Carlsen Wins Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals In Armageddon

| 144 | Chess Event Coverage

In another mini-match that went all the way to armageddon, and holding that game to a draw with the black pieces, GM Magnus Carlsen emerged as the winner of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva. Carlsen won $140,000 while GM Hikaru Nakamura earned $80,000.

Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals bracket

"Who wrote this script?" said WGM Jennifer Shahade, co-commentator on Nakamura's Twitch channel on the final day, when Carlsen won the second blitz game to force the armageddon. And indeed, even a Hollywood producer would have given it a second thought before choosing such a final scene.

At the same time, it felt this could simply not end any other way. Nakamura constantly winning one set, Carlsen each time leveling the score the next day... This fight was so incredibly close that it will be remembered for decades.

"I don’t know what to say. There were just so many twists and turns. Ultimately it’s a bit random that everything is decided by one game but it has to end at some point," said Carlsen right after winning-by-drawing.

Magnus Carlsen interview
Carlsen: "It has to end at some point." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Asked how he managed to keep on coming back, time and again, Carlsen replied: "I’m going to tell you why I was coming back, [it was] because I couldn’t play two good sets in a row so I had to come back. I mainly had to come back because I was messing up!"

It was not only the world champion who kept fighting back; Nakamura also had several comebacks in mini-matches where he started with a loss.

"It was incredibly frustrating," said Carlsen. "Twice I won the first game with black and once I had a lead in the blitz and I only had to make a draw with white. I almost lost all of these three matches which just says something about his resilience and how good he plays with his back against the wall."

[It] says something about his resilience and how good he plays with his back against the wall.
—Magnus Carlsen

"The last couple of days, towards the end of the match, I kept trying to get chances and I really was very proud of that," said Nakamura. "Many times when I played Magnus before, I was falling apart. Nerves, choking, whatever you want to call it, I have a tendency to sort of collapse and the way that I kept it together today (...) I thought I played very well."

Hikaru Nakamura happy
Nakamura: "I did not expect it to go this long at all. I thought I would lose in maybe five or six matches, I was hoping to take two off of him." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

What about Carlsen's back injury? Well, it was less troubling than the day before. "I was feeling a bit better healthwise," he said, adding: "Also yesterday I felt like I played a lot better than he did. Obviously the first game sort of strengthened that feeling."

Carlsen won as Black—a dream start.

"I felt like I beat myself," said Nakamura.

However, that was where it ended in terms of strength. "I just felt like I had zero energy," said Carlsen. "Starting from the second game I just felt absolutely beat and I wanted it to be over. You could see in the third game that I didn’t really compete there well."

After a balanced but long second game that ended in a draw, Carlsen lost that third game quickly. He was just crushed.

"To be honest I wasn’t that upset after losing the first blitz game; what really upset me was losing the third rapid game," said Carlsen.

Another long fourth game ended in a draw, and so a set of two 5+3 games followed. Things were really going Nakamura's way when he won the first, where he skillfully converted a pawn-up endgame with opposite-colored bishops and rooks:

Carlsen: "When I lost the blitz I was sort of numb, I was just so tired and I didn’t really believe I had a good chance of coming back. I just thought I’m gonna play one more game and I’m gonna give it a shot but I didn’t really believe in it that much."

But he managed anyway, despite suboptimal time management, spending one minute and 38 seconds (!) about his 18th move.

"I was just paralyzed," Carlsen said. "I was used to a different kind of rhythm, I was just thinking about what to do. Maybe I was thinking about whether to check on a2 or to go and Ne1 immediately. After I’d spent some time on these nuances I just glanced at the clock and saw that I had two minutes left, that was just insane."

He called his opponent's 28...axb4 a "huge conceptual mistake," after which he started to believe he could win this game:

It was armageddon time, again. A single game, with five minutes on the clock for white and four for Black (having draw odds), worthy of $60,000—the difference between the first prize and second.

In fact, it was five minutes vs three minutes and 45 seconds as Carlsen strangely took 15 seconds for his second move. Afterward, he explained what happened there.

Thinking the moves might come in slower because he was using a separate screen, he decided to remove his HDMI cable and use his laptop screen instead. Due to the messed up resolution, the chessboard in his browser was suddenly very small and it took him time to fix everything. An amazing, extra anecdote to such an important game.

"My one thought for today was that I was gonna be black in armageddon," said Carlsen, who had the right to choose color for entering the tournament as the top seed based on his results in the tour. "It worked out so badly with white the last time that I thought if I get to this point I’m just gonna be so tired that it’s better if I can play for a draw. Obviously I was very worried that he was just gonna play very fast and flag me but that turned out to be not a problem."

Nakamura said he had thought about it the night before and wasn’t planning to flag Magnus. "I didn’t feel that it would be appropriate in a sense."

It wasn't really a flaggable position, as Carlsen pointed out: "I love the final position in the sense that I have 50 seconds but it’s a perfect position to have because I’m gonna make the same two moves and I will be able to pre-move no matter what."

And so an epic final came to an end, with a winner and a runner-up, but also with two winners. Carlsen emphasized how hard this struggle had been to him, and why that was the case:

"He’s very very resilient. That’s what I feel. I just found the whole match very difficult and unpleasant to play. At some points, I felt that I was outplaying him and then he started turning around. I mean, I never felt that I had the energy, I never felt that I was at any moment cruising. It was just a never-ending struggle and that’s why it became so close.

"At some point in this match, I thought it was all going just so poorly and there’s just no control in this match, I feel like I’m not getting the better of him at all so if I just end up winning the match at all that’s a huge success. Of course, there’s a feeling of relief but also massive joy, not necessarily with my play but this is sport and the win is sometimes even sweeter when it comes like this."

This is sport and the win is sometimes even sweeter when it comes like this.
—Magnus Carlsen

"It was not my best event. This final and also the semifinal was just a struggle, just no rhythm, no flow, just back and forth in nerves and anger and joy and just everything at once. It’s been unbelievably stressful," said Carlsen, who was also feeling a bit for his opponent:

"The format is extremely harsh, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, there’s a winner and there’s a loser so, what can I say, it’s extremely harsh on him, he played a great match, he made it extremely difficult for me so it’s rough, obviously."

Asked how he would celebrate, Carlsen replied: "I’m going to relax, I’m going to sleep and I’m gonna have a big smile on my face!"

All that was accompanied by two quick tweets:

Nakamura once again allowed himself to be interviewed on his Twitch channel and took his tough loss professionally, appearing quite relaxed about it and bringing lots of positive energy to the screen.

"I don’t actually feel like I lost this match, I mean it came down to an armageddon and if you look at the whole course of the event, in the two black games that I had against Magnus in armageddons I think I won both of them. It’s the nature of the event and it’s a little bit unfortunate but I thought I played very well. I’m especially proud today when I had this horrendous first game that I was able to come back in the third game and play a great game. Other than the money I don’t feel like I lost and I think that, above and beyond, it’s probably what’s most important.

Other than the money I don’t feel like I lost and I think that, above and beyond, it’s probably what’s most important.
—Hikaru Nakamura

"It’s unfortunately in a sense that technically I don’t win but I thought the fact that I pushed it literally to the very end is more than I ever would have expected at the start of the match. Considering my general history with Magnus and the fact that for the most of my career I’ve gotten bad positions and been outplayed pretty soundly, I feel very good about it. It came down to armageddon, that’s life. It doesn’t actually feel like a loss to me."

Once again, the American GM thanked his fans: "A lot of people are saying: how is it that I am suddenly playing so much better than in the past against Magnus. Certainly, Magnus probably was not at his best throughout but I did feel very strongly about the support of the fans; that it wasn’t solely me playing against Magnus made a big difference. When things go badly you feel very bad but when you have a lot of fans out there who are rooting for you it’s much easier to pick yourself up and keep going forward and keep trying."

Nakamura also gave credit to Chess24 for organizing the tour and later tweeted as well, which got a reply from Carlsen showing mutual respect:

What's next? Apart from Pogchamps starting tomorrow with Nakamura as a commentator and the Online Olympiad's Top Division starting today (with the top teams joining!) there will be the annual Fischerrandom event from the St. Louis Chess Club next month (with Carlsen and Nakamura playing) before Norway Chess will kick off in October, but Nakamura isn't playing there.

He might be organizing something himself though, behind the scenes, as he revealed in his interview:

"I won’t say anything specific but there will be a big announcement coming probably in the next couple of days. I won’t say anything more than that but that’s also one of the things going on in the last couple of weeks, some negotiations and some final touches on some things.

"I’m going to play chess for sure going forward. Realistically I don’t think there will be any over-the-board tournaments for the rest of the year; maybe there will be a word blitz and rapid at the end of the year potentially but in general, I don’t really see myself playing any chess for the rest of the year, I see myself being a professional streamer. It is my job these days and I enjoy it."

Nakamura made his career-switch clear even more when he said that he was going to stream later in the day...

All games | Final, Day 7

The Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals benefiting Kiva ran August 9-20 on chess24. The semifinals phase was a best-of-five series of matches consisting of four-game rapid matches each day. The final consisted of a best-of-seven series. The prize fund was $300,000 with $140,000 for first place and $80,000 for second. The time control was 15 minutes and a 10-second increment.

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