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Carlsen's Numinous 9! | Legends of Chess Round 9

by Tanmay Srinath - 30/07/2020

He just can't be stopped! Magnus Carlsen won his 9th match in row despite not playing his best chess, ending Kramnik's qualification hopes. Vassily Ivanchuk had to win outright against Anand to retain hopes of qualifying, but needed luck in the Armageddon to seal the tie, missing out by a point. A string of favorable results in other games meant that Peter Svidler qualified last, but not before suffering and losing to Anish Giri. Boris Gelfand got past Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Armageddon after coming back from a loss as White in the 1st game by playing brilliantly in the 2nd. Ding Liren ended the most horrible tournament of his life on a high by beating Leko, who started well but struggled to win good positions, and finally ended up last. Tanmay Srinath brings forth an illuminating report.

The Legends of Chess tournament has lived up to its lofty title. Time and time again we saw the most double edged of clashes, missed opportunities, and moments of sheer brilliance! With the Preliminaries coming to an end the 4 qualifiers are now decided - Peter Svidler joins Magnus Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri after Kramnik and Ivanchuk failed to make the most of their final round chances. 30th of July is a rest day, and the tournament will be back on 31st with only 4 players, which means the games get far more serious and important.


For now, let's enjoy some of the highlights from the final round:

Carlsen 3-1 Kramnik:

Magnus Carlsen had winning positions in all the 4 games, but Vladimir was very resourceful! | Photo: Norway Chess

This was not a good situation for Kramnik to be in. He had to beat Magnus to stand a chance of qualifying for the final 4, which in itself is usually very tough, made tougher by Carlsen's form, as shown by 8 match winning streak in this event! Perhaps the stress was too much to take for the former World No.1, as he had losing positions in all 4 games, but kept the match tight till game, where he couldn't win on demand. A sad end to the tournament, but Kramnik inspired all of us by playing a very high quality of chess despite retiring 1 and a half years ago!


Game 1 was a masterclass from the World Champion, till he missed an elementary win:



Carlsen is completely winning here, and all he had to do was perform an elementary double attack - 31.Qc2! simply wins, as if h5 32.Qf5! seems extremely strong. Instead Magnus slowly went wrong after 31.Qd3?!, and eventually Kramnik miraculously saved half a point.

Game 2 was even better for Carlsen - he steadily outplayed Kramnik with black and even tricked him into a losing endgame, but at one point he played too hastily and missed a deep trick:



The knight should not be allowed to g3, as it will then try to sacrifice itself for the g-pawn and force a draw thanks to the wrong colour bishop. So 59...Be5! is compulsory here, with the idea of slowly improving the king while keeping the knight restricted. Instead, after the immediate 59...Kf7? 60.Ng3! The position peters out to a draw, as White arranges a fortress.

Carlsen was visibly frustrated after missing a golden chance, but made up for it over the board, slowly pressing an Exchange QGD till Kramnik chose a faulty plan on move 20:



White has an assortment of pieces on the kingside, while Black is yet to make any concrete headway on the queenside. Thus exchanging pieces should be the way to play here, and Kramnik should have tried 20...b4!, forcing the light squared bishops off and reducing White's attacking chances. Instead, after 20...c5?! White ended up netting a valuable pawn in his kingside initiative, which he converted to a win.

Game 4 was a must win for Kramnik ,, and he tried the Sozin Attack again, but went too far in a balanced position:



Magnus has not made any major mistakes, so objectively despite the dangerous looking position Black is completely fine.Kramnik had to try either 17.Qd2 or 17.0-0-0 here, maintaining the tension and keeping chances alive. He instead tried the gung-ho 17.Nd5? and was punished swiftly - Carlsen took the piece, secured his king and won on move 24.

Giri 2.5-1.5 Svidler:

Peter's good start and better tiebreakers meant that he goes through to the last 4 despite a loss against Giri. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Svidler had destiny in his own hands, and initially it seemed as if he will make the most of it:



The simple 31.a3! leaves White with a technically winning position. Instead, after 31.Bc3 Nc1! Black equalised the game, and Giri managed to hold the draw.

This miss proved costly as far as the match was concerned, as Svidler cracked under pressure in game 3:



17.Qb3! or 17.Nf4 keeps the game complex. Instead, after 17.c6 bxc6 Giri had a large advantage, and the game was over in 26 moves.

Ding 2.5-1.5 Leko:

Ding managed to recover from the cellar, but he has a lot to introspect about. | Photo: FIDE Candidates 2020

Peter Leko seemed to be in good form, but he somehow could not convert his winning positions, and in the last round he must have lost confidence, which explains his loss to the man he shared last place with - Ding Liren:



There are two ways to equalise here, and both involve playing c6 and d5. Starting with 12...c6 or 12...Nh5, planning Nhf4 and c6-d5, should equalise quite comfortably. Instead Black chose the direct 12...d5 and was slightly worse in the IQP middlegame, which Ding handled like a computer and outplayed Leko to win.

Gelfand 2*-2 Nepo (*-Won the Armageddon):

Boris got the better of his younger colleague to end the tournament on a high. | Photo: FIDE Grand Prix

In a match that saw Black make the decisive wins or draws Boris Gelfand came back brilliantly after losing game 1, managing to beat the speed demon Nepo in the Armageddon despite having Black!


Nepo started the match in the most ideal fashion, winning with Black after Gelfand slipped up in a difficult position:



Gelfand had to go 53.Ra3! here to hold fort. Instead, after 53.Rc7?! the rook is offside, and Nepo won after further errors from Boris.

Game 2 was an opening disaster for Nepo, but he kept fighting for resources, and had he been a little more patient he could miraculously saved an endgame 4 pawns down:



69...Rxd7? was a natural mistake to make, especially in time trouble, but now Nepo went wrong himself - he had a perpetual with 70.Rg8+!, with the point that Ke7 71.Qe2+ Qe6 72.Re8+! forces the draw. Instead, after 70.Rg8? Gelfand managed to slowly bring his queen to safety and win after further skirmishes.

The Armageddon saw Nepo repeat 1.b3 from his previous encounters, and he got a complex endgame where he slowly went astray:



29.Nd3! is most natural, planning to put the knight on c5 to restrict the Black pieces, after which White has good compensation for the missing pawn. Instead, after 29.Ng4 the game slowly shifted in Black's favour, and Gelfand played another good Armageddon to take the match.

Ivanchuk 2*-2 Anand(*-Won the Armageddon):

It was not a good event for the Madras Tiger, but as always he will come back stronger! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

In the battle of the two 50 year olds it was Anand who was pressing throughout the match, but he missed two good opportunities:



19.Qf3! Keeps the dominating knight and a significant advantage. Instead, after 19.Nxe7?!, a natural but flawed move, Black held on for an important draw.

The remaining 3 games were drawn without much fuss. The Armageddon saw Vishy completely outplay Ivanchuk, but at the critical juncture he failed to evaluate a certain transformation properly:



36.Rh2! simply wins another pawn, and Black's king comes under heavy fire, resulting in an easy win. Instead, Vishy went to the queenside, which is logical but wrong, and Ivanchuk held on to secure the win.

Standings after Round 9

Replay the games of round 9