New in Chess Classic, SF2: Carlsen & Nakamura with shot at redemption

Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura meet in today’s final of the New in Chess Classic for their first match since the epic 7-day final of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour. “Both of us have a chance to redeem ourselves,” said Hikaru, after he lost the first three games against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov but powered back to win the playoff in Armageddon. Magnus had some shaky moments against Levon Aronian but emerged with a deserved 3:1 victory. Levon and Shakh will play for 3rd place. 

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the New in Chess Classic, the 5th stage on the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell in Oslo.

And from Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko.

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Carlsen wrapped up victory in rapid chess, while Nakamura-Mamedyarov saw a playoff for the first time in the New in Chess Classic.

Magnus Carlsen taking nothing for granted

Day 2 of Magnus Carlsen’s semi-final match against Levon Aronian was every bit as entertaining as Day 1. The first game followed Bluebaum 0-1 Giri from the Opera Euro Rapid Prelims until move 10, and Levon got into just as much trouble in the opening as Bluebaum had against Giri. White had an extra pawn, but the 7 minutes he spent on the less than obvious 13.Ke2!? suggest just how serious his issues were.

After 13…c3 14.bxc3 Bxc3 Levon now played 15.Kd1, which Peter Leko called, “the move of a desperate man”, while also saying that the whole Ke2-d1 manoeuvre was either a mouse-slip or the choice of a genius.

In fact Kd1 is the computer’s first line and Ke2 was a move it was considering, and although Levon might still have been punished by some very precise play by Magnus, the draw that followed was a fair outcome of a game in which neither player made a clear blunder.

Game 2, meanwhile, had the potential to be Carlsen’s crowning achievement of the tournament so far. In a fashionable line of the Italian he got to play a sparkling combination with a concealed point.

20.Bxd5! c6 21.Bxf7+! Kxf7 22.e6+! Bxe6 23.Qc2!

The queen hits the undefended h7-knight – if Black was to try and defend it with 23…Rh8, White can crash through with a choice of 24.Rxe6, 24.Rxb7+ or 24.Ne5+. 

Levon spent 3 minutes to play the only move 23…Kg8, leaving the e6-bishop to its fate, but after 24.Rxe6 Qd5 Magnus spoilt a fine attacking game.

25.Re5! was the best option, when 25…Bxe5? 26.Bxe5, with the white queen ready to come to g6, is dead lost for Black – 26…Qe6 27.Qxh7+! Kxh7 28.Nxg5+ is a nice line! Magnus had seen the move, commenting on the game:

That was a bit silly, since after Qc2 I thought I regain the bishop and I must be at the very least much, much better, and then I didn’t pause to calculate when I needed to, because I even saw that Re5 was very strong there. I just thought, you know what, I’ll exchange the queens and I’ll win the ending pretty easily.

That would have been correct if not for the detail that after 25.Rd6?! Qf5 26.Qxf5 Rxf5 27.Rxb7 Levon had a resource Magnus had missed, 27…Rb5!

Suddenly White had nothing more available than a small edge, though the World Champion spiced things up with 28.Rxg7+!? Kxg7 29.Be5+ Kf8 30.Rd7 Re8. He could have gone for a drawish rook ending that only White could win with 31.Rxh7, but instead blundered with 31.Bd4? Re7! and suddenly found himself having to scramble to save the game.

Levon was up an exchange and could have played on, but low on time he took a draw by repetition, with Magnus admitting he was “a little bit lucky to escape”.

The match turned on the next game, of which Carlsen commented:

When it became clear in the third game today that he also wanted to play I wasn’t so unhappy about that, because I felt there would be very good chances to outplay him, and that’s what happened.

Magnus gradually took over with the black pieces and went on to play an almost flawless game (32.Nb3! was one brief chance), with Levon under constant pressure on the board and on the clock, until the a-pawn won the day.

That meant Levon needed to win on demand in the final game, but although he managed it the day before it was an altogether tougher ask with the black pieces. 6…g5!? was over-optimistic…

…and after 7.d4! g4 8.Nfd2 exd4 9.Na3! White already had a big advantage in piece development, with no safe haven for the black king. The game went very smoothly for White, with Magnus having the luxury of choosing his kill:

21.Nxf7+! Bxf7 22.Be5! was a nice touch, and soon Magnus traded down into a bishop ending where he had two extra connected passed pawns. Levon played on a while before resigning.

Magnus was in his 3rd final in five Meltwater Champions Chess Tour events, but after losing the first two to Wesley So and failing to reach the other finals it was no longer something he looked on as inevitable:

You know what, there are a lot of things that I felt like I could have done better today. It was certainly better than I played yesterday, but most of all I will just say that I’m in the final, I’m really happy about that, and I don’t take it for granted, especially after what’s happened in these tournaments over the last few months, so I’m just very happy to be in the final and to have dispatched a very strong opponent. 

Up next for Magnus is someone who surprisingly hadn’t reached a final so far on this year’s tour, Hikaru Nakamura.

Mamedyarov hits back, but Nakamura wins in Armageddon

Hikaru Nakamura had won Day 1 of the semi-final against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and in theory only needed to draw all the games on Day 2, but there hadn’t been a draw so far in their match and in the end all 7 rapid games would end decisively. Once again we got a heavyweight theoretical duel in the opening of the first game, with Shakh springing a surprise.

On Day 1 of the final he’d followed Topalov-Ding Liren 2018, and two subsequent games, with 16.Rxc3, but here he varied with 16.Nxc3. Gradually Mamedyarov managed to manoeuvre until he had a big advantage despite being a pawn down, but when he finally picked up that pawn he’d let his advantage slip. 

The game seemed certain to end in a draw despite Black’s damaged pawn structure, but Hikaru would later say, “my nerves failed me!” He missed some chances to trade down into a drawn pawn endgame, and on move 59 went completely astray.

It was time to let go of the e-pawn and continue the fight a pawn down, since after 59…Qg6? 60.Qf8 it was over. 60…Qf7 would be met by 61.Qxh6+ and White should gradually win, while 60…Ke5 in the game stumbled into mate: 61.Qd8!

There’s no stopping Qd4#

Hikaru still had three games to recover, and the second game got off to a good start for him.

It was amazing, however, how quickly things fell apart, with Shakhriyar’s attack suddenly starting to flow.

31…c3! 32.bxc3 Rxc3 33.Re1?! Qg5! 34.Bd1?! Nf4! 35.Nf3? Nh3+! 36.Kh2 (36.Kf1 Bc4+!)

36…Nxf2 37.Nxg5 is roughly equal, but Shakh struck with 36…Rxf3! and, with the white queen still under attack, there’s no defence. 37.Qxf3 ran into 37…Qxd2, and two minutes of head-shaking followed before Hikaru made a few more moves on inertia and resigned, leaving the board in a hurry.

That meant Hikaru now had to win the next two games on demand to avoid a playoff but, as so often in such cases, his attempts to press for a win with the black pieces were easily refuted, and Mamedyarov had pulled off an incredibly impressive 3:0 clean sweep to force a playoff.

How was Hikaru able to recover before the playoff?

I think the good thing is it’s blitz, you don’t have a lot of time to think, so your mind can’t really wander as much. I think that certainly helped quite a bit, but mainly it’s just that I felt that I played really bad chess, I made a lot of mistakes in the first two games which I didn’t feel were characteristic, and then the 3rd game also wasn’t really that wonderful, so I had the mindset that I couldn’t play much worse than I did in the first three games and I was just much more solid, I felt. If I had played badly throughout that’s life, but I always felt that if we got to the blitz I should be able to pull it together.

After the hyper-sharp Nimzo-Indians in the rapid phase, Shakhriyar switched to 1.e4 for the blitz. Hikaru responded with the Berlin and comfortably drew, even gaining chances to push near the end. 

The second blitz game was also drawn without ever departing the bounds of equality. That meant it came down to Armageddon, where Hikaru was able to choose colour as he’d finished higher in the Prelims – in fact the players shared 9.5 points, but Hikaru was 2nd by virtue of winning their head-to-head clash in the very first round of the tournament!

Hikaru, as always, chose Black, and later noted:

The one time that I did lose in an Armageddon game where I had the choice of colours and I picked Black was to Daniil Dubov [in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge final]… and I did not get out of the opening in that game with a good position. It was like move 8-9 and it got very complicated right away, so I think if you’re playing Black you want it to be so you can play some sort of basic opening setup and get the first 20 moves. If you’re White it’s the exact opposite, you want to try and create complications from move 1, basically.

The opening they got perhaps suited both players, but although Shakh had an advantage he couldn’t find a way to pursue it and soon Hikaru took over and won a pawn. The US star regretted allowing a sacrifice…

32.Nxg5!? fxg5 33.Bxg5, but it was never enough, as Hikaru proved with solid, confident defence. 

That meant a Carlsen-Nakamura final for the first time since their incredible duel in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Final, when Hikaru led after three of the seven days before Magnus won in the final Armageddon game on the final day.

That was over 8 months ago, so that the match is well overdue. Anish Giri recently won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi, who beat both Hikaru and Magnus on the way to the final. It meant he could poke some half-justified fun…

Hikaru commented:

It’s always fun having the opportunity to play Magnus again. I think for both of us somebody is going to win this match and have sort of a redeeming result, because I think for both of us it’s been a while… So I think for both of us we have a chance to redeem ourselves!

Magnus said he needs to up his level a bit for the final, while Hikaru was more blunt.

If I keep my nerves together I think I have reasonable chances. If I play like I played in the first two games today, I have no chance. Very simple!

The final starts at 19:00 CEST and will be accompanied by a 3rd place match between Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Tune into all the action live here on chess24 from 19:00 CEST!

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