Nothing lasts forever! Magnus Carlsen has beaten Anish Giri for the first time in a classical game, a result that was doubly sweet as it also meant the World Champion had won the 2016 Bilbao Masters with a round to spare. The other games were once more disappointing draws, leaving Magnus as the only player to have won more than one game as we head into Saturday’s final round, which starts one hour earlier than usual.
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Magnus Carlsen started Bilbao 2016 by losing his unbeaten record against Hikaru Nakamura in classical chess, but he’d probably have accepted that price if he’d known he would end the tournament by finally getting the better of Anish Giri. In a way it was perhaps a relief for both players, whose games against each other had buckled under the weight of that infamous “plus score against the World Champion”. Shock jock “Radio Jan” even went as far as to call for Anish to resign while he had a superior position
Let's have a look at Anish Giri, for example, with the black pieces here against Magnus Carlsen. Anish Giri - all he's living for is having this plus score against the World Champion. Yeah, congratulations, you won a game against him when you were 17 and the World Champion played like a little girl in that game and ever since you've been drawing him. Is that what you want to be remembered for? Never winning a supertournament and drawing Magnus Carlsen to keep this plus one score. Do you know who had a plus score against Garry Kasparov? Joel Lautier. Have you heard of Joel Lautier recently? Neither have I! Probably the people he's doing business with, whatever he's doing, have, but that's not a way to play chess, Anish. You've got to try and win tournaments, not define yourself by drawing against Magnus Carlsen. It's just making me sad. What you should do is just resign this game now, get this never losing to the World Champion out of the way and then have a fresh start. So resign - don't even play b5, no-one cares about your score against Magnus anymore!
You can watch the full appearance by Radio Jan below, including why Carlsen is “an abomination of a role model for the world of chess”!
The game itself was going Giri’s way, for a while, with Carlsen admitting to doing some “gambling”, but Anish explained his problems:
In the big picture the summary is that I’m in bad shape. Up to a point I’m maintaining my level, and then when the pressure increases I can’t keep it up… Someone who's in bad shape usually blunders something at some point.
He could have lost swiftly when he pinned himself by capturing a pawn on e5:
Here 23.c5!! bxc5 24.Ra6! picks up two pieces for the rook, with the attack continuing. Magnus instead went for 23.cxd5 exd5 24.Nb3, which, while not objectively the best approach, still left Giri with a very tough position to navigate in time trouble. At least that moment gave Anish some comfort when he spotted the win in the post-game press conference:
Winning on the spot! I didn’t see this. That changes quite a lot. That’s kind of easy, right... It makes me feel good, because I wasn’t the only one who was missing everything today!
Anish would later crack in time trouble when confronted by a brilliant and unexpected move from his opponent, as Jan explains in his video commentary on the game:
The day’s other games almost went out of their way to ensure there was no distraction from the big clash. Wei Yi once again played the Catalan, but had clearly been paying attention in his Supertournaments for Rookie GMs class and varied with 11.Na3 rather than waiting to see what improvement Wesley So had prepared on Nakamura’s play the day before.
What followed showed that Wesley had probably also been paying attention while watching Jan Gustafsson’s Catalan video series for chess24. Sure enough, the promised draw materialised.
Jan also had a lot to answer for in the day’s other game. His over-the-board idea with 9.a3 against Arkadij Naiditsch in the 2015 Spanish Team Championship was later given the stamp of approval by Nakamura in a game he was winning, then lost, against Carlsen in the Paris Grand Chess Tour. In Bilbao Karjakin had prepared an improvement on Carlsen’s play with 17…a6 (not 17…Qd5!?):
Nakamura trusted that Karjakin had analysed all the lines involving a capture on c4 and so, needing a win to stay in the Bilbao title hunt, he punted his h-pawn up the board with 18.h4!? Bd5 19.h5!?. Radio Jan (see the earlier video), was a fan (kind of):
Feels like Kindergarten Cop to me. Pushing your h-pawn up the board has absolutely nothing to do with the position, but let me tell you, I'm actually happy that Nakamura did this, because the man I used to respect was a young Hikaru Nakamura who played 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, going for Scholar's Mate, trying to humiliate his opponents, who played the King's Indian, who played lines that lost on the spot against Vishy Anand but still won games by the sheer power of will, who played 18 hours of blitz every night on the internet, or bullet, crushing people left and right, and look what we got now. We have a sell-out, a modern industrious "supergrandmaster" playing all the right openings - so exciting - playing 1.d4, playing the Catalan, playing the Berlin. What's the difference between you, Hikaru, and Anish Giri nowadays? Look into the mirror and ask yourself what you've done. Start playing for Scholar's Mates again, play the King's Indian, play the Leningrad Dutch and h4-h5, which makes no sense, but it at least looks like you're back on the right track!
The players soon exchanged all pieces but a couple of rooks and drew by repetition on move 34.
That means no-one can now catch Carlsen, who has been helped out by the three points for a win system. Under the normal one point for a win there would still be some tournament intrigue as Nakamura could make up the one-point gap in the final round and force a playoff.
What’s left to play for, then? Well, 2nd place is very much up for grabs, and even Giri can still climb off the bottom if he beats Nakamura. So-Carlsen is not a matchup that has any enjoyable backstory behind it, but Magnus would no doubt enjoy doing the double over one of his rivals – just to emphasise his domination that little bit more!
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Gustafsson and Niclas Huschenbeth! The games are available live in our free mobile apps: