The first time Magnus Carlsen played a classical chess game against Netherlands’ Anish Giri was 5 years ago. Both of them were teenagers. The 16-year old Giri was an emerging chess star and 19 year old Carlsen had been around for a while. But the Norwegian was not the world champion and that honor belonged to India’s Viswanathan Anand. Giri and Carlsen played in Tata Steel Chess tournament in the Dutch city of Wijk aan Zee in January 2011 and Giri defeated Carlsen in Round-3. Since then, these two have played against each other in 13 classical games and Sunday’s Bilbao meeting between the two was the 15th. Carlsen may be the world champion but he has never been able to beat Giri. In Round-5, their encounter ended as another drawn game. For the first day in the 2016 tournament, all games were drawn. That also marked the halfway stage of the tournament with Carlsen in a solid lead over all others. After Monday’s rest day, Giri finally and unexpectedly lost in Tuesday’s Round-6 to China’s rising star Yi Wei. The other two matches between Carlsen-Nakamura and Karjakin-So were drawn.
On Sunday, Carlsen came to the board to make another attempt to beat Anish Giri, whose unbeaten status against the world champion is slowly becoming a folk story in chess. In order to create a novelty value, Carlsen surprising played the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The world champion had Black pieces and although his Bg4 response in the 4th move and Nc6 on the 7th didn’t look promising, it worked against Giri. They stood at equal position after move 16 and a few moves later, Carlsen looked in a better position. But the Dutch GM worked his way back into the game by avoiding any further mistakes despite heavy pressure from Carlsen and the game petered into a draw. Thus, for another time, Carlsen found it difficult to invade Giri’s fortress.
Round-5 saw the shortest game of the tournament between Karjakin and Nakamura lasting just 13 moves. It was another Queen’s Gambit Declined and after Karjakin played a novelty, the game was drawn. In Sunday’s last game between Wesley So and Wei Yi, the Chinese decided to play the Petroff and the game became boring even at the start. The two players resorted to Berlin and on the 5.Nc3 line they castled their queenside. The game came alive, when Yi started pushing up his kingside pawns. The game began to look like a chess-training puzzle and from 27. h4, all kingside pawns disappeared and soon other minor pieces also left the board. Finally, the game was reduced to 4 pawns vs 4 pawn and ended as a draw.
In Round-6 on Tuesday, Giri suffered his first loss after 5 drawn games. His conqueror was China’s Yi Wei. They played a Berlin Endgame that looked headed for a draw until Giri made an error in the 22nd move and yet again in the 31st. Yi was quick to pounce on the opportunity and became the third winner in the tournament after Nakamura and Carlsen. Nakamura and Carlsen played for the second time on Tuesday but they settled for a draw in the end. Carlsen wanted to play something different but the first 16 moves were theoretical. Except for a brief tactical phase, a draw always looked on the cards. The third game between Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So was also an uninspiring draw. Karjakin looked like suffering from cold and played tentatively against the American. It all started with Karjakin’s 14th move error, which allowed So to keep his bishop pair intact. Although that position gave an upper hand to So for a while, Karjakin kept defending throughout and managed a draw. The Russian should consider himself lucky that he didn’t lose. Wednesday’s Round-7 will feature games between Nakamura & So, Carlsen & Wei, and Giri & Karjakin.