Reports Mar 20, 2021 | 11:37 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI 8: Nepo escapes against Giri | Carlsen finally beats So

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Anish Giri drew all four games on Day 1 of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational final, but only after Anish came within a whisker of winning a spectacular first game. That encounter was somewhat overshadowed by Magnus Carlsen blowing Wesley So away in just 23 moves, and when Magnus also won the 4th game of the day he’d beaten Wesley in a 4-game match for the 1st time on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. It wasn’t, of course, in the match he’d have wanted.

Anish Giri was in top form after another great day at the office 

You can replay all the games from the knockout stages of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational using the selector below.

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

And from Kaja Snare, Jovanka Houska and David Howell.

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It was a hard-fought first day of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational finals, with the 3rd place match so far providing the decisive action.

Anish Giri 2:2 Ian Nepomniachtchi

In his post-game interview, Anish Giri gave a vivid account of how it feels to play against Ian Nepomniachtchi, who came into the final after wins over both Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen.

He’s such an ambitious and quick and reckless player that you get, and you end up giving, chances with White, Black, even sometimes when you don’t expect it. Even when you are winning you can lose, or the other way around – it’s a little bit of mayhem against him. So I don’t really have a long-term plan, draw with Black, win with White, I don’t think that’s the case. I think you can win or lose with either colour, and I’ve played him a lot of times. It’s always a complete coin toss. Obviously he shows weakness, of course. If you only look at his strengths you think that this is the best player out there - he’s faster, more dangerous, sharper than Magnus, more tactically alert, there’s much more aggression coming from him. If you look only at his pluses you think he’s the best player in the world, but the other participants also compete, so that means that he also has some vulnerabilities, and you see that sometimes he makes quick judgments, sometimes he’s unprepared a little bit, it’s possible, but we’ll see what happens.

Anish largely managed to tame the Russian no. 1 on Day 1 of the final, but it was only in the first game of the day that there was a big opportunity to open the scoring. In a 2…e6 Sicilian things were roughly balanced until 19…b4!? left White with a tactical shot.

Giri's 20.Nxf7! had the immediate justification that 20…Kxf7 21.Qg6+ simply loses, but things were much more complicated than that. Ian immediately replied 20…bxc3! and after 21.Nxh6+!? Kf8 22.Rxc3!? Rxc3 23.Bxc3 Black would have equalised completely after 23…Qb5. Instead 23…Qd5?! allowed Giri to gain an edge, though when the Dutchman’s time got short it felt as though we could see a repeat of the collapses from Magnus against Nepo in the previous round. 

Anish, however, didn’t put a foot wrong until move 44, when he allowed the black queen to become active. He picked up a 3rd extra pawn, but Nepo had foreseen a brilliant defence.

Rather than a vain attempt to give perpetual check, Ian played the quiet 45…Qc3!, with the threat of Bd4 and mate next. Anish, and here again he showed better handling of his opponent than Magnus, correctly decided it was time to force a draw, which he did with queen checks from e8 and h4.

Nepo called that a “massive chance”, and we wouldn’t see any more such opportunities in the subsequent games. The closest was in Game 3, where Anish again had some pressure.

28.Qh3!?, hitting both the e6 and h7-pawns, would have been an interesting try, but there’s no clean win, and allowing Ian to play a move like 28…Nf4, hitting the queen and threatening both mate on g2 and a fork on e2, isn’t something you do lightly, even if it seems 29.Qg4! would successfully parry all those threats. Instead the game fizzled out into a draw after 28.Bc5+.

The other two games were Najdorfs, but although Anish described the Najdorf as like Russian roulette, with no such thing as solidity, Ian felt this was one very solid line. He commented:

People normally think that the Najdorf is very fighting, but this one is much like the Berlin. We surely miss Qd4-Qe4 when playing such a game!

Ian was referring to the infamous 14-move drawing line that we’d seen in multiple games during the preliminary stages. This time the Najdorf games ended with all material exhausted on moves 62 and 40. When Ian was asked what he could do, he quipped:

Probably I’ve got to study some more Najdorf and find some improvement on move 45!

When David Howell asked if Ian had checked out Anish’s Chessable course on the opening, the Russian star suggested he didn’t earn enough to buy it. That provoked a furious response…

I have heard many trash talks, but hitting where it hurts into my Najdorf course and calling it expensive is just below the belt… It’s completely unacceptable! You crossed a line there and I think Ian realises that, and tomorrow I’ll be furious. This is not acceptable! At a discount the material is $30 or something like this, while you have to know how much knowledge and time and effort was put in to it. And to call it expensive - I just have no words simply for this!

He did note that this option wasn’t in his course, for a reason:

This is one line that I don’t give in my course because I find it too unrealistic for amateurs or club players, because this will never happen in their games. But in top level chess it can happen that everybody knows all the way to the end, in rare cases.

So the balance hasn’t been disturbed in the final match, while blood was spilt in the 3rd place playoff.

Magnus Carlsen 3:1 Wesley So

When Magnus won the preliminary stage for the 4th time on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, he was asked what he could do differently this time to try and win the knockout. His reply was succinct: “Beat Wesley So!” Well, Magnus has now done that for the first time in a match on the Tour, but it’s a bitter-sweet achievement. While he lost to Wesley in two finals, they’re now playing only for the consolation prize of third place.

Players have struggled to find motivation for these 3rd place matches, but Magnus got a boost!

I would say I wasn’t particularly motivated before today, but the first game helped immensely. After that I tried to treat it as a serious match, in that I wanted at least not to score any own goals like I did on the previous two days.

The first game was something special, beginning with Magnus playing the rare 4.a4 in the Four Knights, a move championed by both Lucas and Jorden van Foreest. Magnus had in fact played it as well, but back then he started with 1.a4!

Magnus was asked to explain the move:

You grab some space! The thing is, you’re trying to get a good version of some opening in reverse. After d5, you’re claiming that a4 is a useful move there, and also after moves like Bc5 or Bb4 or Be7, you’re trying again to claim that there is use for the move a4. Realistically, obviously, it’s not even close to being better, but he sort of jumped into the one line where White has serious ideas. Obviously pretty fortunate for me, but still very satisfying!

It couldn’t have gone better for Magnus, who got to sacrifice a piece early one.

13.Nh7! Re8 14.Nf6+!! was a shocking turn of events, but one Magnus knew was working. He admitted:

The thing is that this Nf6 is something that was in a file that Peter [Heine Nielsen] sent me earlier today, so obviously if it had been my idea that I found over the board I would be very proud.

Magnus didn’t have a prepared recipe after 14…gxf6 15.Qh5 e4 16.Re1 f5?, but he didn’t take long to find and play the winning 17.Bxh6!

The black pieces are largely stuck on the wrong side of the board, while White can bring reinforcements for the attack. The game ended 17…Nxd5 18.Bg5 f6 19.Bb3 c6 20.Re3 Kf8 21.Qg6 f4 22.Bh6+ Ke7 23.Qh7+ and Wesley resigned.

It’s perhaps a pity he didn’t allow 23…Ke6 24.Rxe4# to appear on the board.

The 2nd game was a tense draw where Wesley was pressing but Magnus never went astray, before Game 3 was again a chance for the World Champion to have some fun. This time he picked 4.h3 instead of 4.a4 and on move 10 attempted to keep the game alive with a double-edged king move.

The follow-up 12.Re2!? made a fan out of Peter Leko.

The game never quite managed to live up to how it started after that, however, as it fizzled out into a draw.

That meant Wesley had to win on demand with the black pieces, but his attempted aggression only led to weaknesses, before 21.Rd4? was a losing blunder.

Magnus took his time double-checking, but 21…Nxb4! essentially won on the spot. Play continued 22.Rxd8 Nxc2! 23.Rxf8+ Bxf8 24.Rb1 Bxe4! 25.Nxe4 Qxe4 and Wesley’s resignation was in no way premature.

That means Magnus is favourite to take 3rd place, but the battle that really matters is of course for the Magnus Carlsen Invitational title. It must end Sunday, with Nepomniachtchi saying he's happy that he’ll finally be able to switch to preparation. The Russian leads the Candidates with just 7 rounds to go and has a very realistic chance of earning a World Championship match against Magnus later this year in Dubai. Giri is a point back, but also in the hunt and glad to be able to switch his focus. He commented:

The one thing I can agree with Ian is that it’s definitely a relief that tomorrow is the final day, because I’m unable to check up on my team, what they are doing. I have the suspicion they’re lying on sofas at the cost of the chess federation, watching our games with popcorn and coke. Occasionally they send me some files, but I’m really not sure. They could be just working two hours out of the whole day, and I have no proof. I have to really get back to the training camp and check up on my boys and make sure things are running smoothly, because we’ve got to prepare for the Candidates.

Tune into the final day's action from the usual time of 17:00 CET live here on chess24.

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