Reports Jul 3, 2020 | 8:03 AMby Colin McGourty

Chessable Masters 12: It’s on! A Carlsen-Giri final

“See you in the final!” said Magnus Carlsen a week ago after Anish Giri joined him in topping a Chessable Masters preliminary group, and the prophecy has now been fulfilled! Magnus sealed a place in the final by beating Ding Liren in two sets, but Anish needed a decider against Ian Nepomniachtchi. He got off to a rocky start when Ian came out punching and won the first game, but a blunder by Nepo in the next game levelled the scores before Anish clinched victory in the last game before Armageddon.

Giri and Nepo traded blows from the very start

Relive the day’s action with the live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler and Anna Rudolf, with Harikrishna joining for the second half:

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The Chessable Masters began with 12 players split into two groups, and after three days Magnus Carlsen had won the A Group with wins over Harikrishna, Hikaru Nakamura and Daniil Dubov but also a loss to Dubov. A day later, and Anish Giri had won the B Group, drawing eight games but beating Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren (after a disconnect). Magnus was on hand to congratulate his frenemy!

The players advanced to an 8-player knockout in which they could only meet in the final. Magnus needed just six games to beat Caruana in the quarterfinal while Giri’s victory over Alexander Grischuk included the rare feat of winning a set with seven draws, the final one in Armageddon!

That left the semifinals:

We now know destiny does exist! First Magnus brushed aside Ding Liren, winning in two sets with the loss of only a single game – the one he gifted to his opponent in four moves after Ding lost a drawn position to a disconnect.

In the other semi-final Giri won the first set 3:1 and had gone 26 games unbeaten until he lost the 27th game as Nepo hit back to take the 2nd set. That meant it all came down to a decider on Thursday, which would eventually go the way of the Dutch no. 1 (replay all the games here):

The start, especially, was spectacular, with Anish commenting:

It takes two players to play exciting chess, so that’s why I'm grateful to Ian for allowing such interesting games.

Don’t miss his very memorable post-match interview:

Let’s take the games in chronological order 1.

Game 1: An explosive start

Giri explained his approach on Day 3 of his semi-final:

Today I decided to go for some more playable positions. In a way it worked out. On the first day I won by force in one of the games, out of the opening, so I tried to repeat the same thing, but it’s clear you cannot win by force every day, so I decided today maybe I just try to play chess, and I’m glad it worked out.

It may have worked out in the end, but in the first game a tactical skirmish right out of the opening clearly hadn’t gone in Giri’s favour:

Black has no tactical solution and after 14…Bg6 15.Bf5 the knight on b8 was left without any square to which it could develop. White’s advantage grew and grew until the critical 22…Bf6:

The brilliant and logical conclusion of the game would have been for Nepo to play 23…Rh8+! Kxh8 24.Qh4+ Kg8 25.Qh7+ Kf8 26.Bc5+!

All that is absolutely forced, and if Black has to play 26…Qxc5 it’s clear White is winning. Perhaps Ian saw some ghosts after 26…Re7 or 26…Be7 but, as you can see, White wins fast and by force in those lines.

After thinking for 2.5 minutes, however, Ian played 23.Kg1?, allowing 23…Bxg5!, when Black has every right to expect to survive the game. After 24.Bxg5 Nc6! (finally the knight was out) 25.Be3 Black could have stabilised with 25…Qe6!, but instead 25…Ne5 26.Qh3 Nc4? was a blunder played with just 15 seconds remaining on the Dutchman’s clock. Soon White was crashing through again!

There was to be one more twist after the seemingly crushing 31.Rxc4? from Nepo:

Giri played 31…Rh8 and resigned after 32.Qxg7+ Qxg7 33.Re4+, but it turns out he would have been right back in the game after the amazing 31…Qe1+! 32.Kh2 Qe5+! 33.Kh3 bxc4 34.Re3 Qxe3+ 35.fxe3 Kf6!

It’s not the kind of nuance anyone’s likely to find with seconds on their clock, but the logjam on the h-file forces White to give up the bishop, since 36.Bf4 would lose to 36…Rh8. The computer recommends 36.Bxg7+, when Anish might well have survived.

Game 2: Brilliancy and blunder

So Anish needed to mount a comeback and, as Magnus had so often done before him, he turned to the London System. Initially his position looked very promising, but he seemed to have gone astray before Ian found a move that had our commentators waxing lyrical:

It’s counterintuitive, to say the least, to play 30...Kf8! and move your king into the Nd7+ fork, but also logical – the reason Black can’t play Ng3 with the king on g8 is that Rg2 would simply win the knight. Moving the king deals with that, and after some thought Giri chose 31.Nxe4, taking back the pawn and covering g3.

Barely had the commentators stopped praising Nepo, however, when it turned out he’d stumbled into a losing trap:

37.Rxf5! exf5 (played after Nepo spent 27 seconds cursing his mistake) 38.Nf2+ Kf6 39.Nxh1 and it was essentially game over.

Things dragged on, but you got the feeling Anish was enjoying himself.

That meant the match was level, and both players tightened up for the next three games, two rapid and one blitz, where no serious mistakes were committed.

It looked like we were destined for Armageddon, but instead the sudden death arrived a game earlier.

Game 6: Stumbling on a winning attack

For the first 22 moves little foretold how spectacular this game was going to be, but instead of meeting 22…h5 with the solid 23.h4, Anish went for 23.h3!?

He confessed afterwards:

It was a funny moment with 23.h3. I blundered 23…h4!?, in a way, because of course the intent of h3 is to go 24.g4, but then 24…Nxe3+ 25.fxe3 Qg3+. This I didn’t want to allow, but as it happened after 24.gxh4!, one more move (24…Bf6?), and then 25.h5! suddenly it might be good for me. It was not really the plan but it worked out well.

Anish continued his explanation:

Then he started to go for something concrete and I think I’m just first. And in the end, in blitz, such miracles work, but I was fortunate to find this idea that my queen protects h1… It is obvious that this is a position where most likely you are winning, but it’s also clear that it’s the kind of position where you can choke and make a blunder… In blitz it’s 50:50.

Nepo has staked everything on an attack down the h-file, but Giri’s 34.Qxc6! and 37.d5! had not only been about blowing open the black position. He’d foreseen a winning defensive resource:

41.dxe6! meant that after 41…Rh2+ 42.Kg1 Black had no real follow-up, since the queen is guarding the h1-square. “I love it when a plan comes together!” is what Giri almost said:

It’s nice when the most natural moves work out, when it’s a capture and nothing subtle, just capture, capture and it’s very easy to make it work.

It was still a race to give mate, but a race Giri was always winning, with resignation coming when it was mate-in-2:

So we have our dream final:

Magnus must start as the favourite, even if Giri did win their mini-match in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, but favourites don’t always win. Anish referred to Hikaru Nakamura’s unfortunate comments during the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge semi-final against Magnus, comments Daniil Dubov would bring up after winning the final:


He said that quite likely the one who wins this match is going to win the tournament. I think in this case (Giri vs. Nepo), given Magnus’ form, it was sort of quite clear that the one who wins this match was not going to be the one who wins the tournament! Joking aside, he's the favourite always and he's shown good chess in this tournament so far, from what I’ve seen. He beat Fabi and Ding like they're babies, but well, they don't have active Twitter accounts and they haven’t got the social media skills that I possess, so we’ll see what happens!

It was destiny, but what destiny exactly?

It was clear that it was destined that we play in the final, but I think we've never mentioned what the final destiny is. Am I to qualify to the final to lose to him or am I to qualify to the final to beat him? What is the destiny, what is the purpose of this? I hope he'll think about it and I'll think about it as well and then let's see what happens.

Anish warmed to the theme:

I'm looking forward immensely. I've gained a lot of confidence in the last few rounds, particularly today. I've proven that I can also beat someone in a game of chess. I don't need preparation, I don't need any extra equipment that is not necessary, so I'm looking forward to test myself against Magnus. It’s going to be challenging.

Some final words:

I hope I'm going to give at the very least a good fight, because I know Ding and Fabiano are so strong and they were crushed. I'm definitely hoping to believe in myself and, as Magnus knows, if he's going to blunder, very likely I'm going to pick it up, so the pressure is on!

As before, the match is held over three sets, starting on Friday and potentially lasting until Sunday. The winner picks up $45,000 and the runner-up $27,000, while if Giri wins, then an automatic place in the $300,000 4-player Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Grand Final may well be worth more.

If Magnus wins it would be his second tour success, opening up a place in the final to a player who hasn’t won an event – at the moment that would be Hikaru Nakamura, but Ding Liren could overtake him when he plays in the Legends of Chess event later this month. Hikaru didn’t finish in the Top 4 in the Chessable Masters and therefore didn’t qualify – as you can see, their quarterfinal match may have been even more important than it seemed at the time!        

If you haven’t done it yet, there’s still time to fill out the FantasyChess bracket for the final! Then get the popcorn ready and tune into all the Carlsen-Giri action from 15:30 CEST here on chess24.

See also:

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