Living up to his Name: Carlsen Wins Carlsen Invitational

Let’s be real. Chess players have it pretty good during these trying times. Our game can be played without leaving the house, and we are used to spending inordinate amounts of time inside the house, studying and playing hour after hour of bullet.  Limited travel and social distancing have affected over-the-board play, and traditional tournaments throughout the world have all been cancelled.  But in contrast to games of a more physical natural, ours can be played entirely on the internet. All the chess sites have been overrun with players, and in fact there have even been issues handling the increased load.  The sudden cancellation of the Candidates Tournament, however, meant the status of top-level chess events was in question.  And – as is often true over the board – the World Champion was the first to take the initiative.

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The inaugural “Magnus Carlsen Invitational” was hosted by Chess24 and included eight of the world’s top Grandmasters:  Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, and Alireza Firouzja.  While the more established players have already made names for themselves, I think chess fans were extremely excited to watch the wunderkind Firouzja compete, as the Iranian prodigy recently defeated Carlsen in the final of Chess24’s recently completed Banter Blitz Cup. There was a lot more than pride at stake, too. Carlsen put up a whopping $250,000 prize fund, with first prize taking home a cool $70,000. The tournament, which ran from April 18th to May 3rd, started with a round robin series of mini-matches.  Each match consisted of four rapid games followed by an Armageddon blitz game if the series was tied 2-2.  Match winners earned 3 points, unless it went to Armageddon, in which case the winner would get 2 points and the loser would get 1. The top four players would move on to the semi-final stage, and while the matches were almost all closely contested, four players clearly stood out above the rest.  In place order, they were Nakamura, Ding, Carlsen, and Caruana. The semifinal matchups were structured similarly to the preliminary phase, except that instead of going to Armageddon right away, players would play two blitz games before heading to Armageddon.  The first semifinal between top Americans Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana was an exciting affair.  Let’s check out a few crucial moments from their battle.

[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.01"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2773"] [BlackElo "2829"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rbk/1p4p1/1bpp1q1p/5B2/Pp1P2R1/3Q2NP/1P3PP1/R5K1 b - - 0 30"] [PlyCount "23"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {Fabiano seems to have the light squares on lockdown and is ready to go after Black's king. Unfortunately for him, this is all an illusion, and this was excellently demonstrated by Hikaru's next move. What did the current US Champion play here?} 30... Ra5 $1 {This sneaky-looking move is truly a silent killer. It attacks the bishop, and after it moves White's coordination will be completely disrupted.} 31. Bg6 {This allows a powerful move for Black, but it was hard to suggest an improvement.} (31. Rg6 Qxd4 {does not help White's cause in any way.}) 31... Be6 $1 {and the rook is simply without a safe square.} 32. Ne4 {This saves the rook, but cuts off the protection of d4.} (32. Re4 {allows} Qxg6) 32... Qxd4 33. Qxd4 Bxd4 {This endgame is completely hopeless, as Black's two bishops and queenside majority dominate the whole board. Nakamura went on to win quite easily.} 34. Rd1 Bxb2 35. Rg3 Be5 36. Re3 Bd5 37. g3 Rxa4 38. f4 Ra1 39. Red3 Rxd1+ 40. Rxd1 Bc3 41. Nxd6 Rf6 0-1 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.01"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E61"] [WhiteElo "2829"] [BlackElo "2773"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1r6/1P4k1/3p2q1/N1pPp1bp/4P1pP/3Q1pP1/8/5R1K b - h3 0 48"] [PlyCount "21"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {Needing to win with Black, Fabiano chose a risky King's Indian structure, and his risk paid off. He's up a pawn and his kingside pawns look menacing, but how does he finish off the game?} 48... Bxh4 $1 {The time to crash through his come. There is no forced mate, but Black's pawns will simply be too strong. } (48... Bh6 $2 {or a similar retreat would allow White to play a move like} 49. Qb1 {and the b-pawn should be strong enough to cause problems.}) 49. gxh4 Qf6 50. Kg1 Qxh4 (50... Qf4 $1 {was even more deadly, but this is hard to spot with little time on the clock. The idea is that with the f-pawn defended, g3 can be a threat in addition to Qg3+.} 51. Rf2 (51. Qc2 g3 $1 {is crushing.}) 51... Qg3+ 52. Kf1 Qxh4 {and White's king has all sorts of problems.}) 51. Qd2 Kg6 $1 {I really like this move by Fabi. He improves his king, guards against Qg5+ type ideas, and demonstrates that White can't really demonstrate these threats.} (51... Qg3+ 52. Kh1 Qh3+ 53. Kg1 {leads nowhere.}) 52. Nc4 Qf6 { Another strong move played under pressure. g3 is again a powerful threat.} 53. Na5 Qh4 (53... g3 {was immediately winning, since after} 54. Nc4 f2+ 55. Kg2 Qh4 {White has no real defense to Qh2+ and g2.}) 54. Nc4 Qf6 55. Ne3 {Hikaru varies, probably because he knows Fabiano will find g3 on the 2nd repetition.} Qf4 56. Qf2 Qxe4 57. Re1 Rxb7 58. Ng2 Qd4 {White resigned, as there are simply too many pawns to deal with.} 0-1 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.01"] [Round "5.1"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2773"] [BlackElo "2829"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r3qrk1/1pp3p1/1b2pnnp/3p4/p2PP3/P3BNNP/1PQ2PP1/R3R1K1 w - - 0 18"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {In the first blitz game to decide this All-American affair, Fabi has some decisions to make in the center. Would you play e5, take on d5, or keep the tension?} 18. e5 $6 {The American #1 decides to grab space, but this decisions leads to real problems in a few moves.} (18. exd5 Nxd5 19. Qe4 { is certainly nothing special, but I doubt White is worse here.}) (18. Bd2 $1 { is the move l like, improving the bishop and e1 rook at the same time while also disrupting potential Ba5 ideas. I might slightly prefer White, but it is very close to equal.}) 18... Nd7 19. Nd2 $6 {I think White wanted to play for f4-f5, but this is simply too ambitious.} (19. Rac1 {keeping an eye on the c5 break was probably to be prefered, though I still prefer Black now.}) 19... Ba5 $1 {Hikaru doesn't miss his chance to disrupt White's coordination. C5 is coming now with huge force.} 20. Rec1 c5 $1 21. dxc5 Ngxe5 {White's center has been decimated, and his pieces lack coordination. Hikaru converted his advantage in exemplary fashion, and this win put him once again in the position of having to draw with White to advance. This time, he took his opportunity and advanced to the final.} 22. Rf1 Nc6 23. b4 axb3 24. Nxb3 Bc7 25. Nd4 Be5 26. Nge2 Ra5 27. Nxc6 bxc6 28. Ra2 Qe7 29. Rc1 Rfa8 30. a4 Bf6 31. Ra3 e5 32. Ng3 Qe6 33. Qg6 d4 34. Bd2 Rxa4 35. Rxa4 Rxa4 36. Ne4 Nf8 37. Qg3 Kh7 38. Rb1 Ra7 39. Qd3 Kg8 40. Rb8 Be7 41. Qf3 Qf7 42. Qg3 Qe6 43. Re8 Kh7 44. Rb8 Nd7 45. Qd3 Qg6 46. Rc8 Nf8 47. Rxc6 Qxc6 48. Ng5+ Kh8 49. Nf7+ Kg8 50. Nxe5 Qd5 51. Bf4 Bxc5 0-1 [/pgn]
The second semifinal between Carlsen and Ding was no less exciting.  The World Champion lost game two and had to fight from behind to overtake the world number three.  Game four especially felt like it could have gone either way, but the World Champion escaped by the skin of his teeth.
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.02"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2836"] [BlackElo "2881"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "6k1/1pq2pp1/p2R1n1p/P3pN2/2r1P3/3Q2PP/5PK1/8 b - - 0 31"] [PlyCount "4"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "China"] [BlackTeam "Norway"] [WhiteTeamCountry "CHN"] [BlackTeamCountry "NOR"] {Magnus is up a pawn here, but Ding has a menacing knight on f5. Despite this, the position should be roughly equal. Carlsen's move here, however, proved to be a ghastly oversight.} 31... Kh7 $2 (31... Rc3 32. Qe2 Rc2 {with the idea of continuing to chase the queen should result in a draw.} 33. Qf3 Rc3 34. Qe2 $11 (34. Nxh6+ $2 Kh7 {leaves White with no mate and too many pieces hanging.})) (31... Nxe4 {is also playable according to the machine, but allowing Rd8+ and Ne3 is counterintuitive for a human.}) 32. Rxf6 $1 gxf6 33. Qe3 {and just like that, Black is mated! This left Magnus down 1.5-.5 going into the final two games of their match.} 1-0 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.02"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Ding, Liren"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2881"] [BlackElo "2836"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r4rk1/1p1b2p1/3qpp1p/3p1P2/p2P4/1nPB1NP1/4RP1P/1Q2R1K1 b - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "18"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Norway"] [BlackTeam "China"] [WhiteTeamCountry "NOR"] [BlackTeamCountry "CHN"] {Carlsen has sacked a pawn, but in return he has a lot of initiative on the light squares. How should Ding react to this f5 pawn thrust?} 24... exf5 $2 (24... Rae8 {forces White to exchange a pair of rooks, which makes a big difference.} 25. fxe6 Rxe6 26. Rxe6 Bxe6 27. Nh4 {and unlike in the game, Black should survive after} Bf7) 25. Nh4 Rae8 $2 {This compounds his problem, and I assume that the Chinese #1 miscalculated something.} (25... Rfd8 { giving the queen the f8 square was likely best, but this is not an easy move to play, as White can take on f5 and penetrate with Re7 at his leisure.}) 26. Nxf5 Bxf5 {This knight has to be taken, but it allows White to go up the exchange.} (26... Qc7 27. Ne7+ {is even more crushing.}) 27. Rxe8 Nd2 28. Rxf8+ Kxf8 29. Qxb7 $1 {One last accurate move, taking advantage of Black's king to play for the initiative. Black is lost.} Nf3+ (29... Bxd3 30. Qc8+ {leads to mate.}) 30. Kh1 Nxe1 31. Bxf5 $6 {One small blemish on Carlsen's fine effort.} (31. Qa8+ Kf7 32. Bxf5 {is more accurate, as now Bh7 is a large threat.}) 31... Nf3 $2 (31... Qe7 32. Qa8+ Qe8 {and somehow it is difficult for White to win, since after} 33. Qxd5 Qe2 {White can only give a perpetual.}) 32. Bg6 Ng5 33. Qc8+ 1-0 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.02"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Ding, Liren"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2836"] [BlackElo "2881"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1b1q1r2/3r2pk/1pbPp2p/p1p1Pp2/P1P2N2/4P2R/1B3QPP/3B2K1 b - - 0 40"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "China"] [BlackTeam "Norway"] [WhiteTeamCountry "CHN"] [BlackTeamCountry "NOR"] {The winner-takes-all game of their match has been a madhouse. At first Magnus was better, but Ding convincingly outplayed him and how has the upper hand. Carlsen finds the only way to stay in the game.} 40... Bxd6 $8 { Otherwise he's positionally dominated and will soon be crushed on the kingside. } 41. Nxe6 $2 {Ding gets too tricky.} (41. exd6 Rxd6 42. Be2 {is simple and strong. White's two pieces are far stronger than the rook here, and that bishop on b2 is an absolute monster. Black will probably have to shield against it with a move like Rf6, but after that White should surely have the advantage.}) 41... Qe8 (41... Bxe5 $1 {discovering on the d1 bishop was even stronger.}) 42. Nxf8+ Bxf8 43. Qxf5+ g6 {White's position might be salvageable after a move like Qb1, but with little time this is nearly impossible to defend, and Black collapses quickly.} 44. Qf1 Bg7 45. Bc2 Rd2 {This crazy win handed Carlsen the match win, and propelled him into the final against Nakamura.} 0-1 [/pgn]
The final between Carlsen and Nakamura also went down to the wire.  It may be Magnus' own tournament, and he may even have won it, but Carlsen's competitors didn’t make life easy for him at any point.
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.03"] [Round "10.1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2881"] [BlackElo "2829"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/8/1R2pb2/7p/3pN1kP/3P2P1/5K2/3r4 b - - 0 63"] [PlyCount "42"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Norway"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "NOR"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {This first game of the final was fought tooth and nail, with the US Champion defending an unpleasant endgame for all he's worth. Up until now he's done an excellent job and resisting the World Champion's pressure, but at this moment he finally made a slip.} 63... Be5 $2 (63... Kf5 64. Rb5+ e5 {looks scary, but it seems to allow Black to hold on.}) 64. Rxe6 {The hanging bishop means there is no time to capture the d-pawn.} Kf5 65. Ke2 $1 {Perhaps it was this intermezzo that Naka missed, allowing Carlsen to save the d-pawn.} Rg1 { Whether this is completely lost is unclear, but for someone to defend this with little time is nearly impossible. Magnus won in his typical smooth fashion.} (65... Rxd3 $2 66. Rxe5+ {wins immediately for White.}) 66. Rh6 Bxg3 67. Rxh5+ Kf4 68. Rh8 Re1+ 69. Kd2 Re3 70. h5 Be1+ 71. Kc2 Rh3 72. h6 Kf5 73. h7 Kg6 74. Rg8+ Kxh7 75. Nf6+ Kh6 76. Rh8+ Kg6 77. Rxh3 Kxf6 78. Kb3 Ke5 79. Kc4 Bf2 80. Rf3 Be3 81. Rf8 Ke6 82. Kc5 Bg1 83. Kc6 Be3 84. Re8+ 1-0 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.03"] [Round "11.1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2829"] [BlackElo "2881"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/3n4/2p1k1p1/2Pp1p1p/3P3P/4KNP1/5P2/8 w - - 0 41"] [PlyCount "33"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "Norway"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "NOR"] {Magnus seemed to be fine out of the opening, but he was convincingly outplayed by Hikaru in this endgame, one which the American typically plays on the Black side. Here White finds one final maneuver in order to seal the deal.} 41. Ne1 $1 {Hikaru aims to bring his knight to e5, but he needs f4 to be available.} Nb8 42. Nd3 Kf6 43. f4 $1 (43. Ne5 $6 { allows counterplay with} g5) 43... Nd7 44. Ne5 {Well-calculated by Naka.} Nf8 ( 44... Nxe5 45. fxe5+ Kf7 (45... Kg7 46. Kf4 Kh6 47. e6 {wins easily.}) 46. Kf4 Kg7 47. Kg5 Kf7 48. Kh6 {and Black can resign.}) (44... Nb8 45. Kd3 {and Hikaru will win by bringing his king to the queenside, while Black's king is tied to the defense of g6.}) 45. Nxc6 {Magnus parts with his c-pawn, but this only puts off the eventual defeat. This win put Hikaru back on even footing.} Ke6 46. Ne5 Ke7 47. Kd3 Kd8 48. Kc3 Kc7 49. Nd3 Nd7 50. Nb4 Nf6 51. Kb3 Kb7 52. Ka4 Ne4 53. Nxd5 Nxg3 54. Kb5 Ne4 55. c6+ Kc8 56. Kb6 Nd6 57. Ne7+ 1-0 [/pgn]
[pgn] [Event "Magnus Carlsen Invitational"] [Site ""] [Date "2020.05.03"] [Round "12.1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2881"] [BlackElo "2829"] [Annotator "Friedel,Josh"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1bq1rk1/3n1ppp/p3pn2/1pb3N1/2B2B2/2N1P3/PP3PPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 12"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "Norway"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "NOR"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] {In what appears to be a standard Queen's Gambit Accepted structure, the World Champion decides to mix up the game.} 12. Bxe6 $1 fxe6 13. Nxe6 { Black has quite a few options here, but they all lead to a similar piece imbalance.} Qe7 14. Nxf8 Qxf8 15. Ne4 $1 {A cute way to snag the dark-squared bishop.} Bb7 (15... Be7 16. Nd6 {looks very unpleasant.}) (15... Nxe4 $2 16. Qd5+ {loses the a8 rook.}) 16. Nxc5 Qxc5 {At first I was unsure about this position, but the more I looked at it the more I liked White. The f3-e4 idea will blunt the bishop on b7 while restricting the the knight on f6. White's rooks also enjoy the two open files which Black will struggle to fight for.} 17. Rc1 Qd5 18. f3 Qxa2 {Hikaru gets a pawn for his trouble, but Magnus correctly estimates that keeping Black's pieces restricted is more important.} 19. e4 Nf8 20. Rf2 Rc8 21. Rxc8 Bxc8 22. Qd8 Qe6 23. Bd6 Qe8 24. Qxe8 Nxe8 25. Bb4 {Hikaru has done well to survive to the endgame. While perhaps he could survive with best play, it is incredible difficult to play, and Carlsen won it in very straightforward fashion.} Ne6 26. Rd2 Kf7 27. Kf2 Nf6 28. Ke3 g5 29. Rd6 Nd7 30. g3 Ne5 31. b3 h5 32. h4 gxh4 33. gxh4 Ng6 34. Be1 a5 35. Rd5 a4 36. Rxh5 Nef4 37. Rg5 axb3 38. h5 Nf8 39. Bc3 b4 40. Bb2 N8e6 41. Rf5+ Kg8 42. Rxf4 Nxf4 43. Kxf4 Ba6 44. Kg5 Bd3 45. Kg6 Bb5 46. f4 Be8+ 47. Kg5 Bc6 48. e5 Bd5 49. f5 Kh7 50. e6 Bc4 51. Kf6 Be2 52. Ke7 {This win put the World Champion back in the lead, and after a hard-fought draw in the 4th game, he clinched the title in fine fashion.} 1-0 [/pgn]

Will elite online events continue to take place after this is all over?  That’s hard to answer for now.  All I know is that it was extremely fun to watch, and I think the players and fans alike would love seeing such events continue to have their place.


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

fabulous annotative work by the Friedel...and instantly downloaded for additional study.My how times are changing! Jude Acers/ New Orleans

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