Magnus Carlsen won a dramatic final game to stay in the lead after Day 2 of the Opera Euro Rapid online chess event.
The World Champion tricked rival Hikaru Nakamura with almost no time left on his clock. Carlsen now heads into the final day of the prelim stage a half-point ahead of the pack.
The Norwegian, who’s scored 7/10 after four back-to-back wins yesterday, said beating Nakamura was a “massive relief”. But Carlsen was typically harsh when asked about his own performance.
There were more draws – 26 compared to only 16 on Day 1 – but the lead still changed hands several times.
It means anything can happen tomorrow when the field will be cut in half as eight of the 16 progress to the knockout stage. Every competitor is still in with a chance.
Wesley So was the first out of the blocks to challenge the top of the table, taking down fellow American Sam Shankland in just 25 moves.
Carlsen, the overnight leader, was up against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, the man who beat him twice last year and ended a record-breaking 125-game streak.
History almost repeated itself after Carlsen uncharacteristically blundered against the dangerous Pole. But the champion quickly recovered to shore up a draw.
Calm after the storm
Another below-par draw followed for Carlsen against Alexander Grischuk as he surrendered the lead to So. But bottom beat top in Round 7 as So lost to the Cuban-American Leinier Dominguez.
Teimour Radjabov, the overall Tour leader, was the only player to emerge from Day 1 unbeaten and played it safe again to steer his first four games towards draws.
Armenia’s Levon Aronian started promising “Ponchik power” – a reference to his pet dog who has made an appearance in every Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event to date.
After a slow beginning, the world number 6 did not disappoint his beloved Ponchik with classy wins over Shankland and Dominguez and a draw against Duda. A quick draw against Grischuk in the final round then left him in a strong position overnight.
Aronian’s only loss was a shock first game reverse to Tour debutant Matthias Bluebaum, the German number 1.
Bluebaum was ahead again in his second game against Daniil Dubov. However, any hopes the 21-year-old had of shooting up the leaderboard were immediately dashed when he missed a winning chance and had to settle for a draw.
A loss to Shankland followed and a draw against Dominguez left the tournament underdog with an uphill battle tomorrow to reach the next stage.
Anish Giri, meanwhile, looked super-sharp and also has high hopes of making the quarter-finals after ending the day unbeaten. He is joint-second with So on 6.5/10.
Giri scored impressive wins over Chinese number 1 Ding Liren and the tricky Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and secured draws against Carlsen, Radjabov and So.
The last day of the prelims starts tomorrow at 17:00 CET. The bottom eight have five rounds to lift themselves into the quarters. Anything can happen.
2nd day of @opera Euro Rapid was hard to me.— Jan-Krzysztof Duda (@GM_JKDuda) February 8, 2021
Missclick against So costed me half of a point, but finally I see this day as a good one.
Today there's a judgement day for 8 players. Will do my best to fight till the end and we will see.
#ChessChamps @Chess24Pl pic.twitter.com/6PPgMfSLo4