Carlsen To Face So In Opera Euro Rapid Final
Magnus Carlsen struggled but survived his match with MVL. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen To Face So In Opera Euro Rapid Final

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50 | Chess Event Coverage

GMs Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So will play the final of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. Whereas So only needed three games in his second match to eliminate GM Teimour Radjabov, Carlsen struggled again with blunders and only beat MVL in the armageddon of the playoff.

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

Carlsen vs. Vachier-Lagrave

"I'm still making horrendous blunders in some of these games, but at least I had a lot more fun today than I had against Dubov," Carlsen said after winning his thriller against Vachier-Lagrave.

That difference with the quarterfinal showed: Carlsen was smiling more on camera than before. "I was just in a good mood today, and even losing some games didn't particularly matter," he added.

Magnus Carlsen smiling
A good mood helped Carlsen through the match. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

This match started with two interesting draws that both ended with a knight against a bishop and pawns on one wing. It was after these two good fights—where the focus was on the chess—when the drama unfolded.

As it turned out, the blunders Carlsen made against GM Daniil Dubov were not the last ones in the tournament. Out of the blue, he self-trapped a bishop in game three. On camera, the world champion was first smiling, but then the disappointment sank in as he put his head on his desk for a few seconds.

Of course, he played on for a while, but the result was never in doubt.

That was a very welcome gift for Vachier-Lagrave, who needed to win this match to force a playoff. It also meant that in the final game, Carlsen would go all in because a draw and a loss would mean exactly the same: a playoff.

In one of many Grunfelds between these players, MVL equalized comfortably this time when Carlsen suddenly blundered again, followed by a mouse-slip in a bad position:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Opera Euro Rapid
Some welcome gifts for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen started the blitz playoff with the white pieces as well, and this time he tried the Anti-Grunfeld. That was a success:

This time it was MVL who had to win on demand—a pretty tough task against the world champion, but he managed. The Frenchman played a great game that was decided in a pawn endgame.

"I really felt like he put some very difficult questions to me that I couldn't solve," Carlsen would later say.

Chess.com Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

It was the second match in a row where Carlsen had to play an armageddon. Just like against Dubov, he chose the white pieces (having the right to choose came from finishing first in the preliminaries) and, at the right moment, he played his best game of the whole match.

"It was sort of a trend that neither of us [was] getting good positions with black, and I think he just never got going there," said Carlsen. "I got a nice grip over the position, and there wasn't much he could do."

Carlsen's positive attitude again came to light when he said: "I wasn't that upset to get to this point today, just really happy to have played a good game at the end when it really mattered."

"This was very different from the match against Dubov," said Carlsen. "I felt in that match I made it very difficult for myself. I feel like today was more like Maxime playing well and posing me some very difficult problems."

Magnus Carlsen camera interview
Carlsen praised MVL for posing many problems. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Carlsen took revenge both for his loss to Dubov in the Airthings Masters and to MVL in the semifinal of the Chess.com Speed Chess Championship. He didn't see it that way, though:

"I would still say that a win of mine against somebody is not equivalent to them beating me, so I wouldn't call it an absolute blow-for-blow revenge. If I were to have a good result in the final and win, it would be rather a step towards some kind of redemption for my last tournaments rather than revenge."

I would still say that a win of mine against somebody is not equivalent to them beating me.
—Magnus Carlsen

So vs. Radjabov

This matchup was a completely different story, with So smoothly sailing to the final. After winning the first match, he only needed to tie the second, and he reached the desired two game points with two draws followed by a win.

"In the first game I caught him in preparation for like 20 moves, and I didn't experience too many problems," said So. "That was a big deal also because if you aren't pressing with the white pieces, then it's psychologically very difficult to bounce back."

The opening phase in game three went even worse for Radjabov, who tried the sharp 4.f3 in the Nimzo-Indian but was already having problems after 14 moves when the players hadn't left theory yet. The attempt to reach a fortress was a smart one, but So skillfully broke down that fortress:

"Today wasn't Teimour's day," said the always humble So. "I think he has had much better days. Coming to the match, I thought he was the slight favorite over me. He just won the last Airthings tournament, and he looked very solid."

Wesley So Opera Euro Rapid semifinal
Wesley So sailed smoothly toward the final. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Despite beating Carlsen in the Skilling Open final and knowing the world champion has been blundering here and there, So didn't want to call himself the favorite just yet: "Magnus is the favorite in every tournament that he plays."

Carlsen expects a tough match in the final, saying about his opponent: "He's been mightily impressive so far in the event."

Radjabov first tweeted about the upcoming final and his participation. It seemed only after that tweet he found out that he is playing a consolation match with Vachier-Lagrave alongside the final, considering his second tweet:

All Games SF Day 2

The Opera Euro Rapid runs February 6-14. The preliminary phase was a 16-player rapid round-robin (15 + 10). The top eight players have advanced to a six-day knockout that consists 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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