2021 Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Giri, Nepomniachtchi Reach Final As Team Hikaru Breaks $1 Million In Donations

2021 Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Giri, Nepomniachtchi Reach Final As Team Hikaru Breaks $1 Million In Donations

| 31 | Chess Event Coverage

The final of the 2021 Magnus Carlsen Invitational will be played between GM Anish Giri and GM Ian Nepomniachtchi. While Giri beat Wesley So twice, Nepomniachtchi lost his second match to GM Magnus Carlsen but then won the playoff.

During the live broadcast on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel, over $360,000 was raised for the humanitarian agency CARE. During what was the third fundraiser in a couple of months, the total donation sum went over $1 million.

How to watch?
The games of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational preliminaries can be found here as part of our live events platform. IM Levy Rozman and IM Anna Rudolf are providing daily commentary on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel starting at 8:00 a.m. Pacific / 17:00 Central Europe.

2021 Magnus Carlsen Invitational results

Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi 2.5-1.5/0.5-1.5

"Clearly, today it was a lottery, and I was the one who got the winning ticket," said Nepomniachtchi shortly after denying Carlsen a place in the final. Although happy with his match win, the Russian grandmaster once again wanted to point out that the level of chess in these online tournaments is sometimes questionable.

"It wasn't about chess, most of the games and most of the mistakes," he added. "This is what happens when you play chess many days in a row without any rest: you end up blundering things."

Clearly, today it was a lottery, and I was the one who got the winning ticket.
—Ian Nepomniachtchi

"I'm really disappointed with my performance today.... Obviously, huge congrats to Ian, and I wish him the best of luck in the finals," said Carlsen. "Today was really very poor. It's not the kind of play that I want to show at all."

Magnus Carlsen
Carlsen: "Today was really very poor." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After a draw in game one, Nepomniachtchi seemed to have won a pretty good second game but as it turned out, both players missed a few things here and there. For instance, the pawn push 19...h4 was based on an oversight: Nepomniachtchi had completely missed that White could keep his h-pawn by simply pushing it to h5!

Having a first match victory in hand, Nepomniachtchi needed just one more draw to qualify for the final. Carlsen, on the other hand, needed to win two games in a row. And he did.

Arguably the most dramatic encounter was game three. "There are 1,001 ways to draw as White but I thought OK, let's play a normal game; I don't want to go for a draw," he said. "At some point I was, I think, almost winning out of the opening."

Ian Nepomniachtchi
Nepomniachtchi: "There are 1,001 ways to draw as White." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

"Winning" is stretching it a bit, but the Russian GM was definitely OK in the early middlegame. What followed was an epic fight where Carlsen emerged victoriously. Although he won this game, Carlsen said he had played "really poorly": "I made several blunders there, especially early on and also later. I felt like it was more a kind of him sort of stumbling there rather than me doing something great."

Nepomniachtchi: "This is very typical when one player has nothing to lose and another player has everything to lose. Normally a miracle comes here. At least once we reached the blitz stage, Magnus finally also had something to lose."

Carlsen secured a playoff as he won his next game remarkably smoothly, using a system with which Giri had beaten the same player in the Opera Euro Rapid last month. See the game viewer below for that one.

The first blitz game saw a curious finish. Getting himself in a bit of trouble, Nepomniachtchi at one point liquidated to the theoretically drawn R vs. RN endgame. Carlsen played on for a while (as one should), but then blundered (mouse slipped?) a full rook when he was on the defending side for a short while.

Carlsen's loss in the final blitz game was unnecessary and, in a way, the result of overpressing. He had been playing for two results in an endgame with a queen and rook for both, having the better pawn structure. Eventually, a queen endgame came on the board with a passed pawn for Nepomniachtchi.

Computer analysis shows that at quite a late stage, Carlsen could still have drawn but also that Nepomniachtchi allowed his opponent a second chance:

"Ultimately, what decided the match is that he managed to keep his head pretty calm in the blitz, and I most certainly did not," said Carlsen. "I was obviously happy to get to the blitz, but I still had sort of an iffy feeling. I knew that the job was far from done even if I had won a couple of games. I felt I still wasn't playing great and in his case, he was still sort of playing with house money there because he knew that even though he had collapsed and lost the last two games, he still could sort of start from scratch in the tiebreaks."

He managed to keep his head pretty calm in the blitz, and I most certainly did not.
—Magnus Carlsen

With Carlsen out, the world champion has now played in five tournaments without winning one of them since he turned 30: Speed Chess Championship, Airthings Masters, Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Opera Euro Rapid, and this one.

"I thought I shouldn't disappoint the crowd and let them see Wesley So against Magnus Carlsen match," joked Giri before it was known that this match was actually going to take place—but this time as the fight for third place.

Giri vs. So 2.5-1.5

Giri said he was "really happy" to be in the final after beating So, the winner of two tournaments in this tour so far. The Dutchman's second match victory came down to one moment in the fourth game after three draws. In a slightly better position, So uncharacteristically blundered terribly.

"I had such a controlled position, and then he provoked this push from 22.f4 from the king which weakens me slightly," said Giri about what happened earlier. Also uncharacteristically, he continued weakening his king with another pawn push, 26.g4, later calling it "so dubious and so uncalled for."

Black has several moves to keep his advantage there, but with one single move So spoiled everything. 

"This blunder, I saw it," said Giri. "It's such a ridiculous move, but I actually considered it for him, and I was actually hoping he would fall for it."

Explaining how these mistakes happen at such a high level, Giri added: "In these last, decisive rounds, nobody is himself. Even the greatest players sometimes just become a shadow of themselves."

Anish Giri
Anish Giri. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

When he had qualified for the semifinals, Giri stated that his new plan is to win the tournament. After reaching the final, he noted that his motivation is mostly external: "Honestly, the thing is, I should probably care about tournament victories because people around me seem to care about it."

What we'll see is a final between two players whose next event is potentially crucial for their future career: the Candidates tournament. Their opening choices in this final are definitely going to be affected by that.

As Nepomniachtchi put it: "We shouldn't expect some big opening revelations from both of us tomorrow but OK, who knows?"

All Games Day 7

The Champions Chess Tour's Magnus Carlsen Invitational runs March 13-21 on chess24. The preliminary phase was a 16-player rapid (15|10) round-robin. The top eight players advanced to a six-day knockout that consists of two days of four-game rapid matches, which advance to blitz (5|3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if a knockout match is tied after the second day. The prize fund is $220,000 with $60,000 for first place.

Previous reports:

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.

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