Nakamura, Carlsen Earn Top Seeds In Skilling Open Knockout Phase
The top eight of the Skilling Open are set, as day three of the Skilling Open saw the end of the preliminary round-robin stage of the tournament. After three days and 15 rounds of action, GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen have earned the top seeds in the knockout phase of the tournament—they both ended the preliminary stage with 9/15.
GM Levon Aronian had a monster score of 4/5 for the day and joins GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So tied for 3rd-5th places with a score of 8.5/15. GMs Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Anish Giri round out the top eight on tiebreaks over GMs Le Quang Liem and Alireza Firouzja who also scored 8/15.
The top-eight knockout stage of the event starts on Wednesday, November 25.
The games of the chess24 Champions Chess Tour Skilling Open can be found here as part of our live events platform. IM Levy Rozman and IM Anna Rudolf are providing daily commentary on GM Hikaru Nakamura’s Twitch channel starting from 9:00 a.m. Pacific / 18:00 Central Europe.
Round 11 began with a marquee matchup: Carlsen had white versus Nakamura. Carlsen’s Bishop’s Opening brought him a noticeable advantage after 8…dxe4—his pieces became very active while Naka’s queenside was undeveloped. Naka equalized after 16. Rfe1, but then Carlsen erred with 18. Rad1? and a tactical sequence occurred:
Despite emerging up an exchange, Naka didn’t have quite enough for the win—Carlsen’s strong bishop and extra pawns were enough to hold the draw.
Firouzja defeated GM Ding Liren in an instructive endgame. After 36.hxg4, the position is dead equal. However, just eight moves later Firouzja managed to force checkmate in an opposite-colored bishop endgame:
Radjabov continued his winning ways from day two and defeated GM Sergey Karjakin. GM Santosh Gujrathi Vidit defeated GM Peter Svidler with the black pieces, and Aronian defeated GM Jan Krzysztof-Duda.
The 12th round saw just three decisive games, but they were all important. Vachier-Lagrave won a nice game against the struggling Duda. MVL did not get much out of the opening but started outplaying Duda in the middlegame. After 32… Nd5, MVL cruised to victory:
This win allowed MVL to join the leaders at the top of the scoreboard with a 7/12 score.
This round also had the game of the day: Giri vs. Firouzja. Giri had a promising position after the opening and was in the driver’s seat for most of the game, but Firouzja showed some magical counterplay and noteworthy tenacity to earn the victory. Here is the full game with analysis by GM Dejan Bojkov.
This win by Firouzja gave Giri his first loss of the entire tournament and also put him on a 7/12 score—resulting in a five-way tie at the top alongside Carlsen, So, Giri, and MVL.
Another surprising game occurred in Karjakin vs. GM David Anton Guijarro: after achieving a winning position that Karjakin held for a long time, he allowed a powerful blow from Anton after 46. Be3??:
This round had just two draws. You read that correctly—two draws. The six decisive games were the most of the day: Carlsen defeated Vidit in a queen-and-pawn ending, Aronian beat Giri in a 3. Bc4 Sicilian, Svidler earned his first win of the day versus MVL, Duda defeated Ding in a knight endgame, Firouzja defeated Karjakin, and Nakamura had a nice win against Anton with the black pieces.
Firouzja won his third consecutive game of the day in this round. He had the white pieces in a Fianchetto Grunfeld and got an edge after 17. Rxb3. After 29. Rxa4, Firouzja had an outside passed pawn and put on an endgame clinic:
This win put Firouzja at the top of the leaderboard alongside Carlsen with an 8/13 score.
Nakamura earned his first victory of the day on the black side of a Nimzo against Anton. Naka got a pleasant position out of the opening and established a powerful knight on e5 on move 17. He won a pawn on move 32 and had a strong knight versus bad bishop endgame after 45… Nc5. It was at this point that Anton decided to sacrifice his bishop:
Things were quieter in round 14 but saw a big clash between Naka and Firouzja. The players followed a theoretical line in the Caro-Kann, and Firouzja equalized and even had a slight edge for some time. It wasn’t until Firouzja’s natural-looking 30… Rd8 that the fireworks began:
Nakamura’s Twitch channel went crazy for the queen sacrifice, as did commentators IM Levy Rozman and IM Anna Rudolf.
Naka’s endgame play earned him the victory and allowed him to catch up with Carlsen atop the standings with 8.5/14. This win also clinched his spot in the top eight.
In other games, Le Quang Liem beat Anton, and Nepo defeated Svidler. Aronian won a nice game with the black pieces against Karjakin’s Trompowsky, earning his third win of the day.
With just one round left to play, the standings were still very much in flux. The final round of the preliminary stage of the tournament was intense, but ultimately ended up as a relatively peaceful round— there were just three decisive games.
Karjakin defeated Duda while Vidit beat Anton. However, the only decisive game that had any impact on the top eight was Le’s victory over Firouzja. The opening went well for Firouzja after 15. Qb3, but Le was able to equalize. It seemed like the game was going to head towards a quiet draw, but Le started pressing in the endgame. Despite the equal material, Le’s pieces dominated Firouzja’s, and after 57. Be2? Le won convincingly:
This win for Le put him in a tie for sixth-10th places alongside Firouzja, but it also meant that neither he nor Firouzja would make the cut for top eight and advance to the knockout stage. Despite three strong wins from Firouzja to start the day, the consecutive losses to Nakamura and Le cost him a spot in the top eight. You can see the final standings and all of today’s games below.
All games rounds 11-15
|10||Le, Quang Liem||2744||8|
|12||Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi||2636||6½|
|13||Anton Guijarro, David||2667||6½|
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 have 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.