It was Magnus Carlsen’s day, literally, in the penultimate round of the 9th Bilbao Masters Final in the Spanish Basque Country. With his fourth win of the tournament, he secured his third Bilbao Masters title with the luxury of a round to spare. And not only that, in the process he finally ended the odd anomaly in the game today of beating the only player he’s never beaten at classical chess before, namely the hapless Russian-born Dutchman, Anish Giri.
It was five and a half years ago at the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee when Giri won the first game between the two, and there had only been draws ever since. But just like Hikaru Nakamura’s jinx against Carlsen came to an end in the opening round in Bilbao, likewise Carlsen’s Giri jinx had to end - and with the normally rock-solid Dutchman in a rut, Carlsen admitted he had “gambled a bit” in getting the win as, psychologically, his opponent was in “bad shape.”
Carlsen certainly took liberties in the position as he constantly pressed and probed until Giri finally cracked. Carlsen’s fourth win was only the seventh decisive game of the tournament, and he’s now featured in five of them! And by going 6-points clear of Nakamura at the top, Carlsen’s victory with a round to spare will undoubtedly prove to be a massive confidence-booster for him ahead of his title defence in November against Sergey Karjakin.
And the world champion is now on course to easily break Garry Kasparov’s record of supertournament victories. Carlsen has now won 28 (so far!) supertournaments to open a lead of five ahead of former champions Vishy Anand and Vladimir Kramnik. Kasparov head’s the list with a career-best 40 victories, but Carlsen - who is far ahead of Kasparov’s at the same age - has time on his side to now have that record firmly in his sights.
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 16/27; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 11; 3-4. Wei Yi (China), Wesley So (USA) 10; 5. Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 8; 6. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 6. (In Bilbao, the three-point soccer rule applies for a win, with 1 point for a draw).
GM Magnus Carlsen - GM Anish Giri
9th Bilbao Masters Final, (9)
1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 This is what is known as "The Modern London", or indeed The Agile London System, according to the latest New in Chess book on it. Basically, it's the club-player's favourite of the easy-to-learn London System that’s been adopted successfully by Carlsen into his repertoire, the difference being that White differs the development of the Nf3 for a while and hopes to benefit from the delay. 2...Bf5 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 Bxd3 5.Qxd3 c6 6.Nd2 Nf6 7.Ngf3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.h3 Nbd7 10.a4 c5 11.a5 c4 12.Qe2 b5 13.axb6 axb6 14.Ne5 Nxe5 15.dxe5 Nd7 16.Qg4 Re8 17.h4 f5 18.Qh3 Rxa1 19.Rxa1 c3 Fear is the biggest reason why Giri doesn't take the pawn on h4. He's having a bad tournament, and he fears that Carlsen has an attack. So fear is playing a big part here on the psychological approach from Carlsen - and here, Giri could well be right to fear what would happen if he took on h4. 19...Bxh4 20.g4! (This is the best chance, as it brings White's queen more into the attack, and also creates a weakness on e6 that Carlsen can exploit. And not 20.Nf3 Be7 21.Ra7 b5! 22.Qh5 g6 23.Qh6 Bf8 24.Qh2 Bc5!) 20...g5!? (If 20...fxg4 21.Qxg4 Now Ra7 is a problem, as it threatens Rxd7 and Qxh4, as the Black bishop can't return to e7 due to Qxe6+.) 21.Nf3!? gxf4 22.exf4 and it is all beginning to look "messy", but Carlsen probably has enough here to hold the position. 22...Be7 23.gxf5 exf5 24.Ra7 and with Carlsen's rook active on the seventh, his knight ready to swing into d4, and f5 under attack, I can't see how Black can consider winning this; and equally, I can't see Carlsen winning it either without the help of his opponent. But ultimately, when you have lost your confidence at the board, you would fear facing this sort of messy position against Carlsen. 20.bxc3 Qc7 21.c4! Carlsen doesn't want to let Giri's queen into the game by coming to c3. 21...Nxe5? Giri cracks. He had to play 21...dxc4 22.Nf3 and allow Carlsen's knight to come to d4 where it will hone in on the e6 weakness. And ultimately, there's now not much in the position anymore, as Black will have to reinforce his defence of e6, and White will try to keep the pressure on it. But Carlsen's gamble against Giri looks to have paid off, as the pin on the knight turns out to be a major headache for the Dutchman. 22.Qg3 Bd6 23.cxd5 A rare oversight from Carlsen, whose normally alert antenna failed to spot 23.c5! bxc5 24.Ra6! and there's no way to stop Rxd6 and Bxe5 and two pieces for the rook - and in a position where the pieces are much stronger than the rook. 23...exd5 24.Nb3 Carlsen's knight is heading for the wonderful d4 outpost where it dominates Black's three weak pawns on b6, d5 and f5. He may be two pawns down, but he has superb compensation for them. 24...Qxc2 The alternative was 24...Qc3 but after 25.h5 Black is more or less forced to take on c2 (as happens in the game), the only difference being that White has got h5 in for free. 25.Nd4 Qc8 If 25...Qc3 26.Rd1 Qc8 (And not 26...Qc7?? 27.Nxf5 wins.) 27.Rb1 Qd7 28.Qh3 and the weakness on b6 and f5 will see Carlsen picking up one, perhaps two pawns, while having the better-co-ordinated pieces to press on for a win. 26.h5 Qd7 27.Rb1 Bc7 28.f3 Prophylaxis. With Giri left in a bind trying to escape the pin from the queen and bishop, Carlsen casually plays f3 that prevents any future hopes of Black playing a saving ...Ng4(+). 28...Qf7 29.Ra1! Carlsen is again returning to the theme of Ra7 and pressure along the seventh rank. 29...Bd6 30.Ra6 Qxh5? For the second successive game, Giri totally loses the thread of the game, as he gets frustrated by the pin and wants to be free from it. But his only hopes of staying in the game was with 30...Qb7! as Carlsen has no forcing win with 31.Nxf5 Nxf3+! 32.gxf3 Bxf4 33.exf4 Rf8! and the game is equal. 31.Rxb6 Nc4 32.Rxd6 Nxd6 33.Bxd6 Rxe3 34.Be5 Quicker would have been 34.Qf4 Re1+ 35.Kf2 Ra1 36.Nxf5 Ra2+ 37.Ke3 Qe8+ 38.Ne7+! Kh8 39.g4 and Carlsen is easily winning this: With g4, he's looking to push g5-g6 etc with serious mating threats; and it is also difficult for Giri to somehow get his queen into the game for a series of checks, as the knight covers c8 and the bishop b8. This is almost resignation stage. 34...Qg6 If the queens are exchanged, Giri can easily hold the draw here even if he loses the pawns on d5 and f5. For Carlsen, the mission is to keep the queens on the board. 35.Qf4 Re1+ 36.Kf2 Ra1 37.Qd2 Ra8? A blunder right at the time control. Giri had chances of staying in the game by opening lines to the White king with the more practical attempt of 37...f4! 38.Ne2 (38.Qxf4 Qb1 39.Kg3 Qg6+ 40.Kf2 Qb1 and a repetition.) 38...Qb6+ 39.Bd4 Qa5! 40.Nc3 Qa6! 41.Qxf4 Qf1+ 42.Kg3 Qe1+ 43.Kg4 h5+ 44.Kf5 (44.Kxh5 Ra6 45.Nxd5 Qh1+ 46.Kg5 Qxg2+ 47.Qg4 Qxg4+ 48.fxg4) 44...Ra6 and White's king is in dangerous waters, and this will be enough for Black to find a repetition or exchange of queens that will safeguard the draw. 38.Nxf5! (See Diagram) Taking full advantage of Qxd5+ winning either the rook and queen with mate; or merely just the Black queen. 38...Qe6 If 38...Qxf5 39.Qxd5+ Kf8 (39...Kh8 40.Qxa8+ Qf8 41.Qxf8#) 40.Bd6+ wins the house. 39.Qg5 g6 40.Nh6+ Kf8 41.Ng4 Ke8 42.Nf6+ Kf7 43.Nxh7 Ra4 44.Qd8 Ra2+ 45.Kg1 1-0 Giri resigns, as he's going to get mated or lose his queen: 45...Qxe5 (45...Qe7 46.Qxd5+ Ke8 47.Nf6+ Qxf6 48.Bxf6) 46.Qf8+ Ke6 47.Qe8+ Kd6 48.Qb8+ Ke6 49.Nf8+ winning.