Anish Giri won the Magnus Carlsen Invitational after beating Ian Nepomniachtchi 2-0 in a playoff blitz. Dutch no. 1 wins $ 60,000 and, as winner of a Major, joins Teimour Radjabov as a confirmed participant in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour final in San Francisco in September. Magnus Carlsen took 3rd place with a game to spare after beating Wesley So. Although this is not what the world champion wanted in the tournament with his name on it, he is only 5 points behind Wesley in the overall standings of the Tour.
You can replay all Magnus Carlsen Invitational knockout matches using the selector below.
And here is Peter Leko and Tania Sachdev’s last day commentary.
And David Howell, Jovanka Houska, and Kaja Snare.
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The final day looked like it could end soon after Carlsen and Giri took the lead, but in the end we had some high drama in the game that mattered the most.
However, let’s start by taking a look at the game for 3rd place.
Magnus Carlsen 2: 1 Wesley So
Without Wesley So we wouldn’t be talking about a mini-crisis for Magnus Carlsen. The American chess champion has single-handedly prevented Magnus from winning tournaments since mid-October by beating the world champion in the Skilling Open and Opera Euro Rapid finals. So it was a kind of revenge. Magnus commented, when asked if he was “very happy”:
I would say very happy is a massive hype. The third is better than the fourth for sure, and going forward obviously there will be a lot more events like this and it’s good to have one on Wesley. Clearly he was not 100% motivated and not in his best form, but like I said it’s way better than losing the last game and I spoke about it yesterday. After winning the first game, I clearly wanted to win this game.
The first game saw Wesley So creating a surprise by playing the hyper-aggressive 4.f3 against the Nimzo-Indian, but after 2 minutes of thinking, Magnus returned the surprise with 4… Nc6 !?
One curiosity is that the highest rated player to have tried this, according to the chess24 database, is our commentator Peter Leko, who once played him in a blindfolded match against Vasyl Ivanchuk.
Wesley immediately started consuming time too, and although the computer wasn’t convinced by the setup, Magnus did all it took, it was the coward. 13.Nf3 !? Nh5! 14.g3? to allow Black to take over.
14… g5! 15.fxg5 hxg5 16.Nxg5 Nf4!
Wesley thinks for more than 5 minutes, however 17.gxf4 was a sad necessity, and after 17… Rxh4 only very precise play could have kept the over-stretched white position together. Instead, Magnus quickly took an overwhelming position and won a smooth victory.
It was essentially that. Wesley got nothing in the next game and had to win the next two games on demand to force the playoffs. Magnus had proven that it was possible in the semifinals, but in Game 3 Wesley never stood a chance and it was Magnus who won the match with a draw.
It was, of course, a disappointing result for Magnus, who participates in every event he plays as a favorite, but there were some positives as well. He actually climbed to no. 2nd in the general classification of the Tour, after beating Wesley in the match for 3rd place when he was co-leader before the event, Teimour Radjabov was eliminated in the preliminary phase.
Magnus also saw an improvement in his game:
It’s pretty clear during the prelims and day one of the quarter-finals that I actually played really well when there was little stakes, and you could see that when the pressure was higher in the semi-finals, i spoiled it a bit, but I think Overall I played a lot better in this tournament than in the last one, so I think it’s a small step forward, although of course I would have liked not to not having my two worst days in the semifinals.
The key action, however, was elsewhere.
Ian Nepomniachtchi 2: 2 Anish Giri (Anish wins 2: 0 in the playoffs)
This final continued to be a Sicilian themed match, with Anish playing again against Najdorf in the opening match of the day. It was a meeting where none of the players seriously went astray, but we were able to witness aesthetic movements.
Giri 24… Rc3! was of course possible thanks to the pinned b-pawn, and it carries real venom. The carefree 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 then 25.Qf5 + Kg8 26.Nc5 he quickly continued to force a perpetual check draw.
It was in Game 2 that the draw streak finally ended, as Ian, with over 9 minutes left on his clock, played 18… Nc6? instead of 18… Ng6. It allowed 19.g6! and suddenly Black’s position collapsed.
After 19… 0-0-0 20.gxf7 Qxf7 21.Bc4! Anish picked up the electronic pawn and won a remarkably smooth game.
Ian now needed a quick win, but once against Giri, Najdorf held his ground in another intense draw, meaning Anish only needed a draw with White in the final game for win 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, resulting in a memorable finish.
The simple 37… Qf2 is perfectly sufficient, but Ian spotted the much more stylish 37… Rxe5! 38.Rxg3 Bxg3
Re1 then arrives to win the queen, and White can’t help it.
This meant that Ian Nepomniachtchi had forced a playoff series against all odds, but Anish had at least some reason for optimism:
What really helped was Ian’s game against Magnus, because there Ian wasted two must-see games and then won anyway, and he did it a day ago, so I never doubted that the match was over once. I went to the tie-break.
If anything, Anish may have been overly optimistic as he opted for a speculative sacrifice.
17.Nfe5 + ?! fxe5 18.dxe5 Bc5 left White with just one pawn for the play, but for a blitz match White certainly had some compensation in the form of attacking opportunities. Nepo was forced to use more time than usual, but still had a winning position at move 25.
Good options here are 25… Rg8 or 25… Qe8, but after 47 seconds (it was a 5 minute blitz game) Ian collapsed with 25… Rh7? The queen of Giri entered with 26.Qd7 +!, while Black could no longer defend with 26… Be7 since tower c8 is only defended once and can be captured.
Ian will comment later:
Considering the comeback in Game 4 and a completely winning position in the first blitz match, I would probably say I deserved a bit more, but then you spend a minute for a move like Rh7 and then you see Rh7 is wrong. and you still play Rh7, so it’s probably karma or something!
Giri then converted the win with surgical precision, with Ian able to see the funny side at the end.
This meant Nepo had to win once again on demand, and he ended a streak of 9 Sicilians in a row by playing 1.b3.
Anish saw this as an odd choice, as well as a justification for the way he played the Najdorf:
I was very happy, of course, especially that the Najdorf passed the test. In the last game he didn’t even go to 1.e4 which was surprising since people usually play 1.b3 because they want to get an interesting position, because they are fed up with boring openings, but I play the Najdorf! I don’t really see why you would avoid the Najdorf in a must-win, it’s anything but solid, but I imagine he probably felt I was very well prepared and didn’t want to end up in a situation where it comes into my preparation. He just wanted to have men against men, that’s fair enough.
It didn’t work though, with 16.Nd2? a losing move in an already unpleasant position.
Anish had eagle eyes again as she answered 16… Bg5!, with the weak square f3 forcing Nepo to swap minor parts with 17.Bxd4 Bxd2 18.Rd1 cxd4 19.Rxd2. 19… Nc5 saw the dark knight occupy a dream outpost where he couldn’t be challenged and hit White’s weak e4 pawn.
The White Bishop became a glorified pawn after 20.Bd3 and although the material was even, Black had a huge advantage in a match, he only needed to draw. Anish never wavered as he calmly took the win to take first place at the Magnus Carlsen Invitational.
The tournament was the second of three Majors in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and therefore granted Giri an automatic berth, alongside Teimour Radjabov, to the final to be held in San Francisco in September.
It also meant a good harvest of points and money.
It was Giri’s first victory in the Online Tour, but he was eager to point out afterwards that it was not his first victory in a major tournament (other highlights include Reggio Emilia in 2012 and the Shenzhen Masters. 2018).
Obviously it’s great to win, but I wouldn’t call it a career defining moment or anything. Contrary to this false news which was broadcast 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 19, Giri will have Black against Nepomniachtchi, which he trails by one point, when the candidates’ tournament interrupted by the pandemic finally resumes in Yekaterinburg. Anish felt her online success had given her a boost.
It is especially good for the atmosphere of the candidates, for the preparation. It’s also good because I firmly believe that there is no fate. Some say champions are made of something, that kind of nonsense. I absolutely don’t buy this, and it’s long before the Candidates that I win a tournament like this and know that if I get to a very happy situation that I’ll be close there, which is a long way to go, but if I ever get to this situation I will have no doubts, despite what a lot of people are trying to create.
It’s clear Anish will be armed to the teeth for Ekaterinburg, but Ian Nepomniachtchi enters the event as a co-leader and obviously in good shape. Defeating Nakamura and then Carlsen in online matches is something special, and he was incredibly close to getting into the last blitz game that only required a draw with White. As he later noted, he did so by avoiding the openings he planned to use in the candidates.
In the end, however, he fell right short and had to settle for the final prize of $ 40,000.
He didn’t hide the fact that he was happy that it was all over.
It also means the end of 9 intense days for chess fans, but we don’t have to wait for the contestants to return for the top action. The all-new Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour will see Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik captain the teams of some of the world’s best young players in a series of 5 $ 100,000 events that also qualify the winners of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.
For more details, check out our launch article, as we announce line-ups and more soon.