A frantic climax to the Magnus Carlsen Invitational’s prelim phase today saw the knockout places filled and eight grandmasters eliminated.
Carlsen, the $220,000 tournament host, finished out in front after rubber-stamping his passage in the quarter-finals with a stunning 10.5/15.
The Norwegian had said he was aiming to win the 16-player prelims to get a good draw in the knockout stage.
Carlsen did it in style with the best score yet at this stage of a $1.5 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event.
It is an ominous sign for the rest of the field that the world number 1 is back to his imperious best and playing with a smile on his face.
Anish Giri, the much-improved Dutch No.1, lost his first game of the tournament against Ian Nepomniachtchi but had already secured his place having led after the first two days. He finished second on 10/15.
Also sailing into the knockouts was the American Wesley So, the man who has beaten Carlsen twice in finals so far on the tour. He scored 9.5/15.
Carlsen’s great rival Hikaru Nakamura continued his return to form as he went unbeaten again to finish on 9/15. The US star was the only player to emerge from the round-robin unscathed.
Carlsen and Nakamura were up against each other in the final round and drew in super-quick time with a bizarre opening called the Bongcloud.
Carlsen said after: “I just wanted to have a little bit of fun there.”
He added: “I’ve massively enjoyed playing here!”
The 17-year-old hotshot Alireza Firoujza was another into the quarters with ease. Improving markedly on his performance in the Skilling Open, Firouzja was never in danger and must be considered a threat.
But it was at the other end of the leaderboard where the drama took place.
With the bottom eight going out, tension reached fever pitch going into the final round as a trio of Russians battled for survival alongside Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Teimour Radjabov and Levon Aronian.
Aronian and MVL, two of the top performers so far on the Tour, only needed draws and duly secured them.
But Nepo was in a must-win situation and pulled it off by beating Alan Pichot to lift himself up alongside Firouza on 8.5/15.
Ian Nepomniachtchi: "I don't care. Any opponent is strong, especially for me!"— chess24.com (@chess24com) March 15, 2021
Nepo will play Nakamura in tomorrow's quarterfinals #MagnusInvitational
It meant the two remaining Russians, Daniil Dubov and former World Cup winner Sergey Karjakin, bowed out.
The final result was particularly cruel on Karjakin who recovered from a slow start to finish level with Aronian, but was edged out on the head-to-head score against him.
The two-day quarter-finals start tomorrow at 17:00 CET with Carlsen-Aronian, Nepo-Naka, So-Firouzja and MVL-Giri.
The Magnus Carlsen Invitational is supported by Breakthrough Initiatives and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. It is leg four of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour hosted by the Play Magnus Group.