Opera Euro Rapid SF: Carlsen, So Lead
Wesley So beat Teimour Radjabov on day one of the semifinals. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Opera Euro Rapid SF: Carlsen, So Lead

| 31 | Chess Event Coverage

GMs Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So took the lead in their semifinal matches of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. Both won their two white games against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Teimour Radjabov respectively.

How to watch?
The games of the Opera Euro Rapid 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 from 8:00 a.m. Pacific / 17:00 Central Europe.

Opera Euro Rapid Results knockout

Carlsen vs. Vachier-Lagrave

"Which Carlsen will I be facing?" Lately, this has been the pertinent question for opponents of the world champion, who has been rather unsteady. Unfortunately for MVL, Carlsen was having a good day on Thursday.

"I certainly didn't play my best, but Magnus was very close to his best," said Vachier-Lagrave.

A good start always helps, and Carlsen himself went as far as calling his win in game one, where he used the 5.Bd2 line against the Grunfeld, a "model game."

Vachier-Lagrave: "I underestimated my issues and played carelessly."

The second game was a draw. Vachier-Lagrave got some chances as he played well in the middlegame, but eventually, he had to defend an endgame an exchange down.

Carlsen then tried another sideline of the Grunfeld (7.Qa4+) and again traded queens early. With a positional exchange sacrifice that didn't require any courage, according to Carlsen, he took full control.

Taking on c6 here was a no-brainer for Carlsen: "I feel like that's one of the least courageous sacrifices I have ever made. Basically yes, I do lose a rook for a bishop, but I have a strong pawn for it and the bishop pair as well as wonderful centralization, so it’s clear that I'm not running any risk other than accidental blunders."

It would have been another model game if he had found 34.Rc8, but Carlsen missed it—and typically noticed it right after playing another move.

"You're not really supposed to miss mate in twos, I think, at this level," said Carlsen. "That was really crazy."

You're not really supposed to miss mate in twos, I think, at this level.
—Magnus Carlsen

"Apart from that, I actually also missed that he could play 36…Ra7 there later on, defending the h-pawn. If I'd seen that, I never would have gone for it."

A drawn endgame resulted, but Carlsen won it anyway as he found a study-like win at the end.

Magnus Carlsen Opera Euro Rapid
Carlsen: "Today was a lot better, obviously." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

So vs. Radjabov

Radjabov had shown ultra-solid chess, drawing 14 out of 15 games in the preliminaries and seven more against GM Anish Giri in the quarterfinals. It was therefore an excellent result for So to beat the Azerbaijani grandmaster twice, using 1.e4 in both games.

In the first, he built on a small advantage and set up an attack on the kingside. As it turned out, Radjabov still could have defended near the end:

Wesley So Opera Euro Rapid
Wesley So. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Radjabov tied the match after finding a nice way to liquidate to a promising rook endgame:

Radjabov then lost game three as well, after unnecessarily getting under pressure on the queenside. He had played the same Rossolimo in his game with GM Alexander Grischuk in the preliminaries, when a timely pawn break on the queenside had given him equality.

"By liquidating by ...a4, it's just very OK for Black," Radjabov said. "I just decided that maybe Wesley is not in a great mood so I can play on, but I completely missed the a3, Qb2 stuff. Suddenly I'm on the defensive."

"I just decided that maybe Wesley is not in a great mood so I can play on."
—Teimour Radjabov

Playing the Queen's Gambit Declined, So was ultra-solid in game four and held the draw to clinch the first match. 

"Of course, it's been a very good day," he said. "I'm very happy because this means that no matter what happens tomorrow, I'm guaranteed of at least a blitz playoff."

Radjabov: "I'm actually quite happy about my play, not the third game, but generally I'm just very OK with my play. Sometimes maybe [I am] a bit over-pushing, tired of making a lot of draws, but that's also maybe very exciting for the spectators, so that's fine."

Teimour Radjabov Opera Euro Masters
Teimour Radjabov is "tired of making a lot of draws." Photo: Maria Emelianova/

All Games SF Day 1

The Opera Euro Rapid runs February 6-14. The preliminary phase is a 16-player rapid round-robin (15 + 10). The top eight players advance to a six-day knockout that will consist of two days of four-game rapid matches, which may advance to blitz (5 + 3) and armageddon (White has five minutes, Black four with no increment) tiebreaks only if the knockout match is tied after the second day. The prize fund is $100,000 with $30,000 for first place.

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Peter Doggers

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