Its Carlsen vs. Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura vs. So in theSkilling Open semi-finals after a day of incredible comebacks. Only MagnusCarlsen managed to convert his lead from the previous day into victory, holdingAnish Giri to four draws. Elsewhere the Day 1 losers hit back to force playoffs,with Hikaru Nakamura powering to a 2.5:0.5 victory over MVL and then againbouncing back from losing the first playoff game. Ian Nepomniachtchi and WesleySo scored convincing rapid and then playoff wins over Levon Aronian and TeimourRadjabov.
You can replay all the Skilling Open knockout games using theselector below.
And heres the days live commentary from Kaja Snare,Jovanka Houska and David Howell.
And from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev, with a guestappearance by Harikrishna.
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There was a feeling of dj vu about the second day of thismatch, since once again it was Anish Giri making all the running in the firstgame of the day. In a far from quiet Giuoco Piano opening hed soon planted awhite pawn on g7, and it was only after Magnus Carlsens 17Qd6!? that Giri started to think.
Unlike the day before its possible that Anish was wrong toreject a queen trade and a better ending at some point, while putting a bishopon e5 proved to be a mistake.
The bishop could have been on e3 instead, when the followingtrick wouldnt have worked for the World Champion: 27Bxd4! 28.Qxd5+ Qe6!, and whenqueens were traded off the rook ending was a comfortable draw.
It was a day when little was comfortable, however, withCarlsen summing up the course of the match:
It was a difficult day. Basically I was worse in the firstand third games, significantly worse, and I was significantly better in the 2nd, and then in the 4th I think I was much better, but I was generally juststeering the game towards a draw, so that was fairly comfortable.
In the end the whole match had turned on the final game ofthe first day, when Magnus fashioned a win out of nowhere. That fact wasntlost on him:
In general I definitely have to commend Anish on a verytough fight. It was never easy for me at any moment and the whole match justcame down to one game that I managed to eke out, so definitely very, verytough.
Giri vowed hed be back.
Hes already got the Rocky Balboa style trailer...
Hikaru had incredibly thought he was out of the tournament afterlosing to MVL on Day 1, but he put his second life to good use when hestormed to a 2.5:0.5 victory in rapid chess on Day 2. Maximes return toplaying the Najdorf backfired, when we got to see that even the Frenchmansinstincts for his favourite opening can be wrong.
The standard break 9d5?! looked to be premature, sinceafter 10.Bg5! Hikaru went on to win a pawn and then get total control of the position.His play was fearless and convincing, until MVL had seen enough in 27 moves.
Maxime was pressing in the next game with White but nevergot anything tangible in a 70-move draw. Then it was back to the Najdorf, withMaxime varying with the more circumspect 9g6. It didnt change the outcome,however, with Maximes sacrifice of a pawn to disrupt Hikarus play on thequeenside only leading to more trouble. When the Frenchman grabbed a hot pawnit soon led to his needing to give up the exchange, and Nakamura made no mistakeas he wrapped up victory both in the game and the mini-match.
The momentum was now all in Hikarus favour, and as theworld no. 1 rated blitz player hed now become the favourite. Maxime is worldno. 3 in blitz, however, and an incredibly dangerous player. Everything turnedon move 37.
37Qxd5 or 37Qxf6 seem objectively to be close to drawn,though White would still have had serious practical chances in the play ahead.Instead Hikaru went for a spectacular but flawed continuation: 37Rh1+? 38.Kxh1Qxd5 39.Qxh6! Qxf3+ 40.Kg1 and though Black is temporarily a rook up he needsto stop mate. 40f6 was Hikarus move, but Maxime spotted the forced win.
41.Qh8+ Kf7 42.e6+! Ke7 43.Qxe8+ and it turned out White hada conveyor belt of new queens to come. Hikaru threw in the towel on move 47.
Suddenly it was Hikaru who had to win on demand, and perhapssurprisingly he switched from 1.e4, inviting the Najdorf in which hed been sosuccessful, to 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5, the Trompowsky, that hed also used in the lastgame of the previous day. Once again the opening proved something of adisaster, as Hikaru ended up losing an exchange by force.
22Nb4! picked up material, and it seemed Maxime shouldeasily be winning a game he only needed to draw, but perhaps that was theproblem. Unsure of what result to play for, Maxime made a number of strangedecisions that eventually led to a lost endgame. Despite being low on time,Hikaru was absolutely ruthless in the play that followed.
That meant Armageddon, and as the higher finisher in thepreliminaries Hikaru got to choose colour. We saw in the Magnus Carlsen ChessTour that hes a big believer in Black, who gets one minute less but only needsto draw the game. Hikaru went on to do that with some ease, with 61.e6+ notenough:
Hikaru calmly fell into the trap with 61Kxe6 62.Nf4+ Kf563.Nxe2 since he saw that with just one White pawn remaining the extra knightwouldnt be enough to force a win. After thinking he was out of the tournamentthe day before, Hikaru was in fact the first player through to the semi-finals!
Ian Nepomniachtchi had lost the last two games to LevonAronian on the first day, but in a long and entertaining post-match interviewhe explained that hed actually felt he was playing better than his opponent.
First of all Id like to point out that I completely andtotally admire Lev as a chess player and a personality, and its also apleasure to play against him, but you know, as they say, with all the respect,I think yesterday I seriously had such an upper hand!
That inspired Nepo on Day 2, and it didnt do any harm thathe got off to the perfect start, with 20.Rad1! essentially clinching victory.
Black cant simply move the queen to c8 or b8, since Nxf6+!gxf6 Qxf6 would follow, threatening checkmate and hitting the f5-bishop. 20Qe7runs into 21.Nd6!, so Levon decided to give up his queen with 20Bxe4, but itwas never enough.
Levon missed a great chance to hit back in the second game,while Game 3 was a quick but spectacular draw. Levon therefore needed to winGame 4, but instead we got to see a brutal win for Nepo, with the kind of finalposition you dont see every day.
The first playoff game featured perhaps the most amazingmoment of the day, though it was so lost in the manic action elsewhere thatNepo was surprised not to be quizzed about it immediately when he came for thepost-game interview. On move 30 Levon played 36.Qc8+?? and Nepo automaticallyreplied 36Kg7??
Ian explained that he still hadnt realised what hadhappened until checking with a computer after the game.
I would never spot this even after the game unless I checkedbriefly with the engine, and it said -68. Im sorry, what is -68? Its Qxc8,actually Thats a lesson for me to learn. And here Qxa6 makes a draw, so Qc8was a brilliant trick.
It would have been a brilliant trick if Levon had intended it and played 37.Qxa6, but instead after37.Qd7?he later allowed Nepomniachtchi to launch a winning attack.
That meant that the Russian no. 1 only needed a draw in thesecond blitz game to clinch victory, but although he infamously made threeidentical 14-move draws in the preliminary stages (he explained he just felt hewas in terrible form and it was safer to take such draws), here he went for awild attacking game.
It was a brilliant victory, with Levon resigning a move before checkmate.
If Nepo exuded confidence despite his first day loss, WesleySo was the opposite, telling Kaja Snare and the Oslo crew:
To be honest with you, I didnt expect to make it todaybecause yesterday Teimour just played so wonderfully, needing only three gamesto beat me, so today I didnt have many expectations.
In fact, he had a more or less smooth day at theoffice, which he showed us in a tour of his house!
He drew with Black in 32 moves in the first game, then struck in thesecond game, when a sudden mating threat on h8 forced the win of a pawn.
Teimour could have held a rook ending two pawns down withperfect play near the very end, but the win for Wesley was the natural outcomeof the game.
That was in fact the only decisive game of the day in thispairing, though that was more a case of Wesley doing just enough. After a quick draw in Game 3 he could have won the 4th rapid game, buta draw was enough to force playoffs. Wesley explained he was happy that bothblitz games were also drawn, since hed been playing faster than his opponentand felt that difference would tell in an Armageddon game with no extra timeadded each move.
So it proved, with Teimour already significantly worsebefore playing the losing 22.Qxf3? (22.Bxf3! and the queen on e2 would supportBd2, stopping what happened in the game). Wesley pounced with 22Qc3!
Both rooks are attacked, and theres no way to avoid theheavy loss of material. Teimour played on a rook down after 23.Rd1 Qxa1, but it was a case of going throughthe motions. The game ended when Wesley allowed a courtesy draw byrepetition on move 34.
That means Wesley goes through to an all-US clash againstHikaru Nakamura, while Teimour was out despite brilliant play on the previous day.
The full semi-final pairings look as follows.
Theres no rest day and the two-day format remains exactlythe same, with the action each day starting at 18:00 CET. When it was suggestedto Ian Nepomniachtchi that he was one of the few players who doesnt fearMagnus, he responded:
With all due respect, I dont think that anyone on theroster is afraid of Magnus. This is more hype We all know each other prettygood, so I dont think this is the way to set up this question, but of course hes probably the most challenging opponent for me, and probably not for meonly!
Tune in to all the action from 18:00 CET!
Also a reminder for premium users: you have a chance to vote one of the players who failed to make the knockout stages back into the next event on the Champions Chess Tour, a 12-player $200,000 Major tournament starting on December 26th:Vote for your favourite player!
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