Anish Giri has won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after
defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi 2:0 in a blitz playoff. The Dutch no. 1 earns
$60,000 and as the winner of a Major joins Teimour Radjabov as a confirmed
participant in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour finals in San Francisco this
September. Magnus Carlsen took 3rd place with a game to spare after beating
Wesley So. Although that wasn’t what the World Champion
wanted in the tournament with his name on it, he’s now just 5 points behind Wesley
in the overall Tour standings.
You can replay all the knockout games from the Magnus Carlsen
Invitational using the selector below.
And here’s the final day’s commentary from Peter Leko and
And David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare.
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The final day looked as though it might finish early after
Carlsen and Giri took the lead, but in the end we got high drama in the match
that mattered most.
Let’s start, however, by taking a look at the match for 3rd place.
Magnus Carlsen 2:1 Wesley So
If not for Wesley So, we wouldn’t be talking about a
mini-crisis for Magnus Carlsen. The US Chess Champion has single-handedly
prevented Magnus from winning any tournaments since mid-October by defeating
the World Champion in the Skilling Open and Opera Euro Rapid finals. This was,
therefore, some kind of revenge. Magnus commented, when asked if he was “very
I would say very happy is a massive exaggeration. 3rd is
better than 4th, for sure, and for the future, obviously, there will be a lot
more events like this and it’s good to get one over Wesley. Clearly he
was not 100% motivated and not in his best shape, but as I said, it’s a lot
better than to have lost the last match and I spoke about it yesterday. After I
won the first game then I definitely had a clear wish to win this match.
The first game saw Wesley So spring a surprise by playing
the hyper-aggressive 4.f3
against the Nimzo-Indian, but after a 2-minute think Magnus returned the
surprise with 4…Nc6!?
A curiosity is that the highest rated player to have tried
that, according to the chess24 database, is our commentator Peter Leko, who
once played it in a blindfold game against Vasyl Ivanchuk.
Wesley immediately began to burn up time as well, and though
the computer wasn’t convinced by the setup Magnus went for all it took was the
loose 13.Nf3!? Nh5! 14.g3? to allow Black to take over.
14…g5! 15.fxg5 hxg5 16.Nxg5 Nf4!
Wesley thought for over 5 minutes, though 17.gxf4 was a sad
necessity, and after 17…Rxh4 only very precise play could have held the
over-extended white position together. Instead Magnus soon had an overwhelming
position and went on to claim a smooth victory.
That, essentially, was that. Wesley got nothing in the next
game and was left needing to win both the next two games on demand to force a
playoff. Magnus had proven that’s possible in the semi-finals, but in the 3rd game
Wesley never had any chances and it was Magnus who claimed match victory with a
It was, of course, a disappointing result for Magnus, who
enters every event he plays as the favourite, but there were positives as well.
He actually climbed to no. 2 in the overall Tour standings, after beating
Wesley in the 3rd place match while co-leader before the event Teimour Radjabov
was knocked out in the preliminary stage.
Magnus also saw improvement in his play:
It’s pretty clear during the preliminaries and the first day
of the quarterfinals that I actually played really quite well when there was
little at stake, and you could see that when the pressure was higher in the
semis then I messed up a bit, but I think overall I played a lot better in this
tournament than I did in the last one, so I think it’s a small step forward,
even though of course I would have loved not to have my worst two days during
The key action, however, was elsewhere.
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2:2 Anish Giri (Anish wins 2:0 in the
This final continued to be a Sicilian theme match, with
Anish again playing the Najdorf in the first game of the day. It was an
encounter where neither player went seriously astray, but we got to witness
some aesthetically pleasing moves.
Giri’s 24…Rc3! was of course possible due to the pinned
b-pawn, and it carries some real venom. The careless 25.Na1?? or 25.Nc1?? would
run into mate-in-2: 25…Rxa3+! 26.Kxa3 Qa4# Of course Nepo didn’t fall for that, and after 25.Qf5+ Kg8 26.Nc5 he soon went on to force a draw by perpetual check.
It was in the second game that the draw streak finally
ended, as Ian, with over 9 minutes on his clock, played 18…Nc6? instead of 18…Ng6.
That allowed 19.g6! and suddenly Black’s position was collapsing.
After 19…0-0-0 20.gxf7 Qxf7 21.Bc4! Anish picked up the
e-pawn and went on to win a remarkably smooth game.
Ian now needed a win fast, but once against Giri’s Najdorf
held firm in another intense draw, meaning Anish needed only a draw with White
in the final game to clinch the title. As we’ve seen, however, drawing on
demand is harder than it looks, and what followed was a brilliantly played game
by Ian, culminating in a memorable finish.
The simple 37…Qf2 is perfectly sufficient, but Ian spotted
the much more stylish 37…Rxe5! 38.Rxg3 Bxg3
Re1 is coming next to win the queen, and there’s nothing
White can do about it.
That meant Ian Nepomniachtchi had forced a playoff against
the odds, but Anish had at least one reason for optimism:
What really helped is the match of Ian against Magnus,
because there Ian messed up two must-not-lose games and then still won, and he
did it right there a day ago, so I never had any doubt that the match was over
once I went to the tiebreak.
If anything Anish was perhaps too optimistic, since he went
for a speculative piece sacrifice.
17.Nfe5+?! fxe5 18.dxe5 Bc5 left White with just a pawn for the piece, but for a blitz game White certainly had compensation in the form of
attacking chances. Nepo was forced to use up more time than usual, but nevertheless had a
winning position on move 25.
Good options here are 25…Rg8 or 25…Qe8, but after 47 seconds
(this was a 5-minute blitz game), Ian collapsed with 25…Rh7? Giri’s queen swooped in with 26.Qd7+!, when Black could no longer defend with 26…Be7 since the
c8-rook is now only defended once and can be captured.
Ian would later comment:
Considering the comeback in Game 4 and a completely winning position
in the first blitz game, I would probably claim that I deserved a little bit
more, but then you spend one minute for a move like Rh7 and then you see that
Rh7 is wrong and you play anyway Rh7, so this is probably karma or something!
Giri went on to convert the win with surgical precision,
with Ian able to see the funny side by the end.
That meant Nepo had to win on demand once more, and he ended
a sequence of 9 Sicilians in a row by playing 1.b3.
Anish saw that as an odd choice, as well as vindication for
how he’d played the Najdorf:
I was very happy, of course, especially that the Najdorf has
passed the test. In the final game he didn’t go 1.e4 even, which was
surprising, because people usually play 1.b3 because they want to get an interesting
position, because they are sick and tired of boring openings, but I’m playing
the Najdorf! I don’t really see why you would avoid the Najdorf in a must-win,
it’s anything but solid, but I can imagine he probably felt I was very well-prepared
and he didn’t want to end up in a situation where he runs into my preparation.
He just wanted to have men against the men, it’s fair enough.
It didn’t work out however, with 16.Nd2? a losing move in an
already unpleasant position.
Anish was again eagle-eyed as he responded 16…Bg5!, with the weak f3-square forcing Nepo to trade minor pieces with 17.Bxd4 Bxd2 18.Rd1 cxd4
19.Rxd2. 19…Nc5 saw the black knight occupy a dream outpost where it couldn’t be challenged and hit White’s weak e4-pawn.
The white bishop became a glorified pawn after 20.Bd3 and
although material was equal Black had a huge advantage in a game he only needed
to draw. Anish never faltered as he calmly brought home the win to claim 1st
place in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational.
The tournament was the second of three Majors on the
Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and therefore granted Giri an automatic spot, alongside Teimour Radjabov, in
the Finals to be held in San Francisco in September.
It also meant a healthy haul of points and cash.
It was Giri’s first online Tour victory, but he was eager to
point out afterwards that this wasn’t his first major tournament win (other
highlights include Reggio Emilia in 2012 and the 2018 Shenzhen Masters).
Obviously it’s great to win, but I wouldn’t call this a
career-defining moment or anything. Contrary to this fake news that’s been
spread by my main competitor I have won various tournaments, on various
occasions, including the prestigious MrDodgy Invitational and a few others.
In less than a month, on April 19th, Giri will have Black
against Nepomniachtchi, who he trails by a point, when the pandemic-interrupted
Candidates Tournament finally
resumes in Yekaterinburg. Anish felt his online success gave him a boost.
Mostly it’s good for the vibes for the Candidates, for the
preparation. It’s also good because I am of a firm belief that there is no such
thing as destined. Some people say that champions are made of something, this
kind of nonsense. I absolutely don’t buy this, and it’s good before the
Candidates that I win a tournament like this one and that I know if I get to a
very fortunate situation that I will be close there, which is a long way to go,
but if I ever get to that situation I will not have any doubts, despite what many
people are trying to create.
It’s clear Anish will be armed to the teeth for
Yekaterinburg, but Ian Nepomniachtchi goes into the event as co-leader and
obviously in fine form. To overcome Nakamura and then Carlsen in online matches
is something special, and he was incredibly close to going into the final blitz
game needing only a draw with White. As he noted afterwards, he’d done it while
avoiding the openings he’s planning to use in the Candidates.
In the end, though, he fell just short and had to be content
with the $40,000 runners-up prize.
He made no secret of being glad that it was all over.
That also means the end of an intense 9 days for chess fans,
but we don’t have to wait until the Candidates for top action to return. The
all-new Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour will see Judit Polgar and Vladimir
Kramnik captain teams of some of the world’s best young players in a $100,000 5-event
series that also qualifies winners to the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
For more details check out our
launch article, while we’ll be announcing the line-ups and more soon.