Wesley So Wins Opera Euro Rapid As Team Hikaru Raises $361,000 For CARE
Wesley So wins the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Wesley So Wins Opera Euro Rapid As Team Hikaru Raises $361,000 For CARE

| 69 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Wesley So repeated his success at the Skilling Open as he defeated Magnus Carlsen in Sunday's final of the Opera Euro Rapid tournament. GM Teimour Radjabov swiftly placed third as he won both games against GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

During the Champions Chess Tour, Team Hikaru has set a goal of raising $3,000,000 for CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) through the commentary on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel. In January, they raised $358,000 in conjunction with the Airthings Masters. For the Opera Euro Rapid, they raised even more, a total of $361,000, which brings the total raised to over $720,000. With seven events remaining, $3,000,000 and beyond is looking like a very achievable goal for Team Hikaru.

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 provided daily commentary on GM Hikaru Nakamura's Twitch channel.

Opera Euro Rapid Results Wesley So

Carlsen vs. So

"First of all, I'd like to apologize to Magnus for semi-ruining his birthday," So started his interview after he won the Skilling Open on November 30, 2020—also against Carlsen, who turned 30 that day.

After beating Carlsen again in the final of the Opera Euro Rapid, the American grandmaster finished his interview with a similar line: "I'd like to apologize to Magnus for ruining the Valentine's Day!"

I'd like to apologize to Magnus for ruining the Valentine's Day!
—Wesley So

Carlsen made life rather difficult for himself in the first game, where he played a piece sacrifice that was universally condemned by the commentators. Taking on h4 is a typical move in bullet games, based on the simple idea that defending is harder than attacking. In a rapid game, it shouldn't work—and it didn't.

So called winning the first game a "critical turning point" in the match. "Obviously, winning the first game is huge, just to put pressure on your opponent. After that, all I need to do is try to hold with the black pieces, which is far from easy. I think Magnus messed up the opening."

After a draw in the second game, Carlsen missed a number of opportunities to strike back, which made it a frustrating experience, as he explained in a surprisingly long (and characteristically honest) interview afterward:

"Obviously, losing is OK to Wesley. He clearly had the most convincing tournament coming up to today, but I do feel as though I missed quite a lot of chances today. That's the frustrating part. Particularly that, at several points, I did not trust my intuition, and I sort of trusted him more there because he was playing so quickly and confidently that I couldn't really get myself to believe that he was missing a lot of things. Mainly in the third game, I mean. I really should have taken my chances there."

Magnus Carlsen Opera Euro Rapid final
Magnus Carlsen, frustrated about not trusting his intuition. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The most clear-cut path for a win in the third game was 18...Nxg2, but Carlsen dismissed it as an "accidental chance" while he most regretted not sacrificing his bishop on h3 a few moves earlier:

Also in the fourth game, Carlsen got a highly promising position. He said: "I could definitely feel after the opening that my position was winning, and it would only take a few accurate moves to win."

"I think I had a very bad position at some point," So agreed. "I analyzed this line before the tournament, but I couldn't exactly remember where my analysis ended."

The key moment was move 23, where Carlsen again didn't go for the move that first came to mind.

"My intuition was screaming that 23.Kh1 wins. Just screaming. The thing is, it wins, and it's not very difficult."

(Do you agree with the world champion? As a learning exercise, you might want to try it yourself before reading further!)

Carlsen continued: "If I see 23.Kh1, I think at least practically speaking the game is just over. If he can't do anything immediately here, he's just dead. Strategically he's absolutely busted since my attack is just unstoppable. That was really poor."

My intuition was screaming that 23.Kh1 wins. Just screaming.
—Magnus Carlsen Game of the Day Dejan Bojkov

"It's big, it's big. It's totally unexpected," said So afterward. "To beat Magnus in any match is a huge honor, and it's a real pleasure to do so because just playing him already gives you a lot of experience and a lot of honor and stuff. To beat him twice in a match is just unheard of, really."

To beat Magnus in any match is a huge honor.
—Wesley So

“Congrats to Wesley," said Carlsen. "Regardless of what chances I had today, I didn’t take them, and in the tournament as a whole he was better so he deserved to win.”

The winner pointed out that the level in the final was "very low" with "a lot of mistakes and blunders." Besides the tough format of the tournament (nine days without a rest day), So had another possible explanation: "I had a cold earlier and I wasn't feeling that well, but I guess the same applies to Magnus!"

What must have helped is that So started his games at 10 a.m. which, as he pointed out earlier, is a convenient time for him as he tends to wake up around eight in the morning.

Wesley So Opera Euro Rapid final
Wesley So could play his games at a convenient time. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

So gave a nice, general reflection of his own play in recent years: "At the end of the day, I just want to be able to play some good chess and not make any mistakes. I remember four, five years ago that was my goal in every game that I played, but then I lost motivation. Hopefully, we'll get back to the point where I can avoid playing some bad games. I mean, in the last few years I've had many bad games. Some of them were quite embarrassing, so I use them as motivation to work harder."

In the last few years, I've had many bad games. Some of them were quite embarrassing, so I use them as motivation to work harder.
—Wesley So

Carlsen also provided other insights about his play: “It's clear by the play today and also some other days that while there are definitely some good things to my play, I don’t trust myself fully. This shows in critical moments. It’s hard to say what exactly I can do about it at the moment. Wesley is very strong, but as you could see today he is also extremely beatable.”

Carlsen did suggest that after a slump he's on his way back: "I don’t feel like I particularly need a massive break or anything. I don’t feel nearly as disillusioned as after the last few tournaments."

I don’t feel nearly as disillusioned as after the last few tournaments.
—Magnus Carlsen

Radjabov vs. Vachier-Lagrave

Radjabov's clash with Vachier-Lagrave on day two was a walkover. In the first game, MVL blundered a pawn in a simple manner, and his endgame blunder in the second game was nothing less than a rookie mistake.

Radjabov suggested that his opponent must have been exhausted, although a lack of motivation cannot be ruled out either. It's not exactly clear why events in the Champions Chess Tour have matches for third place, as Radjabov pointed out on air, especially when it's played simultaneously with the big final.

MVL apparently had enough of those Anti-Grunfelds played by Radjabov as he opted for the Dutch Defense in game one. Dropping the pawn on e4 wasn't great, but Vachier-Lagrave stubbornly defended and actually could still have drawn the game just before the end.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave Opera Euro Rapid
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was not himself on the last day. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

MVL's blunder in game two, however, was inexcusable. 

"I don’t know exactly what happened," said Radjabov. "I think he was really frustrated or maybe tired after the first one. It was completely drawish. I was ready to offer a draw or just end [the game] in a draw. But he just took the rook on g5 as you have seen there and just went into the pawn endgame."

Teimour Radjabov Opera Euro Rapid
Teimour Radjabov, third place at Opera Euro Rapid. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

If you're wondering when the next event with top grandmasters will be, the answer is: this coming weekend! On February 19-21, the FIDE Online World Corporate Chess Championship will be played, with both famous companies and famous players participating, including... Carlsen.

All Games Finals, Day 2

The Opera Euro Rapid ran February 6-14. The preliminary phase was a 16-player rapid round-robin (15 + 10). The top eight players advanced to a six-day knockout that consisted of two days of four-game rapid matches and tiebreaks with blitz (5 + 3) and armageddon (White had five minutes, Black four with no increment). The prize fund was $100,000 with $30,000 for first place.

Previous reports:

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