Reports Jun 29, 2020 | 8:17 AMby Colin McGourty

Chessable Masters 8: Giri in semis, Naka makes comeback

Anish Giri celebrated his 26th birthday with a 3:1 victory over Alexander Grischuk to set up a Chessable Masters semifinal against Ian Nepomniachtchi and also earn him a place in the Legends of Chess tournament next month. The other quarterfinal was an absolute thriller as Hikaru Nakamura ultimately won the final blitz game and then Armageddon on demand to force a decider on Monday.

Ding Liren vs. Nakamura developed into an epic struggle

You can replay the day’s live commentary with Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler and Anna Rudolf, and the post-game interview with Anish Giri, below:

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It left us knowing the identity of three of the semi-finalists, while Magnus Carlsen's opponent is still to be decided.

Let’s take a look at the day’s action (you can replay all the games here).

Anish Giri 3:1 Alexander Grischuk

Anish Giri was celebrating his 26th birthday…

…and he gift-wrapped himself a present in his match against Alexander Grischuk. After an uneventful draw in the first game of the day, their 8th in a row, Anish was the first to draw blood. It needed some willpower.

Anish could have taken a draw here by repeating moves with 27…Rc8, but later commented, “I resisted the temptation of repeating moves, so that’s something I’m really proud of!” He went for 27…Bxb5! and was richly rewarded, since after 28.axb5 Rc2 29.Bf1 Rb2 30.Rd6 Nc8 31.b6? Rc5! both white b-pawns went on to fall and Black was left with an extra passed pawn.

Anish called what followed a “very sweet conversion”, and also earned high praise from the highest of chess authorities!

Things later got a little awkward:

Game 3 saw Giri safely hold a rook endgame with 3 pawns against Grischuk’s 4 on one wing, while Game 4 got a little out of hand. Anish said he accidentally combined two variations and described himself as “busted” and “strategically lost”. He didn’t even have an edge on the clock:

When he later got a chance to strike, however, he seized it with both hands:

22…Ncb4! suddenly left the white king open to the elements, with Grischuk’s decision to give up his queen with 23.axb4 Nxb4 24.Rxd8 Nxc2 25.Rxa8 Nxe1 the best option in the position. Grischuk needed a win, but objectively the best he could hope for in the game was to force a draw with the Nf6 and Rg8 construction. For that he had to preserve the knight with 26.Nfd2, while 26.Nxe1? ran into a nice variation on the theme of John Nunn’s LPDO (lose pieces drop off) after 26…Qb4!

No less than three loose white minor pieces are attacked, including that vital knight on e4. The game, and match, ended 27.Nd3 Qxe4 28.Rxa7 c6 29.Rxa4 Qxg2 and White resigned.

“I gotta say he put up a very impressive performance!", said Magnus at the beginning of his Banter Blitz session...

...and Anish now plays Ian Nepomniachtchi in the semi-final before a potential final against either Magnus or the winner of Ding Liren vs. Nakamura.

Hikaru Nakamura 4:3 Ding Liren

Magnus also summed up this encounter:

And then in the Nakamura - Ding match we just saw a couple of gladiators exchange blows and Hikaru pulled through, which just showed amazing strength and resilience!

We knew were in for something special from the first game of the day, when Hikaru sprung a surprise with the clever 31.h4!?

31…Qc5 was playable and perhaps best for Black, but the Chinese no. 1 decided that with under a minute left on his clock it was more practical to “fall” for the trap with 31…Nxh4!? 32.Bxh4 Qxh4 33.b3.

The bishop has nowhere to go as Bd7 runs into Qd5+, but after 33…Bxb3! it was actually Ding Liren who, with three pawns for the piece, came closer to a win before a draw was agreed.

The momentum in the match seemed to have switched in Ding Liren’s favour, and in Game 2 it looked as though he had a complete clamp on the position and chances to play for a win. 40.Nb4!? was a step in the wrong direction, however, while 41.Ke1? was an outright blunder – now wasn’t the time for Ding to try one of his favourite tricks of evacuating his king to the queenside:

41…Bxc5! 42.Rxc5 Bh5 and eventually transferring that bishop to e4 was a strong plan, though the computer notes 42…Kg7! followed by Qh8 and invading with the queen immediately may be even stronger. There was no shelter whatsoever for the white king and it was soon hunted down in the middle of the board:

Hikaru now needed only draws to win the set and force a decider, and he duly achieved a draw in the third game, even if the radical pawn sacrifice he went for near the end led to a position where Ding Liren might have played on.

Hikaru then seemed to have everything absolutely under control in the 4th game, until he stumbled at the very end:

60…Ra3! is a clear draw, while 60…Rh1?? lost to 61.Ra2!, with Nakamura resigning after 61…Rb1 62.Ka7. Anish Giri had joined the commentary for that moment, describing what Hikaru had done as “insane” and “so clumsy”, while Hikaru’s facial expressions speak for themselves.

Pascal Charbonneau explains what went wrong:

That meant Hikaru had it all to do again, and he got off to the worst possible start when he lost the first blitz game with the white pieces. Allowing 36…Nd5! by Ding was a mistake, and he went on to collapse in a couple of moves:

37.Bxd5? exd5 38.c4? dxc4! left Black with monster connected passed pawns, since 39.Rxc4? would run into 39…Be6. The world no. 3 didn’t put a foot wrong for the remainder of the game, though his fans may have been given a heart attack by our commentary team, who spotted what seemed to be an amazing win for Hikaru!

51.Qxe8 Rxe8 52.Rxf8+ Rxf8 53.Rxf8+ Kh7 54.g6+ was the beautiful “win”, but it turned out Black can stop that brilliancy with one of his own, 51…Qxf1+! That encouraged Giri to advocate for commentators to use engines, at least surreptitiously!

Meanwhile after 51.g6 Bc5 (51…Qxf1+! was possible here too) Ding went on to score a win that put him just a single draw with the white pieces away from the semi-finals:

Desperate times called for desperate measures and Hikaru began with the Dutch Defence (1.d4 f5). It worked as well as he could have hoped, producing a double-edged position but one where Black was never significantly better until 32.Nd6? allowed 32…Qxf2+!?

That blow visibly upset Ding, who was down to just over a minute on his clock, and in psychological terms may have been stronger than moves such as 32…Qe2 or 32…e4 that the computer claims are even better. It seems the correct response from Ding was to play 32.Kh2!, when the weakness of the black queenside pawns leaves the position close to dynamically balanced. Instead he fell in with Black’s plans with 33.Kxf2?! Be6+ 34.Nf5 Rxf5+ 35.Ke2 Bxd7 36.Rxd7 Rf7 and simply found himself three pawns down.

Ding managed to get back two pawns, but in the time it took Nakamura had pushed a pawn to a3 that was stopped only at the cost of leaving the white rook completely cut out of the action. Nakamura had taken the set to Armageddon:

Hikaru has made a habit of always choosing Black in Armageddon, but in this case it was Ding’s choice since he’d performed better in the preliminary stage. He picked Black himself, meaning that once again he was just a draw away from the semifinals. It was 2:20 am in China and the last game was no thriller, however, since Ding was in bad trouble by move 10:

8…d6! seems to be the move, but Ding went for 8…e6!? 9.e4 d5?, leaving him a pawn down after 10.exd5 exd5 11.cxd5. If there was compensation for Black it soon evaporated, and the Chinese star eventually threw in the towel on move 29!

It’s good for the popcorn people as it means we get to watch a deciding set in the match at the same time on Monday, while if you were wondering what popcorn people look like…

That’s not all we’ve got going on on Monday, as at 14:00 CEST (two hours before the Chessable Masters), we have women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan playing Banter Blitz

See also:

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