World Champion Magnus Carlsen and US rival Wesley So won their semis on Friday to set up a thrilling final of the Opera Euro Rapid.
The two big guns of elite online chess will face-off for the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event title in a two-day final over the weekend.
With $30,000 at stake, it promises a fascinating repeat of the Skilling Open final when So ruined Carlsen’s 30th birthday.
So got there by making short work of the in-form Tour leader Teimour Radjabov. The American dominated today’s set and won with a game to spare.
It was nowhere near as smooth for Carlsen, however, who started the final having been seen on camera snacking on Chinese noodles.
Presumably, Carlsen was celebrating the start of the Chinese Year of the Ox – an animal he would need all the strength of to overcome the Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
And so it proved. Carlsen was made to battle his own blunders, a critical mouse-slip and an inspired ice-cool opponent to make it through in the final armageddon tiebreaker.
After a dominant first set win yesterday, draws were good for Carlsen and when the first two games finished all-square, he appeared to be cruising.
But in the third, the Norwegian made a critical oversight which lost him a bishop and left him doomed in the game. MVL was back in the match.
With another draw not enough, Carlsen went all out for the win in the last game of the set and promptly lost leaving the score 3-1 to MVL. The tie was one-set all and had to be decided by a play-off.
Carlsen was still the favourite, however, and showed his legendary endgame skills again as he crushed the life out of MVL’s position to win the first of two blitz tiebreaker games.
The second descended into an intense battle of nerves but it was MVL who went ahead and then showed perfect endgame technique under pressure to force Carlsen into resigning.
MVL was level again and the semi went down to the final armageddon tiebreaker. Yet Carlsen had saved his best for last and played a flawless game to book his place in the final.
Carlsen said he is expecting “a very tough fight” against So on Saturday.
The champ added: “He’s been mightily impressive so far in the event. I don’t think he’s been in much danger since losing his first game. Yeah, it’s going to be fun.”
In the other semi, Wesley So made short work of Airthings Masters champion and overall tour leader Teimour Radjabov.
The American So is fearsome in rapid chess and destroyed Radjabov, who went 15 games unbeaten during this event, in their third game.
Following two draws, that result won So the set and the tie to take him smoothly into the final with the minimum of fuss.
So, the reigning US Champion, said afterward: “Overall, today wasn’t Teimour’s day. Coming into the match I thought he was the slight favourite.
“But Teimour is a very excellent player so, clearly, some things went wrong for him today.”