Carlsen, So To Play Skilling Open Final
The final of the Skilling Open will be played between GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Wesley So, who both held on to their leads in their second semifinal matches. Carlsen played 2-2 against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi while So did the same, with four draws, against GM Hikaru Nakamura. The final will start on Sunday.
Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi
It’s a sign of greatness that, even when he is not in his best form, Carlsen still reaches the final. In his post-match interview, he pointed out that so far in this tournament he hasn’t been able to play two good games in a row.
Asked how his day went, the world champion replied: “It’s been like most others, frankly: very difficult! I haven’t been able to gain much momentum.”
It was Nepomniachtchi who came out on top of a rollercoaster of a first game. His king walk to f3 in the middlegame was brave but could have been refuted. Carlsen missed his chance and soon his own king got into trouble:
For the second game, Carlsen tried the Alapin Sicilian—an opening he almost never plays. The database spits out just one single bullet game that the Norwegian won against GM Rauf Mamedov in August of this year.
Nonetheless, the players followed no fewer than 16 moves of theory, and eventually, Nepomniachtchi could be satisfied with his position out of the opening. Carlsen tried to create some chances towards the enemy king, but it wasn’t much. Nepomniachtchi was close to holding a comfortable draw when he stumbled on a tactic:
“Even the game I won was very unclear, and I think I was at some point even worse,” said Carlsen. “Frankly, I’m not playing that great, but it’s been enough so far. I think I have to step it up in the final because Wesley is extremely strong.”
From the two draws that followed, there’s one moment we can highlight for the possibility of a pretty checkmate that could have occurred—as pointed out by our member, and good friend of this author, @forest76:
Carlsen expects a tough final: “When he’s [So’s] at the top of his game, it’s very hard to find any obvious weaknesses. Sometimes he’s a bit in his own head; that’s the only thing that can hurt him. He’s one of the people I find most difficult to play against because he rarely makes neither a tactical nor a positional mistake. I’ll have to be at the top of my game to win.”
Nakamura vs. So
Although all four games ended in draws, the other match was also pretty tense. So called it “a very confusing day” as the result of the subpar quality of chess: “I think Hikaru and I weren’t playing well.”
He was on the brink of winning the first game after outplaying Nakamura in the opening. Also later in the game, So could have won but failed to do so. “Not winning the first game was very disheartening, of course,” he said.
The same scenario occurred in game two, where So once again spoiled a completely winning position. After these two dramatic games, it looked like it was going to be Nakamura’s day.
“Hikaru is very tactical and very slippery, and he makes use of all his chances, and he never gives up,” So said afterward. “He has this tremendous fighting spirit, so he’ll just keep fighting until he doesn’t have any chances left. When we get down to a minute or two minutes on the clock, he plays just much better, while I simply panic with very little time.”
A quick draw in game three was what So needed to calm down a bit. In yet another confusing fourth game, he was the one who kept his head cool in the complications this time.
“I’m still very bewildered with what happened in the last game because I was fighting for my life and I was trying to generate some counterplay, and then he just blundered his knight in the end,” said the winner.
As it turned out, Nakamura’s decisive mistake was a move later, although the result would have been the same. That means that it is on move 26 where he lost his chances to win the game and force a tiebreak.
The final will be played over two days again with two four-game matches on both Sunday and Monday. If the score is locked 1-1, a tiebreak will be played at the end of the second day.
Last year, So defeated Carlsen in the final of the Fischer Random World Championship. The American player readily admitted that it’s a whole different game but still, it feels like in the coming days he’ll have more chances than ever to beat Carlsen in regular chess.
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 will consist of two days of four-game rapid matches, which may advance to blitz (5 + 3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if the knockout match is tied after the second day. The prize fund is $100,000 with $30,000 for first place.