It turned out to be the ‘Twitter war’ showdown the fans wanted to see, as the Dutch world #10, Anish Giri, fought off the spirited semi-final dramatic comeback from Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi’s to go on to meet his big social media and generational rival, Magnus Carlsen, in the best-of-three-sets final of the $150,000 Chessable Masters, the third leg of the world champion’s pandemic lockdown-inspired $1m signature online tour hosted on Chess24.
But by Friday evening, Giri had it all to do to take the contest into Sunday’s final day, as a rollercoaster first set went Carlsen’s way. The Norwegian got off to a positive start by nearly winning the first game and then turning in a typically ‘Carlsen-like’ comfortable win in the second, as Giri produced a bad error at a critical stage in what looked a more than likely drawn rook and pawn ending.
And just as everyone thought Carlsen run up an easy first set win, inexplicably he made a horrendous blunder to gift Giri a free point that dramatically brought the struggling Dutchman back into the match. And just as the final blitz game before the Armageddon decider looked to be heading for a draw, there came a further moment of rook madness from Giri that left the commentators shocked, as Carlsen went on to convert the endgame win.
Now Giri faces a daunting task to stay in the contest, as he must win Saturday’s second set to force a deciding set on Sunday. The winner picks up $45,000 and the runner-up $27,000. It’s a tall ask now for Giri, but if he does produce a remarkable come-from-behind victory on Sunday, then an automatic place will await the Dutchman in the $300,000 4-player Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Grand Final in August – but Hikaru Nakamura will be the one cheering on Carlsen, his new online/streaming rival!
With Carlsen and Daniil Dubov already tour winners, both have a place in the Grand Final. If someone wins two tour legs or more, then a spot opens up for the player with the best cumulative score without a tour victory – and with Nakamura being a twice defeated finalist, and a quarter-final defeat now in the Chessable Masters, the US champion is in pole position to go forward to the Grand Final in August should Carlsen beat Giri.
The second set of the Carlsen-Giri Chessable Masters Final gets underway on Saturday (the live-action starting at 07:00 PST | 10:00 EST | 16:00 CET) with the cross-platform commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan & WGM Anna Rudolf, plus another leading GM, with live interviews of the players after the final result is known.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Anish Giri
Chessable Masters Final, (2)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 The so-called ‘Berlin Wall’ endgame after – 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 is considered the most testing line – but Carlsen opts for a more popular solid line that keeps the queens on for now, and he heads for a less familiar sort of endgame. 4…Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nc3 Qe7 7.h3 b6 8.a3 h6 9.Qe2 Bd7 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.fxe3 0-0-0 12.Qf2 Ne8 13.Qg3 f6 It creates the weakness of holes on g6 and f5, but Giri has to find a way to get his knight back into the game without leaving g7 vulnerable. 14.Nh4 Rg8 15.Nf5 Bxf5 16.exf5 At least Carlsen has solved the problem of his doubled e-pawns – and by now, the world champion looked to have steadily improved his position. 16…Nd6 17.e4 Qf7 18.Qf2 g6!? Rather than waiting for Carlsen to steadily grind you down, Giri opts for the radical solution to ‘mix it’ by trying to activate his pieces, albeit that it may well create long-term pawn weaknesses. 19.fxg6 Qxg6 20.g4 Putting a big clamp on the f5 square. 20…h5 21.0-0-0 hxg4 22.hxg4 Qxg4 I don’t blame Giri for taking this route, as the more major pieces that come off the board, the easier it will be to defend his pawn weaknesses. 23.Qxf6 Qg5+ 24.Qxg5 Rxg5 There’s very little in the position, Carlsen has the obvious upper-hand with the much-better pawn structure (one pawn island vs two, and a weak isolated e-pawn – but boy, how the world champion knows just how to turn the screws. 25.a4 a5 26.Rdg1 Rdg8 27.Rxg5 Rxg5 28.Nb1! The knight has to re-route to f3 (or possibly c4) to gang-up on the e5-pawn. 28…b5?! Bizarre, to say the least, as all this achieves is to make further pawn weaknesses – and they all begin to add up. Better was the more natural 28…Kd7! to simply bring the king into the game. If now 29.Nd2 Nf7 30.Nc4 Rg6 and it is going to be all but impossible to gang-up on the e5-pawn. But then again, when you are playing Carlsen, there’s a fear you don’t want to be lured into a sort of grinding position where he’s happy to relentlessly torture you. And with …b5, Giri is trying his best to liquidate the position as rapidly and as efficiently as he can. 29.Nd2 Rg3 If 29…bxa4? 30.Nf3 Rg2 31.Nxe5 c5 32.Rh8+ Kb7 33.c4! and Carlsen will only be too happy to play ‘Pac Man’ with the Black pawns. 30.b3 bxa4 31.bxa4 c5 32.Nf1 Arguably a stronger and better way to play the endgame was 32.Kb2! with the idea of Kb2-c3 followed by Rh5 – the point being that Black’s pawns are all sitting targets. With that in mind, the best continuation now is 32…c4!? but after 33.Kc3 cxd3 34.cxd3 Rg6 (If 34…Rg5 35.Rh4! and now there’s no stopping Nf3 picking off the e5-pawn) 35.Rh5 Re6 36.Nf3 Nf7 37.Rf5 and, once again, the e5-pawn is set to fall – and also this time with it, the a5-pawn. 32…Rf3 33.Kd1 c4 34.Ke2 Rf7 35.Nd2 A little puzzling, because when I saw Carlsen opting for Kd1-e2, I firmly believed his plan was going to be 35.Ne3 with the better-placed knight that hits c4 and cane come into d5, or even g4 hitting e5. 35…Rg7 36.Kf3 Kd7?! Even more puzzling from Giri – it seems, to me anyway, that the obvious try was 36…cxd3 37.Rh8+ Kb7 38.cxd3 Re7 39.Nb3 (hence the reason for …Kb7 rather than …Kd7) 39…Kb6 40.Rh6 and while the ensuing ending is still tough for Black, I feel this should be a grandmaster-level hold with so few pawns left on the board, and plenty of chances in the worst-case scenario to sacrifice the knight for a possible R+N v R ending, which is a technical draw. 37.Rh5 Rg1 38.Rxe5 Rc1 39.Nxc4 Nxc4 40.dxc4 Rxc2 41.Rxa5 Rxc4 This is now a tough ending for Black to defend against, as it needs very accurate play to hold the draw, as White has good prospects to convert a possible win with the rook protecting the passed a-pawn and the king supporting the e-pawn up the board. 42.Rd5+ Ke6 43.a5 Rc1? There’s an old adage that “All rook endings are drawn”, but elite-level grandmaster or not, this is just bad technique from Giri, who obviously doesn’t remember the “22 essential rules” from Smyslov & Levenfish’s essential 1971 endgame tome, Rook Endings. The golden rule in any R+P ending, such as this, is to place your rook as quickly as possible behind the passed pawn. And here, the correct way to hold for a draw was 43…Ra4! 44.Kf4 Ra2! and from here, the rook is ideally placed to stop the a-pawn running and give annoying checks on the f- and g-files; and also note how White can’t move his rook off the fifth rank, as it is tied down to defending the a-pawn. Now, one scenario plays out 45.Rh5 Rf2+ 46.Ke3 Ra2 47.Rc5 (If 47.a6 going for the cheap trick of 47…Ra6?? 48.Rh6+ picking off the rook, Black simply plays 47…c6! 48.Rh6+ Ke5! 49.Rxc6 Ra3+ 50.Kd2 Kxe4 and an easy textbook draw.) 47…Kd6 48.Rd5+ Ke6 and White isn’t going to be able to make any progress. 44.Rd8! [see diagram] You live and learn. Well, you live anyway! Giri missed the boat to get his rook behind the a-pawn when it mattered, and Carlsen doesn’t need to be asked twice to demonstrates his knowledge of R+P endings! 44…Rf1+ If now 44…Ra1 45.Ra8 Kd6 46.a6 Kc5 47.e5! and now Black can’t deal with the two pawns running this far up the board, as in the end, one will become a decoy for the other queening. 45.Ke2 Ra1 46.Ra8 Kd6 47.a6 Kc6 48.Ke3 We’re basically back to the note above. 48…Re1+ 49.Kf4 Kb6 50.e5 c5 51.Rc8 Rf1+ If 51…Kxa6 52.Rxc5 we reach one of the two critical R+P endgames every chess-player must know, the winning ‘Lucena Position‘ – the other being the drawing ‘Philidor Position’ – with the Black king cut-off from getting over to cover the passed pawn. 52.Kg5 Rg1+ 53.Kf6 With the king so far up the board and cover from the checks, the final result now is a foregone conclusion. 53…Rf1+ 54.Ke7 Rc1 55.e6 c4 56.Kd7 Rd1+ 57.Ke8 Rc1 58.e7 c3 59.Kf7 Rf1+ 60.Kg6 Rg1+ 61.Kf5 Rf1+ 62.Kg4 1-0 Giri resigns, as Carlsen’s king waltzes right up the board via the g- and f-files till there’s no more checks.