Hot on the heels of the Candidates Tournament, the latest event of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour saw some of the world’s best players go up against each other in rapid chess. It was a circuit where world champion Magnus Carlsen always found a way to fall at the final hurdle, but he scored a convincing win this time around with a memorable triumph over Hikaru Nakamura in the grand final.
Relief for Carlsen, frustration for Nakamura
It was a battle between players with a long rivalry both over the board and on Twitch as well, as Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura comfortably made their way to the finals of the New in Chess Classic. Nakamura hasn’t dropped a game until the semi-finals of the event while Carlsen qualified from the group stages with 10.5 points out of fifteen, scoring six wins in the process.
Though both players had to fight for their spot in the grand final – Levon Aronian drew the first of the two series against Carlsen, ending his 26-match unbeaten run in the process while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov pushed Nakamura to armageddon tiebreakers on the other side of the bracket – the chess world got their wish. The two high-profile players were to go up against each other in what was billed as the “dream final” for an online tournament. Last August saw the two players clash in the finals of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, an epic battle that went all the way to the final tiebreaker match.
It wasn’t as close this time in the end and it was clear that Magnus wasn’t firing on all cylinders, constantly eyeing another screen on the first day of the final in what many thought to be Real Madrid’s Champions League match. Nevertheless, he scored a 3-1 win on the day, which meant he only had to get a draw for the next four rapid matches to win the New in Chess event.
Nakamura scored a crucial win in the opening match of day 2 but opted against pushing for a win in a promising position with Black in the second game. It marked the turning point of the match as Hikaru’s mistimed aggression enabled an incredible attack for Carlsen after an exchange sacrifice. Winning game 3, all he had to is to steer the fourth game to a draw with White, which he had no problem with, settling for half a point and the championship title to come with it in what was already an objectively winning position.
The win saw Magnus take the lead over Wesley So in the overall Champions Chess Tour standings.
What’s looming on the horizon?
The next event of the Champions Chess Tour will take place between May 23 and May 31, the third major event on the calendar with a prize pool of $220 000 on the line. At the end of the regular events, the top five players will directly qualify for the finals alongside the Major winners. With the New in Chess Classic’ conclusion, Teimour Radjabov, Anish Giri and newly anointed challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi are in the top five. Fan-favorite Hikaru Nakamura is in seventh place.
Beyond the exciting games, one of the most notable snippets of the broadcast was a pre-filmed segment where Carlsen was tasked with identifying famous matches of the past, and he astonished the hosts by getting every single one of them right, sometimes even before the board was fully set up! He even spotted the somewhat unsound yet memorable scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
It’s just the first of many events on the calendar until November which serve as a great way to gauge whether Carlsen will be firing on all cylinders in his world championship match against Ian Nepomniachtchi in November.