Fittingly, the $1m Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour will end as it all started back in April, with a repeat of the MCI first tour final between old rivals Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, as, somehow, Carlsen managed to dig deep to survive a dramatic comeback from Ding Liren to clinch match-victory in their semifinal clash of the Grand Final on Chess24 that benefits Kiva.
Stung by the loss of the first set to Ding, Carlsen came thundering back by emphatically winning the next two sets. He also got off to a great start to the fourth set with a very convincing win in game 1, and looked set once again for another resounding victory – but Ding had other ideas.
Ding stormed back to strike instantly in game 2 with some brilliant attacking play that culminated in a king hunt, and he then proceeded to stretch Carlsen as much as he could, twice looking as if he was on the brink of what would have been crucial wins to take the match to a deciding fifth set.
But it was not to be, because when it came to the critical moment, he couldn’t convert the win(s), and at the very end, after mating Ding in the final blitz game with his own equally spectacular king hunt, Carlsen (see video), though “exhausted” and relieved, couldn’t quite believe he had managed to escape to snatch match-victory.
But escape he did, and by clinching the match 3-1, Carlsen now goes forward to the finale of his own eponymous tour, where he’ll once again do battle with his old foe Hikaru Nakamura. On facing Nakamura, Carlsen said: “He’s been very strong in the entire tour so it’s no coincidence that he is in the final. I absolutely agree he deserves it based on the way that he’s played.”
The added edge this time is that both have taken chess to new heights and possibilities on different platforms: Carlsen on Chess24 and Nakamura on Twitch. And in Friday’s best-of-7-set final, Carlsen and Nakamura will duke it out for the Tour-title and $140,000 winners purse ($80,000 for the runner-up) – but knowing these two, arguable the bigger prize will be who gets the bragging rights to be crowned the ‘King of Lockdown’!
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Ding Liren
Kiva Grand Final | S/F, (4.1)
Semi-Slav Defence, Anti-Moscow variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 Rather than 6.Bxf6 and the Moscow Variation, White opts for the Anti-Moscow Variation with the critical line seeing White willing to sacrifice a pawn for activity. 6…dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 The Anti-Moscow Variation is a newer, and more positional – and also more subtle – line than the outrageous Botvinnik Variation we normally used to see in the Semi-Slav after 5.Bg5. But like the Botvinnik, it can share some of its directness with a tactical-infused game. 8…b5 9.Be2 When this line first took off, the main interest was in 9.Ne5 – but now 9.Be2 has become the battleground. 9…b4 In the Legends of Chess preliminaries, when both players reached this position, Ding opted for 9…Bb7 10.0-0 Nbd7 11.Nd2 and Carlsen went on to win a sparkling game. Instead, he opts this time for something different – but Carlsen still finds ways to easily take the advantage. And so much so that after two drubbings with the Anti-Moscow, Ding soon drops it for the remaining games, instead going for the more solid Queen’s Gambit Accepted. 10.Na4 Nxe4 11.Be5 Nf6 12.Nc5 c3 The early trade of queens with 12…Bxc5 13.dxc5 Qxd1+ 14.Rxd1 Ke7 (14…Nbd7 15.Rxd7!) 15.Nd4 Bb7 16.Bd6+ Kd7 17.h4! only highlights how loose Black’s position really is. But as the c-pawn is doomed anyway, Ding looks to land Carlsen with doubled pawns – but it still leaves too many open lines for Carlsen to exploit. 13.bxc3 bxc3 14.0-0 Nbd7 15.Nxd7 Bxd7 16.Qb3 Bg7 Needing to win the set to stay in the match, Ding risks not castling. Perhaps slightly more solid was retaining the castling option with 16…Be7 but even here, White can play 17.Bxf6!? Bxf6 18.Qxc3 0-0 19.Ne5! and still, have a grip on the position while a pawn down. It’s just not an easy position for Black, with too many pawn weaknesses and his awkwardly-placed bishops with no scope in the game. 17.Qa3 The c3-pawn isn’t going anywhere, so Carlsen opts to cause maximum discomfort for Ding by stopping him from castling. 17…g4 No use is 17…Bf8? as after 18.Qxc3 White has just regained the pawn with a gain of tempo. So in poker parlance, Ding goes ‘all-in’ now with his committal moves. 18.Ne1 c5 Ding is hoping that in returning the pawn this way, he’ll either generate activity with 19.Qxc3 Rc8 and the c3-pawn playing an influence in the game, or the ability to castle after 19.dxc5 – but there’s just too many open lines and pawn weaknesses for Carlsen to exploit. 19.dxc5 0-0 20.Bxc3 h5 Ding really needs to go about activating his pieces now. Better was 20…Bc6 21.Rd1 Qe7 but after 22.Nd3! the knight heading into e5 is going to cause problems for Black – but not as many problems as Ding gets in the game, as Carlsen finds a nice way to rip into Black’s weakened kingside. 21.Rd1 Nd5 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.Bc4 There are too many weaknesses now in the Black camp, and Carlsen exploits this with some enterprising play. 23…Bc6 24.Nc2! The knight heading to d4 is now a big problem for Ding, as it supports the c-pawn. 24…Qf6 25.Nd4 Ne7 26.f3! g3 Ding has been dinged – and badly that he has to give up a pawn to try to save his king. After 26…gxf3? 27.Nxc6 Nxc6 28.Rxf3 Qe7 29.Rg3+ Kh7 30.Qf3 and Black will soon be mated. 27.hxg3 Ding’s position is in ruins now – his only hope is to try and cling onto the wreckage to try to survive. 27…Rfd8 28.Nxc6 Nxc6 29.Qe3 Nd4 30.g4! The knight outpost on d4 looks strong, but Carlsen moves swiftly to undermine it. 30…Rac8 If 30…hxg4? 31.fxg4 Nc2 32.Qe4 Black is going to lose the knight at the very least; and if 30…e5? 31.gxh5 followed by f4 is gone to be brutal for Black. 31.g5 Qf5 32.Rxd4 Qxc5 33.Bxe6! [see diagram] Just when Ding thinks he’s getting some sort of counter-play with the big skewer on the rook, queen and king, Carlsen hits him with a tactic that liquidates the position down to a won game. 33…Rc6 Ding is dead. If 33…fxe6 34.Rfd1 Rd6 35.R1d3! and Black is heading straight into a totally lost R+P endgame. 34.Re4! This soon clarifies matters, as Carlsen finds the quickest and easiest way towards a won endgame. 34…Qxe3+ 35.Rxe3 Rxe6 36.Rxe6 fxe6 37.Re1 Rd6 There’s no hope – if 37…Kf7 trying to keep the options for Black’s rook to remain active, White has 38.Re5! Rd2 39.Ra5! and White’s rooks is the one that is the more active, and he should easily clear up now. 38.Kh2 Kg6 39.f4 Kf5 40.Kg3 h4+ All is lost now. If 40…Rd3+ 41.Kh4 Kxf4 42.Kxh5 Rg3 43.g6 the g-pawn soon queens. 41.Kxh4 Kxf4 42.g6 Rd8 And why not? After all, Carlsen could just be human and miss the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ save with …Rh8 mate! 43.Rf1+ No such luck! 43…Ke3 44.Kg5 e5 45.g7 1-0