Reports Jun 27, 2019 | 11:36 AMby Colin McGourty

Croatia GCT 1: If Giri’s 2800, Magnus is 2900 (GK)

Magnus Carlsen beat Anish Giri in just 23 moves with the black pieces as the watching Garry Kasparov compared the current World Champion’s form to both himself at his best and Bobby Fischer in 1970-72. The way Giri crumbled in the space of a few moves was repeated as Vishy Anand and Ding Liren lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi and Wesley So, while Hikaru Nakamura seemed to suffer an opening disaster in his loss to Fabiano Caruana. It was a red-hot start, both inside and outside the venue!

It took five years for Carlsen to wipe away a loss to Giri, but he now leads by 4:1 in their classical encounters | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s English live commentary with Yasser Seirawan, Jovanka Houska, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley. We’ve cued it up to start with Anish Giri’s post-game interview, which was swiftly followed by Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov (we’ve also embedded the Kasparov interview separately later in the article):

Giri 0-1 Carlsen: “Playing the man instead of the position”

Can you ask Garry Kasparov to take back a move? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Garry Kasparov made the first move 1.e4 for Anish Giri in the Novinarsky Dom in Zagreb, and, true to the new Carlsen we’ve seen since the London World Chess Championship, Magnus responded with 1…c5. He’s become the leading Sicilian player on the planet, but he can still surprise his opponents. 3.Bb5 was met not with 3…g6, as in the match and subsequently, but 3…e6, and by move 7 the players were in almost unchartered territory. 7…f6 would be rare, but 7…d6!? was even rarer, played once last year in a European Championship game where Alexei Fedorov used it to beat Alexander Motylev, but not because of the opening:


Magnus commented of the move:

I must admit that I simply didn’t know the position very well. I only knew that 7…f6 was the main move, but I assumed he was kind of prepared for that. 7…d6 was really a case of just playing the man instead of the position. I thought that d6 was such a stupid move that he wouldn’t have looked at it, and I felt that the resulting positions were just completely unclear. It was not at all obvious that they were bad for me, so I thought that would be a very good thing for me, just to get him out of book and to get an unclear position from the get-go. As the game showed, it proved to be a good strategy.

Magnus went on to call his whole idea, “a bit of a bluff”, but Garry Kasparov, who said he’d talked about similar positions with the Norwegian when they were working together a decade ago, was having none of that:

It was nice for Magnus to say that, but it’s not about bluffing, it’s about better understanding of the game of chess! (…) Basically what Magnus did is just – translating his joke into a serious statement – is that he created a position that was highly-unbalanced. (…) Before he attacked he created conditions for that attack. He created conditions for the attack because Giri couldn’t play this unbalanced position, so his greatest decision was actually to play d6, to go for this unbalanced position which machines didn’t like for Black, but again, he was not fighting the machine, he was playing another human.

Carlsen and Kasparov find time to chat while Giri gives an interview | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Giri thought almost 40 minutes over his next two moves, but it was only after 11…Ba6! that he felt things were beginning to go awry:


I missed Ba6 and then suddenly it’s huge. After this already I have to allow something that I don’t want.

Anish was reluctant to allow the ending after 12.g3 Bxc4 13.dxc4 Qxd1+, but compared to what he ultimately got in the game that would have been a dream scenario. As Magnus later commented:

I’m trying to play enterprisingly and I really think he was kicking himself pretty early on in the opening for not playing some positional, quiet line instead, because I felt like pretty early on we were getting a dogfight and that was always going to be good for me!

Sergey Karjakin chimed in:

12.Qf3!? Bxc4 13.Qxc6+ Kf8 14.dxc4 Nxh4 15.0-0 Nf5 was already highly double-edged, while here Giri’s 16.Ne2?, defending against the threat of Nd4, came in for universal criticism, including from the man himself.


Giri: Maybe this move Ne2 was the pivotal moment, because you should play a little more active, the pieces should go forwards not backwards.  

Carlsen: I think it was very much about this move Ne2, which I felt was really, really poor. He has to develop his pieces somehow. My whole idea was obviously a bit of a bluff. I didn’t know whether it would be good for me or not, but it looked interesting, and a little spooky for him, since he’s always kind of getting mated, but you cannot play a move like Ne2, since my positional and attacking trumps are so huge anyway. You have to take the fight.

Kasparov: The move Ne2 – “he wants to play Nd4, let me play Ne2” – but that’s not a way to play! Magnus sees the whole board, while even players of Giri’s calibre can see just a fragment of the board… He failed, he failed miserably, and Magnus was quick on the spot with animal instincts – he spotted this weakness, he could smell the blood and he went for the kill.

Giri summed up his play after 15…Nf5 with, “it’s ok to misplay things, but it’s not really called for to lose the game in five moves from this point”. 16.Rd1 Nd4 17.Qe4 f5 18.Qd3 h4! would be no bed of roses for White, but still a double-edged fight, while after 16.Ne2? Rc8 17.Qa4?! (17.Qe4!) 17…Rc7 18.Bf4 Rd7 19.c3? (19.Ng3!) 19…g5! 20.Rad1? Rxd1 21.Rxd1 Qa8! it was the end of the road:

Magnus concluded:

To me it was very, very clear that once I saw this move Qa8 everything just comes together. His knight on e2 is obviously horrible and the knight on f5 is beautiful and his king just has no protection, his queen is out of play on a4 and everything just works for me. Clearly he missed something. As he said he missed Qa8, but it seemed to me that the way he was playing before that was just very, very dubious and it should be punishable.

The game ended swiftly with 22.Bc7 (as both Giri and Magnus pointed out, 22.Be5 runs into 22…Qe4!! 23.Bxh8 Nh4! and there’s no defence) 22…h4 23.f3 h3 White resigns

Giri was asked about Carlsen’s phenomenal recent play:

I think lately he’s a little bit of a mirror. He’s showing you your stupidity, to all his opponents. From his point of view he probably played well, but of course I shouldn’t be losing this, even to an engine - I shouldn’t be losing it so fast.

Larger than life 

We’re very lucky to have had such detailed commentary from both the participants and Garry, but for a full move-by-move account of the game check out this analysis by Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca:

You also shouldn’t miss Garry Kasparov’s interview with Maurice Ashley in the wake of that game:

One question Maurice asked was whether Magnus, currently on a live rating of 2876.2, can break 2900:

Most likely! Let’s say, he deserves it. Every point will be more and more difficult, because don’t forget, every loss brings him down dramatically. Every draw brings him down. I used to fly in this kind of universe, having my rating 100+ points over the average, even 150 over the average, so it’s a tough challenge, but I think Magnus thrives on challenges. It’s numbers and numbers, but if Giri’s 2800, Magnus is definitely 2900! He’s playing at that strength.

Garry was happy for the way Magnus had refuted the idea that “chess is dead”:

If Magnus keeps playing this way, and I’m sure he will, we’ll be entertained. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s important for the game of chess, so that people are entertained. Everybody says, let’s stop playing classical chess, it’s irrelevant, it doesn’t make any sense… it does!

But will there come a point when Garry has to acknowledge that Magnus has surpassed his own chess level?

First of all, I always resisted the idea of coming up with the one best player, because the only way to compare the two players is to put them against each other. So technically we can play now, but it will be a massacre, and thinking about a hypothetical battle, Garry let’s say from 1989 and Magnus 2019, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like bringing Fischer from 1972. He definitely belongs to the greatest of the great. I’m not putting him no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, but the way he dominates chess it reminds us of the three years of Bobby Fischer, 1970-1972, it reminds us of my best years, and I think that’s enough already to recognise his great contribution to the game of chess. And what’s most beautiful, it’s not over!

There was also most definitely no “draw death of chess” on show elsewhere in Zagreb during Round 1:

Caruana 1-0 Nakamura

Caruana and Nakamura after their game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

In the supposedly quiet Queen’s Gambit Declined Fabiano Caruana unleashed a hyper-sharp novelty with 19.Qf5 and 20.h4 in a position where Aronian had twice played 19.0-0 against Nakamura and drawn. Until the pawn grab 24…Qxa3? appeared on the board Fabiano was still in home preparation…


...but curiously, Hikaru also felt this was his preparation:

I’m a bit confused, because he told me after the game that Qxa3 was his preparation, and here I thought that Ng5 is the move – a complete mess.

Computers confirm that 24…Ng5! was the one way to hold the balance, while after 24…Qxa3 White would have been doing well after 25.h6, the move it seems Hikaru expected, but instead Caruana started calculating and found the stronger 25.Rh4! The computer’s best defence here is 25…Rf8, while 25…Ng5 26.h6 Re5 27.Nxf6+! gxf6 28.Qxf6 Qd3+! 29.Ke1 Qd7 was the idea Fabiano said he had to refute before playing the move:


Fabiano was happy to have spotted 30.Nxe4!, but as you can see, and he saw with Maurice’s computer after the game, other moves also win. Instead Nakamura went for 25…Rad8?! when after 26.Nxe4 it was essentially game over – “I just have the two knights and a raging attack for nothing”. 

Nakamura managed to drag things out until move 40, by which time his old coach had left the building. Once again a flank pawn had made it to the 6th rank, in “Alpha-Zero style”, though in this case White would also be winning without the pawn:

When asked to explain all the decisive games in Round 1, Fabiano commented:

Norway had this new system which maybe encouraged players to be a bit safer, to go for Armageddon. I don’t know. It could just be a complete coincidence, or it could be the heat – it is extremely hot outside and inside. So maybe that had some influence, but this was strange.

The heat, and it was approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) in Zagreb during the round, would also be mentioned by the winner of the next game we’ll look at:

Anand 0-1 Nepomniachtchi

It seems the playing hall didn't have an air-conditioning system that could cope with the conditions | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Ian Nepomniachtchi was far from thrilled with how he played the Italian opening in this game, describing himself, with some justification, as “really pessimistic about my position”. It seems all it took to turn the tables, however, was one “very nice move”, 15…a5!


It doesn’t look anything special, but it’s just in time to counter White’s huge attacking threats on the kingside. Nepo pointed out that the point is that 16.g5 hxg5 17.Bxg5 can be met by 17…a4! and after the critical 18.Bxd5 he has 18…c6!:


The bishop is trapped, and although Vishy could play 19.Ne3!? here, or 19.Bc4 b5 20.Ne3!?, it’s an unclear position: “I’m not getting mated – it’s already some sort of good news for me!”

In the game Vishy backed down with 16.Bc2, and after 16…d4 17.g5 hxg5 18.Bxg5 a4 he took a decision that puzzled his opponent:


19.c4!?

c4 was a complete shocker for me! After c4 I can never be worse and this bishop on c2 is more like a pawn.

Nepomniachtchi felt that he already had an excellent structure, and when Vishy went on to make a series of inaccuracies the position rapidly deteriorated from difficult to lost. He resigned on move 32.

Ian commented:

I’m not sure if I was playing really well, because it was too hot in the playing hall, it was pretty much unplayable at some point, but maybe it was one of the reasons why Vishy made some strange decisions, let’s say.


So 1-0 Ding Liren

Hope dies last for Ding Liren against So | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

This was another case of trying to pinpoint where exactly a player went wrong. Wesley So suggested 24…Bc4, taking the pawn on a2 and then consolidating, might have solved Ding Liren’s problems, while in the game 29…Rc8? was a clear point of no return:


30.Rc3! Bg4 31.f3! was simply winning a piece, though Ding Liren played on until move 50. It was a tough start in Croatia after the Chinese no. 1 had scored an unbeaten +2 in classical chess in Norway. Wesley had a theory:

These Chinese players – him and Yu Yangyi – are playing non-stop these days, so he must still be fatigued or jetlagged.

Ding Liren had found time to play and win a 10-game rapid match against David Navara after Norway Chess.

The two remaining games were drawn, with MVL-Aronian a Berlin Endgame that saw Levon come under some pressure in the longest game of the day.

The joys of the Berlin Endgame! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Mamedyarov-Karjakin was the shortest, and although it’s easy to be cynical about another “spectacular theoretical battle” between those two friends it was certainly an exciting game, on the surface. They played the 4.f3 line against the Nimzo-Indian Defence that Sopiko covered in her recently published video series:


Sopiko recommends the move 7.Nh3 for her repertoire, noting that one of the reasons for not going for 7.e5 was the convincing draw that Karjakin showed here after playing 7…Ne8 in the 2014 Candidates Tournament. Ding Liren also played that move to beat Mamedyarov in the Norway Chess blitz a couple of weeks ago. The players mentioned their Candidates game afterwards, but here Karjakin pulled a surprise with 7…exd5, a move after which, as Mamedyarov put it, “Black needs to know everything well for a draw”.

The pressure to remember | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Karjakin did, more or less (he said he’d looked at it with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Caruana’s current coach, back in 2013), while Mamedyarov came up with the memorable phrase:

Maybe I am too old to remember everything in chess.

Aren’t we all! The game ended in a repetition in 27 moves:

It feels like we need a rest day to recover from that first round, but the players get right back into action on Thursday, when the weather forecast is for things to get even hotter. On the chess menu we have Carlsen-Anand, a match-up that’s already seen two Carlsen wins and two great escapes for Vishy in classical chess this year. Nepomniachtchi-Carlsen will be an early clash of the leaders.

Don’t miss all the action here on chess24, where we’re going to have commentary in English, Russian, German and Spanish from 16:30 CEST!

See also:


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