position:


Black should not fear White’s invasion on c7 and continue to increase his initiative with 27...Be2, threatening to completely destroy his opponent’s setup. Giri, however, went for simplifications with 27...Qxe3+, giving up his advantage. He did get an endgame a pawn up, but Carlsen had no trouble holding the balance in the end.

After two rather balanced encounters in which Giri seemed to be better prepared, Carlsen got the match-winning victory in game 4. For Giri, doubling his pawns on move 19 was not a very good idea:


Carlsen captured the knight with 18...Bxe3 and Giri responded with 19.fxe3, perhaps fearing that after 19.Rxe3 Rd2 20.Re2 Rfd8 Black had some way to break through with his rooks doubled on the d-file — but he was merely seeing ghosts. In the game, after 19...Kf7 20.Ba4 Ke7, it turned out that the black king would play a key role in attacking the weak pawns on the e-file. 

This was the position after 25 moves:


White could not save this position. Giri resigned on move 51, thus losing the first mini-match of the quarterfinals.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Vachier-Lagrave 2½ : 1½ Nakamura

World number 2 in the official rapid ratings faced the player who has been the most challenging to Carlsen’s supremacy during the era of online tournaments. In the end, the former won the highly contested mini-match. Vachier-Lagrave’s only win came in game 1, when he had white and faced Nakamura’s Berlin Defence:


Black is a pawn up and has a better structure, but White is clearly the one with the initiative. After 28.h5, Nakamura’s best chance was to immediately give up the exchange with 28...Rxg5, while his 28...Rh6 was met by the strong 29.Nxf7 Bxf7 30.Bxh6 gxh6 31.e6:


Black can capture with 31...Bxh5, to which White can in turn give up yet another pawn with 32.g4 — taking the bishop away from the h5-e8 diagonal (note that after 32...Bg6 White has 33.Bf6). There followed 32...Bxg4 33.e7:


Nakamura had nothing better than 33...Nd7, but after 34.exd8Q+ Kxd8 35.Rf7 White’s pair of rooks had clear domination over the position.

In game 3, the American star had a clear opportunity to even the score, but he failed to make the most of it. Three more draws gave Vachier-Lagrave mini-match victory.


Aronian 2½ : 1½ Nepomniachtchi

This was the only mini-match which saw one of the players coming back from behind, as after a draw in game 1 Nepomniachtchi was the first one to get a full point. Aronian bounced right back with the white pieces and went on to score a second win in a row in game 4:


In hindsight, given how Aronian won the game, it is clear that White needed to play 25.Rbe1 in the diagrammed position. Nepomniachtchi’s 25.Rb7 was immediately punished by the forcing 25...Nxh3+ 26.gxh3 Bxg3 27.d5 Qxh3:


Now after 27...fxg3 Black forced his opponent’s resignation with 28.Rd2 — this is the reason why 25.Rbe1 was the way to go.


Radjabov 2½ : ½ So

The one player that won on Wednesday not by the smallest of margins was Radjabov, who defeated So twice with the black pieces to end the mini-match after three games. The Azerbaijani outplayed his opponent in a very complex struggle in game 1 and, after quickly drawing with white, went on to show a good-looking queenless attack in the third encounter of the day:


White is a piece and two pawns up, and after 30.Kb3 Nxc1+ he would still have chances to defend and continue playing the dynamically balanced position. Instead, So’s 30.Kc5 gave way to 30...Re6, threatening a mating attack, and the game abruptly ended after 31.b6 Ra5#.



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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