A thrilling first day of the $220,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational semi-finals saw the two heavy favourites lose to set up two tense deciding sets tomorrow.
Russian champ Ian Nepomniachtchi was back to his powerful best as he wrestled his way into a half-time lead against tournament host Magnus Carlsen.
In the other semi, US champ Wesley So couldn’t hold back an inspired performance from Dutch No.1 Anish Giri.
Nepo, nicknamed the “Speed Demon”, had to use all his trickery to survive a tense Game 1 before breaking through in Game 3 of his clash with old foe Carlsen.
A hard-fought draw in the fourth game saw the 30-year-old Russian take the set 2.5-1.5 and seize the initiative in the tie.
Carlsen looked stunned and sat emotionless when the result was secured. He has to win tomorrow to take the semi to tiebreaks.
Carlsen said: “It’s really, really frustrating because it just feels like a massive own goal in the third game. I had a great position in the opening, I just spent too much time there.”
He added that after that he “miscalculated something simple” and “lost the thread”.
Nepo, the favourite to end up challenging Carlsen’s world title later this year, now has a big chance to dump the world champ out of his own namesake tournament.
But despite that he was keeping his feet firmly on the ground afterward.
After yesterday’s pot of salad, Carlsen was again seen eating while playing – this time it was Chinese noodles.
The other semi was even tighter with So, the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader, drawing first blood by taking full advantage of a mistake from Giri to win game 1.
But after a draw in game 2, the Giri hit back to level the score.
It left the set hanging on the final game. So blundered badly initially, yet Giri failed to fully cash in.
But despite desperate defence from So, Giri did eventually make the advantage tell to take the deciding game and win the first day’s set 2.5-1.5. It was a stunning comeback.
Giri said: “It’s very nice but of course the main battle is going to be tomorrow.”
If there is to be a third Carlsen-So final on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, both players need to hit back tomorrow to force tiebreaks.