Chess Tour Finals: Carlsen enters final after Ding's remarkable fight

Magnus Carlsen just about managed to elude the tightening grip of Ding Liren and escaped to a 3.5-2.5 victory in the fourth set for a 3-1 triumph in the semifinals of the Chess Tour Finals.

Magnus Carlsen will take on Hikaru Nakamura in a best-of-seven-set title-clash starting on Friday.   -  FILE PHOTO/RAJEEV BHATT

Magnus Carlsen just about managed to elude the tightening grip of Ding Liren and escaped to a 3.5-2.5 victory in the fourth set for a 3-1 triumph in the semifinals of the $300,000 Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals on Wednesday.

Before Carlsen entered the final, with a set to spare, against Hikaru Nakamura for the best-of-seven-set title-clash starting on Friday, Ding checkmated the World No. 1 in the second rapid game and then made his rival suffer in three games. Finally, Carlsen pulled off a stunning win in the second blitz game after Ding appeared close to forcing the deciding set.

Carlsen, who said his rival “put up an unbelievable fight,” was far from happy with his display. He said “the main takeaway is, I’ve got to be better in the final.”

Carlsen won the first rapid game after punishing Ding in the Anti-Moscow Gambit. The strongest Chinese in the game bounced right back by checkmating Carlsen after pulling out the black king to the centre of the board.

In the third and fourth rapid games, Ding continued to dominate Carlsen. Though Carlsen was finding it tough to stay in the fight, Ding somehow failed to land the knockout punch. Carlsen felt he was a shade better in the third game as compared to his “completely lost” position in the fourth.

"I was very shaky, and in this game, I considered my position to be pretty much lost after the opening," said Carlsen and continued, "I really didn't play well at all and he was just crushing me, but somehow I was fighting back and I managed to hold. I don't know how!"

"I think it was quite similar to the final match I had against Anish Giri in the Chessable Masters. In that, the first game was good and after that it was a total mess. I can't believe that I actually escaped, but that's the way it is sometimes," assessed Carlsen.

 

The first blitz game saw Carlsen regain some of his touch. He called the shots but could not find the winning continuation. Eventually, Carlsen forced a draw by a three-fold repetition of moves.

"I was unhappy that I couldn't make any more of my position than I actually did, but as I said, it was just a mess. Even this game, I wasn't that thrilled about," said Carlsen.

The second blitz game was full of drama. After Carlsen misplayed the opening phase, Ding gained a firm grip. Carlsen then committed what appeared to be a decisive blunder and allowed Ding to gain a bishop and knight for a rook.

Just when Ding appeared to be closing in on a match-leveling victory, Carlsen found a match-settling move, a queen-retreat, and slammed the door on Ding. The Chinese realised he stood at the point of no-return, continued for a bit longer and resigned.

Asked how it felt after such a dramatic finish, Carlsen said, "Obviously relief. He put up an unbelievable fight today. I just needed every inch to win this particular match."

Looking ahead to the final against Nakamura, Carlsen said, "Certainly, he's been very, very strong in the entire Tour, so it's no coincidence that he's in the final and I absolutely agree that he deserved it based on the way that he's played."

The results: Semifinal: Magnus Carlsen (Nor) bt Ding Liren (Chn) 3-1 (Set Four, Rapid, Game One): Carlsen bt Ding; (Game Two): Ding bt Carlsen; (Game Three): Carlsen drew with Ding; (Game Four): Ding drew with Carlsen; (Blitz, Game One): Carlsen drew with Ding; (Game Two): Ding lost to Carlsen.

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