Magnus Carlsen Wins Magnus Carlsen Invitational
Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Magnus Carlsen Wins Magnus Carlsen Invitational

| 109 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Magnus Carlsen won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational on Sunday. The Norwegian grandmaster clinched the $70,000 first prize after beating GM Hikaru Nakamura in the final of this very strong online tournament held April 18-May 3.

The event was an initiative from the world champion himself. With a $250,000 prize fund, eight of the strongest grandmasters in the world played. Below they are listed, sorted by their April 2020 standard FIDE ratings:

Magnus Carlsen Invitational | Participants

# Rank Fed Name Std. Rpd. B-Year
1 1 Magnus Carlsen 2863 2881 1990
2 2 Fabiano Caruana 2835 2773 1992
3 3 Ding Liren 2791 2836 1992
4 4 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2784 2778 1990
5 5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2778 2860 1990
6 10 Anish Giri 2764 2731 1994
7 18 Hikaru Nakamura 2736 2829 1987
8 21 Alireza Firouzja 2728 2703 2003

The tournament started with a single round-robin held during the first week with the top-scoring players qualifying for a Final Four knockout. Each match consisted of four rapid games with a time control of 15 minutes and a 10-second increment. The winner earned three match points. If the players tied 2-2, a single armageddon game was played, where the winner got two points and the loser one.

In that first phase, many fans were eager to follow GM Alireza Firouzja. Shortly before the event, the Iranian prodigy had beaten Carlsen 8.5-7.5 in the Banter Blitz Cup, a 128-player knockout with a $14,000 first prize.

Carlsen took small revenge by winning his mini-match against Firouzja 2.5-1.5. The latter won one game, in which he set a devilish trap: 

Alireza Firouzja
Alireza Firouzja. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Sometimes the world champion took a remarkably loose approach to his openings, which backfired a few times. For instance, he played 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Bc4?! against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, which surely seemed like a one-time surprise weapon. 

A few days later, however, Carlsen repeated this off-beat line against GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. The Russian had probably looked at it, took the pawn, and obtained a winning position as early as move seven after one more mistake by his opponent.

"I just completely blanked there. I didn't remember what to do," Carlsen said afterward. "My mind was blank; there was just nothing. It was just total insanity."

Magnus Carlsen Invitational
Some unsuccessful opening experiments by Carlsen. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In his match with GM Ding Liren, Carlsen tried more extravagant material such as the King's Gambit as White, and 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 h5 as Black. Or the following version of the Scandinavian, which is also not known to be very good for Black:

Ding won this match 3-1, which was the second time he won a quickplay mini-match against the world champion, after his win in the Sinquefield Cup playoffs last year.

Ding Liren
Powerful play by Ding Liren. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Besides Ding and Carlsen, the other two players who qualified for the Final Four were GM Fabiano Caruana and Nakamura. The two American players were paired against each other in the first semifinal, held on Friday.

Magnus Carlsen Invitational | Round-robin phase, final standings 

# Fed Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 BP MP
1 Hikaru Nakamura 2 2 2 2 16½ 15
2 Ding Liren 2 3 2 2 2 16 15
3 Magnus Carlsen 2 1 3 2 14½ 13
4 Fabiano Caruana 2 2 1 3 14½ 13
5 Ian Nepomniachtchi 2 2 2 13 8
6 Alireza Firouzja ½ 1 2 11½ 7
7 Anish Giri 2 1 12½ 7
8 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2 2 2 3 13½ 6

All round-robin games for replay/download

The semifinals and the final had a slightly longer format. In case of a tie after the two rapid games, up to four blitz games, played with five minutes and a three-second increment, would follow. 

Nakamura-Caruana 4-2

The all-American battle started with two draws, followed by a win for Nakamura with the black pieces. Caruana was in a must-win situation as Black but somehow managed in a memorable game:

Fabiano Caruana
Fabiano Caruana. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura again won as Black in the first blitz game. This time he confidently kept control in the second:

"I thought I played three good games, but then my nerves failed me in game four and the tiebreak, but I found a way to win," said Nakamura.

Carlsen-Ding 2.5-1.5

Going for more solid openings this time around, Carlsen played a London System and drew the first game with Ding in Saturday's second semifinal. In the second, however, he committed a grave blunder, played after a five-minute deliberation. He called it "a complete blind spot."

Carlsen was on the verge of defeat when he got a bad position out of the opening in game three. This time his London didn't get off the ground at all. However, Ding allowed counterplay and soon collapsed, missing the last chance for a draw just before the end:

The fourth game was a thriller as well. Just when Carlsen seemed to build an attack on the kingside, Ding found the nice maneuver 21.Rb2, 22.Qe1, and 23.Re2 that held things together. Soon the players were repeating moves but with little time on the clock, Ding decided to play on. He gambled and lost:

"I cannot remember being as satisfied with a win as I have been today," said Carlsen. "This one was tough and usually I think going into a match that, frankly, if I am even close to my best, I will win. But now I knew that there is nothing certain at all so being able to pull it out, especially facing such adversity, it's a great feeling."

Magnus Carlsen
Carlsen was especially happy with his win vs. Ding. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Carlsen-Nakamura 2.5-1.5

These two players had played two earlier online matches, both on the 2016 Grandmaster Blitz Battle and the 2017 Speed Chess Championship. Both were won by Carlsen, and on Sunday he once again showed to be the stronger player—but it was close.

Staying away from further opening frivolities, the world champion chose 1.c4 in the first game and got a slight endgame advantage as Nakamura went for the committal move 14...Nd4. Carlsen won the game like the "old Magnus" by grinding down his opponent in the subsequent 60 moves, ultimately capitalizing on a mistake by Naka.

The final remained very interesting when Nakamura won the next white game to level the score. Afterward, Carlsen admitted that his opening choice was perhaps not the best: it's passive, and Naka has a lot of experience with it.

It was a rare sight to see Nakamura getting such a convincing victory against a rather helpless Carlsen, who joked: "Apparently I just cannot defend anymore!"

Hikaru Nakamura
One of Nakamura's best games against the world champion. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

But as if nothing happened, the Norwegian won the next game and in a very different way. It looked like he outprepared his opponent in the opening with 11.Ng5. The move had been played before by strong GMs, but Naka took three minutes on the clock there.

Carlsen went for a position with a pawn and a rook in exchange for two minor pieces, often a slightly dubious trade but in this case, it led to a position that was perhaps easier to play for White. An unwarranted pawn move on the kingside didn't make the American's life easier:

In their match in the round-robin phase, Nakamura had come back twice after a loss, and eventually, Carlsen won the armageddon. With these three games in the final, White had scored 7-0 in total.

Nakamura was very close to making that 8-0 and 2-2 in the match, but he failed to win a probably winning rook endgame:

"I think I played better than yesterday," said Carlsen. "The two white games were pretty good. Obviously, the last game was a mess. I allowed this 27.Rd7 stuff for no reason when I should be pretty comfortably drawing. It was tough, but happy to have pulled through."

Nakamura won $45,000 for his second place. Ding won $30,000, and so did Caruana. Nepomniachtchi took home $22,500, Firouzja $20,000, Giri $17,500, and MVL $15,000.

All Final Four games for replay/download

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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