Magnus Carlsen wins Chess Tour Charity Cup final in tiebreaks

The world champion scored another victory in the Meltwater Chess Tour.

Screengrab via chess24

Magnus Carlsen and Jan-Krzysztof Duda put a spectacular end to the second chess tournament of the Meltwater Chess Tour, taking the tournament all the way to the blitz tiebreaks. Carlsen took the victory, putting an end to the seven days of nonstop chess action in the competition.

The preliminary stage of the tournament featured a 16-player round-robin bracket, with the top eight qualifying for the knockout portion of the event. Unexpectedly strong showings by Spanish Grandmaster David Antón Guijarro and US player Hans Niemann were the main storylines here. Magnus Carlsen qualified comfortably in second place, which was in itself notable as the world champion sometimes gets stuck in second gear in the early portions of these online events. Jan-Krzysztof Duda finished in fifth place, ahead of Ding Liren on tiebreakers.

Carlsen first had to dispatch Niemann in the quarterfinals and proved his superiority in a 2.5-0.5 victory, setting up a semifinal meeting with Ding Liren. The Chinese player is seen by many as one of the premiere challengers of the world champion, but timezone differences mean he has to keep playing these online events in the early morning hours. Whether exhaustion or a mouseslip led to the catastrophic error in an even-queen endgame that caused his loss is unclear, but the series unraveled soon thereafter, giving Magnus a 3-1 win and a spot in the finals.

Duda first had to deal with the challenge of Guijarro. After winning the opening skirmish with the black pieces, he then capitalized on a shocking one-move blunder from his opponent to secure the second victory in just 27 moves. A straightforward draw followed to secure Duda’s passage to the semis with a score of 2.5-1.5.

His opponent there was Liem Quang Le, the Vietnamese GM who has been the tournament’s top performer up to this point. It seemed like Liem got an unassailable lead in the first game, only to blunder it away and lose in spectacular fashion after Duda’s incredible fightback. Once again, the Polish player did a great job in steering the subsequent games to simple draws, securing a series win with a 2.5-1.5 score, setting up a match with Magnus Carlsen.

Carlsen versus Duda: a fireworks display

The two players have quite the history at this point: Duda was the player who ended Carlsen’s 125-game unbeaten streak in classical chess in 2020 and also stopped him at the 2021 Chess World Cup in the semifinals. Despite Carlsen scoring a 3000+ performance rating in the classical games overall in the event, Duda took him to the rapid tiebreaks and eliminated the world champion, going on to defeat Sergej Karjakin. This huge victory secured his spot at the 2022 Candidates Tournament.

This time, Carlsen seemed to be in imperious form, scoring a dominant win in the first-day match of the grand final with two wins and a draw. It seemed like the second day would come to a quick conclusion after Magnus scored a surprise win with the black pieces in the first game, which meant that he only needed one point (two draws or a win) from the remaining three games to secure the overall match win. Instead, Duda pulled off a remarkable comeback, winning with black to equalize and then demolishing Carlsen with white in a dominant attacking performance. A quiet draw followed, which set up the blitz finals.

These two games turned out to be decisive and devastating in equal measure, and the faster time controls got the better of the Polish player. Though he established an even position in the first match, he did so at the cost of all his allotted time, which forced him to play “on the increment,” only relying on the three-second bonus received for each move made. It was only a matter of time until a catastrophic error occurred, costing him a piece and the game.

Having to win with the white pieces to stay alive in the series, Duda created incredible complications in the middlegame arising from an explosive variation of the Caro-Kann Defense. Helming the white pieces, he offered multiple-piece sacrifices to rip open Carlsen’s king position, but the world champion deftly avoided the nastiest complications and ruthlessly capitalized on three imprecise moves to rip apart Duda’s position, who resigned after just 24 moves.

The next tournament in the series is designated as a major, and the plan is to host the top eight players in the tour standings in an offline, esports-like studio environment to pit them against each other. The event will begin on April 22, but it remains to be seen whether all of the top eight players in the series standings can make it to the LAN event.

These players are expected to get an invitation to the prestigious tournament based on their performances:

  • Magnus Carlsen
  • Jan-Krzysztof Duda
  • Ian Nepomniachtchi
  • Liem Quang Le
  • Ding Liren
  • Vladislav Artemiev
  • Andrey Esipenko
  • Eric Hansen

The Champions Chess Tour is a series of online chess tournaments conceived as the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour in 2020 to provide the top players in the world with a competitive avenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. The popularity of the series meant it has become a regular fixture of the chess calendar, a season-long tour of interconnected tournaments. The 2022 season is made up of six regular online and three major offline chess tournaments culminating in a grand final.

This event, the second in the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, was rebranded as the Charity Cup with the goal of raising funds for organizations providing humanitarian relief in Ukraine. Consequently, no Russian players were invited, including the participants of the previous Tour event. The event functioned as a fundraiser for UNICEF and raised $158 074 in total thanks to the contributions of fans from all around the world.