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On Chess: Anish Giri Wins The Magnus Carlsen Invitational

Magnus Carlsen Invitational Winner Anish Giri will return to the FIDE Candidates next week.
Lennart Ootes
Magnus Carlsen Invitational Winner Anish Giri will return to the FIDE Candidates next week.

The second annual Magnus Invitational was held March 13-21. The event is a serious one in its own right, but it's also a direct preparation for the upcoming FIDE Candidates chess tournament for some of the participants.

The Magnus Invitational players who are also preparing for the upcoming Candidates tournament included Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier Lagrave (known as MVL), and Ian Nepomniachtchi; each of them had very different trajectories in the recent tournament.

MVL, who is tied for first place with Nepomniachtchi after the first half of the Candidates, surprisingly failed to advance to the Magnus Invitational Semifinals. Saving his preparation for the Candidates, MVL avoided critical lines and instead played more innocuous lines. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, his plans backfired.

Nepo, on the other hand, had a great tournament and easily qualified for the knockout stage. In the semifinals he was paired with reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, but even that didn’t phase him. He outplayed the world No. 1 with convincing chess to qualify for the finals!

Anish Giri had a bittersweet year. He played a great tournament in the Netherlands at the 83rd Tata Steel tournament but lost the tiebreaker against his Dutch friend and countryman, Jorden Van Foreest. Giri, who is also competing in the Candidates, came into the Magnus Invitational with high motivation and impressive preparation. He played his now-trademark slow positional Giri-grind, but this time he mixed it with inspired Mikhail Tal-like play. Most notably, his comeback win versus Nepomniachtchi was one of the most impressive. However, his getting to the finals wasn’t all that easy.

After qualifying to the knockout stage he was pitted against the American Wesley So. So, who was considered one of the tournament favorites, was not an easy opponent for Giri. Last year, it was So who defeated Magnus Carlsen in the Magnus Invitational to claim top honors.

Giri played confidently and managed to outplay So, winning a fairly one-sided match. After the surprise win by Nepomiachtchi against Carlsen the stage was set for the finals: Giri vs Nepomniactchi. Nepomniachtchi came in as a favorite, but Giri kept fighting back, making stylistic adaptations and eventually outplaying his opponent in the finals. This is an encouraging prelude for Giri, who goes into April’s FIDE Candidates with a significant tournament win.

The FIDE Candidates resumes Monday. The St. Louis Chess Club will carry live play-by-play commentary on www.uschesschamps.com with grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley.

Denes Boros is a chess grandmaster, journalist at the Carlsen-Karjakin World Championship Match and chess innovator.