Reports Apr 26, 2020 | 9:02 PMby Colin McGourty

MCI Day 9: Anish Giri takes down Magnus Carlsen

Anish Giri has won his first match of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational against none other than World Champion Magnus Carlsen himself. After the 2.5:1.5 Round 5 win Anish commented, “I’m really, really happy, you cannot imagine – beyond belief!” It was a day of the underdogs, with 16-year-old Alireza Firouzja getting off the mark by picking up the full 3 points for beating rapid world no. 2 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by the same scoreline.

Giri repeats the "shush" celebration that famously backfired on Magnus during a 2018 Sinquefield Cup game against Caruana

You can replay all the games from the Magnus Carlsen Invitational using the selector below (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):

Winning without the need for Armageddon meant a full 3 points for Anish and Alireza, the two players who needed them most!

And here’s the day’s live commentary, starting with a pre-show with Tania Sachdev and Lawrence Trent before Peter Svidler, Jan Gustafsson and Alexander Grischuk joined in. The day’s winners Anish Giri and Alireza Firouzja also appeared on the show:

Here’s Pascal Charbonneau’s after-show looking back at a memorable day’s action:

Anish Giri 2.5:1.5 Magnus Carlsen

16-year-old Anish Giri famously beat Magnus Carlsen in 22 moves in their first encounter in Wijk aan Zee, but although he held onto that plus score for many years the World Champion had long since asserted his dominance in classical chess. At rapid and blitz the contrast is even more stark, and before today’s action Anish had asked on Instagram “do you believe in miracles?” and later said he’d told a friend on the morning of the match that he had a 1 in 200 chance of winning – “in hindsight that was a little low!”

In the Magnus Carlsen Invitational the World Champion had won all four of his matches while Anish had lost all four, though winning a game against Ding Liren the day before was a glimmer of light. Still, hopes weren’t high for Anish, and the first game, a cagey draw where the Dutch no. 1 got nothing with the white pieces, didn’t suggest we were in for something special. Then came Game 2! 

Magnus repeated what he’d played in a win against Alireza Firouzja earlier in the tournament, until Anish played the improvement 12…Bd6 instead of Firouzja’s 12…0-0. Without pausing Magnus unleashed the novelty, 13.Rg1!?

Magnus was tempting Anish to win a piece with 13…f4, but that comes at the price of leaving the black king stranded in the middle of the board in a position Magnus would have looked at in detail at home. These were worrying times for Giri fans, as he burnt up over 7 minutes, almost half of his allotted time, before playing 13…0-0, but fears he was chickening out in a sharp position were dispelled by 14.h4 f4!? 15.gxf4 g4!

We now had an incredibly complex position where Magnus was also working hard at the board, and despite the lack of time Anish found some powerful moves, for instance after 20.e4:

The exchange sacrifice 20…Rxg5! 21.hxg5 was followed up by 22...Ng6! 22.e5 Bf8 23.Bd3 Nf4! 24.Nf1 Qxg5 and here, in a difficult position, Magnus blundered with 25.f3?

The knight is beautiful on f4, 25…h4 is a tempting option, and Anish admitted afterwards that it had taken him a long time to spot the crude winning blow – 25.Nxd3+! 26.Qxd3 Qc1+ 27.Kf2 Qxb2+ and Black was simply a rook up and went on to win. Anish might have found the move faster if he’d concentrated on his opponent’s anguished body language on the webcam - players can see each other, if they choose, during the games.

“Why is everyone else allowed to blunder under pressure, but he's not?” asked Giri after the match was over, emphasising that blunders don’t come out of nowhere. The pressure was also on in the third game, where Magnus played the Grünfeld Defence but was surprised by Anish and found himself on the ropes.

26.h6!, leaving Black’s bishop out of the game on h8, would have left White with a big positional advantage, but after 26.hxg6!? h6!? 27.Bf6!? it turned out Black was absolutely ok, and it was even Giri who had to play accurately to hold a draw.

In the final game Magnus had White, but he probably wasn’t expecting Anish to play the aggressive Najdorf Sicilian in a game he only needed to draw to win the match. Soon Black was much better, and when Giri did in the end make a draw it was very much from a position of strength:

18…exf5! (18…Kf8!? may objectively be stronger, but who plays that when they need a draw?) 19.Qxe7 Qxc3 20.Bd3 Nc5 21.Bxf5:

21…Nb3! 22.Ka2 Nc1+! 23.Kb1 (23.Rxc1 Bd5+!) 23…Nb3 and the game ended in a nice repetition of moves.

Giri’s celebration was epic:

After the match he talked about how few people believed in him, and when Lawrence consoled him that “they’re sad lonely people,” Anish responded, “but half of them are already on the Zoom call!” He added, however, that Magnus had believed in him to invite him to the tournament, and, “as long as he believes in me I can beat him, on a good day!”

When asked how he was going to celebrate Anish really opened up:

I really haven’t planned it out, but I’m really, really happy. You cannot imagine – beyond belief! There are a few moments – suppose you are not Kasparov or Fischer or a genius like that, then there are few of these moments in your career that you can always look back on when you are down, and for me this is going to be one of them. When I’ll be down, I’ll think, “remember the time you were down but you managed to beat Magnus in a rapid match”.

How can you not love Giri?

It’s not out of the question that he can qualify for the Top 4, as had been pointed out before the day began:

It’s going to be tough, but one player Anish can definitely now finish ahead of is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave:

Firouzja 2.5:1.5 MVL

This match lived in the shadow of Carlsen-Giri, though a quiet first game did liven up when we got the interesting material balance of three connected passed pawns for a piece. Our commentators thought MVL’s pawns might make it, but Firouzja held a comfortable draw.

The second game saw less action, and a draw also looked odds on in the third game before Maxime suddenly stumbled with 29.Nb3? instead of e.g. 29.Rfd1:

The knight moving allowed 29…Rc4! and the a-pawn is tough to defend. It seems 30.Nc5 should have been tried, however, since after 30.Rfd1? Rxa4 there was suddenly no stopping Black’s a-pawn from advancing down the board, supported by the raking bishop on f6.

That meant Alireza was finally guaranteed to pick up at least his first match point – if he lost the match in Armageddon – but to reach Armageddon Maxime first had to win the final game with the black pieces. For most of the game that didn’t look likely, but Alireza admitted 41.Qf5?! had been a reckless decision:

Alireza had thought it was an easy draw by perpetual check after 41…Qxa5, but then realised to his horror that the game goes on. It was still close to a draw and finally, on move 87, Maxime admitted defeat in his attempts to win with an extra piece.

It was a day when you could have made a fortune betting on chess!

It meant Alireza Firouzja had got off the mark in style, though it’s very unlikely that wins in his next two matches will be enough to qualify for the Final 4. Here are the standings after Day 9:

On tomorrow's second day of Round 5, Hikaru Nakamura will now take the lead in the tournament with any kind of victory over his US teammate Fabiano Caruana, but Fabi could overtake Hikaru with a win. In the other match-up Ian Nepomniachtchi may feel it’s a must-win against Ding Liren, though the Chinese no. 1 is not a player it’s easy to beat on demand. 

Tune in again for the pre-show starting at 15:00 CEST here on chess24.

See also:

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