Legends of Chess: Carlsen blitzes past Nepomniachtchi, takes first set

World champion Magnus Carlsen blanked Ian Nepomniachtchi in the two blitz games for a 4-2 triumph in the first set of chess24 Legends of Chess final.

Magnus Carlsen is up against Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi in the final of Legends of Chess.   -  FILE PHOTO/RAJEEV BHATT

World champion Magnus Carlsen blanked Ian Nepomniachtchi in the two blitz games for a 4-2 triumph in the first set of the Legends of Chess final on Monday.

On a day when Carlsen committed a stunning blunder and lost the third rapid game in just 21 moves, Nepomniachtchi looked well prepared until he imploded in the two blitz games. He now faces a must-win situation in the second set on Tuesday.

Overall, Carlsen was unhappy with the quality of his play but satisfied with the result.

Having let Nepomniachtchi off the hook once in the first game, Carlsen came hard at the Russian when he got another chance and delivered a crushing blow following a complex battle in the opening game.

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Nepomniachtchi, who survived several anxious moments before beating Anish Giri 3.5-2.5 in the final set for a 2-1 victory in the semifinal on Sunday, had his chances to survive with white pieces against Carlsen but faltered for a second time and lost in 48 moves.

In the complicated game, where both players struggled to find moves of optimum strength in the middle game, Carlsen managed to push a kingside pawn to the sixth rank, got rid of rival’s advanced pawn while keeping the white king under check. Soon, the Norwegian prepared for the forced exchange of queens when the Russian resigned.

The second game ended in a draw without providing any great thrills.

In the third game, where Nepomniachtchi played white, Carlsen erred on the 19th move and resigned two moves later to crash to a stunning defeat. This one-move blunder, coming with a pawn-push on the kingside, had Carlsen starting at checkmate combination.

Thereafter, a shaken Carlsen chose to draw the fourth game, with white pieces, in a 39-move game where the players blitzed out moves. On several occasions, the board presented symmetrical positions despite a series of exchange of pieces. Interestingly, when the draw was agreed, Carlsen had just over 19 minutes on the clock and Nepominachtchi, more than 18!

This paved the way for a pair of blitz games. Carlsen, playing black, carved out a fine win. He managed to win Nepomniachtchi’s queen for a rook and bishop but had to play very accurately to take the lead.

In the second blitz game, where the queenside wore a deserted look even before the 30th move, Nepomniachtchi saw a slim chance to play for a win but Carlsen staved off the danger and eventually managed to squeeze out a victory when even a draw was enough to give him the first set.

For a place in the four-man $300,000 Grand Final, slated next week, Nepomniachtchi needs to win the title. Carlsen and Daniil Dubov, the winners so far on the Tour, along with Hikaru Nakamura have already qualified for the Tour finale.

The result:

Final: Set One (Rapid, Game One): Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus) lost to Magnus Carlsen (Nor); (Game Two): Carlsen drew with Nepomniachtchi; (Game Three): Nepomniachtchi bt Carlsen; (Game Four): Carlsen drew with Nepomniachtchi; (Blitz, Game One): Nepomniachtchi lost to Carlsen; (Game Two): Carlsen bt Nepomniachtchi.

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