Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals: Carlsen Hits Back

The score in the final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva is tied after two matches as GM Magnus Carlsen beat GM Hikaru Nakamura on Saturday. The world champion came back after losing the first game and then profited from a blunder in the second blitz game.

Carlsen hit back on Saturday in what was a somewhat odd match from the perspective of the fans. Nakamura won an excellent first game and then “sacrificed” his white game by playing a known repetition in the opening in game two. After he lost game three, the American GM again played that move repetition to head straight into the blitz tiebreak, where he blundered in the second.

As it turned out, the two quick draws were both strategy and tilt, for Nakamura.

Before we get to that, first that first game. It was a truly spectacular fight in which Carlsen didn’t shy away from entering the same, sharp complications of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted in which he had lost the other day. And also this time, it went wrong for him.

In the interview in the official broadcast, Carlsen admitted afterward that he had his doubts about his opening choice.

“I suppose the opening choice in the first game today and probably also the third, they weren’t perfect in the sense that they were pretty difficult to play,” he said. “You gotta be able to play both complicated positions and more solid ones. It was just that probably the one I had in the first game was a little bit too difficult to figure out over the board.”

Although he had walked through the lines just before the game, Carlsen said he couldn’t remember 17…Qd5 and found it too difficult to figure out. “To refute it over the board in 10 minutes is pretty hard. The line I went for is just a tad unrealistic, unfortunately.”

Carlsen got an attack, but while he sacrificed two pieces Black’s queen did a tremendous job defending her husband from a3. Eventually, Nakamura was a rook up, and still, the game wasn’t over.

It was only afterward that Carlsen was told he could still have drawn the game with the computer’s suggestion 37.Rc1!!. The world champion thought he could have found it if he hadn’t had the wrong approach: in the game he felt that if he could pick up both the d- and b-pawns and run with his f-pawn he would get decent practical chances but with accurate defense, Nakamura didn’t allow him to take his b-pawn.

Carlsen mentioned an old game he played as Black against the Israeli GM Alexander Huzman in 2008, where the same material was on the board with a lot of similar themes and “an amazing amount of tricks.”

Carlsen said that at the closing ceremony of that tournament, Huzman and his good friend GM Boris Gelfand showed him “some of the most amazing lines of chess I’ve ever seen.” Analyzing it could be quite fun indeed.

But it’s high time for today’s game:

Before the match, Carlsen had decided to play more solidly with Black. That meant no more Najdorfs, but the Berlin instead. So that’s what he went for in game two, which was over in less than a minute (!) as Nakamura played a well-known drawing sequence. Wow.

The American GM provided his explanation on his Twitch channel: “I think the draws were fine; I know people were kind of complaining. When I was ahead 1-0 I felt very confident in my black repertoire and I think the choice was actually completely fine because I got a much better position in the third game.”

Carlsen had no problem with it either: “I thought it was reasonable. I mean, he’s gotten great chances twice, counter-attacking as Black, so why wouldn’t he… It’s not an obvious choice but I don’t think it’s a poor choice. He has a match strategy and he knows what he’s doing.”

Carlsen then reminded the fans that he didn’t mind a draw himself in the final games of his matches with GMs Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana, and went on to beat both in the rapid tiebreaks.

“I’m no stranger to forcing a draw in that particular situation myself. People make the decisions that they think give them the best chance to win and then you live with the consequences. You cannot base everything on the result. I think obviously it’s still going to sting but I think he felt that was the right decision and he probably still does.”

Carlsen won game three, but could easily have lost it, resulting in a 0-2 deficit. He said he mixed things up in the opening again, and thought he would have been “completely lost” if Nakamura had started running with his h-pawn on move 15.

But he didn’t, and so Carlsen could equalize as the middlegame started. And then disaster struck for Nakamura, off the board: Around move 18, his webcam stopped working and he needed to spend several minutes trying to fix it.

“I have had this webcam for two or two and a half years so if it was gonna die it literally could not die at a worse possible time,” said Nakamura. “It obviously affected me in terms of that game I lost.”

According to Nakamura, the players’ contract stipulates a $1,000-$2,000 fine if their webcam goes off, so it was understandable that he was distracted by it.

He got it back to work, but it switched off twice more, and during that phase Nakamura blundered his g7-pawn and couldn’t save the game.

“I probably had drawing chances perhaps but considering what had already happened in the game I was kind of in such a bad mood that I wasn’t able to find a way,” he said.

Nakamura then repeated the exact same line in the Berlin Ruy Lopez to once again draw in less than a minute in game four, but this time it was not just about strategy. He was still upset.

“Once I lost that game, in the fourth game I was definitely tilted and I thought it would be better to get an extra 15 minutes to kind of regroup and gather my thoughts than try to go all in,” he said.

Two 5+3 blitz games followed, with Nakamura first drawing as Black (this time with a more solid line in the Queen’s Gambit Declined), but then losing due to another blunder as he missed 27…Qb4.

“It happens. In blitz there’s gonna be more blunders in general,” he said.

Carlsen: “That was a pleasant feeling.”

Nakamura said he was much more annoyed about what happened in game three than his blunder in game six: “Objectively I never should have lost that game but then my webcam decided to go insane. What to do.”

He added that he still feels good about this match: “If I’m gonna give an honest opinion I think I’ve just outplayed Magnus during the first two matches and going in, I did not expect that. Obviously I wanna win and there’s a long way to go but I do feel that I played the better chess so far. If I’m playing better chess than Magnus has, that’s a very good sign.”

The Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva runs August 9-20 on chess24. The semifinals phase was a best-of-five series of matches consisting of four-game rapid matches each day. The final consists of a best-of-seven series, where the player who wins four matches is the winner of the tour. The prize fund is $300,000 with $140,000 for first place and $80,000 for second. The time control is 15 minutes and a 10-second increment.

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