We’re all set for an epic battle between Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri in the chess24 Banter Series quarterfinals after the players won their first round matches in very different fashions. Magnus brushed S.L. Narayanan aside 5.5:0.5, saying “I’m for once pretty happy with my play”, while Anish Giri stared into the abyss before coming back to beat Peter Svidler in Armageddon. Elsewhere the one upset win was Vietnamese qualifier Liem Quang Le winning the final 3 games to knock out world no. 9 Teimour Radjabov.
First things first, the schedule for the Banter Series Quarterfinals is as follow – remember, all matches are best of 10 blitz games, with the winner of the knockout taking home $12,000 out of a total prize fund of $36,000:
Let’s take a quick look at all the Last 16 matches:
World Champion Magnus Carlsen of course came into this match a heavy favourite, but India’s S.L. Narayanan has built up a fearsome reputation in online blitz. He was only knocked out by Alireza Firouzja in the semi-finals of the Banter Blitz Cup and had come through the qualifiers for this Banter Series by beating three strong grandmasters: Lenderman, Cheparinov and Keymer. His greatest asset is perhaps incredible speed and resilience – Magnus commented, “this shows really why he was doing so well in the last Banter Blitz Cup” during the first game – but the format this time with a 2-second increment means pure speed is less important.
Magnus was in top form as he won two pawns and converted a 4-rook ending in the first game, and he pulled off the same trick in the second game, only with the black pieces. He looked to be cruising to 3:0 until his 36.c3? allowed a sudden blow:
36…Bxf2! is something Magnus had seen but said he just couldn’t believe… but it works! After 37.Kxf2 Rxb2+ 38.Kf3 Rh1 it was Magnus who ended up having to give perpetual check, since his king couldn’t escape the black rooks.
That was the only blemish on the scoreline for the World Champion, however, as he took over a drawish ending to win the next game. Seldom had it been more appropriate for one player to quote another as when Magnus quoted that other great intuitive positional player, Anatoly Karpov.
Magnus called the way he went on to win, “extraordinarily cruel”.
The next game was almost crueller, with Magnus putting on a real demonstration of technique.
It wasn’t perfect, however! Neither player spotted it, but 41.Nc5? (41.Kb4! etc.) was a losing move:
41…Rxc5+! 42.dxc5 d4+! and Black’s bishop can take the rook on a8 and win the game. It wasn’t to be, however, and after 41…Rb6? it did indeed look like destiny:
Magnus wrapped up the fastest possible 6-game victory (it’s first to 5.5 points) in the next game, even if he had declared himself positionally lost midway through!
By the end, Magnus was satisfied with his work.
That was actually pretty good. A very decent match! I don’t think he played poorly at all, I just think I made very few blunders and in general played very decently, so I’m for once pretty happy with my play!
Even Narayanan could see the positives.
Up next for Magnus is a certain Anish Giri!
Peter Svidler was one qualifier who could just as easily have been among the Super-GM invitees, and this match was every bit as tough, and enjoyable, as we could have hoped for. Anish even started early.
It’s a curious fact that Anish and Peter both started playing chess in St. Petersburg, though when Anish won the U12s he was just about to start an odyssey to Japan and eventually the Netherlands.
The match began as a triumph of the sword over the shield, with the white pieces put to devastating effect.
In Game 7, however, Peter broke the pattern by winning with Black. Giri grabbed a pawn on h7 and immediately regretted it, as Svidler was able to drive the white pieces to bad squares and then crash through in the centre with 26…d4!
It’s unusual to see a bishop pair so utterly useless as the white bishops on g7 and g8, despite their having infiltrated the black position.
Draws in the next two games, with Anish coming very close in the second, left Peter needing just a draw with the white pieces to clinch the match! “The pressure is on him!” said Anish, but he was already preparing his fans for defeat when the game and match suddenly turned after 23.Bd4? (afterwards Peter mainly regretted not playing 21.f4! instead of 21.Rad1 earlier, when he said he should have been "home and dry" in the match):
Anish played 23…Nxe4!, with Peter commenting, “But that doesn’t work, does it? I mean it’s very cute, but it doesn’t work…” And then, just after playing 24.Bxe4? (White could have played on a pawn down with e.g. 24.Qb2) he continued, “Oh, it does – goddammit, what did I do?” 24…Nf3+! 25.Kg2 (the bishop can’t be taken as the queen is undefended on c2) followed, and then 25…Rxe4!, the move Peter had at first overlooked. The king can’t capture the knight as this time Rf4+ would win the queen.
Anish had not just an extra pawn but a raging attack and went on to play perfectly, with Peter summing up:
That wasn’t really my best ever game with White, but full credit to Anish, he played that game very well.
Though when we say “summing up”… it was a hard game to forget! “That position is going to be haunting my dreams now,” said Peter, as he attempted not to go "on tilt" in the playoff that followed. He did a reasonable job, holding two tough positions, but the Armageddon proved too much. Peter failed to appreciate just how strong Anish’s attack was in time, and after Giri played 19.Rhg1! it was all but game over. 22.Qf5! was a nice flourish!
The g6-point can't be defended, and resignation came 5 moves later.
The Carlsen-Giri Twitter wars may have died down, but this time banter is obligatory.
In the end this looked like a convincing win for Levon Aronian, but things could easily have been different. For instance, Gawain Jones was completely winning with Black in Game 3, but the ending was ultimately a 121-move draw after the English GM missed a tricky zugzwang idea and also one opportunity to win by brute force:
73.c1=Q+! and the white king is badly placed to save the game.
As so often when you fail to score, your opponent punishes you, and in the next game 12.0-0? by Gawain was a huge blunder, inviting 12…Qh4!
It seemed the fate of the match might be sealed, but after a rollercoaster draw in the next game, Gawain picked up a win. English fans could dare to believe, but Levon struck back to take the next two games and the match. In fact Gawain at first thought the first of those two games had been the end!
Levon will now play Alexander Grischuk:
This was a one-sided match, though Alexander used the phrase “lucky” a lot, and he also had a lucky charm!
The first game was a microcosm of the match. Alexander played much faster than his opponent, but also inaccurately from a good position, so that in the end he had to go all-in. Objectively it shouldn’t have worked, but 33…Kf8? (instead of 33…Be8!) did more than throw away a win:
34.Rxg7! Be8 (too late, but 34…Kxg7 is mate after 35.Qh7+ Kf8 36.Qxf7#, which is why f7 needs to be defended!) 35.Nxe6+! and Mamedov resigned, since after 35…fxe6 Grischuk could choose between 36.Qh8# or 36…Qe7#
The noise of children in the background was deafening, but Alexander was laser-focused!
He remained that way until the end, finding some nice attacking shots and sharing some generally applicable advice!
When you have a bad position it makes sense to prevent the moves your opponent wants to make... it may be bad, but at least it makes him think… Again, I'm trying to make moves not that are good but that he doesn't expect - if they turn out to be good that's a very nice bonus!
World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana looked like cruising to victory. He opened with a nice tactical finish in the first game…
…and won the next two games as well. A lot can happen in a best-of-10 match, however, and Germany's Matthias Bluebaum hit back and got in some blows of his own before Fabiano duly went through to what will be a quarterfinal against Liem Quang Le.
This was the one upset win of the Last 16, though as 2013 World Blitz Champion, Liem Quang Le is not a player anyone would underestimate, especially after he won the first game. We knew we’d get a great match when the next game went to 130 moves, with Teimour demonstrating that he could give mate with bishop + knight on only a 2-second increment.
Two draws later Le took the lead again, and he would have made it 4:2 if he’d converted a completely winning position in Game 6 – but instead he blundered into mate!
Teimour then took the lead with a game where he won his opponent’s queen, though not quite as cleanly as he thought:
It seemed the world no. 9 had broken his opponent’s resistance and would go on from 4:3 to clinch the match, but instead the Vietnamese star roared back to win the final three games and the match!
This match, between the 2017 and 2018 US Championship winners, was another which featured spectacular turnarounds. Wesley opened with a smooth win in the first game, but in Game 3 Sam hit back in similar style. Then he had a crushing advantage in the next game, until disaster struck.
A lesser man might have crumbled after that, but Sam hit straight back to win with the black pieces. Wesley followed up with another win, however, this time in 17 moves, and that really was the end. The world no. 8 won the next two games as well to clinch the match and set up a semi-final against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got off to a perfect start when he spotted that Grigoriy Oparin’s rook move left the c-pawn a chance to race to its goal. All that was needed was to give up a rook!
Maxime followed up with two more wins, but then a blunder in Game 4 was a glimmer of hope for Grigoriy: “It's time to start the comeback, guys! He also blunders!"
It really should have been 3:2 after Grigoriy missed countless winning chances in the draw that followed (often spotting and talking about the best moves before playing something else), and in Game 6 as well he was completely winning but spoilt the conversation and allowed a knockout blow.
You can’t keep a guy like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave down for long, and he finished off the match in style after 28…Bg7 (not really a mistake, since after 26…Bh6 27.Qf6! survival was unlikely):
29.Qxg7+! Kxg7 30.e6+! and the French no. 1 was in the quarterfinals!
So again, the full line-up is:
Carlsen vs. Giri (Friday 16:30 CEST)
Grischuk vs. Aronian (Thursday 19:00 CEST)
Caruana vs. Liem Quang Le (Friday 20:00 CEST)
MVL vs So (Thursday 22:00 CEST)
The semi-finals will then be on Saturday and the final on Sunday. Don’t miss all the games live here on chess24!
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