Magnus Carlsen revealed he's suffering the after-effects of Covid-19 as the Norwegian's former world title challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi continued his Airthings Masters charge.
The Russia's number 1 went 11 games unbeaten since the first round of the elite online super-tournament. He is now a dead-cert for the knockout stage, while Carlsen - by his own admission - faces a battle to get through.
Today, Ian scored wins against the young American star Hans Niemann and Indian prodigy Praggnanandaa, the 16-year-old who hit the headlines overnight for his shock win over Carlsen.
The World Champion's form has been patchy since Day 1, and in an interview, after play, he revealed why - he tested positive for Covid-19 before the start of the tournament and is still feeling the effects.
Carlsen scored two wins and a draw but suffered a catastrophic loss to the tournament underdog Eric Hansen. The champ appeared to blunder horribly with 30. Rb1 and was forced to resign moments later.
Afterwards, Carlsen revealed the mistake wasn't a mouse-slip: "Rb1 was insane. I calculated some long lines there when he takes the a3 pawn. They don't even work, which I'd seen. But I thought, whatever, I'll try it. I just hallucinated, no, I didn't hallucinate, I just missed that he can go to c3 with the queen."
Hansen - the rank outsider - has taken the $1.6 million Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event by storm and nearly signed off with another win. But he had to be content with 19 points and 6th on the leaderboard.
Meanwhile, Carlsen finished on an upbeat note with a dominant 20-move win in Round 12 over Poland's World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
On his stuttering start to the Airthings Masters, Carlsen said: "It's been pretty bad. I played a couple of decent games, but the rest of them have been poor. I need to do a lot better than that."
Asked how Covid-19 has affected him, Carlsen said: "It's been a little bit better today, but the first couple of days I was feeling like I'm ok, but I didn't have the energy, which made it hard to focus because every time I tried to think I blundered. It was a little bit better today, but still pretty bad."
Carlsen did, however, manage to lift himself to joint-second on the leaderboard - despite his poor form. However, the champ, who has made the cut in every Meltwater Champions Chess Tour event he's entered, refused to accept he is nearly through to the knockout with 20 points.
"It's not certain at all," he said. "I have to do well tomorrow to be safe. I'll try to play as well as I can and be focused. Hopefully, my form will get better day by day."
Eight make the cut from the round-robin Prelim stage to the knockout, which begins on Wednesday.
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