Skilling Open: Carlsen and So in the final

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/29/2020 – Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So moved on to the final of the Skilling Open by drawing their second semifinal mini-matches against Ian Nepomniachtchi and Hikaru Nakamura respectively. It was a tougher day at the office for the world champion, who had to come back from a loss in game 1 and find defensive resources in the remaining encounters to keep things under control. | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

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“I’ll have to step it up”

Magnus Carlsen’s tournament so far has been anything but dominant, but he has nevertheless been able to reach yet another final. Of course, for any other player, getting to this stage would be a reason to celebrate, but not for the world champion — or at least not fully — as he has been surviving worse positions to eliminate both Anish Giri in the quarterfinals and Ian Nepomniachtchi in the semis. The Norwegian explained:

I haven’t been able to gain much momentum. Even the game that I won was very unclear, and I think I was at some point even worse. Frankly, I’m not playing that great. It’s been enough so far, but I think I’ll have to step it up in the final ’cause Wesley is extremely strong.

Carlsen in fact lost the first game against ‘Nepo’ on Saturday. He did manage to bounce right back though, and ended up showing great nerves to keep things under control in two complex fights that finished drawn.

The world champion’s opponent in the final will be Wesley So, who lost a couple of clear chances to beat Hikaru Nakamura in the first two games of their second mini-match, but anyway got the four draws that allowed him to qualify to the last stage of the knockout.

During this tournament — as pointed out on Friday by Sam Shankland in the chess24 commentary webcast — So demonstrated that he is a very strong, and quick, tactician. His reputation of being a solid player has more to do with the fact that he is very pragmatic once he has an edge on the scoreboard. So’s mental toughness is also a key factor for his success. The Filipino-born grandmaster told the commentators:

In general, in these events, you wanna try to forget the last game right away, whatever happens, and try to take each game as if it’s the very first round, but it’s not always easy. [...] Hikaru is very tactical and very slippery, and he makes use of all his chances, and he never gives up — he has this tremendous fighting spirit.

It was indeed tough to beat Nakamura, but the most difficult challenge lies ahead. Given the fact that he defeated Carlsen in last year’s final of the Fischer Random World Chess Championship, it is clear that he has what it takes to take down the world number one. So is ready to face the strongest player of this era:

It’s always a great honour to face Magnus in a match, especially in the finals. [...] I hope to be able to put up a worthy fight.

Skilling Open 2020

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Carlsen 2 : 2 Nepomniachtchi

In a well-fought first game, the position was dynamically balanced, until Nepomniachtchi blundered by placing his queen in the wrong square:


The one move that keeps the tension and the evaluation balanced was 31.Qc8, while the Russian’s 31.Qe8 gave Black a chance to take over — 31...Qc7 is now possible, both threatening a deathly discovered attack and to trap the queen with 32...Rd8. The drama continued though, as Carlsen missed this chance and in fact faltered with 31...Bxf2:


It turns out that the white king is safer than his counterpart now. There followed 32.Kg4 Rf6 33.e5 h5+ 34.Kh3 Rf4 and White broke through with 35.e6, when Black is lost. Carlsen resigned a few moves later.

Ain the following encounter, an endgame with a queen and a minor piece and four pawns per side appeared on the board. Carlsen, with white, had the initiative, but Black had enough defensive resources to hold the balance. Until Nepomniachtchi blundered on move 41:


In hindsight, it’s easy to notice that 41...Kf7 was the way to go in this position, as after 41...Qg7 White gave a lethal check with 42.Qe8+, when the black pawns on a4 and b5 were captured in the following moves. Carlsen had no trouble converting his material advantage into a win.

The remaining games finished drawn in 39 and 35 moves respectively, giving the world champion the draw he needed to secure a spot in the final.


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So 2 : 2 Nakamura

The second all-American mini-match of the semifinals was all about missed opportunities. So failed to make the most of massive advantages in games 1 and 2, while Nakamura got chances of his own in game 4 (before the evaluation turned in favour of his opponent).

So blundered into a perpetual check in a completely winning position in game 1:


Most obvious moves win for white here — 60.a6 or 60.Qb3 for example — while So’s 60.Qe4 gave his opponent the one chance to escape he had in the position: 60...Qg4+ 61.Kf1 Qd1+ 62.Kg2 Qg4+ with a perpetual check.

In the diagrammed position, almost any elite player would have resigned in a classical game, but Nakamura is not one to give up when playing rapid or blitz online — he knows these things can happen.

Draws in the remaining three games were enough for So to move on to the final.



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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