MCCT Finals 6: Carlsen stuns Giri with queen sac

Magnus Carlsen said “the way the game went was a dream for me” after winning a tough match against Anish Giri with a spectacular queen sacrifice in the first blitz game. Magnus is now on the brink of overall victory with a 7-point lead and 3 rounds to go after 2nd placed Wesley So was put to the sword by Teimour Radjabov. There were also wins for Hikaru Nakamura and Vladislav Artemiev, but the day’s other most memorable moment was Levon Aronian thinking for almost 6 minutes before blundering mate-in-1 against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. 

You can replay all the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals games using the selector below. 

And here’s the day’s live commentary from David Howell, Jovanka Houska and Kaja Snare. 

And from Peter Leko and Simon Williams. 

A dramatic round saw three matches go to blitz tiebreaks, with Nakamura-Mamedyarov going all the way to Armageddon.

Carlsen 3.5:2.5 Giri

There are no more entertaining rivalries in chess than Carlsen-Giri, and we got a warm-up for this one on social media.

We’ve seem some great celebrations from the players when they’ve beaten each other online, but this time there were less likely to be outward shows of emotion, since the players were sitting right opposite each other. 

The chess itself was very tense, with the first three games played as a 1.c4 theme match. No-one gave an inch, and Magnus admitted afterwards he’d struggled.

Frankly I took the one chance I had all day, because otherwise I was probably considerably worse in the first game and then a little worse in the second.

The only rapid game where Magnus seemed to get a glimmer of hope was the 4th and final one, where he switched to 1.e4. Visually it looked promising, though if there was a chance the World Champion may have spoilt it already on the preceding move.

Here, despite the weak black pawns, Anish took one long think and then forced matters with 18…d5! 19.exd5 Qxd5 20.Qxf6 Qxa2 21.Ra1 Qb3 22.Rxa6. Magnus was a pawn up, but Anish was able to pile pressure on the pawn, win it back, and achieve a comfortable draw.

That meant a blitz playoff, with Anish asked why he looked so calm.

There’s nothing you can do. You cannot run away anymore, you cannot hide, so you might as well chill — that’s the philosophy! 

What followed was an extraordinary game, with Anish getting more than he bargained for when he tried out the near novelty 7.Be3!?

Magnus quickly took the offered piece with 7…Nxd4, and Giri blitzed out his prepared 8.a4. The best continuations here for Black, such as 8…e5 and 8…Nec6, seem to lead to fascinating play as well, but Magnus thought for a minute and decided to give up his queen with 8…Nxb5!?

He explained afterwards how tempting it had been:

He surprised me a bit with this line. I probably should have known it, I didn’t, and here I was already looking for ways to sac my queen for a lot of material, because I’m thinking I’m already a knight up after I take, and it’s also a factor as well that I thought this line looks so weird, what I played, maybe he also didn’t look at it. I would rather be a queen down in some position neither of us knows than a piece up in a position which he knows in and out and I don’t.

Magnus was right to guess he’d catch Giri by surprise, with the Dutchman admitting:

It was very interesting stuff in the opening. It was not really my idea, so I didn’t check it that well. A friend of mine told me about it, and I just didn’t realise that he can sac a queen for three pieces, because I thought somehow… the engine doesn’t show it as an option, but if I’d checked it myself I’d have realised it’s possible. I just thought that I’m winning it for two pieces, but actually it’s for three, and of course three pieces is really a lot for the queen.

Nevertheless, after 9.Bxb6 axb6 there was already a critical moment.

Right now Anish can’t take the knight because his a1-rook is undefended, so that developing a piece with 10.Nd2?! was the most natural move in the world, but both players soon realised that the chance to play 10…Nd6! was a huge help for Black. Magnus:

So I think what convinced me to play this sac is that I saw this idea of bringing the knight back to d6, as happened in the game, and that’s why Nd2 was probably a bit of a mistake, at least practically speaking. I think practically speaking after Nd2 Nd6 I already have the edge.

Anish pointed out that 10.Qd3!, forcing the knight to a worse square, was the move.

I developed as fast as I could and threw as many pawns as I could, because I thought if Black develops he should have a good position — usually three pieces is more than enough for the queen — but I should have played Qd3 first. That’s a little bit difficult, because you want to develop the knight right away, but I should have played Qd3, stopped Nd6 and then developed the knight, and I would have gotten a good position, I think.

The game developed into a full-blooded and dynamically-balanced fight.

Here Giri’s 19.b4!? was double-edged, as Magnus pointed out.

b4 I thought was actually a nice idea, because he’s trying to win a tempo, but it also means that if I survive it I have all the squares — he just has no way to attack my pieces at all.

Magnus was tempted to sacrifice more material with 19…fxe4!?, though the computer doesn’t approve, and instead play continued 19…Nxb4 20.d7+ Bxd7 21.Nd6+ Bxd6 22.Qxd6 Nc6 and it was only here that 23.Rad1? turned out to be the losing move. 

The problem was that Magnus had 23…Bc8!, and could meet 24.Qc7 with 24…0-0! He explained:

He played Rd1 really quickly, which was a relief to me, and now the point is 23…Bc8 24.Qc7 would win, except for castles! The good thing about playing online is that the system will tell you whether castling is legal or not, so you don’t have to worry about it.

Giri also pointed out this moment:

I was just sort of throwing the wood into the fire, because I thought I’m kind of desperate If I just play slow, I don’t think I should have a good position, and it only dawned on me once he played this move Bc8 that I just can do nothing. So that was a bit of a bummer, because I thought that ok, we have a fun game going, and then suddenly Bc8 and I realised he’s very passive, but he’s actually doing well.

In fact 23.Qc7! and only playing Rad1 later would have posed real problems for Magnus, since with the bishop on d7 the castling trick isn’t an option. The computer suggests awkward moves such as 23…g5 (planning Rh7), 23…Rh7 (with g5 next) or 23…Rf8 (planning Rf7) in order to defend the weak d7-spot. 

Instead in the game after 24.g5 Ng6! Magnus suddenly had everything under control, with the most picturesque position arising when Magnus grabbed the last white pawn with 40…Rxg5.

The almost perfect square of black pieces doesn’t give white a chance, with Magnus commenting:

That’s one of the reasons why of course I sac’ed the queen, because I thought, long term, I could end up in a situation where my three minor pieces are just much stronger than his queen, and obviously the way the game went was a dream for me…

There are different kinds of sacrifices as well. Some of them that lead to mate can be very pleasing aesthetically, but I think for many players the favourites are the ones where you can sort of just set up an impregnable position where the queen just has no work and you can just do whatever you want, like what happened in the game. 

Magnus had to spoil the aesthetics slightly to actually win the game, which he did by queening the f-pawn, but it had been a fantastic creative achievement, especially for a blitz game.

That meant that Anish now had to hit back in the second blitz game to force Armageddon, and Magnus admitted the game was “a bit shaky”. 

Objectively, however, it seems Magnus was always on top, and with 21.Nd5! Qg4 22.Ne3! here he dealt with the imminent danger. Later he found some nice moves to gain a completely winning position.

The only move 30.Ne8! forced the queen away from the defence of the d4-pawn, and after 30…Qf7 31.Qxd4+ White was dominant, with Magnus in the end settling for clinching the match with a draw by repetition in a position he could have chosen to win instead.

Anish summed up:

The quiz, you ask? Well, Anish proved better, for instance, at spelling the name of Magnus’ next World Championship challenger!

Don’t miss the full quiz (and yes, that question about a currency should include “that’s still in use”).

Duda 2.5:1.5 Aronian

The only event all day that could really compete with the queen sacrifice game was an astonishing blunder by world no. 5 Levon Aronian. He’d gone for a dubious new idea with 15.Qd6?! in the Winawer French and it was understandable that he spent 5 minutes and 43 seconds thinking in the tricky position after 17…Nf5.

What was less understandable, however, is that the fruit of the deep think was 18.Ba3????, running into checkmate with 18…Qd2#

Levon could see the funny side afterwards.

Levon was in good company, with Vladimir Kramnik, Nigel Short and Vidit among the players to have blundered mate-in-1, and even in classical games. There was some similarity to Vidit’s game, with that same pawn on c3 early on that completed a mating net. Check out some amazing examples here.

That turned out to be the only decisive game of the match, with Levon missing a clear win with Black in Game 2 and some chances in Game 4. Duda summed up:

Obviously happy to win the match, even though the first game was very fortunate, and I’m very happy that I withstood the pressure, because usually I’m not so good in clinching matches.

Radjabov 3:1 So

In terms of Tour standings this was the other key result, with Teimour Radjabov’s 3:1 victory meaning there’s now a much more intense fight for 2nd place — Teimour is 3.5 points behind Wesley So — than for 1st. Wesley is a full 7 points off the pace set by Magnus.

Teimour got off to a great start when Wesley decided not to defend an isolated pawn but to sacrifice it in a combination that saw the queens leave the board. It backfired horribly, however, as a few moves later Teimour had trapped Black’s scattered pieces.

The second game went no better, as the only way Wesley found to stave off a sudden attack was to give up the exchange, which merely prolonged the suffering.

Teimour just played really well. I was hoping for a better fight today, but it wasn’t meant to be. I think Games 1 and 2 he simply gave me no chances.

Wesley hit back in Game 3, with our commentators surprised that the computer wasn’t showing the US star was winning in what they felt humanly to be an overwhelming position. In fact, however, Teimour timed his resignation to perfection. 

90.Ra5+, 90.Ke2, 90.Kf2 and 90.Kf3 all still draw here, according to tablebases, which are never wrong, while after 90.Ra3? Rb4! Wesley was winning. Teimour threw in the towel immediately. 

That was a tough blow for Teimour, and Wesley had previously managed to win two games in a row on demand against Magnus Carlsen, so a win in the 4th game certainly couldn’t be ruled out. 

Magnus, who plays Teimour on Saturday, commented:

He’s been playing great, really impressed by the way he played in the fourth game today after he lost the third in a pretty heart-breaking fashion for him, so a very strong opponent. Hopefully I can have another good day at work. 

Wesley pointed out 14.Nxg5! would have given him much better chances, while he finally blundered with 22.exd6?

After 22…cxd6 23.Kh2 White is alive, but Teimour struck with 22…h3! 23.Bf1 hxg2! 24.Be2 Ng5! and after 25.d5 Qh5 Wesley had seen enough. 

There are 9 points left to play for and Wesley is 7 points behind Magnus. How can he hope to win the tournament?

It’s hard to say. I think I’ve just got to remain sharp, play better chess, make less mistakes here and there. I think I’ve also got to beat Magnus!

Artemiev 3.5:2.5 MVL

Vladislav Artemiev has now beaten Magnus Carlsen, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in consecutive rounds, and his win over Maxime felt deserved, even if you only counted pawns! He was a pawn up in the first game, but couldn’t convert, did convert a position three pawns up in the second, and then didn’t convert again a pawn up in the 3rd. 

MVL wasn’t going to make it easy, however, and managed to break through what looked like a fortress in the final rapid game. Once again Vladislav was let down by his low time at the crucial moments, until Maxime crashed through. 

In the first drawn blitz game both players missed wins, before it got down to a pawn count again in the last. Vladislav had an extra pawn in a rook endgame and, with some help from his opponent, made it count.

Nakamura 4:3 Mamedyarov

This match initially went all Shakh’s way. He missed a chance to win a brilliant attacking game at the start of the match, but shrugged it off to show in the next that sometimes even a bad bishop can be too much for a good knight. His king managed to break through into the black kingside to bring home victory from what should have been an impenetrable position. 

Nakamura bounced back with a smooth win in the next game, however, and we went to a playoff. Mamedyarov took the lead when Hikaru missed a tactical detail, but then in the next game Hikaru was winning in 14 moves.

The pieces on e7, d7 and crucially also b7 are weak, and it turned out there was no way for Black to avoid losing a piece, though in the game there were some more adventures before Hikaru took the fight to Armageddon.

Hikaru is on record as favouring Black heavily in Armageddon, but this time he chose White, which made sense given the record of White in this match and Shakh’s matches in general. Nevertheless, by around move 30 it was Shakh who was winning a game he only needed to draw, and even when he let the win slip it seemed he was just following a good practical strategy of switching to the queenside. 

The knight had just come to e1, and now 46…Ng2 and capturing on h4 should have secured the draw Shakh needed. White can defend the pawn with 47.Nf5, but then there’s simply 47…Bd3, hitting that defender. 

Instead Shakh played 46…Kb4?! 47.Bxh5 Kc3? (47…Ng2! was the last chance) and may have been hallucinating Nc2 and checkmate… but there’s no checkmate while the knight on d4 defends c2. Hikaru could simply move his bishop and push his h-pawn up the board for a victory that had seemed impossible just a few moves earlier. 

That left Mamedyarov adrift at the bottom of the table, while 3rd place is a realistic goal for Hikaru.

As you can see, Magnus is on the brink of clinching the $100,000 top prize, and will do so unless Wesley outscores him in Round 7, when it’s Carlsen-Radjabov and So-Aronian.    

Don’t miss the action each day from 11:00 ET/17:00 CEST/20:30 IST!

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