Magnus Carlsen called Hikaru Nakamura “a bit naïve” to fall
for a knockout blow that left the World Chess Champion as the sole leader going
into the final day of the Opera Euro Rapid preliminary stage. Hikaru is on 50% and
in a fierce battle for one of the eight places in the quarterfinals, though
currently no-one is completely safe or out of contention. Everything will be
decided in Monday’s final five rounds, with Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk,
Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Daniil Dubov all currently in the drop zone.

You can replay all the games from the Opera Euro Rapid
preliminary stage using the selector below.

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Peter Leko and
Tania Sachdev.

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

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Day 2 of the Opera Euro Rapid saw less of the manic action
we witnessed on Day 1, but there were only two players who drew all their games
– the tour leader and still unbeaten Teimour
Radjabov
, who put the emphasis on solidity, and Ian Nepomniachtchi, who alternated lightning-fast draws (including
11 moves vs. Ding Liren) with chaotic adventures.

Magnus Carlsen admitted he was “just so unbelievably lost”
against Nepo and would have gone down if his Russian opponent hadn’t play so
fast and carelessly, while against Vidit, Ian discovered mid-game that he’d
just blundered his rook…

It was trickier than it looked, however, and four moves
later Nepo was right back in the game before going on to draw.

The remaining 14 players all played decisive games, but it
was a day when no-one collapsed or performed incredibly well. Everyone picked
up at least one win (struggler Matthias
Bluebaum
took down Levon Aronian
while last-placed Leinier Dominguez
beat the co-leader at that point, Wesley
So
), with the score range varying only from 3.5/5 (Anish Giri) to 1.5/5 (Sam
Shankland, Ding Liren). 3/5 proved enough for Magnus Carlsen to retain the sole lead, after another lively day at
the office:

I feel pretty much every game has been exciting. It’s been
fun, and not always correct, but fun to play and hopefully fun to watch!

Magnus didn’t think he’d played so well on Day 2 and he started
with two shaky games against Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexander Grischuk. The 3rd
game of the day was against his arch-rival Anish
Giri
, and the 1.e3 he opened with was no mouse-slip. Magnus later lamented:

I thought, why not? Let’s play something normal and get a
game, and then at the first opportunity I gave him a chance to give a perpetual
check. That really, really bugged me, because I wanted to win that game,
obviously, but it wasn’t to be.

Anish enjoyed the 20-move draw!

And in general he could boast of a very successful day at
the office, despite all five of his opponents being from the world top 10. He drew three games and picked up wins over Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, with the latter
game a slow motion crush that gave the French no. 1 endless time to regret his
rash opening choices.

So Magnus was having a difficult time before playing Hikaru Nakamura in the final round of
the day. The US star, meanwhile, had scored three draws (including pressing Vidit
for 156 moves!) and then snatched a win against Ding Liren. The Chinese no. 1 at
one point had a better position, but his lack of time threatened to give Peter
Leko a heart attack.

It ended as such games often do against Hikaru online, with
the world blitz no. 1 taking over until we got a picturesque final
position – the knight on d4 has so many options, but all of them bad.

So it was Hikaru who had the initiative going into the final
round of the day against his key online rival, and he maintained pressure,
particularly on the clock. Magnus had gained a slight edge on the board near the end, but
his 32.Bc2 didn’t suggest the drama
that was about to follow.

Magnus explained afterwards:

Before I played 32.Bc2
I was looking at a number of different moves, but my time was just running out,
and actually I saw that after Bc2 he could go 32…Nd4, and then I would go probably 33.Bd3 back, not to allow any counterplay. So basically I’d decided
just to repeat the position once and we’ll see what happens. Probably I would
have made a draw at that point because I couldn’t really find the way forward.
So it was probably a bit naïve from him, but I’ve missed tactics before, so I’m
not shocked that he thought I’d done it again. But not this time, fortunately!

Hikaru’s move to “punish” Magnus was 32…Re1?, based on the black queen and bishop hitting f2, which is no longer protected by the a2-rook. Peter Leko had seen that move in advance,
but also instantly spotted the refutation: 33.Bxg6!
and suddenly there’s nothing Black can do to prevent a catastrophic loss of material.
Hikaru went through the stages of grief before finally resigning, as you can watch in the video below.

Magnus commented:

I didn’t quite think that he would go for 32…Re1, since when you spot such a
move, especially when you have a couple of minutes like he actually had, you
sort of want to check that it actually works, because it’s a pretty big chance
to take if it doesn’t work. So yeah, I’m a bit surprised that he went for it,
but obviously massive relief for me.

That left Magnus well on course to qualify for the knockout
stages, and even to top the preliminary stage for the 3rd Meltwater Champions
Chess Tour event in a row. As the World Champion noted, however, finishing top
hasn’t helped him in the knockouts so far. For Hikaru, there’s a lot of
work still to do, though if the event stopped now he would in fact make it as
one of the top eight players.

The margins are very fine, however, with Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Alexander Grischuk on the same points
total but currently missing out on tiebreakers. No-one can be ruled out,
however, as previous tour events have been littered with players who led right
at the end (e.g. Alireza Firouzja) but still missed out, or whose situation
looked hopeless (MVL) but they came through anyway.

One giant who could still challenge if he returned to his
normal form is world no. 3 Ding Liren, whose midnight to 5 am schedule in China
has so far proven a hurdle too far. He suffered with three losses in four games at the
start of Day 2, and at times it seemed everything that could go wrong did go
wrong. For instance, the game against Grischuk. The Chinese no. 1 trapped his
opponent’s rook(s):

But that wasn’t the end of the story, with Grischuk somehow
getting a chance to snatch victory with the simple 56…Rxg7! (57.hxg7 g1=Q) only to play 56…Re6? instead.

Ultimately Grischuk did bring home the full point
after spotting a trick at the end of the game. 

It seemed Ding had completely
given up on the tournament, but then in the final round of the day he was
provoked into finding a kill against Vidit.

49.Qf7+ Ke5 (49…Kd6 50.Qxe7+) 50.Qf4+ Ke6 51.Qxg5 and, with
the loose rook off the board, the Indian star resigned.

Ding Liren would need to win four or five games on Monday to have a real chance, but he doesn’t exactly have ideal pairings, facing the super-solid Radjabov and So as well as the World Champion…

No-one said it was going to be easy!

Don’t miss the final day of the preliminary stage, live from 17:00 CET right here on chess24

See also:


Chess Mentor

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