After nine rounds of intense battle, the Legends of Chess on Chess24 now gets set to move to the ‘business end’ of the knockout stage of the competition, as the four semifinalists for the final leg of the $1m Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour was confirmed today, with the lockdown tour’s brainchild and inspiration, the red-hot Magnus Carlsen leading the charge himself.
After making heavy weather of what should really have been a very comfortable penultimate round victory over his nearest rival, Ian Nepomniachtchi, the match between the leaders dramatically and somewhat surprisingly was only decided with Carlsen drawing – from a won position – with the black pieces in the Armageddon-decider. Carlsen by now had already made into the final four, but his final-round opponent, Vladimir Kramnik still had some skin in the game, as the Russian needed to beat the current world champion to keep alive any hopes he had of being one of the legends to make it to the next stage.
But it wasn’t to be for the ex-world champion, as Carlsen was back to his brilliant best to comprehensively beat Kramnik, with the one-sided 3-1 victory giving the Norwegian a final winning tally of 23/25, and the only player to go through the preliminaries by winning all nine of his matches. For Carlsen (see video below), he was typically critical and cryptical of his own performance, commenting: “It seems that in the last few matches, to use a football analogy, I am getting Lewandowski level chances but I am converting them at a Firmino level. For those who don’t watch football, that’s pretty bad. But at least the last two games were kind of ok.”
After losing to Carlsen in the penultimate round, Nepomniachtchi also lost a tough match to Boris Gelfand in the final round that similarly went all the way to the Armageddon-decider, but the Russian still makes the cut for the semis. Also joining Carlsen and Nepo will be Anish Giri, who beat Peter Svidler today, but the eight-time Russian champion kept the legends end up by holding onto fourth place to snatch the final qualifying spot.
Preliminary final standings:
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 23/25; 2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 20; 3. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 18; 4. Peter Svidler (Russia) 14* (All in Final Four); 5. Vasily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 13; 6. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) 12; 7. Boris Gelfand (Israel) 11; 8. Ding Liren (China) 9; 9. Viswanathan Anand (India) 7; 10. Peter Leko (Hungary) 6.
Semifinals: Carlsen v Svidler and Nepomniachtchi v Giri
Play gets underway on Friday, July 31 at 16:00 CET (10:00 EST | 07:00 PST) with live commentary on Chess24.
GM Vladimir Kramnik – GM Magnus Carlsen
Legends of Chess | Prelims, (9.4)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 The Sicilian Sozin, a razor-sharp variation that for any chess player conjures up images of the great Bobby Fischer – and coming from the normally more positionally-inclined Kramnik, we know the ex-world champion needs to win “on-demand” to stay in the match to keep alive his hopes of going forward to the semifinals. 6…b5 Normally we would see 6…e6 first – but there should be no real difference in switching the move order. 7.Bb3 e6 8.Be3 At the beginning of his career, the young Fischer would automatically reach for 8.f4 here – but ironically, Fischer famously cast a shadow over his old pet-line when he was black against Robert Byrne in the Sousse Interzonal in 1967, with it being highly-suspect due to 8…Bb7! More standard here, though, is 8.0-0 Bb7 9.Re1 but Black always seems to get easy play. 8…Be7 As noted above, 8…Bb7 is the usual way for Black to seek counter-attacking chances by immediately hitting e4 – but Carlsen opts instead to head right into one of the most critical lines in the Classical Sicilian, the famous Velimirović Attack that made the 1960s the heyday for the sizzling Sozin. 9.Qe2 0-0 10.f3 With the move-order transposition, normally …b5 wouldn’t be played by now, and White would get in queenside castling and sharp-play on both sides of the board. This is what Kramnik wants, but his play has been stifled somewhat with Carlsen’s early …b5 – and how Kramnik now suffers for it. 10…Qc7 11.g4 You can’t blame Kramnik for how he burns and crashes now – it was either a case of going down in flames at least trying to complicate the game or Carlsen having easy equality and the Russian now hopes of winning. 11…Nc6 12.Nxc6 Qxc6 13.g5 Nd7 14.h4 Nc5 15.h5 Rb8 You got to love the computer engines when they show nerves of steel by quickly finding the shock and awe antidote to White’s kingside aggression with the stunning 15…f5! forcing the game into 16.gxf6 Bxf6 17.Nd5!? Bd8 18.h6 g6 19.Nf4 a5! and White’s in trouble with …a4 coming, so now 20.a3 Nxb3 21.cxb3 Qb7 and Black will hold the advantage with the safer king, better pawn structure and bishop-pair. 16.g6 h6! [see diagram] It all looks seat-of-your-pants stuff from Kramnik, but it now turns into something of a sozzled Sozin for the Russian, as a cool Carlsen has everything all under control. 17.Nd5?! Kramnik opts to go for broke; his position is now compromised, where now even 17.0-0-0 a5! and Black still has the advantage, but not all is lost for White, as there’s still a sporting chance to possibly confuse further to snatch a win. 17…exd5 18.Bxd5 Qe8! Two very precise defensive moves from Carlsen and Kramnik is left holding a busted flush. 19.Bxh6?! The stakes are such now that Kramnik decides he’d rather hang for the sheep than the lamb. 19…gxh6 20.Rg1 Bh4+ And by this stage, it had become evident that Kramnik was probably seeing why White would play an earlier 0-0-0 in this Sozin line! 21.Kd1 Qe5 22.c3 Be6 It’s all over bar the shouting. 23.f4 Qxf4 24.gxf7+ Kh7 0-1 Kramnik resigns, as after 25.Bxe6 Nxe6 Black has all the bases covered, and then there’s also the little matter of those extra two pieces!