Carlsen, So Tie 1st Match In Skilling Open Final
GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Wesley So tied their first match of the Skilling Open final on Sunday. Both players won their two white games. The tournament will be decided on Monday, which is Carlsen’s 30th birthday.
“To beat him twice is very special,” said So after the first day of the final. It’s indeed very rare to see Carlsen losing two times in a single day.
It was a remarkable day also because there were four wins, all scored by White. “It’s totally not what I expected would happen today,” said So. “We were both running into serious problems with the black pieces.”
His problems with black in the first game were not that serious, to be honest. The endgame was indeed somewhat unpleasant, but So was one move away from a draw.
“I was very shocked to find out that the pawn endgame would have been a draw if I played 33…Kf6,” he said.
Instead, both players queened a pawn, and then Carlsen found the only route, full of checks, to victory:
Used to be sharp back in my twenties https://t.co/MziRySunBH
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) November 30, 2020
The second game was the most spectacular of the four. In So’s words, it went as follows:
“In the second game, it was very interesting. He had to give up a pawn for the bishop pair, and then I went for a mating attack with 30.Nh5+, then 31.Nf4, and I wasn’t risking anything at all because I had perpetual check in all lines. But then my time was running very low. I had under a minute on the clock, and I couldn’t find a win.”
So ended on the defending side as he missed a perpetual. Many moves later, Carlsen also missed a strong continuation when the game seemed to be heading to a draw anyway—until the world champion walked into checkmate!
So: “I decided to play 89.Qe3+ just to see what would happen, and Magnus was very generous to play 89…Kf8 and run into a fortunate checkmate.”
The next game was Carlsen’s best of the day. “I must say that Magnus totally outplayed me in game three. I had absolutely no chance,” admitted So.
The American GM said he got confused in what is a rare line (6.a3) of the Ragozin and that he castled too quickly. He called 11.g4 a “fantastic move” and 11…g5 a blunder.
Again with the white pieces and in a must-win situation, So became the first player ever to beat Carlsen in the 7.Nd5 line of the Sveshnikov, the one that became topical during the 2018 Caruana-Carlsen world championship.
Carlsen was clearly caught off guard by his opponent’s preparation (9.Qf3!?) and fell very behind on the clock. Around move 30, he was doing OK, but he had less than a minute and lost material when So found a hard-to-spot bishop move.
How painful the loss in game four was for Carlsen can be deduced from his reaction on camera when he realized 32.Ba6 is winning for So. The world champion also refrained from being interviewed—even in a broadcast by his own company.
Magnus Carlsen is furious with himself as he blunders and loses the final game of the day! The players have drawn 2:2, so we start from scratch tomorrow: https://t.co/J0C08qb6sY #c24live #ChessChamps #SkillingOpen pic.twitter.com/rLu5n0xfsz
— chess24.com (@chess24com) November 29, 2020
As always, So was very humble in his comments: “My goal in this match is to make it interesting, to try to put up a good fight at least. Magnus is clearly the better player, and he’s the best player in the world right now. Just to compete with him is a very good feeling, and he’s better in all parts of the game than me. I have to do my best and hope to try and catch him on an off-day. I think today has been slightly an off-day for him.”
In an earlier report, this author suggested that So might have pretty decent chances to beat Carlsen in this Skilling Open final. This was solely based on the impression that the world champion doesn’t seem to be in his best shape, which he has readily acknowledged himself.
So expressed that same thought after day one of the final: “I guess he’s not in his best form right now, so that gives me some chances.”
The American grandmaster thought that his chances would increase even more if he could hold another 2-2 and reach a tiebreak, but added: “I’ll have to survive my black openings first.”
The chess24 Champions Chess Tour Skilling Open runs November 22-30. The preliminary phase was a 16-player rapid round-robin (15 + 10). The top eight players advanced to a six-day knockout that consisted of two days of four-game rapid matches, which advanced to blitz (5 + 3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if the knockout match was tied after the second day. The prize fund is $100,000 with $30,000 for first place.