Magnus Carlsen is the new champion of the 9th edition of Bilbao Chess Masters in the Spanish city. With 16 points after Round-9, the Norwegian World Champion did not even need to wait for the 10th round since he had established a runaway 5-point lead over the second-placed Hikaru Nakamura of USA. In addition to winning the tournament, Carlsen has also finally broken the jinx of beating Dutchman Anish Giri in a classical chess game. That was the only victory on Friday since the other two games featuring Nakamura- Karjakin and Wesley So-Yi Wei ended as draws. The 10th and last round was played but the results didn’t change the overall standing since all three games were drawn. USA’s Nakamura was second; China’s 17 year old star Yi Wei was third; American Wesley So fourth; Sergey Karjakin fifth and Anish Giri was placed sixth with three losses in the repeat round-robin games.
In a previous post on these pages, the author had described Carlsen’s dilemma of not having been able to beat Anish Giri in classical games over the last 5 years. The Dutch GM held him to a draw in the fifth round on Sunday and the two met again in the ninth round on Friday. In their second match, Carlsen played Whites and extracted nothing out of the opening. The Norwegian just played along coolly and extended the game, while also enhancing the pressure with some close moves. On his part, Giri responded quite well and after move 15, build a slightly advantageous position for himself. But with an aggressive h4 in the 17th move, Carlsen gambled with his chances. Giri lapsed into errors and couldn’t control his game. Though Giri was able to continue in the game somehow, he fell into a worse position, when White won two pieces in exchange for the Black rook. Giri also got into a time trouble and missed an important tactic that Carlsen fully exploited.
In the sixth round, Giri was beaten by China’s Yi Wei and in the eighth on Thursday, Wesley So also accounted for the Dutchman. Thus Giri succumbed to his third loss in four days to be pushed back to the last spot at Bilbao. By a strange coincidence, Giri’s Georgian wife Sopiko Guramishvili also lost on the same two days that the Dutch GM lost his first two games at Bilbao. This elicited a remark from chess analyst Peter Doggers that the young couple was solid in the loss as well. Sopiko is an extremely beautiful chess player nicknamed as “Miss Tactics” in chess circuits. The two got married last year and they are expecting a baby, later this year.
In Round-8 on Thursday, they all waited for the second clash between Carlsen and Karjakin but it turned out to be an anti-climax. Russian fans were hoping that Karjakin will square up the score by beating Carlsen in the precursor to the big event in New York in November, but the Russian failed to exert any real pressure on the World Champion. They started on a Ragozin and Carlsen easily took an upper hand at the start. In middle game, Carlsen produced an excellent knight maneuver that allowed him to strengthen his center and then sacrificed his b-pawn as the game inched to a boring draw.
The round-9 game between Hikaru Nakamura and Sergey Karjakin was the most interesting. It lasted 34 moves before being declared a draw. The Russian was trying to repeat the moves from Nakamura’s game against Carlsen played in Paris last month, in which Carlsen landed himself into trouble by playing 17..a6. but Karjakin improved upon that and avoided Carlsen’s error. But they traded all minor pieces and their positions were reduced to a completely drawn rook endgame. In the last game on Friday, Yi Wei and Wesley So also drew their game playing Catalan.
The last day of the 2016 Bilbao Chess Masters had three drawn games. That simply meant that Nakamura would hold on to his second position in the standings. By virtue of his victory over Giri in Round-6, Chinese teenager Yi Wei jumped to the third spot. American Wesley so ended at fourth, Karjakin was fifth and Giri finished the tournament as last in the overall placement.