Nakamura squeezed out of Opera Euro Rapid

Blitz king Hikaru Nakamura was the highest-profile casualty as the bottom eight were dumped out of the Opera Euro Rapid today.

Nakamura, one of the pre-tournament favourites, appeared to be cruising through to the quarter-finals of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event.

But a last-gasp collapse against fellow American Sam Shankland at the end of the prelim stage saw Nakamura finish level on points with mercurial Russian Daniil Dubov.

Given Dubov had clocked up more wins over the first 15 rounds, he squeezed through on a tiebreak.

Nakamura, the world’s number 1 blitz player, reacted by throwing his hands up in frustration and hitting his table.

The climax of the 16-player round-robin stage was a brutal fight for quarter-final places as a string of big names scrambled to survive.

Dubov, known for his unorthodox style, was right in the thick of the action fighting for his life in a series of spectacular games. In the end, he was a deserved qualifier.

After raising his hopes of making it through with two early wins, Dubov lost a Round 13 thriller against the dangerous Pole Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

The spectacular see-saw game saw four queens on the board at the same time. Both the young guns had chances to win, but Duda came out on top. Both enjoyed talking about it after.

I think still it was a very fun game, and we were playing rapid. It’s very difficult to play brilliant moves, but at least it was fun to play and probably fun to watch, I hope - four queens, you don’t see it every day!

In the penultimate round, Dubov then spurned several golden opportunities to down World Champion Magnus Carlsen. The game eventually ended in a 122-move draw.

In the final round, Dubov went all out for a win against fellow Russian Alexander Grischuk but had to settle for a draw.

It meant Grischuk was eliminated, yet after Nakamura could only draw with Duda – who also made it through – the Russian unexpectedly survived.

Fight for survival

Meanwhile, Russia’s top player Ian Nepomniachtchi had been looking good to qualify but a loss in the final-round sunk him.

As others battled, World Champion Magnus Carlsen had a low-key day. It started with a win after which Carlsen appeared to take his foot off the gas.

The overnight leader then lost against the out-of-form Chinese number 1 Ding Liren and narrowly escaped a second reverse against Dubov.

Yet despite his patchy performances, Carlsen still cruised into the quarters and finished joint-top of the leaderboard on 9.5/15 with Anish Giri.

Carlsen said afterward: “I was on the back foot for most of the day but what happened didn’t matter much since I was already through and it was maybe a little harder to be motivated today.”

Carlsen added that he felt confident and “ready for the new challenges” in the knockout stage.

Teimour Radjabov, the overall tour leader, played out five draws to end the prelim stage unbeaten and ease into the knockouts on 8/15.

Levon Aronian, Radjabov’s opponent in the final round, also comfortably progressed with 8.5/15.

Giri, so sharp on Day 2, had another solid day picking up a win against Matthias Bluebaum and four draws to ease into the quarters level with Carlsen.

Meanwhile, France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made up the final eight with a draw against Carlsen.

The quarters start tomorrow from 17:00 CET with Carlsen taking on Dubov the pick of the ties.

Read the full report on chess24 here.

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