The ninth edition of the acclaimed Bilbao Masters started on September 13 and ended yesterday, 23. This time the field consisted of the World Champion, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen (2855); Hikaru Nakamura (2787); Anish Giri (2785); Sergey Karjakin (2773); Wesley So (2770) and Wei Yi (2696).
Without many surprises, victory, indisputable, went to Magnus Carlsen with 17 points (the points were tallied on: three for a win, one for a draw and zero for a loss) – followed by Nakamura (12); Wesley So and Wei Yi (both with 11 points). The next world title challenger, Karjakin, amounted to only 9 points and got the second from bottom. The last place was the solid (sometimes too much) Anish Giri (7).
THE AWAITED CLASH
Despite the confirmation of the widely expected victory of Carlsen at the event, Bilbao was being highly anticipated by chess players from all over the world for a very simple reason: it would be the first, and probably last, meeting between Carlsen and Karjakin before the match for the world title – to be held in November this year. In general, as well as the outcome of the tournament, Carlsen favoritism was kept: in the third round, the World Champion beat the challenger with white.
True to his style, after an opening with little theory and virtually no advantage, but with a better understanding of the position, Magnus overcame the tough Karjakin after 40 moves. Was this meeting a preview of what we will see during the match of November?
But the draw between Karjakin and Carlsen in the eighth round left all the fans a little disappointed. However, watching the game more carefully, even though it was a not a great example of chess from both sides, the psychological character was important – and it is on this light that it must be examined.
Karjakin, playing white, played in a very illogical way and the advantage gained by Carlsen could have been even increased after a risky pawn capture by the russian grandmaster. However, Carlsen didn’t play best sequence, eventually repeating the position. Did Carlsen decline to enter into an open battle and found that the message had been given in the first game? Who knows?
Moreover, considering the challenger’s side, after the defeat in the third round and the uninspired tournament he was playing, maybe the best was to “hide his game” this time and save the weapons to the match – even if during the game one of the tournament commentators said that Karjakin seemed “to be so obsessed with hiding his preparation that he is simply playing meaningless chess. I’m not even sure that he has something prepared to hide! ”
In short: it’s hard not to be convinced, after the victory of Carlsen in the tournament and the first game against Karjakin, that his favoritism has grown even more. But would Karjakin be hiding something? Only in November we will know …
And two major taboos fell during the Bilbao tournament. One in favor of the WorldCchampion; tho other against him.
After the draw in the fifth round, thanks to a tenacious defense by Giri, the young Dutch GM was keeping his score positive in the classic time control against the World Champion – which eventually was clearly upset to have missed the win. In 16 meetings between the two, the result was 15 draws and one victory for Giri. Even after the game Giri admitted that his position at one moment was horrible – and it was totally understandable that Carlsen was disappointed.
However, in the ninth round, Carlsen showed that “revenge is a dish best served cold” – or, in his case, without haste, without great advantages, but with a great desire to win. Incidentally, this is one of the most remarkable characters of Magnus (and in a way, common to almost all World Champions – although in some like Lasker, Fischer and Kasparov this is blatant): an incredible will to win. Anyway: Carlsen won and one more taboo “fell apart”. By the way, taboos are there to be broken …
But the other broken taboo was against Magnus. We are all human after all …
After 11 years and 12 losses, Hikaru Nakamura finally won against Carlsen. After the win, Nakamura said the result “is not something out of this world” and that “the most important thing would be to win the tournament.” Humility? Arrogance? Feet on the ground? Who knows…
However, despite losing to Nakamura, Magnus showed another of his great qualities: his ability to bounce back!
In the second round the champion immediately recovered and won a great fight against the chinese promise (or reality?) Wei Yi; then in the third, the already mentioned win against Karjakin; and on the fourth another victory – this time against Wesley So.
In short: the breaking of the Nakamura taboo seemed only to have served as fuel for Magnus fighting spirit. Human? Maybe, but he disguises well …