With Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin hogging the limelight in the 9th Bilbao Masters Final, in the only meeting between the two ahead of their upcoming title contest, we’ve missed the moment when Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - after all the recent tragedies unfolding in his homeland - achieved the best performance ever from a French-born player by winning the title ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana. And in doing so, we’ve also missed that, in the process, the Frenchman has leapfrogged both to secure second spot behind Carlsen in the unofficial world rankings.
But if we are talking about missed moments, then there were plenty of those on display in round 8 in Bilbao - where arguably the biggest of all came from the World Champion himself! And, if Carlsen had indeed had found the right move, he would have scored what would have been a psychologically scarring 2-0 win against his title challenger ahead of their upcoming match scheduled for New York City in November.
In today’s diagram, Carlsen’s ‘missed moment’ came, with Karjakin having just played 15.Nxb5, where seeing nothing better, he replied 15…axb5 and the game ended in a threefold repetition after 16.Ne5 Rb8 17.Qa6 Ra8 18.Qb7 Rb8 19.Qa6 Ra8. But what the World Champion missed - and what every silicon sidekick was screaming for - was the other recapture with 15...cxb5! 16.0-0 (Now if 16.Ne5 Re7 and the queen is soon going to be trapped) 16...Bc7! (Arguably this may well be what Carlsen missed in his calculations, as this time if 16...Re7? 17.Ba5! and there’s no check when you take on a5) 17.Ne5 Rb8 18.Qxa6 Re6! 19.Qa7 Bb6 and now the queen is well and truly snared. What a missed moment indeed!
Another missed moment was Anish Giri failing to capitalise on his opening advantage against the US No.3, Wesley So. And the indecision led to the Dutchman losing his second game of the tournament. A brace of losses is certainly uncharacteristic for the normally rock-solid Giri, but in his defence, his mind could be elsewhere...
Photo © | 9th Bilbao Masters Final
Recently it was announced that his wife, WGM Sopiko Guramishvili, is expecting their first child - so perhaps we can forgive Giri’s uncharacteristic uneven play here in Bilbao, as it seems he's having 'sympathy pains' with his wife. She’s playing in the Open tournament in Bilbao, and has now also lost two games - and both losses have come on the same days as her husband has lost!
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 13/24; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 10; 3-4. Wei Yi (China), Wesley So (USA) 9; 5. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 7; 6. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 6. (In Bilbao, the three-point soccer rule applies for a win, with 1 point for a draw)
GM Wesley So - GM Anish Giri
9th Bilbao Masters Final (8)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.Re1 Ng4 7.Re2 Kh8 8.h3 f5! Taking full advantage of a common attacking theme here. 9.Nc3 White can't accept the early piece sacrifice, as Black's attack soon becomes overwhelming: 9.hxg4 fxg4 10.Ng5 Qf6 11.Qe1 (Not 11.Nf7+? Rxf7 12.Bxf7 g3! and White's position is wrecked.) 11...Nd4 12.Be3 Nxe2+ 13.Qxe2 Bxe3 14.Qxe3 d6 15.Nc3 h6 16.Nf7+ Rxf7 17.Bxf7 Qxf7 and as the dust settles, Black has emerged with the better position with an extra pawn. 9...Nf6 10.Be3 Bxe3 11.fxe3 fxe4 12.dxe4 d6 It's clear, with White having the ugly doubled and isolated e-pawns, Black has emerged with the better of the opening here. And now that Giri has that early advantage, he has to go in for the kill. 13.a3 Qe8 14.Qd3 Nd8 When you have the advantage, you have to also the seize the moment and not wait for your opponent to gift it to you. Giri is being alarmingly uber-cautious here when he should be attacking. He has to 'go for it' with the all-out attack: Qe8-g6, Qh6 and even g7-g5-g4. And this was confirmed after the game in the post-mortem when Wesley So himself said he was worried about 14...Qg6, as all the variation favoured Black. 15.Rf2 Be6 16.Raf1 a6 17.Nd2 With Giri not having the courage to go for the jugular, the worst of it is now over for So, as he's managed to make the most of his bad position to now have an equal game. 17...b5 18.Bxe6 Nxe6 Those previously ugly and doubled isolated e-pawns now serve a vital function for So, as they prevent Black's knights from gaining key outposts. 19.Nd5 Nd7 20.Rxf8+ Ndxf8 21.c4 c6 22.Nc3 Qe7 23.b4 Nd7 24.Nb3 Nf6 25.Na5 Qc7 26.Rc1 Qd7 If Giri thought he had any advantage left at all, he should have played 26...Qb6 27.Kh2 Rd8 and try to make what little he can from this position. But the truth is is that her - and as happens in the game - Black has nothing, and indeed he now starts to drift, allowing So to seize his chance. 27.cxb5 axb5 28.a4?! So want's to make a target of Black's queenside pawns - but they only do so with the help of his opponent, who by now was losing the thread of the game. 28...bxa4 29.Nxa4 Rf8?! The best form of defence is always attack, and here So missed the best way to hold the position with 29...Qa7! 30.Kh2 and now (If 30.Rxc6 Nf4 31.Qb3 Rf8! and suddenly there's an element of danger for the White king with ...Ng4, ...Ne2+ and ...Qe7 with mating threats. 32.Nb6 Ne2+ 33.Kf2 (33.Kh2?? Qe7! followed by ...Ng4+ mating.) 33...Nc3! 34.Kg1 (Not 34.Rxc3? Nxe4+ 35.Kg1 Nxc3 36.Qxc3 Qxb6 and an easy win.) 34...Nfxe4 and Black is seriously going to be pressing the safety of White's king.) 30...Rf8 31.Rxc6 Qe7 and White's pieces are just placed a little awkward (especially those knights on the rim on a4 and a5) to safely defend his king, and the immediate threat is ...Ng4+ with a perpetual of ...Qh4+ and ...Qe1. And my silicon sidekick confirms that White now has to accept this by playing: 32.Nb6 Ng4+ 33.hxg4 Qh4+ 34.Kg1 Qe1+ and a draw. 30.Nb6 Qf7 31.Nxc6 Giri has squandered all his chances now, and from here on in So controls the game to convert his advantage. 31...Ng5 32.Rf1 Qc7 33.Qb5 Ngxe4 34.Nd5! The pin on the f-file helps So to exchange down to a won ending, thanks to the passed b-pawn and the pawn weakness on d6. 34...Qd7 35.Nxf6 gxf6 36.Qd5! Nc3 37.Qc4 Na4 38.b5 Nb6 39.Qd3 Rg8 Black would really like to get in 39...d5, but it fails due to the pin again on the f-file with 40.Nxe5! 40.e4 A nice move, consolidating White's hold of d5 and f5, while at the same time defending against ...Qxh3. 40...Qe6 41.Rd1 With the wonderfully posted Nc6 stopping ...Rd8, d6 is doomed to fall at the right moment. 41...Nd7 42.Kh2 Nc5 43.Qxd6 Qxd6 44.Rxd6 Nxe4 45.Re6 And with the Nc6 also controlling the b8 queening square, Giri's pawn on f6 will now also fall as he tries to prevent the pawn run b6-b7 etc. 45...Nc5 46.Rxf6 e4 47.Rf5 Nb7 48.Re5! Defending b5 and dominating the e-pawn. Once that falls, Giri can just pack up and go home. 48...Nd6 49.Nd4 Rb8 50.g4 The winning plan is simply, as the king marches over towards Black's e-pawn. 50...Kg8 51.Kg3 Kf7 52.Nf5! Taking advantage of a knight fork to force the exchange of knights and cleanly won rook and pawn ending. 52...Kf6 If 52...Nxb5? 53.Rxb5 Rxb5 54.Nd6+ easily wins. 53.Kf4 Now White sets a mating net. 53...Nxb5 54.g5+ Kg6 If 54...Kf7 then we're back to the knight fork win. 55.Re7 Threatening Rg7+ followed by Rxh7 mate. So... 55...Rh8 56.Kg4! h5+ 57.Kf4 1-0 Giri resigns, as the only way to stop Nh4 mate is 57...h4 58.Kg4 and we're back to the dual mating threats of Rg7 and (if ...Rg8) Nxh4 mate.