Anish Giri catapulted himself up the Meltwater Champions Chess leaderboard with a dramatic win in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational today. The Dutch No.1 found his killer instinct to overpower Russian champ Ian Nepomniachtchi in an intensely-tight final that went to tiebreaks.
It was 26-year-old Giri's first tournament victory in the $1.5 million Tour organised by Play Magnus Group. He takes home the top prize of $60,000 and a ticket to the final in September.
The match finally exploded after five consecutive draws - four in Set 1 yesterday and the opening game in the decider. Game 1 saw Giri launch a fearsome attack on Nepo but the Russian weathered the storm to steer towards a fifth peaceful resolution by repetition. It looked like something special was needed to separate the pair - and that's exactly what happened in Game 2.
Giri is a player who has in the past been unfairly maligned for racking up too many draws. But in this event, the Dutchman played with a new-found speed and confidence. Giri was relentless as he piled on the pressure and eventually forced Nepo to resign. Finally, a decisive game.
With the two-day final resting on this final set, it left the Dutchman just one win away from taking the title while Ian needed a win. Yet the third followed the previous pattern of draws - an exciting game, but neither player able to get a breakthrough. Nepomniachtichi had just one shot to level the score and take the final to tiebreaks.
Only needing his alleged speciality - the draw - to seal the match, something happened to Giri. The Dutchman gave his opponent exactly what he needed - a series of small mistakes. The Russian turned the screw and breached Giri's defences. Giri, so close to the tournament victory, was forced to resign and the set finished 2-2. That meant tiebreaks to decide the tournament.
It got worse for Giri as what seemed like a moment of madness in the first blitz tiebreaker saw him give up a knight for a pawn - and little else. But Nepomniachtchi lost his cool and inexplicably blundered for the first time in the match (25...Rh7? instead of winning 25...Rg8). The Russian gave a rueful smile as Giri won the first blitz game, a real rollercoaster.
After getting out of jail, Giri also got himself back on track as he refocused to dominate the second blitz game. Giri, a player so often the bridesmaid but rarely the bride, had taken the Magnus Carlsen Invitational title.
Both Giri and Nepomniachtchi, wearing his lucky Mickey Mouse throughout, were in red-hot form and playing the best chess of their lives during this event. And in the final perhaps they were inspired by chess legends Judit Polgar and Vladimir Kramnik who joined the broadcast to announce the new Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour.
Meanwhile, in the third-place play-off, World Champion Magnus Carlsen brushed off the challenge of Wesley So - who had beaten him in two finals previously this season - to pick up the valuable Tour points. Having won the first set yesterday, Carlsen took the opening game of the second and then followed it up with two draws to make a comeback for So impossible.
Carlsen said: "Third is better than fourth. It's good to get one over Wesley, that's for sure. Clearly, he was not 100 percent motivated, and not in his best shape. It's a lot better than to have lost the last match."
The Norwegian added: "I think overall I played much better in this tournament than in the last one, so it's a small step forwards, though I would have loved not to have my worst two days in the semis."
The Meltwater Champions Chess Tour returns on April 24 with leg five of 10.
For further information, please contact:
Leon Watson, PR for Champions Chess Tour
+44 7786 078 770