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Reports Jul 5, 2020 | 12:18 AMby Colin McGourty

Magnus wins Chessable Masters despite “performance to forget”

Magnus Carlsen beat Anish Giri 2.5:1.5 to clinch the Chessable Masters title and $45,000 first prize with a day to spare. The World Champion called it an “excellent tournament”, and he began with a beautiful win in the first game of the final day, but after that he admitted it was “about survival”. Anish was outright winning in two of the next three games and much better in the third, but could only draw each game, admitting the blow that sealed victory for Magnus was “really painful”.

Rewatch the final day of the Chessable Masters, with Yasser Seirawan, Peter Svidler and Anna Rudolf:

It's the last chance to Go Premium with the code STUDYCHESS and get 40% off! 

Magnus had won Friday’s first set and the question was whether Giri would win on Saturday and force a decider on Sunday…

…or whether Magnus would complete a 2:0 clean sweep (with brooms...) as he’d done in his previous two knockout matches.

It would turn out to be the latter, with Giri added to a short list of very high profile victims:

The final day was anything but smooth, however. You can replay the games here.

And here’s the post-tournament interview of Giri and Carlsen:

Game 1: An online masterpiece

When Magnus played a move that got him into trouble in the final game of the day he explained he’d done it because he was sure, “it was what my notes said”. Anish responded, “You had to fire Peter Heine a long time ago, that’s quite obvious!”, referring to Magnus’ coach Peter Heine Nielsen. Magnus hit back:

Sometimes, yes, but when you consider the first game, maybe not!

Anish claimed he’d also had notes on the 17.d5!? 18.e5!? idea played by Magnus, but they were old notes based on old hardware that he hadn’t rechecked.

Magnus could watch as his opponent squirmed… or take a quick nap!

By the time Giri responded to 21.h4! he’d already used up 10 minutes:

The World Champion wasn’t volunteering much information about his preparation, but he did say it included this pawn advance that we’re now so used to attributing to AlphaZero, while Giri’s 21…Rcd8? “probably isn’t a great move”. The point seems to be that the rook move meant that now after 22.f3! the knight could no longer go to c3, and potentially b5, but was forced to c5.

Magnus called Black’s position, “practically impossible to play” low on time when you don’t know what to do, and White was soon much better until 29…Rd8? allowed the blockbuster 30.e6!

With the knight covering the g7-square, Black can’t play Qxg3 without allowing Rxd8 mate. 30…Qc1+ 31.Kh2 Rxd4 solved the immediate problem, but after 32.e7! the e-pawn was an unstoppable monster. 32…Qc8 33.Qe5! (threatening mate on g7 and supporting the e-pawn) followed, with Giri trying one last swindle 33…Rh4+. After 34.Kg1?? the black queen can give perpetual check from c1, d2 and g5, but 34.Nxh4 works, or the even cooler move played by Magnus, 34.Kg3!

What a start to the day!

Games 2-4: Survival

That seemed like the perfect platform for Magnus to go on and clinch the title, but any hopes of a comfortable day vanished when he suffered a huge scare in Game 2. He was already playing hesitantly in a rare Grünfeld line when his instant 14…Be6? was a game-losing blunder:

15.Qh6! with Ng5 to follow simply wins, which Magnus seemed to spot soon after his blunder. He didn’t show it, however, until Anish replied 15.Bxe6? and Magnus could unleash his disgust and relief:

Giri said that “the most outrageous thing” was that a move earlier he’d looked at 14.Qh6? instead of 14.0-0, which echoed the case of Peter Svidler, who had also previously mentioned the idea of Qh6 Ng5 only to miss it in the key position.

Giri’s other explanation for quickly capturing on e6 was that he felt he would have a “gigantic positional advantage” after 15…fxe6 16.Qe2, missing that after 15…Qxd2! 16.Bxf7+ Rxf7 17. Nxd2 Magnus was actually doing very well in that ending a pawn down. It was White who had to be careful to draw the game, but Anish managed – it was probably fortunate that he only realised what he’d missed when the game was over and he checked it on chess24!

That was only the start of a remarkable sequence of games where Giri dominated, with Magnus summing up, “Frankly he just played a lot better than I did in the last three games and I was lucky to escape”. Or as Ian Nepomniachtchi put it, rubbing some more salt in fresh wounds:

Game 3 at least featured no crude mistakes, but Magnus going for a Maroczy bind structure with pawns on c4 and e4 by move 4 suggested he planned to stabilise with a draw that would take him closer to the title. It backfired, as the pawn structure ended up shattered, with the black pieces ready to apply maximum pressure:

“It’s ugly as,” began Peter Svidler, before eventually settling on, “as my life, as my grandmother used to say!” In this position, however, 30…h4!? may already have been an inaccuracy. Giri admitted he was dreaming of Qe1, Qg3+ tricks, but the move reduced the potential for a kingside pawn storm, while after 31.Qb2 Ra4 32.Qc3 Qxc3 33.Nxc3 queens had left the board.

Magnus wasn’t simply going to collapse, and 37.Nf2! was a nice trick that served to drain the Dutch no. 1’s confidence that he could win the position:

Giri took a draw by repetition beginning 37…Kd8 38.Rb8+ Ke7 39.Rb7.

That meant Anish needed to win on demand with the white pieces in the final game to take the match to blitz tiebreaks, with Magnus choosing the Cambridge Springs Defence.

Once again it didn’t work out, with Magnus responding to the accusation that he’d chosen something too passive:

Obviously this line is by definition a bit passive because you place all your pieces on the last few ranks, but usually there’s a way to break out. I think a combination of him playing very precisely and me not playing very well led to… It wasn’t my intention to play passively, of course, but I think at some point there was just no chance to break out. Maybe the opening choice was a little bit poor considering that I probably have to play very precisely in order to have a decent position there, but it’s got to be said that he played well.

It was one-way traffic, and Giri looked absolutely ready to seize his chance as he correctly went for 28.Nf6+!

After 28…gxf6 29.exf6 Ng6 30.Qe3 Black would be busted, with White having multiple paths to victory. Magnus chose 28…Kf8, but the blows continued with 29.Qg4, after which capturing on f6 would be punished even more harshly. Anish would later lament:

I found so many moves that he clearly must have missed, like Nf6 and Qg4 and Nh5 and Qf4 – all these moves they were so good, and I was already expecting… I sort of deserve already to win at this point, I’d already passed all the hurdles and it’s just time to clinch it.

34.Qc1! instead of 34.Qf3 would have been even stronger, but there was nothing wrong with Giri’s choices until the position after 34…exf5:

35.Nf6!, as Giri saw later, was best, but here he played 35.Qxf5?, falling for the sucker punch of 35…Qe2!, attacking both the rook on d1 and the knight on h5, and just like that, the tournament was over:

There were more lamentations:

It was a huge pity. In the last game I just relaxed. It’s obvious that I’m crushing there in the end, and I relaxed a little, and when I took on f5 suddenly it occurred to me that there’s Qe2, because it looks like not only am I completely winning, but also that there shouldn’t be any counter-tricks. His pieces are so passive and there is just… Qe2 is such a… suddenly it’s just completely gone! That was a huge missed opportunity.

It was credit to Anish that he at least composed himself sufficiently to find 36.Rc1!, the only move that ensured that after 36…Qxh5 there was a draw by perpetual check with 37.Qf6! – the point is that the king can’t escape via d7 as then with the rook on c1, Qxc6+ will be a killer. It was little consolation, however, as the draw meant Magnus had won the set, match and tournament.

It's surprised no-one, but Magnus has been just as dominant online as he was over-the-board:

Magnus admitted the last few games hadn’t been pretty:

Obviously I’m very, very happy to win the tournament and today, as you could all see, at some point it became about survival, nothing else, certainly no style points for today, but I think in general I played a very good tournament. So my overall feeling, even if today was pretty bad, is that it was an excellent tournament. For Anish I can only agree that he’s played very well in this tournament. He’s impressed me a lot, and he put me in a position today where he got a lot of chances. Of course you have to take them, and you’re never going to be happy if you don’t, but to get there even when I’m not playing well is very impressive.

Still, Magnus was nothing but honest when asked if he now considers Giri his main rival:

As for the “bromance”, Anish noted how he’d enjoyed discussing the games with Magnus during the final since often with online matches he misses interaction with his opponent. The World Champion, however, was fine without that interaction:

Most of the time I like it better that way. You play a serious match and then you sit and have a friendly chat afterwards - that’s not my style at all! But I do appreciate actually having an honest and real discussion about the games. That is something that I appreciate, but in general I think there needs to be some kind of balance between having good relations with the other players, but also wanting to beat them. There shouldn’t be a sense among spectators and so on that these players don’t really want to beat each other.

For Giri finishing runner-up was an achievement up there with winning the MrDodgy Invitational, and he summed up:

Normally speaking these knockout tournaments – everybody apart from the winner is a loser and the one who loses the final is the biggest loser of them all because he lost on the main stage. So in that regard it’s unfortunate, but of course I’m very fortunate to have gotten so far actually. I won my qualifying group, then I’ve beaten two very strong rapid players, Alexander [Grischuk] and Ian [Nepomniachtchi], and in its own right I’m very happy about that. 

And sometimes you see games of Magnus where he crushes, let’s say this semi-final and quarterfinal, and then in those matches the opponents can just say, “I played Magnus, he was in good form, it didn’t work out, and that’s it”. But in my case I got really lucky that I got so many chances. Yesterday I used half of them, today I didn’t use any…

The lamentations continued for some time, but life goes on!

The win for Magnus was his second of the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, which now opens up a qualification spot in the Grand Final to someone who hasn’t won a tour event.

That would currently go to Hikaru Nakamura, the runner-up in the Magnus Invitational and Lindores Abbey, but Ding Liren is close behind and could overtake Hikaru when he plays in the next and final qualifying event, the Legends of Chess. The semi-finalists in the Chessable Masters get an automatic invite – Carlsen, Giri, Nepo and Ding Liren – and will be joined by Peter Svidler and five more legends.

That starts on the 21st July, in just over two weeks’ time, and we’ll have more details soon. For now we’d like to thank you for tuning in to the Chessable Masters and hope you enjoyed the show!

See also:

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