Anish Giri has won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi 2:0 in a blitz playoff. The Dutch no. 1 earns $60,000 and as the winner of a Major joins Teimour Radjabov as a confirmed participant in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour finals in San Francisco this September. Magnus Carlsen took 3rd place with a game to spare after beating Wesley So. Although that wasn’t what the World Champion wanted in the tournament with his name on it, he’s now just 5 points behind Wesley in the overall Tour standings.
You can replay all the knockout games from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational using the selector below.
And here’s the final day’s commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.
And David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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The final day looked as though it might finish early after Carlsen and Giri took the lead, but in the end we got high drama in the match that mattered most.
Let’s start, however, by taking a look at the match for 3rd place.
If not for Wesley So, we wouldn’t be talking about a mini-crisis for Magnus Carlsen. The US Chess Champion has single-handedly prevented Magnus from winning any tournaments since mid-October by defeating the World Champion in the Skilling Open and Opera Euro Rapid finals. This was, therefore, some kind of revenge. Magnus commented, when asked if he was “very happy”:
I would say very happy is a massive exaggeration. 3rd is better than 4th, for sure, and for the future, obviously, there will be a lot more events like this and it’s good to get one over Wesley. Clearly he was not 100% motivated and not in his best shape, but as I said, it’s a lot better than to have lost the last match and I spoke about it yesterday. After I won the first game then I definitely had a clear wish to win this match.
The first game saw Wesley So spring a surprise by playing the hyper-aggressive 4.f3 against the Nimzo-Indian, but after a 2-minute think Magnus returned the surprise with 4…Nc6!?
A curiosity is that the highest rated player to have tried that, according to the chess24 database, is our commentator Peter Leko, who once played it in a blindfold game against Vasyl Ivanchuk.
Wesley immediately began to burn up time as well, and though the computer wasn’t convinced by the setup Magnus went for all it took was the loose 13.Nf3!? Nh5! 14.g3? to allow Black to take over.
14…g5! 15.fxg5 hxg5 16.Nxg5 Nf4!
Wesley thought for over 5 minutes, though 17.gxf4 was a sad necessity, and after 17…Rxh4 only very precise play could have held the over-extended white position together. Instead Magnus soon had an overwhelming position and went on to claim a smooth victory.
That, essentially, was that. Wesley got nothing in the next game and was left needing to win both the next two games on demand to force a playoff. Magnus had proven that's possible in the semi-finals, but in the 3rd game Wesley never had any chances and it was Magnus who claimed match victory with a draw.
It was, of course, a disappointing result for Magnus, who enters every event he plays as the favourite, but there were positives as well. He actually climbed to no. 2 in the overall Tour standings, after beating Wesley in the 3rd place match while co-leader before the event Teimour Radjabov was knocked out in the preliminary stage.
Magnus also saw improvement in his play:
It’s pretty clear during the preliminaries and the first day of the quarterfinals that I actually played really quite well when there was little at stake, and you could see that when the pressure was higher in the semis then I messed up a bit, but I think overall I played a lot better in this tournament than I did in the last one, so I think it’s a small step forward, even though of course I would have loved not to have my worst two days during the semis.
The key action, however, was elsewhere.
This final continued to be a Sicilian theme match, with Anish again playing the Najdorf in the first game of the day. It was an encounter where neither player went seriously astray, but we got to witness some aesthetically pleasing moves.
Giri’s 24…Rc3! was of course possible due to the pinned b-pawn, and it carries some real venom. The careless 25.Na1?? or 25.Nc1?? would run into mate-in-2: 25…Rxa3+! 26.Kxa3 Qa4# Of course Nepo didn’t fall for that, and after 25.Qf5+ Kg8 26.Nc5 he soon went on to force a draw by perpetual check.
It was in the second game that the draw streak finally ended, as Ian, with over 9 minutes on his clock, played 18…Nc6? instead of 18…Ng6. That allowed 19.g6! and suddenly Black’s position was collapsing.
After 19…0-0-0 20.gxf7 Qxf7 21.Bc4! Anish picked up the e-pawn and went on to win a remarkably smooth game.
Ian now needed a win fast, but once against Giri’s Najdorf held firm in another intense draw, meaning Anish needed only a draw with White in the final game to clinch the title. As we’ve seen, however, drawing on demand is harder than it looks, and what followed was a brilliantly played game by Ian, culminating in a memorable finish.
The simple 37…Qf2 is perfectly sufficient, but Ian spotted the much more stylish 37…Rxe5! 38.Rxg3 Bxg3
Re1 is coming next to win the queen, and there’s nothing White can do about it.
That meant Ian Nepomniachtchi had forced a playoff against the odds, but Anish had at least one reason for optimism:
What really helped is the match of Ian against Magnus, because there Ian messed up two must-not-lose games and then still won, and he did it right there a day ago, so I never had any doubt that the match was over once I went to the tiebreak.
If anything Anish was perhaps too optimistic, since he went for a speculative piece sacrifice.
17.Nfe5+?! fxe5 18.dxe5 Bc5 left White with just a pawn for the piece, but for a blitz game White certainly had compensation in the form of attacking chances. Nepo was forced to use up more time than usual, but nevertheless had a winning position on move 25.
Good options here are 25…Rg8 or 25…Qe8, but after 47 seconds (this was a 5-minute blitz game), Ian collapsed with 25…Rh7? Giri's queen swooped in with 26.Qd7+!, when Black could no longer defend with 26…Be7 since the c8-rook is now only defended once and can be captured.
Ian would later comment:
Considering the comeback in Game 4 and a completely winning position in the first blitz game, I would probably claim that I deserved a little bit more, but then you spend one minute for a move like Rh7 and then you see that Rh7 is wrong and you play anyway Rh7, so this is probably karma or something!
Giri went on to convert the win with surgical precision, with Ian able to see the funny side by the end.
That meant Nepo had to win on demand once more, and he ended a sequence of 9 Sicilians in a row by playing 1.b3.
Anish saw that as an odd choice, as well as vindication for how he’d played the Najdorf:
I was very happy, of course, especially that the Najdorf has passed the test. In the final game he didn’t go 1.e4 even, which was surprising, because people usually play 1.b3 because they want to get an interesting position, because they are sick and tired of boring openings, but I’m playing the Najdorf! I don’t really see why you would avoid the Najdorf in a must-win, it’s anything but solid, but I can imagine he probably felt I was very well-prepared and he didn’t want to end up in a situation where he runs into my preparation. He just wanted to have men against the men, it’s fair enough.
It didn’t work out however, with 16.Nd2? a losing move in an already unpleasant position.
Anish was again eagle-eyed as he responded 16…Bg5!, with the weak f3-square forcing Nepo to trade minor pieces with 17.Bxd4 Bxd2 18.Rd1 cxd4 19.Rxd2. 19…Nc5 saw the black knight occupy a dream outpost where it couldn't be challenged and hit White's weak e4-pawn.
The white bishop became a glorified pawn after 20.Bd3 and although material was equal Black had a huge advantage in a game he only needed to draw. Anish never faltered as he calmly brought home the win to claim 1st place in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational.
The tournament was the second of three Majors on the
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and therefore granted Giri an automatic spot, alongside Teimour Radjabov, in
the Finals to be held in San Francisco in September.
It also meant a healthy haul of points and cash.
It was Giri’s first online Tour victory, but he was eager to point out afterwards that this wasn’t his first major tournament win (other highlights include Reggio Emilia in 2012 and the 2018 Shenzhen Masters).
Obviously it’s great to win, but I wouldn’t call this a career-defining moment or anything. Contrary to this fake news that’s been spread by my main competitor I have won various tournaments, on various occasions, including the prestigious MrDodgy Invitational and a few others.
In less than a month, on April 19th, Giri will have Black against Nepomniachtchi, who he trails by a point, when the pandemic-interrupted Candidates Tournament finally resumes in Yekaterinburg. Anish felt his online success gave him a boost.
Mostly it’s good for the vibes for the Candidates, for the preparation. It’s also good because I am of a firm belief that there is no such thing as destined. Some people say that champions are made of something, this kind of nonsense. I absolutely don’t buy this, and it’s good before the Candidates that I win a tournament like this one and that I know if I get to a very fortunate situation that I will be close there, which is a long way to go, but if I ever get to that situation I will not have any doubts, despite what many people are trying to create.
It’s clear Anish will be armed to the teeth for Yekaterinburg, but Ian Nepomniachtchi goes into the event as co-leader and obviously in fine form. To overcome Nakamura and then Carlsen in online matches is something special, and he was incredibly close to going into the final blitz game needing only a draw with White. As he noted afterwards, he’d done it while avoiding the openings he’s planning to use in the Candidates.
In the end, though, he fell just short and had to be content with the $40,000 runners-up prize.
He made no secret of being glad that it was all over.
That also means the end of an intense 9 days for chess fans, but we don’t have to wait until the Candidates for top action to return. The all-new Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour will see Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik captain teams of some of the world’s best young players in a $100,000 5-event series that also qualifies winners to the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
For more details check out our launch article, while we’ll be announcing the line-ups and more soon.
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