Despite a first day mini-meltdown for Magnus Carlsen in the Legends of Chess Final, the world champion quickly regained his composure to go on to resoundingly beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, as he popped the magnum of champagne early to not only capture the $45,000 first prize but also his third Tour title – and with it, also keeping alive his remarkable match-winning streak on his own-branded $1m signature tour.
In the opening set, Carlsen got off to a quick start by winning the first game and, just when it looked as if we were heading for yet another Carlsen crush, the Norwegian made a rare oversight that turned a sure-fire draw in a complex position into an unlikely win for his opponent, and one that gave the Russian hope that the world champion could well be human after all.
But the natural order of things was quickly restored once again, as Carlsen went on to dominate the blitz session to capture the opening set, and then all but demolish a demoralised “Nepo”, 2.5-0.5 in the second for a one-sided two sets to love victory with a day to spare – and in doing so, winning all 13 matches in the Legends of Chess, and remarkably now 19 straight tour matches without losing.
In his post-tournament victory interview with Tania Sachdev (see below), Carlsen summed up the disappointment it must have been for his opponent, who tried so hard on day 1, only to be totally outplayed on day 2: “It was clear he didn’t really have it today.”
But Carlsen’s dominance is such that he’s now won 5 out of 6 of the major online tournaments inspired through the pandemic lockdown that’s brought chess a new online audience and media attraction: Magnus Invitational (Winner), Steinitz Memorial Blitz (Winner), Lindores Abbey (Winner), Chessable Masters (Winner) and now Legends of Chess (Winner).
And Carlsen’s latest conquest confirms him as the red-hot favourite to win the tour’s $300,000 Kiva Grand Final that gets underway on Chess24 this coming Sunday. It will also feature the only other tour victor, young Russian Daniil Dubov (Lindores Abbey), plus the two highest-placed non-title-winning tour finishers, US champion Hikaru Nakamura (Twice defeated finalist) and China’s world #3, Ding Liren (Three-time semifinalist).
GM Ian Nepomniachtchi – GM Magnus Carlsen
Legends of Chess | Final 4, (2.1)
Sicilian Najdorf, Adams Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 After experimenting with the bizarre new fad move in the Najdorf of 6.Rg1!? , Nepo opts for the Adams Attack, named not after the English GM Michael Adams, but rather Weaver Adams (1901-1963), the early 20th-century American master. 6…e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.g4 h6 9.Be3 Nbd7 10.a4 Nf8 11.Bc4 Ng6 12.Qe2 Bd7 13.f3 Rc8 14.h4 Nh7 15.h5 Bh4+ 16.Rxh4?!? A totally perplexing sacrifice from Nepo, especially as it only works if Carlsen doesn’t see the potential pitfalls and falls into a trap. Instead, although not so “sexy”, Nepo could simply play 16.Kf1 Nf4 17.Bxf4 exf4 18.Bd5 Bf6 with dynamic chances for both sides – and lots for both sides to play on for. 16…Nxh4! All the talk was with the intermezzo of 16…Nf4 which, based on 17.Qf2 Qxh4 looks as if Black is winning material due to the knight fork on g2, but the longer the engine thought about it, its assessment was that White had more than enough compensation after 18.Qxh4 Ng2+ 19.Kf2 Nxh4 20.Na5! Be6 21.Nxb7! Bxc4 22.Nxd6+ Ke7 23.Nxc8+ Rxc8 24.Rh1 g5 25.hxg6 Nxg6 26.Bxh6 with three good pawns for the piece, and every chance of securing a draw, especially as there are so few pawns left on the board for Black. 17.0-0-0 Nxf3! The loose bishop on c4 allows Carlsen to consolidate his material advantage. 18.Rxd6 Also possible, and perhaps a better way to go was with 18.Bxf7+!? Kxf7 19.Qxf3+ but after 19…Qf6 20.Qe2 Qe7 21.Nd5 Qe6 Black has everything covered, and now threatening to take on a4 (with an x-ray attack on c2). 18…Qe7 19.Rb6 Bxg4 20.Bd5 0-0 21.Qg2? Magnus fully expected 21.Bxb7 and intended to continue with 21…Rcd8, explaining that a tough battle lay ahead with Nepo set to win all of his queenside pawns and having some well-placed pieces, but felt he had the material advantage and enough resources to play for the win. 21…Qh4! This must have come as a cold shower for Nepo, as Carlsen cleverly turns defence into attack. 22.Rg6 Nhg5 Suddenly all of Carlsen’s pieces are springing to life, and with it, Nepo’s position is hanging by a thread. 23.Kb1 Be6 24.Rxe6 It’s the only try to stay in the game for Nepo, as 24.Bxe6 fxe6! 25.Bxg5 Nxg5 26.Qe2 Rf3! and Black has a crushing position. 24…fxe6 25.Bxb7 Qe1+ This was the big problem for Nepo with 21…Qh4, as the invasion of the Black queen, not only puts the White king in danger but also leads to a positional sacrifice that shatters White’s pawn structure. 26.Bc1 Rxc3! [see diagram] This should really win by force now. 27.bxc3 Nxe4 Now admittedly, the tactics were difficult to fathom, but the engine soon found the clinical kill with 27…Rb8! 28.Bxa6 Nxe4 29.Bb5 Nfd2+!! 30.Nxd2 Nxc3+ 31.Kb2 Nxa4+! 32.Kb1 Rxb5+ 33.Nb3 Nc3+ 34.Kb2 Ne2 and White can resign. But Carlsen instead had seen another way that was going to see his opponent’s position all but collapse now, so he opted for that. 28.Bxe4 Qxe4 29.Bxh6 Rf7 30.Bc1 Qf5 With the title victory almost within his grasp, Carlsen takes the more cautious approach rather than risking 30…Qxa4 31.h6 and any complications. 31.Qe2 Rc7 32.Kb2 Qxh5 The rest should be an easy sweep for Carlsen, but kudos to Nepo for refusing to give up all hope, as he makes the most out of his bad position to mount a valiant attempt at trying to save the game. 33.Qxa6 Qe8 34.Qb5 Qc6! If anything, the trade of queens only helps White to hang in there. After 34…Qxb5 35.axb5 it is not going to be an easy job holding back White’s b- and c-pawns from running up the board. 35.c4 Kf7 36.c5 Nd4 37.Qf1+ Kg8 38.Be3! The only way to stay in the game. 38…Qxa4 39.Bxd4 exd4 40.Qf4 Suddenly Carlsen faces a problem trying to convert the win, as Nepo’s queen secures an active posting threatening loose pawns and perhaps a lot of problematic checks for the exposed Black king. 40…Qd7 41.Qe5 Rb7 42.Qe4 Rb8? Of course, the radical solution was 42…Qd5! 43.Qxd5 exd5 44.Ka3 g5! 45.Nxd4 but psychology can perhaps play tricks on you with the winning post now in sight, as it can lead you to believing that the (now) active White knight and the advanced c-pawn might just generate enough counter-play to hold the draw. And for that reason, Carlsen opts to keep the queens on, despite opening himself up to a lot of checks. 43.Qe5 It’s a testament to Nepo’s resilience that he just keeps on finding problematic moves that threaten to allow him to stay in the game longer than he should. 43…Rb4 44.Qe4 Qd5 45.Qg4 Carlsen is still winning, but it is one thing to be ‘winning’ and actually converting the win, especially as his king is exposed and can be hit by a lot of queen checks – but Carlsen eventually finds a clear path through the haze. 45…Rc4 46.Qf4 Rb4 47.Qg4 Qf5 48.Qh4 Rc4 Nothing wrong with Carlsen’s approach, but guest commentator Judit Polgar was even quicker than the engine to spot the clear winning tactic of 48…Qxc2+! 49.Kxc2 d3+ 50.Kxd3 Rxh4 51.c6 Kf7 52.Nc5 Rh8 53.Nb7 Ke7! and Black will easily win. 49.Qd8+ Kh7 50.Qh4+ Kg6 51.Nxd4 Qe5? Winning tactics should really be the bread and butter of any world champion, and the second time around, and Carlsen should really have spotted the queen sacrifice with 51…Qxc2+! 52.Nxc2 Rxh4 that will soon resolve the outcome of the game. 52.Qg4+ Kh7 53.Qh4+ Of course, 53.Qh3+ Kg8 54.Qxe6+ will win a pawn, but for any slim hopes of a possible ‘Hail Mary’ save, then Nepo simply has to keep the queens on the board and hope Carlsen slips up and falls into either a perpetual check or allowing his rook to fall into a cross-check – but that’s all wishful thinking for the Russian, as Carlsen has it all under control now. 53…Kg8 54.Qd8+ Kf7! The little triangulation with the king sees Nepo running out of checks and hopes with it. 55.Qd7+ Kf6 56.c3 Rxc5 57.Qd8+ Kg6 58.Qe8+ Kh7 59.Qd8 Rd5! Now Nepo’s end is nigh, as he’s lost access to d8 for a queen check. 60.Qh4+ Kg8 61.Qg4 Rd6 62.Qh4 No better is 62.Qg6 Ra6 63.Qe8+ Kh7 64.Qd8 Qd5! 65.Qh4+ Kg8 66.Qh3 Rb6+ and the White king goes on the dreaded ‘walk of shame’, as also happens in the game. 62…Qf6 63.Qe4 Rb6+ 64.Kc2 Kf7 65.Qa8 Qg6+ It’s ‘game over’ now, as Carlsen queen and rook finally combine to snare Nepo’s king. 66.Kd2 Rb2+ 67.Ke3 Qg1+ 68.Kd3 Qf1+ 69.Ke3 Qf2+ 70.Kd3 Qg2 71.Nf3 Qe2+ 72.Kd4 Qd1+ 73.Ke3 If 73.Kc5 Qb3 74.Ne5+ Kf6 and the king walks up the board to safety, with 75.Nd7+ Kg5 76.Qd8+ Kf5 77.Qf8+ Ke4 78.Qa8+ Ke3 and White runs out of checks. 73…Re2+ 74.Kf4 Qd6+ 75.Kg4 Rg2+ 76.Kh5 g6+ 0-1 Nepo resigns with a forced mate looming with 77.Kh6 Qf4+ 78.Kh7 Rh2+ 79.Nxh2 Qh4#.