Skilling Open Semifinals: Carlsen, So Start With Wins
GM Magnus Carlsen won a tough first match vs. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi on the first day of the Skilling Open’s semifinals. GM Wesley So started with a win against GM Hikaru Nakamura. The semifinals continue on Saturday.
Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi
According to Carlsen, day one of the semifinals was quite similar to the first day of his match with GM Anish Giri in the sense that he was “mainly struggling.” He ended up winning the match thanks to the very first game, where his opponent basically gifted him the win.
“Funny enough, I think we checked this line together in 2014,” said Nepomniachtchi about this Grunfeld game—a line that also appeared in the Anand-Carlsen world championship match that year.
“At some point, I returned the favor from the group stage when Magnus mixed up the square for his queen,” said Nepomniachtchi. He couldn’t really explain why he placed his queen on b8 instead of c7, but the difference was crucial:
“It doesn’t really matter because after that I had two very good chances, to [put] it mildly,” said Nepo. “I think it’s about making some very good decisions at the very end of the game. I think Lasker said the most difficult thing in chess is to win a winning position, so that’s something I surely need to master before tomorrow’s match.”
The Russian player was mostly referring to game three, another Grunfeld, where he got a promising position out of the opening. “I really messed that pretty bad early on,” Carlsen admitted.
The world champion did not mouse slip against Nepomniachtchi but did extend his repertoire of internet problems. This time, in the opening phase, his whole browser closed during the game at one point. For a short while, he couldn’t log back in.
Perhaps affected by this, Carlsen was basically lost by the time the queens were traded. The endgame, especially beginning at move 37 with two extra pawns for Nepomniachtchi, should have been a technical win for Black.
“I think we both played far below our level. Magnus during, let’s say, the whole game, but then he was good in the defensive part, while I managed to compensate this with awful conversion,” said Nepomniachtchi.
Carlsen said he needs to do some preparation for day two: “I guess I’ll try to prepare better in the openings. Especially in the third game, I didn’t get what I want, so I’ll have to cook up something new there.”
The dominating sense was relief: “Overall, I’m pretty happy to have survived. I feel like in these matches if you can survive your worst day, you’ll probably be fine overall.”
Nakamura vs. So
The other match also saw three draws and one decisive game, but it all happened much calmer. So won the second game with the white pieces and was very solid in the other three.
So said his opponent “messed up in the opening with 16…c5” when White got better control of the center.
“Wesley played a very principled approach which I hadn’t looked at, and I got a pretty bad position right away,” said Nakamura.
So could repeat moves at several moments, but he decided to go for the win.
“In the match format, someone has to win; someone has to push through against making all draws,” he said. “At the same time, I thought my position had no risk at that stage. When you give me attacking chances, I feel like I just have to go for it.”
Visually, it seemed Nakamura had some chances in game four—a must-win game in which he went for the Dutch Defense.
“I thought the final game was very close to winning for me, but unfortunately it was by one move. I can’t checkmate him on the h-file, so it was a little bit unfortunate,” he said. The computer sees no problems for White.
So: “I feel like it’s simply not Hikaru’s day. I feel very good today, I feel like I played better than the last two days. At the same time, I think Hikaru played sub-par today. I’m sure he’ll play two times harder.”
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.