“It was three and a half games that were pretty solid and then insanity ensued!” said Magnus Carlsen after scraping home to beat Anish Giri 3.5:2.5 in the first set of the Chessable Masters final. A trademark Carlsen endgame win in Game 2 had looked like being enough until Giri managed to win on demand with the black pieces in Game 4. He almost took the lead before Magnus sealed victory in a final blitz game where he disconnected for almost two minutes. Magnus now has a chance to win the title on Saturday.
Here’s the day’s live commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Anna Rudolf and Erwin l’Ami, with a cameo appearance by Jan Gustafsson:
The day would turn into a thriller (replay the games with computer analysis):
Magnus Carlsen summed up how the four rapid games had gone as his long-awaited final against Anish Giri began:
I’m really happy with the fact that I managed to pose a lot of questions in the second game from a relatively innocuous position, and also that I handled the first game relatively well at least for a while in a complicated position – it just took me too much time – and then the third game was a solid draw. In general it was quite good and I felt like he had very, very few winning chances in those games, and it just took one moment of insanity in the 4th game to turn everything around.
You can watch his joint post-day interview with Anish Giri below:
Anish stuck to the new tradition of preparing for a crucial battle by posting a photo of a horse:
In Game 1 both players came out fighting, with their respective king positions in tatters by move 16:
As Magnus mentioned, it seemed that he handled the tricky position well, but both finalists were down to under two minutes by move 24:
24…Nd3!? looks like a powerful move, and Black still had some chances later, but 24…Be2! instead is close to winning for Black. After 25.Qxe2 Qxf4 White has nothing better than eliminating the d2-pawn with 26.Qxd2, but then Black exchanges queens on d2 and forks the two white rooks with Nb3. Black would be up an exchange “with the compensation as well”.
The game eventually fizzled out into a rook ending with equal material and a Twitter user was able to recycle the, “My boy Anish Giri snatching a draw from the jaws of victory,” that Magnus had tweeted when Giri let a win slip vs. Alexander Grischuk earlier in the event.
As we’d see, any doubts about whether FantasyChess points should be allocated for one of the players tweeting during a mini-match would later vanish.
If that was a tough blow for Magnus he didn’t show it, as he got straight back to doing Magnus things in Game 2. Giri had felt he was doing ok until the players reached this position in an Anti-Berlin with 4.d3:
Giri said, “this knight on c3 led me to believe that the position is completely ok,” while Magnus agreed that the fact “it looks so stupid” is a good way to lure opponents into a false sense of security. The problem for Black is that the knight can move, and after 28.Nb1!, heading via d2 and f3 for the isolated pawn on e5, Giri sank into a 6-minute think. He described his position as “awful” and initially didn’t find the best defence, but ultimately came very close to making a draw.
43…Ra4! is the clearest drawing move, while 43…Rc1?, which Giri explained as a “cultured” move aiming to meet 44.Kf4 with 44…Rf1+, was losing to 44.Rd8! followed by Ra8. It turns out the combined a and e-pawns can't be stopped, with tablebases announcing it’s already mate-in-44 with best play after 43…Rc1. Resignation came on move 62.
Magnus balked at the suggestion that it was a shocking mistake by Giri, however, explaining:
You can talk about shock all you want, but, for Yasser and Erwin (Giri had just said how tricky it was), I guess it’s a draw, but this is not a trivial draw by any means. As long as you cannot force it, then it’s never easy.
Magnus now had the lead, and the extremely solid draw he made with the black pieces in Game 3 made it clear he had absolutely no intention of relinquishing that lead. All he needed to clinch the first set was a draw with White in Game 4, but Giri’s Sicilian succeeded in creating an interesting position that accidentally set up a deep trap after 20…Nb4:
Magnus here thought for six minutes, during which he looked at a forcing line after 21.Qd1 that ended with Black a pawn up but in a very drawish position. The World Champion might have gone for that, but as he explained:
I was calculating all of this, but I genuinely thought 21.cxb4 was winning!
And so he went down the rabbit hole. After 21.cxb4!? Bxd4 22.bxa5 Bxf2+ 23.Kf1 Qd4 he instantly played his intended 24.Qxc6? in a position where it was still possible to grovel for a draw with a move like 24.Qc3:
The move Magnus (and at first Anish) expected was 24…Bh4 25.g3! Bxg3 26.Qf3! with Magnus even calculating some very deep winning lines there that caused Anish to exclaim, “Magnus calculates as much as Peter Svidler, apparently!”
Anish had spotted a crude refutation, however – the “anti-positional” 24…Bxe1! 25.Bxe1 (25.Kxe1 Qg1# is mate) 25…Qxb2! and the double attack on e2 and a1 wins a piece!
A stunned Magnus paused a minute, played the meaningless 26.Bf3 and resigned.
GM Pascal Charbonneau looks in more detail at that moment:
I was very happy to win the one in the rapid. I don’t think Magnus ever lost, maybe he did but I don’t recall him losing, with White in a must-draw, so it’s something to remember and keep in mind for the future battles.
There was no retweet this time for Anish!
Other watching grandmasters were stunned at what we’d witnessed:
That meant a set that had seemed all but decided was level again and went to two 5+3 blitz games, with Magnus needing to recover fast. Anish commented, “then I was hoping you were being more tilted than you were in the next game,” to which Magnus was disarmingly honest as he admitted, “I was not so much tilted as nervous, I would say!”
It was another game full of twists, as Giri built up an edge with the white pieces but admitted to missing a trick (25…Rxd3! 26.Rxd3 Ba6) that simplified the position. He got another chance, however, as Magnus carelessly allowed queens to be exchanged into a rook ending. One moment both the commentators and players brought up was after 60…Rd7:
Anish played 61.Rb5, when he said he’d forgotten about 61…Ra7!. He called 61.Ra4! “a completely winning endgame,” though it’s not clear how easy the win would be against best play, while in the game there were also more chances for White later on. In any case, we had bare kings on the board and a draw on move 81, meaning we went into the final blitz game before Armageddon with the scores still level.
Magnus had White, but the advantage that gave him seemed in question after 4…Bxc3+:
Here, in a position with only one conceivable move, 5.bxc3, Magnus spent 1 minute and 39 seconds (the players started with 5 minutes on their clocks). The explanation was that Magnus had completely lost his internet connection and took some time to get it back. How did that affect him?
To be fair I think it affected Anish more! On the one hand, it’s very unpleasant to lose two minutes because you don’t have internet, but on the other hand, just sitting there waiting, not knowing what’s happening, it’s also not pleasant at all.
Anish said he was “completely confused”, and joked, “I didn’t know if I’m supposed to give the queen like Magnus did against Ding!” He later added:
I was thinking you were so tilted you wanted to berserk (to half your own time, usually in return for more points if you win online) and beat me. Then you didn’t drop to half the time, you dropped just a bit, and I was thinking maybe I should drop back the time, but then I thought maybe not, and the moves I was making… what the hell I was doing? I went 9…h5?!, 10…Qe7, 14…Qc7. It was such a disaster. I was completely lost. This was ridiculous.
Anish did return 35 seconds on the clock, and the way he played
allowed Magnus to show a brilliant concept.
21.Qf3!, offered an exchange sacrifice, and when Giri rejected that with 21…Qe7 Magnus insisted with 22.h5!:
After 22…Nxf4 23.Qxf4 White was doing very well, but in keeping with the match so far there would be more twists. 27.Be2!, as Giri pointed out, would have defended the h5-pawn and prevented what followed, but after 27.Rb1? Anish was right back in the game after his own exchange sac 27…Rxf6!
Magnus had to win the game again and, with some help from his opponent, he did. After 34…Kd7 it was clear White was close to victory:
Our commentators pointed out that if White could get the bishop onto the h3-c8 diagonal he’d win, but with the g4-square covered how could that be achieved? Magnus came up with a brilliant solution: 35.Bxf7! Rg4+ 36.Kh2 Rf4 37.Kg3! (“very clever” – Giri) 37…Rxf6 38.Bh5 Rf4 39.Bg4+! Mission accomplished:
There was one more small slip that could have been costly near the end (47.Kf2? allowed 47…c3!), but Magnus went on to complete a win his previous play had deserved:
Pascal has taken a look at the whole game:
“Happy to win, obviously, but that was insane!” was how Magnus summed up his day at the office.
With the match built-up as a Twitter trash-talk duel there was some pressure on the players. Anish commented:
At some point expectations are so high that you just have to do it to deliver to the people - that was basically the point. It would be a downer if we have this match and then nothing happens on Twitter and everybody’s like, “well, what was the whole point?” So I have to deliver.
Magnus was asked if he’d been checking during the games:
I haven’t actually seen anything yet, but the thing is I will check it afterwards and I will come up with something less witty in reply, probably.
Judge for yourselves!
A question on Magnus’ Fantasy Premier League standing among 7.5 million people got an answer few could have predicted!
Right now I’m sharing 8th place with a person who has the very nice username of Magnum Dong Carlsen. I’m actually sharing the place with this person, which I feel is kind of appropriate. No, I’ve activated my wildcard and it’s going to be great. It’s going to be a side plot for tomorrow.
Magnus wasn't making this up...
The main plot on Saturday, however, is whether Magnus can win a 3rd match in a row 2:0 and win a 2nd of three events on the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour. Giri will of course be going all-out to stop him!
Tune in to all the Carlsen-Giri action from 15:30 CEST here on chess24.
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