Argentina’s Alan Pichot will be the first South American
player to compete in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour after topping the Magnus
Carlsen Invitational qualifier with an unbeaten performance. He’s joined by
Swedish no. 1 Nils Grandelius, who admitted his performance hadn’t been “the
most convincing of efforts”. It included rejecting a draw offer when a draw was
all he needed to qualify!

The inclusion of Alan Pichot and Nils Grandelius means the
16-player line-up for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational is now complete, with the
action starting on Saturday March 13th at 17:00 CET. The final two places were
decided in a qualifier tournament that featured twists and turns even before it
began. Max Warmerdam came in as a replacement for the originally planned Andrey
Esipenko, while Johan-Sebastian Christiansen had to pull out at the very last
moment.

We all wish Johan-Sebastian a swift and full recovery.

22-year-old Alan Pichot fortunately agreed to take Johan’s
place just hours before the event was announced, while one player not to
feature in the qualifier was Anish Giri – much to Magnus’ disappointment!

The 4-player qualifier saw the participants face each other twice
at a 10+5 time control, with the top two making it into the Magnus Carlsen
Invitational. You can click any result in the table below to open that game
with computer analysis:

And here’s the live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and
Laurent Fressinet.

Let’s take a quick look at how the top two made it to the
Magnus Carlsen Invitational, starting with the winner, Alan Pichot.

As you can see, the young Argentinian managed to repeat
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s feat in the Candidates of coming in as a late
replacement but topping the table. He got off to a perfect start by confidently
grinding out a win against Aryan Tari with the black pieces in the first game.

After that Alan wasn’t troubled and could if anything have
scored more, while he might have finished off the decisive Round 5 game sooner.
Max Warmerdam could have taken a draw by repetition on move 19, but thought for
almost 6 minutes before deciding that he needed to play on to have any chance of qualifying for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational. That backfired as he
was soon losing, but he was given a lifeline.

25.Nf3+! is a completely forced mate-in-2. The only legal reply is
25…Bxf3, when 26.Qf5# ends the game. 

Pichot instead thought for 29 seconds
before playing 25.Re3? Qh5 26.Qg8+?!, when the game went on. That moment might
have haunted the Argentinian star if Max Warmerdam, who seconded Jorden van
Foreest to victory in the Tata Steel Masters, hadn’t stumbled into another
mate. Alan had qualified with a game to go!

Nils Grandelius, meanwhile, did things the hard way.

The Swedish no. 1 admitted afterwards, “As you could
probably tell already, my brain is not in top shape today”, and added, “that
was not the most convincing of efforts”.

He began with a calamitous loss to Max Warmerdam but was
then gifted a pawn and the game by Aryan Tari in Round 2. Round 3 was perhaps
the turning point, with Nils stumbling into a seemingly hopeless position.

Nils called that clash, “the craziest one, where I was an
exchange and two pawns down for most of the game”. He told Jan and Laurent afterwards,
however, that a training match had given him hope:

Yesterday I played some warm-up games and I just blundered a
piece in one move against a decent grandmaster, and I was very close to
resigning, but somehow I kept making moves and in the end I tricked him and won,
and this actually gave me great confidence for this position today, because
without the game yesterday I probably would have resigned as well this game.     

Pichot had won a 4 vs. 1 rook ending against Tari, but 3 vs.
1 proved a step too far against Grandelius, with 64.Kf4? surprisingly already
only a draw.

A wild win against Max Warmerdam put Nils on the verge of
qualification and in the end all he required was a draw in the final game
against Pichot, who had qualified with a round to spare. There was still time
for one moment of madness, as Nils dismissed his opponent’s very early draw
offer. He was later asked if he’d seen the offer:

Yeah, but to be honest I wasn’t sure whether we were allowed
or whatever. I thought why not make 20 moves… I had no intention of winning the
game, definitely not!

Fressinet: Maybe of losing the game?

I was trying a bit, but then I stopped myself in time!

No harm was done, and it’s Nils who joins Pichot in the
16-player, $220,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational. What are his expectations?

Not so much. I would be happy if I can play a couple of good
games, let’s say. I don’t think I have the right to have higher hopes. It’s
very strong, and also a couple of players that I actually have not played
before, which will be very interesting. I think Nepo, for instance, I never
played.

Here’s the formidable line-up (check out the full details here):

The action starts Saturday at 17:00 CET with all
the games broadcast live here on chess24

See also:


Chess Mentor

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