Magnus Carlsen survived a first-round shock at this week’s $100,000 Skilling Open when the world champion, in a winning position against Russia’s No 1, Ian Nepomniachtchi, blundered his queen by a mouse slip. Earlier, Carlsen had tweeted his comment about the furore over Beth Harmon and The Queen’s Gambit.
Carlsen quickly recovered with three straight wins and won the 16-player qualifier for Wednesday’s quarter-finals. There he was close to defeat against Anish Giri, but later ground out a trademark endgame win against the Dutchman in a rook and bishop endgame where the Norwegian was a pawn down.
Carlsen later described the 51-move game as “a classical case of being worse, then slightly worse, then equal, then slightly better, then much better, then finally winning!” In the overall match Carlsen won 1-0 with seven draws, which he called “winning ugly in a very tough fight.”
Carlsen, who turns 30 on the final day of the online tournament on Monday, is the favourite to win this, the opening event of the year-long $1.5m Champions Tour.
On Friday and Saturday Carlsen meets Nepomniachtchi, while American pair Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura face each other in the second semi-final. Play starts both days at 5pm, with live commentary on chess24.com. The time limit is 15 minutes per player for the game, plus 10 seconds increment per move. Seven of the eight quarter-finalists were from the world top 10 at the much slower classical time rates.
The rising star and former Iranian Alireza Firouzja, 17, failed to make the cut as his rivals took advantage of his weakness in endgames and converting advantages. Firouzja led the qualification rounds with two games to go but lost both from equal positions.
Carlsen’s opening round mouse slip came from a position where his queen at b3 could give a winning check at b5 but instead stopped at b4 where it was en prise to the Russian’s rook and pawn. Decades ago the then England No 1, Hugh Alexander, wrote that backward and particularly diagonal queen retreats were the hardest moves to visualise.
The Bletchley codebreaker proved his point in the 1959 British championship when, in a lost position, he placed his unguarded queen at c6, a distance from his opponent Clifford Hilton’s also unguarded queen at f3. Hilton failed to notice for nearly five minutes, until a crowd gathered round the board and he was alerted.
3699: 1…Kf2+! 2 Qxb3 Ng5+! 3 hxg5 Qh8 mate. Backward diagonal queen moves are the hardest to visualise – see the discussion in the main article.