Reports Mar 13, 2021 | 9:53 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI 1: Giri beats Carlsen & So to snatch early lead

"Happy Anniversary" tweeted Anish Giri after beating Magnus Carlsen in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational preliminary stage a year after doing the same in the event that started it all in 2020. The Dutch star also ended with a win over Wesley So to finish on 4/5 in clear first place, but despite mouse-slipping 1.c3 Magnus ended the day in second place alongside Levon Aronian. Wesley is joined by Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin in the drop zone, but two days remain to battle for a place in the quarterfinals.

Magnus realises it's all over

You can replay all the moves from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational Prelims using the selector below - click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player's name to see all his results and pairings. 

And here's the day's live commentary from Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev.

And from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.

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We couldn’t have asked for a more combative first day of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, with no less than 25 of the 40 games decisive. There’s too much action to cover, but let’s take a look at how the day went for the top three of leader Anish Giri and second-placed Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian. 

Anish Giri: “Any day when you can beat Magnus is a great day”

Anish Giri just missed out on automatic qualification for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational as number 9 on the overall Meltwater Champions Chess Tour standings, but he made it into the event through a popular vote - or was there more to it than that?

That meant the Dutch no. 1 needed to interrupt his preparation for the Candidates Tournament that resumes in just over a month in Yekaterinburg, Russia. He wasn’t complaining:

I was actually happy to be invited here, because I anyway planned my training in such a way that I would have some time now, and you play anyway some training games with your coaches, seconds and I think this is a perfect opportunity for me to keep sharp, because when you are so long in a training camp, like a month, you start at some point to work so much on chess that you lose the touch of reality, you lose a sense of why you’re doing it. You’re doing so much research work that you turn into a scientist instead of a player, that’s how I feel, so I think it’s good to keep your feet on the ground and get some games going, to realise that you’re preparing for real games, and real games are full of mistakes and full of drama, full of tension. So I’m very happy to take part now and warm up a bit for the Candidates.

He got his day off to a quiet start with a quick and uneventful draw against good friend Teimour Radjabov – Radjabov would end the day unbeaten, a record matched only by Giri and Hikaru Nakamura.

The second game of the day was perhaps the turning point, since it looked set to be a carbon-copy of Giri 0-1 Firouzja from the Skilling Opening Prelims. The first 8 moves of the Sicilian were identical and, as in that game, Giri built up a winning advantage only to blunder it away, this time with 48.Ng4? (the only move 48.Bc5! is +5 according to the computer).

48…Qxb4! suddenly equalised (49.cxb4 Nxb4+ forks the king and queen), and, just as in the Skilling Open, after 49.Qxd5 Qxc3 50.Rf2? g5 it was suddenly Firouzja who was on the verge of winning, with his kingside pawns faster. This time, however, Anish was able to give up a piece for the pawns and force a draw.

In an interview for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, last-minute qualifier Alan Pichot explained he had a lot to gain and nothing to lose from the event. He’s never faced such a field, and noted he’d only ever played Mamedyarov over-the-board, in a blitz game, out of his 15 opponents. He summed up:

What’s coming is very difficult, because the top 8 qualify to the quarterfinals. Obviously that isn’t my goal, because it would be completely illogical. They’re all much better than I am. Some, by too much. I don’t expect any kind of result. If I score 1.5 or 2 points out of 15 I won’t be sad. Everyone will want to beat me because I’m the weakest in the tournament, but that puts no pressure on me. I’ve got to enjoy the opportunity that I was able to take advantage of when a door opened by chance.

For the first two rounds it looked as though Alan might completely over-achieve, since he made comfortable draws against Sergey Karjakin and Radjabov, but he met his match in Round 3, when Giri emerged victorious after finding some critical moves in a sharp Najdorf, an opening on which Anish had made a Chessable course.

Up next was the big one, against Magnus Carlsen. It was approaching a year since the first Magnus Carlsen Invitational, when Anish Giri, during an otherwise disappointing performance, had won a 4-game mini-match against his great rival. The celebration was something special.

This time round it was just a single game, but it soon became tough for Magnus. He later commented:

I guess I played a little bit too carelessly against Anish. I think it was clear from the opening that I had no problems, but then I sort of had an idea to play ambitiously by breaking up the pawn structure and potentially giving me some advantage in the centre, but it didn’t work out at all, and I think he did quite nicely there.

Magnus should probably have steered the game towards one of a number of mildly unpleasant endgames when he had the chance, because the one he eventually ended up in was deeply uncomfortable. It was Anish applying the squeeze Magnus-style, until something cracked in an already borderline lost position.

57…Rxa2? (57…Nd3! was the only hope) ran into a move Peter Leko, as so often, spotted before it happened - 58.Kg4! and suddenly the black king is caught in a mating net.

Anish had done it again and wasn't going to miss the chance to rub it in!

He said in his post-game interview:

Any day when you can beat Magnus is a great day for any chess player’s career, so I’m obviously very happy.

The day was about to get better, as Wesley So, playing for the first time since becoming a US citizen, lost a second game with the white pieces, this time making the kind of tactical oversight that happens very rarely to the reigning US Champion. 28.c4? was already a losing move, and after 28…d4! Wesley probably saw what was coming when he played 29.Rxd4, though there were no good moves.

Giri finished off the game and a great first day with 29…Rxe3! Wesley resigned, since 30.fxe3 Qxe3+ and the d4-rook falls, while 30.Rxd8 doesn’t help due to 30…Re1+! 31.Kh2 Qxd8.

Magnus Carlsen: “The most important thing is to not mess up on the first day”

The headline loss to Giri was not ideal, but otherwise Magnus had a good day at the office…

…even if his fashion choices raised some questions! Magnus pointed out he’d last worn the waistcoat in the press conference before his first World Championship match in Chennai in 2013.

Magnus summed up his day:

I’m just happy to get going. I don’t think I played particularly well but the score is very good, and the most important thing is to not mess up on the first day and that I think I did and some more.

He started with a nice endgame conversion against Jorden van Foreest, and then shrugged off a curious start to his first game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 1.c3!? raised eyebrows, with Peter Leko joking that Magnus might have wanted to repeat the 1.c3 d5 2.Qa4+! that had seen the boxer Klitschko score the moral victory of giving a check against then World Champion Vladimir Kramnik.

Magnus confessed, however, that it had been accidental!

Yeah, that was a mouse-slip. I was just a bit too casual there, but if you’re going to mouse-slip it’s better to do it on the first move. After all, there aren’t many too bad moves you can make. And it certainly made the game interesting after his response, so I was neither too upset nor too worried, to be fair.

Magnus said that if Maxime had replied 1…e5 he might have gone 2.c4 and played the Sicilian with reversed colours, “because why the hell not!”, but after 1…b6 Magnus was able to return to normal with 2.e4 and ultimately win a great game. After 29…Nf6? there was no way back:

30.b5! suddenly introduced the ideas of Nc6, attacking the pinned d8-knight, and Bd2-b4, threatening to exchange off Black’s bishop if it defends the knight. The game ended 30…Ke7 31.Ng6+ Kd7 32.Nde5+ Bxe5 33.Nxe5+ Ke7 34.Bd2! and Black is in complete zugzwang.

That win turned out to be enough to make Magnus the early sole leader on 2/2, since Shakhriyar Mamedyarov failed to win a won position against Daniil Dubov.

It’s hard to criticise the Azerbaijan no. 1, since 66.Be5?, threatening Rc7+ and winning the c2-bishop, looks at first glance to be as good a way as any of trying to finish off the game. But after 66…Rf1!! it turned out there was no escaping Daniil’s diabolical plan. The game ended 67.Rc7+ Kd5 68.Rxc2 Rxf5+ 69.Kxf5 and it’s a draw by stalemate, with the Black king in the very centre of the board! 

Peter and Tania were impressed.

Magnus, meanwhile, already had a minor scare against Alireza Firouzja in Round 3. The 17-year-old might well have thought Magnus was talking about him when he commented the day before:

The game is certainly evolving, especially with computers. That’s made us reevaluate a lot of the truths that we held to be self-evident once upon a time, but I also do feel, and this is going to make me sound a lot older than I am, but I do feel that some of the youngsters today are not too good at the basics. I feel like the generation that I’m a part of, and the generation before, maybe understood the fundamentals of the game a little bit better than the kids do today, and I think that’s partly a result of growing up with the computer rather than a board.

Alireza won a pawn, but he couldn’t make Magnus eat his words as the game ended in a draw by repetition. 

We’ve seen what then happened against Giri, but the World Champion managed to hit back and win the final game of the day against David Anton. The Spanish Champion had had a tough day, blundering in one move against Jorden van Foreest and losing a winning position against MVL, but he also convincingly punished Firouzja for going for a risky opening.

Against Carlsen, Anton soon got the worst kind of passive position with weaknesses you can get against the Norwegian, but he came close to holding until Magnus finally broke through.

He commented afterwards:

I just moved around and eventually, short on time, he messed up, which is the way it often goes. The dream of playing a model game usually goes out the window and then you end up hustling your way to victory instead.   

Levon Aronian: “I love having two bishops”

Levon is the other player in joint 2nd place after bouncing back from the toughest of starts – a loss to his Azerbaijan rival Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

That loss was particularly hard to take since Levon had squandered a winning position, but he dismissed it as “my usual loss in the first round”. He also felt he was in a better emotional state after making public his decision to move to the USA:

I think generally chess players are very emotional people and when you’re at the crossroads or when there is something happening you’re not sure of it’s difficult to concentrate, so I’m happy it’s all in the past and I can concentrate on playing my best.

Aronian immediately bounced back to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi, in what turned out to be the first of three losses for the Russian star. Nepo played the King’s Gambit, but it was hard to blame what followed on that Romantic choice, since White had a healthy advantage before it all went wrong.

Levon agreed that was a shaky game but thought he got on track in the next, a win over another surprise first-day struggler, Sergey Karjakin. Levon also enjoyed that encounter.

I love having two bishops and having control of all the squares of the rooks, so it was not just psychologically important but also an aesthetically important game for me.

He made up for the loss to Mameydarov with a 92-move draw against Shakh’s compatriot Teimour Radjabov before beating Alan Pichot convincingly, despite one slip near the end.

That means Levon Aronian is well placed to qualify for the knockout stages, and reading the top 8 names the temptation is to nod and feel, yes, they’re all players you’d expect to be there. Then comes the shock of seeing that Wesley So, Alireza Firouzja, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin all have work to do if they’re going to prolong their event beyong the 3-day Prelims!

There are still two days and 10 rounds to go, however, so anything can happen. Don’t miss all the action from 17:00 CET, with a wealth of streams in multiple languages right here on chess24!

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