Magnus Carlsen beat Hikaru Nakamura 3:1 on Day 1 of the New in Chess Classic final, but the World Champion admitted it could have gone differently. He scored a first win in Game 3 despite blundering a piece, while in the final game of the day Hikaru missed a great chance to get the win on demand he needed. “Neither of us were absolutely at our best, but we had great fighting spirit” summed up Magnus, which also applied to the third place match, where Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mameydarov traded four wins, all with the black pieces!

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the New in Chess Classic, the 5th event on the $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Tania Sachdev and Peter Leko, who were joined for the first couple of hours by Peter Svidler.

And from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell in the Oslo studio.

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Day 1 of the New in Chess Classic finals featured no less than six decisive games.

Magnus Carlsen close to 1st Meltwater Champions Chess Tour win

Magnus Carlsen has finished top in the preliminary stage of all five events on this year’s tour and will be the tour leader whatever happens on Sunday, but he’s yet to win a tournament. He commented after his victory over Hikaru Nakamura on the first day of the finals:

This is the closest I’ve been. I think I had a couple of 2:2s against Wesley in these finals where I was up one game and then lost the last one on the first day. This time it was pretty close to happening again, but I got over the hump and I’ll try just to be solid tomorrow, not score any own goals and then try and take my chances if I can find them.

Saturday’s match got off to an intense start after Magnus came up with an interesting new idea in the opening.

He would later say, “I did have prep for the 1st game, but in the other games I was more winging it a little bit”. Previously in this position everyone, and that included the likes of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Nikita Vitiugov and Wang Hao, had played 16.Qxd1, but here Magnus went for 16.Kxd1.

Our Peters were soon pointing out in the commentary that the white king’s position in the centre, compared to the distant black king, meant that seemingly innocuous endings might simply be lost for Black.  

Hikaru Nakamura has also become an endgame master, however, and what followed was an extremely high-level battle that turned on the smallest margins.

Here Nakamura’s fans had a nervous 1 minute 39 seconds before Hikaru went for the only defence of 49…f2! 50.e6! Rd3+! (50…f1=Q 51.Rb8# is checkmate) 51.Ke2 f1=Q+ 52.Kxf1 Rf3+ 53.Kxg2 Rxf5 54.Rb5.

Our commentary team didn’t feel this was an ending you wanted to be playing against Magnus, but it turned out Black’s h-pawn gave just enough counterplay. The final position was definitely a draw.

For Game 2 Magnus sprung a small surprise by playing the Berlin, with Hikaru pausing before deciding to go for the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3. It was a complex fight with only one set of minor pieces exchanged, until our commentators lost a bet with the producer that Magnus wouldn’t go for a pawn break in the centre of the board.

The computer-approved manoeuvre saw mass exchanges in the centre of the board before queens were also exchanged in an unusual manner.

29.Bb6 cxb6 (played after 4 minutes’ thought) 30.Rxd7 Rxc2 31.Rxd5 and the game soon ended with a draw by repetition of moves. 

Game 3 was the turning point, with Peter Leko, fresh from seconding Ian Nepomniachtchi for the Candidates, identifying 8…Bg4?! as a mistake.

The game suggested Peter was right, but as Magnus later summed up when asked if he was happy with the game, “I’m happy except for the fact that I blundered a bishop!”

27.Bxb7?! Rxb7 28.e5 Qe7 29.exd6 Qd7! left White down a piece for two pawns. It looked like the kind of gamble you might see from Magnus, but he explained exactly what had gone wrong afterwards. 

On move 26 he’d seen he could play 27.Bxb7! since 27…Rxb7 28.e5 Qe7 28.exd6 Qd7 loses to 29.Re7!, but he missed that a move later, after Black put his rook on e8, that line no longer works. He’d also seen that after his move in the game 29…Qxe1? 30.Rxe1 Rxe1 31.Qxb7 Be4+ wasn’t winning for Black.

Here after 32.Qxe4! Rxe4 33.d7 the d-pawn queens.

But after 29…Qd7! Magnus was just grateful the game went on.

It was just a very, very bad miss on my part. Fortunately I still had a playable position. That’s the way it is sometimes. When you have a vastly superior position sometimes you can blunder and still be ok.

There were dicey moments for White, but Magnus kept his cool and was able to pounce after the unfortunate 46…Qf8?

This one queen move ruined Black’s setup, with 47.Qf5+ suddenly winning the black bishop. The bishop is pinned to the queen so Be6 is impossible, and after 47…Kc6 Magnus repeated once 48.Qc5+ Kd7 49.Qf5+ Kc6 before playing 50.Rxd6+. Since 50…Kxd6 51.Qc5+ loses the queen on f8, Hikaru had to give up his bishop with 50…Qxd6 51.Qxf7. 

Suddenly Magnus was just two pawns up in a queen ending, and although Hikaru could win one back by force the World Champion didn’t go astray as he converted his advantage. We got a rare smile at the end of the game!  

Magnus now needed a draw with the black pieces to win the first mini-match of the final, but as he noted himself, he’s struggled to keep leads in these matches. He actually led Wesley So four times across the Skilling Open and Opera Euro Rapid finals combined before losing both matches.

This time the opening went very well for Magnus, but he began to lose the thread until 24…Nc5? was a clear mistake that was exposed by 25.Ne2!

Magnus commented:

For sure, I was being outplayed at some point. After he went Ne2, for some reason I was hallucinating lines where I could drop the knight into d3. I was only thinking of Rd8 first and then the knight going there, but there’s nothing, there’s no Nd3 Qe4, not anything, so this means that my pieces are being pushed back and I’m just going to be much, much worse and probably losing.

Magnus said he was “seriously considering” sacrificing a pawn with 25…Nb3. He rejected it because, “it’s a pawn for nothing”, but it tells you all you need to know about how bad Black’s position had become that it was also the computer’s first line. 

Instead we saw 25…Rxd1 26.Rxd1 Qa7 27.Rc1 Ne6 until Hikaru returned the favour with a move that was objectively every bit as bad as it looked at a glance: 28.f3?

Magnus seized his chance with 28…Nd5! 29.Qxc6 Nxe3+ and was later happy to be able to give up two minor pieces for a rook, an exchange that usually wouldn’t be favourable. 

I was thrilled to exchange two light pieces for a rook, not necessarily because I thought I was doing great objectively, I just thought my position would be so much easier to play, and even though I just had 30 seconds I knew that he was running down the clock as well and we’d probably have a scramble where I’d be doing well. And then it was one of those days. Twice he collapsed in these complicated situations. On another day I might have been punished.  

37.Qd5? was the final mistake in a position where White’s chances of winning on demand had already all but gone.

37…Rd8! brought resignation, as if the queen moves the bishop on a2 is lost. 

Hikaru Nakamura will now need to win the 4-game mini-match tomorrow to force a playoff with two blitz games and potentially Armageddon. Otherwise Magnus will finally have a tournament victory in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. 

Aronian-Mamedyarov: A clean sweep for Black

The stakes are much lower in the match for 3rd place, but Levon Aronian and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov nevertheless treated us to a spectacular encounter. The tone was set in Game 1 when Mamedyarov unleashed a venomous novelty, at least for rapid play, with 13.Qf3!?, which, after Levon grabbed a poisoned pawn, led to the position after 16.Qh5!

He may not have expected it to work so well, however, or he forgot something, since after 16…Nc6 he failed to follow up with 17.Nf5+! Instead 17.Qg5+ and a few more seemingly natural moves only led to his queen getting trapped and a 24-move win for Levon.

That was a tough blow, but Shakh hit straight back in the next game. One passive move was all it took for Black to whip up a huge attack and Mamedyarov had won in 21 moves.

Neither player could stabilise with White, and in the next game it was Levon who suddenly found a winning idea.

32…f4! and Black will queen a pawn. 

Levon came within touching distance of clinching victory when he had a winning position with the white pieces in the final game, but it was extremely complex and Shakh ultimately hit back again in beautiful style. 38.Nxd6 was a mistake, but to prove it required Mamedyarov to find an amazing resource.

38…Bxg2!! was based on 39.Nxf7 Be4!! and if the queen moves with e.g. 40.Qc1 then 40…Nh3# is checkmate. 

Levon avoided that with 39.Kxg2, but after the queen sidestepped with 39…Qe6 the game was soon over (40.Nxe8 Qc6+! is another way to get mated). 

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has now played 11 knockout rapid games on the tour and all 11 of them have been decisive. We’ll see if that record continues on Sunday, but of course all eyes will be on Hikaru Nakamura’s attempt to win on demand against Magnus Carlsen and take us to a blitz playoff. The history of their previous encounters suggests that’s a very real possibility!

Tune into all the action live here on chess24 from 19:00 CEST!

See also:

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