“We can do better”
Day one of the Meltwater Champions Tour Finals saw one of the most anticipated matchups of the tournament (and the whole series), as Magnus Carlsen faced Wesley So in the first round of the 7-day event. After winning the mini-match by a 2½-1½ score, Carlsen confessed to have played below his usual level, noting:
To be honest, the match today was pretty weak by our standards. We can do better.
Mistakes were made by both sides, with Carlsen holding a tough, inferior position in game 2 before getting the one win of the match in game 3. In the fourth encounter, the classical world champion blundered in the middlegame, but managed to hold the draw in the ensuing position with queen (for So) against rook and bishop.
Throughout the match, So played more riskily than usual. In game 3, he weakened his kingside irreparably — and transferring the queen to a8 on move 30 was a decisive mistake.
30…Qa8 allowed the forcing 31.Nf7+ Kg8 32.Nxd6 cxd6 33.Nc7 Ra3 34.Qc1, and the white queen is ready to infiltrate.
Black’s queen and rook are under attack, and after 34…Qa5 35.Qg5+ there is no defence. So resigned four moves later.
Mamedyarov 2½ – 1½ Praggnanandhaa
In another close match, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, playing from Baku, defeated young Indian star Praggnanandhaa. The Azerbaijani won games 1 and 4, while Pragg scored with white in the third encounter.
The deciding moment in game 4 came when the youngster failed to foresee a tactical trick that gained Shakh a couple of pawns.
25…g4 did nothing to prevent 26.Bc4, attacking both e6 and f5, since Black’s backward pawn is pinned to the king.
There followed 26…Kf7 27.Rxf5 Kg6 28.Rf4, and two black pawns are hanging.
Shakh did not take long to convert his advantage into the deciding win of the match.
Giri 3½ – 1½ Le
According to the rules of the ‘major’ tournaments in the series — like this one — if there is a tie in the 4-game rapid match, a blitz tiebreaker follows. However, winning the match outright grants 3 points to the winner and 0 points to the loser, while in case of the contest going to the blitz tiebreaker, the winner gets 2 points and the loser grabs 1 point.
In round 1 of the Finals, the one player who got 2 points was Anish Giri, who defeated Le Quang Liem in tiebreaks after drawing all four of the rapid encounters.
Giri shared an iconic picture from San Francisco — the splendid Golden Bridge.
The Dutchman will face Pragg in Tuesday’s second round, while Le will have the tough task of playing So right after his loss against the world champion.
Duda 2½ – ½ Arjun
Two wins with white and a draw with black allowed Jan-Krzysztof Duda to beat Arjun Erigaisi in the shortest match of the day.
Arjun regretted leaving his king in the centre in game 3.
After the forcing sequence 24.Rc1 Qa8 25.Rxc8+ Qxc8 there came 26.Nd6, attacking the queen while using the pin along the dark-squared diagonal.
Black understandably resigned.