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Reports Nov 18, 2022 | 5:37 PMby Colin McGourty

MCCT Finals 4: Carlsen beats Giri 3:0 to take sole lead

Magnus Carlsen leads the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals by 3 points after he beat Anish Giri 3:0 in Round 4 while Jan-Krzysztof Duda fell to Liem Le. Anish commented, “today was the day when I found out what’s broken,” as he saw lessons in a defeat full of hard-to-explain decisions. Wesley So won a second match in a row, against Praggnanandhaa, while Arjun Erigaisi picked up his first win, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

The final event of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour crossed the halfway stage on Thursday, with none of the Round 4 matches going to tiebreaks.

Watch the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals live here on chess24!

The fastest match of the day was the most anticipated clash, between Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri. Magnus had the black pieces and played the French Defence (“it’s good to keep him guessing”), but admitted he’d missed 13.a4, noting “after that I’m pretty busted!”

The pawn was a target, but one Magnus pointed out would require something like six moves to capture and then reorganise afterwards.

He felt he was helped, however, when Anish pushed 16.f5!? and, a few moves later, Black could change targets with 20…Nd7, aiming for the f6-pawn instead.

There were some twists, but Magnus managed to stabilise, so that Rustam Kasimdzhanov was commenting that in Giri’s shoes he’d be looking to sacrifice something… just when Anish gave up a piece with 24.Bxc4!?

Objectively it wasn’t good, but Magnus described the ensuing positions as “a mess” and he had a lot of work to do before he clinched victory with the elegant 36…f3!

The threat is suddenly Qg3+ and checkmate to follow, while if the queen takes the pawn the knight on d7 simply falls.

Going by the players’ statements the day before that was an ominous win. Magnus had commented after beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 3:0, “I think anybody would struggle if I win the first game and I’m feeling ok!”, while Anish Giri told Tania, “Usually with Magnus either you get crushed or it gets close!”

Game 2 followed the same scenario of Anish doing well in the opening but then losing his way, before in an unpleasant but still close to equal position he went for the puzzling 20…Kf8?

Anish would later say he was 100% sure this was a bad move as he played it, but he couldn’t have expected the beautiful punishment that followed. Magnus withdrew one bishop to the back rank, then the other, and suddenly Black was completely busted.

There’s nowhere for the rook to hide, and after 23…Rb1 24.Bc2 Rb5 25.Bh6+ Kg8 26.Ba4 Magnus was winning an exchange and the game. That made it six wins in a row.

It was the final game that really summed up the day, however. Anish had to win on demand and Magnus admitted that “once again I was busted from the opening”. Everything was going right for Anish, and he was getting praise from Peter Leko, not only for his chess.

Magnus felt 20.Nc1!? “missed the mark completely” (he suggested 20.h4), but the computer claims White still had a big advantage until Anish made a controversial choice on move 22.

Peter was stunned that Anish was contemplating this decision and not simply blitzing out 22.Rxe5, and said both that he might not speak to Anish again if he played 22.dxe5, and that he would have bet his house on 22.Rxe5.

3 minutes passed, however, and Anish did indeed go for 22.dxe5?!, horrifying Peter, who added, “I’m a broken man” and, “I almost feel like crying, this drives me crazy!”

Magnus tried to spare Anish’s blushes with the explanation, “I think the thing is if he captures with the rook then I can force off the queens, so that’s why he decided to sort of keep the game more complicated”, though it’s not obvious how you could force off queens (22.Rxe5 Qg5 can be met with 23.Qe1!).

Anish was almost as shocked as Peter:

I was about to move Rxe5, and then I thought to myself, if I were a noob I could consider taking with the pawn as well. But obviously any normal person takes on e5 with the rook immediately, and then somehow… generally my whole thinking process today throughout all the games was just so messed up. I’ve never had that. Normally I think something during the games and ok, I miss certain things, but today it was really like something really special, I have to say. It’s really remarkable. It’s like I knew up front the moves I was making were bad…

I literally paused, thinking that a weaker player than me would pause here to consider different captures, but a player like me will take with the rook instantly, and then I take with the pawn. It’s really like next level. I went very deep with my thinking, but it’s just so messed up. I don’t know, instead of making a move that comes to mind I’m going like meta, and it’s really backfiring.

After 22.dxe5?! Bb5 23.b3 Qg5 the attempt to avoid an exchange of queens with 24.Qb4? ran into 24…Rc2 25.a4? Nxg3!

Here Anish stopped and thought for over six minutes, but it was too late. As Magnus commented:

I don’t know what he missed there. Probably Nxg3, but that’s really not a hard thing to spot. All my pieces are super-active and all his pieces are passive, so it’s not a shocker that there’s a combination there.

After 26.axb5 Rfxf2 27.Ne2 it was mate-in-9 to play 27…Nxe2+ but Magnus got the job done just as well with 27…Rfxe2, going for a line where he ends by forcing an exchange of queens into a totally won endgame (the b3-pawn can run, but it can’t hide).

Magnus was flying after scoring 7 wins in a row, but Anish found a remarkable way of seeing the positives. He used an analogy:

Let’s say your car makes a lot of noise and then you don’t know what’s going on, you bring it to different car dealers and you ask them what’s up, and finally you bring it to a dealer and then he tells you, an engine’s broken. And you think, ok, it’s a bad day, but it’s not really a bad day. This may be a good day because finally you discover what was the issue. So then you’re probably going to fix the engine and everything’s going to be fine. I think today was the day when I found out what’s broken.

He continued:

Honestly at some point I was thinking that maybe because my results are not so good against him maybe he’s just a superior player, but today I realised there is definitely more to it than his being the superior player. I think it was useful for me, and I’m sure next time I’ll play better, because I think it’s not possible to play worse!

The day got better for Magnus when his co-leader Jan-Krzysztof Duda fell to Liem Le, in what was arguably the day’s most exciting match. It began in Game 1, where Duda came very close to winning what had started as a slightly worse endgame.

In Game 2, however, it was Duda who was in trouble both on the board and on the clock, until he found an amazing escape by the narrowest of margins.

51…b1=Q+ 52.Bxb1 Kxe6 53.Bxa2+ Kxe7 54.Bd5! and Jan-Krzysztof had a fortress. In fact for one move later on Liem had a chance to win (91…Ke4!), but it was an impossible nuance for such a time control, and the 106-move draw that followed was fair.

Liem confessed to being upset, and would have been even more upset if he’d allowed Duda to escape in Game 3 as well.

Instead of the winning 34.Rxg7+! he went for 34.Rg3?! and was hit by 34…g5!

That defence almost held, but later on Duda missed some chances in time trouble and finally Liem took the lead with a nice finish that exploited the fact the black queen was pinned.

In a must-win 4th game Duda played the Trompowsky, and even when he ended up much worse he still managed to extend the game to move 71 before finally admitting defeat. Liem commented:

It’s a big win because he had been doing so well in this tournament. The previous matches he won very convincingly, so I told myself I should just try to enjoy the games and try to play my best.

Liem is up to 3rd place, while Wesley So is just behind him in 4th after picking up a 2nd win in a row, this time against 17-year-old Indian prodigy Praggnanandhaa, of whom he said, “he’s so young he could almost be my son!”

Wesley, who will be playing against Pragg in 11 days’ time in the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid & Blitz in Kolkata, commented:

I first met Pragg six years ago in Wijk aan Zee and he was so little, he was with his mum, and I couldn’t have imagined he would become so strong so quickly. So it’s good to see that India has a lot of young talents. China is doing very poorly right now, they have almost zero chess players, but at least other countries are picking up the pace, and after this tournament I’m going to play in India, so I’m very excited for that, and competing against all the young talents.

There wasn’t so much to be said about their match in Miami, since the 1st and 2nd games were close, hard-fought draws, before both players felt Praggnanandhaa had overpushed in Game 3.

Pragg, playing White, should be in no way worse, but here he went for 25.f3!?, later commenting, “I think the position where I went f3 is kind of dangerous for me”.

In fact after 25…h5!? (25…exf3!) it would have been strong to play 26.fxe4!, but Pragg went for 26.Na5, allowing 26…exf3, and then followed up with the risky 30.Qd6 and 31.Nxc6. After 31…h4 it was already the moment of truth.

It turns out 32.Nxd5! is still enough to draw, but 32.Ne2? was already a losing move. 32…Nh5! suddenly left White with no defence, as Wesley was merciless.

Needing to beat Wesley So on demand with the black pieces is about the toughest place you can be in chess, and Pragg never came close in Game 4.

The day’s other result saw Pragg’s 19-year-old Indian colleague Arjun Erigaisi finally get off the mark with a 3:1 win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. In fact Arjun was also winning in the two games he drew, while the final game featured some spectacular tactics, both played and missed.

29.Be5! would have won on the spot, since 29…Rxe5 runs into 30.Qd8+, but the fact Arjun missed that trick meant he got to play it in an even more beautiful setting a few moves later.

33.Be5+! was now mate-in-2. If the bishop captures on e5 the e8-rook is en prise, while either rook capture is met by Qf6+ and Qxg7#.

Finally that win, and the 3 points and $7,500 it brought, was a good reason for Arjun to have stayed up to 5am, while it was 3:30am for Shakhriyar. They’re now level in last place, while Magnus Carlsen has taken a 3-point lead — and also picked up $30,000 for his perfect 12/12 start.

There are now just 3 rounds to go, with Magnus Carlsen taking on Liem Le in Friday’s Round 5, while Jan-Krzysztof Duda takes on PraggnanandhaaWesley So will be looking for a 3rd win in a row, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, while Anish Giri's first chance to fix his engine will come against Arjun Erigaisi.

The games begin at 12 noon in San Francisco (15:00 ET, 21:00 CET, 01:30 IST).

Watch the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals live here on chess24!

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