The Dutch chess scene is currently enjoying a remarkable renaissance in 2021 with two famous victories in as many months. In late January, dark-horse young Dutch star Jorden van Foreest stunned the chess world by snatching a rare home victory in the Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee, after he sensationally edged out his crestfallen compatriot Anish Giri in the final round. And after that set-back, now comes Giri’s own ‘podium moment’, this time the Dutch world #7 claiming victory in the 2nd Magnus Carlsen Invitational, the fourth leg of the $1.5m Meltwater Champions Chess Tour from the Play Magnus Group.
In what proved to be a nervy and not to mention nerve-wracking final that was beset by a series of blunders in Sunday’s all-deciding second set – with the first set tied at 2-2 after four draws; and the second set also ending 2-2 with a win apiece – Giri beat the Russian world #4, Ian Nepomniachtchi, to capture the title, after the match went to a blitz tiebreaker, only this time the Dutchman holding his nerve at the end to win 2-0.
And not only does Giri capture his first tour title, he also does so in style by earning $60,000 in prize money and the added big bonus of winning the second of three Majors on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour to boldly claim his automatic spot, alongside Teimour Radjabov (Airthings Masters), into the season-ending Finals that will be held in San Francisco in September.
In his post-match interview, Giri confirmed that his victory comes at a timely moment, as it will undoubtedly prove to be a big boost for his confidence going into next month’s pandemic-interrupted 2020 Candidates Tournament in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where the Dutchman is a point off the joint-lead shared by Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. The winner of the Candidates Tournament will go on to challenge World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a title match in Dubai later in the year.
In the big battle for 3rd/4th spot between Carlsen and US champion Wesley So (more of which in our next column), the world #1 was back to his brilliant best as he comprehensively crushed the current tour leader to gain 50 point and jump two places into 2nd place in the tour standings, just 5 points behind So.
GM Anish Giri – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
Magnus Carlsen Inv. | Final, (2.2)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.g4 From the Sicilian Taimanov, an aggressive pseudo-Keres Attack of sorts we would normally associate with the Sicilian Scheveningen, but where the knight is already on f6 – and although this should give Nepo greater options, the Russian inexplicably opts to go down the Keres Attack route. 7…h6N It may well be a novelty from Nepo, but I fail to see what good it does in this position. Better was 7…b5 8.Nxc6 Qxc6 9.Bg2 Bb7 10.a3 Ne7!? with the knight better-placed here rather than walking right into the line of fire on f6. 8.h4 Nf6 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Qf3 d5 11.g5 hxg5 12.hxg5 Rxh1 13.Qxh1 Ng4 14.Bd2 Bb7 If Nepo can somehow consolidate and get his king to safety, then Black is doing OK – but Giri doesn’t give him the time to do so by cutting straight to the chase. 15.Qh3! Ne5 16.0-0-0 d4 17.Nb1 c5 18.f4 Nc6? I couldn’t believe this error when I saw it played on the board – certainly the position has become double-edged very quickly, but Nepo simply had to play 18…Ng6 19.f5 Ne5 20.g6 exf5 21.exf5 0-0-0 22.f6+ (Or even 22.gxf7 Qxf7 23.Qa3 d3!) 22…Kb8 and take his chances here; it’s not outright bad for Black, it’s just that he has to tread a little carefully. That said, I wonder whether Nepo didn’t think it made much difference of whether the knight went to c6 or g6, as it would return to e5 anyway after f5 – if this is the case, then he overlooked a critical move in his calculations. 19.g6! A typical pawn advance that wreaks havoc in Black’s pawn structure – and with it, suddenly Nepo is in a whole world of hurt, as Black’s position is ripped open with a move that wasn’t available had the knight gone to g6 in the first place. 19…0-0-0 What else is there now? Black is now in full survival mode after missing 19.g6!, and no better was 19…e5 20.Bc4! f6 21.Bf7+ Kd8 22.Na3 exf4 23.Nc4 and White’s pieces are well-placed to move in for the kill after Rf1 and Bxf4, which Black looks to have no answer to. 20.gxf7 Qxf7 21.Bc4 Kb8 Nepo’s position is misery, but more a Stephen King version with a capital “M” and Kathy Bates wielding a sledgehammer to your ankles! 22.Bxe6 Qc7 23.Bc4 The lost pawn is the least of Nepo’s problems – Giri’s actively placed pieces and the big passed e-pawn is going to quickly kill off the Russian. 23…Ka7 24.Na3 Nb4 25.Re1 Be7 26.Kb1 A nice little prophylactic move from Giri, who is no great rush to force the win, and offering both his bishops greater scope by just avoiding any possibilities of a later …Qxf4+ or even a …Nxa2+. 26…Re8 27.e5 Bd8 28.Bb3 Offering the knight the wonderful c4 outpost. 28…g5 29.Nc4 gxf4 30.Bxf4 Nd5 31.Bd2 Qg7 32.Nd6 Rh8 Nepo is attempting to hustle as best he can, but he’s well and truly busted, and Giri very efficiently finishes off the game. 33.Qe6 Bh4 34.Rc1 Such is Giri’s confidence in his position, he doesn’t even need to risk putting his rook onto d1 or f1 where it might be attacked. 34…Nc7 35.Qc4! [see diagram] Such is the dire straits Nepo is in, Giri can even afford to offer-up his strong passed e-pawn to finish off the game. 35…Qxe5 36.Nf7 Qh2 37.Qxc5+! Giri isn’t interested in the rook for now – he’s going to torture Nepo further with the precarious state of his king. 37…Kb8 38.Qxd4 Rf8 39.Bf4! Bg3 40.Bxg3 Qxg3 41.Qb4! 1-0 Nepo resigns as any rook move loses, such as 41…Re8 42.Nd6; 41…Rg8 42.Nd6 or 41…Rxf7 42.Bxf7 etc.