Skilling Open: Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So take lead in semifinals

Carlsen manages to keep Ian Nepomniachtchi at bay in the first set after escaping defeats in two successive games; So beats Nakamura.

Magnus Carlsen...“I’m pretty happy to have survived, and I feel like in these matches if you can survive your worst day, you’re probably going to be fine overall.”   -  RAJEEV BHATT (FILE)

World champion Magnus Carlsen miraculously managed to keep Ian Nepomniachtchi at bay after escaping defeats in two successive games for a 2.5-1.5 victory in the first set of the USD 100,000 Skilling Open online chess tournament on Friday.

In the other semifinal, Wesley So stayed in control and won 2.5-1.5, riding mainly on his attacking victory in the second game.

REPORT - QUARTERFINAL, SET TWO

Playing white, Carlsen took the lead in the first game after trapping Nepomniachtchi’s centrally-located knight on the 17th move and captured it three moves later. Eventually, the Russian resigned on the 26th move. In the second game, Nepomniachtchi was close to victory after 49 moves in a knight-and-pawn endgame. However, he faltered on the 50th move to let Carlsen force a draw three moves later.

In the third game, with Carlsen playing white, Nepomniachtchi let slip another golden chance to win. After 55 moves, he had four pawns and a rook against Carlsen’s lone pawn and a rook. But thereafter, Nepomniachtchi misplayed his rook. Carlsen found the right continuation, and captured two pawns, exchanged his last pawn and escaped with a draw in 76 moves.

Later, Carlsen explained the internet issue he faced during this game.

“What happened is that the browser closed for no reason that I could discern. It just all closed. I could not log back in. I could see myself losing a game there on disconnect and I really didn’t understand what happened, because I think, in general, my internet was fine.”

‘Happy to have survived’

The fourth game, which ended in a draw in 46 moves, did not allow any winning advantage to the players.

Carlsen, who admitted to “mainly struggling,” particularly in the third game, looked ahead to the second set and said, “I guess, I’ll try to prepare better in the openings. As you could see in the first game, I was well-prepared and he made a mistake early on and I won quite easily, but in the others, especially in the third game, I didn’t really get what I wanted.”

“So I’ll have to cook up something new there. But, overall I’m pretty happy to have survived, and I feel like in these matches if you can survive your worst day, you’re probably going to be fine overall.”

All this while, Nakamura was finding the going tough against So. After some struggle to hold the first game with white pieces, Nakamura was not so lucky in the second. In a closed battle in the second game, So found a breakthrough, sacrificed his knight and then gave up the other knight for a decisive checkmating attack.

After the other two games also ended in draws, So remained modest. “I feel like it’s simply not Hikaru’s day. Today, I felt like I played better than the last two days. I feel very good today, but at the same time, I think Hikaru played sub-par today, so I’m sure tomorrow he’ll play two times harder. I’m going to have a sleepless night! I’m sure, he’ll bounce back tomorrow and I’m sure he’ll play much better, but today’s just not his day.”

The results (semifinals)
  • Set One: Magnus Carlsen (Nor) bt Ian Nepomniachtchi (Rus) 2.5-1.5; Wesley So (USA) bt Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2.5-1.5.

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