World Champion Magnus Carlsen missed what was mate-in-3 or instant resignation on his way to a 123-move draw against his erstwhile nemesis Anish Giri, who called it “the most embarrassing moment” of his opponent’s career. Remarkably, though, that arguably wasn’t the oversight of the round, since Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin both missed an immediate win on move 11. To cap it all, Wesley So reached 50 games unbeaten, Wei Yi slayed another Sicilian, Adhiban’s revival continued in bizarre fashion and Dmitry Andreikin began a game 1.c3. What a day!
There were three decisive games in a quite extraordinary Round 7 of the Tata Steel Masters:
Since it defies easy summary, let’s instead look at the 7 Most Remarkable Moments of the round. We start in reverse order with a moment from Peter Svidler’s final day of commentary before heading to Gibraltar. It was hard to pass over Peter and Jan deciding after 7 hours that it was time to wear ties, but we went with…
Spoiler alert: we’ll hear more from this game! Magnus must have realised at around move 60 that his chances of victory were slim, but the final stage only came after 115.Rf5+
At first glance it looks deadly, but of course the World Champion was aware that 115…Qxf5 116.gxf5 Kxf5, as Giri played, was drawn, since the bishop can’t help the h-pawn queen. Instead though, Anish could have played the "so much cooler" and "glorious way to finish the game" 115…Kh4, when taking the queen is of course instant stalemate. Watch Peter’s reaction when he sees it, and then sees that Giri doesn’t go for it:
Adhiban’s revival continued with a second win in a row with the black pieces against a top player, but to say there were twists and turns would be an understatement.
Radek Wojtaszek won the opening battle and it seemed just a question of when he would coordinate his pieces to push for a win. Instead, he let Adhiban plant a rook on the 2nd rank and take over the initiative. If Black had converted that advantage it would have been a common story, but instead the game swung back in Wojtaszek’s favour, until he again let the edge slip and then committed hari-kari.
48.c7?!, giving up a piece, was by no means necessary. After 48…exf2 49.Kxf2 Ba6 it was Black in the driver’s seat. Radek might still have saved himself in a study-like fashion, but the game had no more twists. Adhiban’s soaring self-confidence had paid off again!
One of the mysteries of world chess is why people keep on testing 17-year-old Wei Yi in the open Sicilian. In Wijk aan Zee he’d already smashed Ian Nepomniachtchi in the Najdorf, but Loek van Wely, as so often in his career, walked straight into the lion’s den.
The results were predictable, but also puzzling. Wei Yi managed to surprise his opponent with 9.Bd5, a move played a dozen times before, including by Wei Yi himself in the 2015 Chinese Team Championship. Sacrifices were in the air and Wei Yi eventually gave up his bishop on e6, until we were left with the following position:
Once again, this position had been seen six times, including in Adhiban ½-½ Swiercz from the 2014 Biel Open. Everyone with Black had played the natural 13…Kf7, but this is where Loek sunk into even deeper thought, spending over 50 minutes to come up with... the losing novelty 13…Nc5?
There was a choice of wins, with Wei Yi opting for 14.b4 Qxb4 15.Nc7+, and while a careless sequence almost spoilt the game for the Chinese star…
…he ultimately showed endgame prowess to bring the encounter to its logical conclusion.
Richard Rapport played 1.b3 earlier in the tournament, Adhiban of course went for the King’s Gambit, but Andreikin’s 1.c3 still stands out. It’s not every day you manage to make your opponent think for over 3 minutes on move 1!
Statistics back up Harikrishna’s surprise. According to the chess24 database (in the “Opening Tree” and “Database” tabs below the live broadcast) 1.c3 is the 14th most popular opening move. The highest rated player ever to have played it before Andreikin seems to be Ian Rogers, who had a 2624 rating in 2007 when he beat James Morris (2330). The Australian grandmaster hasn’t just tried it against weaker opponents, though, essaying it (unsuccessfully) against Viktor Korchnoi in the 1982 Lucerne Olympiad – one of those moments you’d like to have seen the great man’s face! Another game that stands out is Vlastimil Hort (2605) 1-0 Pia Cramling (2405) from Biel 1984, but as you can see, it’s not a run-of-the-mill occurrence!
The rest of the game failed to live up to that early interest. After 1.c3 e5 the players were in a reversed Caro-Kann where White had an extra tempo, and although Harikrishna gained some advantage it was so slender that the slightest inaccuracy was enough to see it slip away. Draw in 43 moves.
On another day this would be the story, since Wesley So remained unbeaten since July 16th, 2016 and has now notched up a half century of unbeaten games.
We can update his statistics we gave after the London Chess Classic:
(Round 5 onwards): 6 games, +1
Sinquefield Cup: 9 games, +2
Olympiad: 10 games, +7
Isle of Man Open: 9 games, +4
London Chess Classic: 9 games, +3
Tata Steel Masters: 7 games, +3
Total: 50 games, +20
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, with Rapport missing an open goal against So in Round 3, while in Round 7 Pavel Eljanov almost pulled off a brilliant win, starting with 24…h5!
A brilliant deflection of the queen, so that after 25.Qxh5 Black could blow open White’s kingside with 25…Nxe3! without dropping the queen on d7. More sharp tactics followed, but there was never an easy win for Black. Eljanov reflected:
Which brings us to…
It’s hard to render Peter Svidler speechless, but Levon managed on move 10 when he played 10…f6?? after 13 minutes and 31 seconds of thought:
Sergey Karjakin then spent over 9 minutes – possibly the longest 9 minutes of Aronian’s life if he’d seen what he’d done – before playing the “natural response” 11.d4?? That takes advantage of the undefended bishop on e6, but instead Karjakin could have played 11.c4! Ndb4 12.c5! and White is simply winning a piece. Black can claim some compensation, but our commentary team felt that immediate resignation would have been a perfectly valid option.
Fortunately for Sergey, he hadn't spotted his mistake and went on to outplay Aronian in a fine positional game, though Levon could have drawn if he’d exchanged all the pieces on e4 on move 25. Karjakin tweeted:
He then elaborated on his feelings in a post-game interview:
That would have won the memorable moment of the round on any other day, but on Saturday it couldn’t quite compare to the World Champion’s game.
Magnus Carlsen finally ended his Anish Giri curse in Bilbao last year, winning a game to level their career score. Then in Wijk aan Zee it looked as though he might finally move into a plus score against his arch rival.
Anish seemed to have solved all his problems, but an ending he thought “totally fine” proved much trickier than he imagined, with Magnus gradually accumulating concessions until he had a clearly won position. Giri confessed to wrestling with the urge to resign after 53.Bf3!, which he’d missed, but instead just a couple of moves later the game reached an extraordinary culminating moment:
56.Rc8+! is essentially mate-in-3, since 56…Re8 or 56…Nd8 are both equivalent to resignation. The mate is simple, when you see it: 56…Kg7 (or 56…Kh7) 57.Rf7+ Kh6 58.Rh8# In fact, it’s almost how Carlsen ended the World Championship match in New York!
Magnus had all the time in the world to calculate it, but instead played 56.Bf7+? after only 13 seconds. It might still have had a happy ending for him, but it was very tricky, and after 56…Kh8 57.Rh5+ Kg7 58.Bxe6+ Kf6 59.Rh6+? (59.Bc4! seems to continue the fight) 59…Ke5 60.Bh3 Giri was home and dry:
60…Qd2+! 61.Bg2 Qxh6 62.Rxc6 and as the endgame tablebases
helpfully informed us, the position is a mathematical draw. Anish wasn’t going
to let the draw slip from his grasp, rendering the remaining 60 moves less than absolutely necessary.
Afterwards Magnus could take comfort from the fact that Giri has also missed the mate-in-3:
That was about all the comfort he could take, though, since Giri was clearly enjoying himself!
This is really the most embarrassing moment of Magnus Carlsen’s chess career, because no-one cares about me, but the guy, you know, is kind of a legend, so I feel very bad for him. I feel really bad for him…
He’s a very, very strong player, and if he’s at his best he’s impossible to deal with, but against me he just does it all by himself. He outplayed me many times, but he has difficulty… I don’t really know why, but it’s his problem!
That general mayhem meant that Wei Yi joined Carlsen and Eljanov in the group only half a point behind leader Wesley So:
The Challengers, in comparison, was something of an oasis of sanity.
Usual favourites such as Ragger, Smirin and Xiong (2 losses, but 4 wins) won their games, while Gawain Jones showed the power of the queen and knight to squeeze out a fourth win in a row that condemned Jorden van Foreest to a fifth defeat.
Gawain Jones still leads alongside Markus Ragger on 5.5/7, though for a remarkable moment we can note something spotted by Akshat Chandra:
In Round 8 the game to watch may be Rapport-Carlsen, when Magnus will surely abandon (or be forced to abandon) his policy of taking quick draws with the black pieces. Karjakin-So, meanwhile, looks like a heavyweight battle.
Follow the commentary with Lawrence Trent joining Jan Gustafsson from 13:30 CET on Sunday. You can also follow the games in our mobile apps: