Chessable Masters: Giri draws his way to victory

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
6/27/2020 – Seven consecutive draws gave Anish Giri a first-set win over Alexander Grischuk at the Chessable Masters quarterfinals, as he split the point with his Russian opponent while playing black in the Armageddon decider. A little earlier, Ding Liren had beaten Hikaru Nakamura 2½:1½ without needing tiebreaks. The second sets of these matchups will be played on Sunday. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Closely matched

World Champion Magnus Carlsen and eleven more of the world's best chess players are competing in the Chessable Masters by chess24, the third event in the $1 million Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, taking place from June 20 to July 5.

In contrast with Thursday’s quarterfinal matchups, the first sets played on Friday featured tense, lengthy struggles. Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk needed seven games to find a winner, while Ding Liren and Hikaru Nakamura got things done ‘in regulation’, but three out of four of their games lasted 64 moves or more, with the first two reaching 94 and 80 moves respectively.

Out of the eleven games played in both matches, only one finished decisively — a win with black for Ding — as Giri and Grischuk drew four rapid games, both blitz tiebreakers and the deciding Armageddon (the Dutchman had won Group B of the preliminary round-robins, which meant he could choose the colour in the sudden-death encounter; naturally, he chose black). The draw that gave Giri the victory featured both players ‘pre-moving’ while in deep time trouble in an endgame with a rook and a king per side.

Nakamura and Grischuk will get a chance to even the score on Sunday, as the matches are played to the best of three sets.

Chessable Masters

Ding 2½:1½ Nakamura

Mini-match #1 Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4
Ding Liren ½ 1 ½ ½
Hikaru Nakamura ½ 0 ½ ½

Game 1 saw both players missing chances in a sharp, long-winded struggle. Ding advanced his h-pawn on move 22 and left his king vulnerable to an attack; Nakamura failed to find a way to take advantage of this fact; and Ding ended up a pawn up in a complex position with queens, rooks and bishops of opposite colours:


Black is threatening to capture the g4 and h5-pawns, and the correct way to defend them is with 39.Kg3, when the manoeuvring battle will continue. Ding played 39.f3 instead, giving his opponent a chance to play 39...e4. The Chinese star had another tough choice to make, and erred once again, going for 40.fxe4 (40.Bc5 or 40.Qe5 were better alternatives) and allowing 40...Bxg4 41.Rf4 Bxh5.

Nakamura now had the initiative against a weakened king, but could not prevent his opponent from exchanging queens and rooks, entering a pure opposite-coloured bishop endgame. The American tried to convert his material advantage into a win until move 94, but was never able to break Ding’s fortress on the dark squares.

A completely closed structure appeared on the board in game 2:


Kibitzing online, Magnus Carlsen tweeted: “Black king landing on b7 for sure”. The world champion was on point, as Ding’s monarch reached the b7-square eleven moves later. 

The queens left the board on move 59, but the structure remained closed. The apparently endless sequence of manoeuvres continued, until Nakamura faltered decisively on move 76:


White’s 76.Ba1 — instead of 76.Rf2 — was a blunder, as Black now has 76...Rf8 77.c3 Rf1 78.Bb2 Bd1 and White would need to give up tons of material to prevent mate:


‘Naka’ went 79.d4, but had already seen that 79...h4+ is lethal. He resigned after 80.Kh2 g4 when the king is doomed.

Ding managed to draw the remaining two games against the world number one in blitz to get the all-important first-set win.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Giri 3:3 Grischuk

Mini-match #1 Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Blitz 1 Blitz 2 Armageddon
Anish Giri ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½*
Alexander Grischuk ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½

*Giri had the black pieces and draw odds

The fact that all the games finished drawn in this matchup does not mean it was a dull confrontation. While Grischuk did not get much in his rapid games with white, Giri missed a couple of chances when he moved first — most notably, in game 2:


Giri incorrectly played 51.Ke4, going for the g-pawn and giving Grischuk an outside chance to save the draw. The experienced Russian showed great technique to miraculously get the half point, although it must be noted that Giri would most likely convert the diagrammed position into a win in a ‘slow’ game — even for top grandmasters, it is difficult to be precise in a 15-minute game!

After the four rapid games finished drawn, the players moved on to the pair of blitz tiebreakers (5 minutes plus 3-second increments). Grischuk could have put more pressure in the first game, when he did not find the strong 17.Na4, but that encounter also petered out into a draw eventually. One more draw in the second blitz game meant the set would be decided in Armageddon. Giri got to choose which colour to play with, as he won Group B in the preliminaries, and chose black — he had draw odds and 4 minutes to Grischuk’s 5 in a game with no increment.

Giri got the upper hand in the sudden-death decider, but instead of pushing for more he simplified the position, given he had draw odds. As it usually happens in these quick games, it all came down to the clock:


This is the kind of position that is only seen among elite players in these situations. By now, they were just trying to win on time, making one ‘pre-move’ after the other (moving before his opponent moved). Here, for example, Black ‘pre-moved’ 83...Rd6 instead of 83...Kxe8, which obviously would have given him the needed draw.

Giri was quick enough to avoid losing on time and eventually managed to exchange the rooks, thus achieving the draw he needed to get ahead on the scoreboard. 


Select an entry from the list to switch between games


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/28/2020 03:03
@daftarche I do not believe that either the current Armageddon games, or your suggested modified Armageddon games are determining who the better player is. Since they decrease the chance of the better player prevailing and they are a form of decision, they are, by definition injust.

Now, since they are not rewarding for those who would deserve to win and make the game very similar to a coin toss, I can only think about their spectacular value. However, watching an Armageddon game I cannot make anything of it, because there is no time, no chance to think about the critical position, because they have to move very quickly and GMs try to win on time in drawn positions, which is not very elegant.

If we are so interested to see wood pushing and less interested about the abstract meaning of our wood pushing at chess, then we can ask a carpenter to allow us to see them working. But here not even wood pushing happens, they are just clicking with their mouse.

Chess needs to preserve its value. If it continues to be an elegant intellectual affair, then people interested in that will continue to be spectators. If chess is transformed into a circus, then the real circus is much better at being a circus.

@Álvaro Pereira

Indeed. I'm not comfortable with these games. Almost everything I value in chess disappears in these tournaments. I can only hope that normal tournaments will be organized after the pandemic as well.
Álvaro Pereira Álvaro Pereira 6/27/2020 03:01
One top GM trying to win by time a KR/KR endgame was a deplorable example for average players all over the world.
daftarche daftarche 6/27/2020 03:01
There is nothing wrong with armageddon. It just needs a slight change in my opinion. I suggest 4 mins for white 3 mins for black with 1 sec increment to avoid all this flagging nonsense in R vs R.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/27/2020 01:58
Game 2 of the Giri-Grischuk match would have been decided in classical time control, but due to the high-level of defensive knowledge and the accuracy needed to find a win made that into a draw. As far as I know, in this tournament so far there were 77 games, from which 29 were decided. That's 37.66%. Wikipedia says that around 55% of classical games are drawn. That's a decisive rate of 45%, much higher than the 37.66% this tournament produced. According to chessbase, the draw rate in classical chess is 53% for case of players above 2600. See

So, if you ask me, the only thing we can achieve by replacing classical chess with these quicker tournaments is less quality, more quantity. Lower quality games are more interesting to weaker chess players than to the greats. It may be the situation that more people are watching these blitz tournaments than classical chess. It's because people more interested in higher quality, such as myself are still hoping to see decent tournaments and there are no classical tournaments to watch. But once we leave this sport for something that fulfills our intellectual demands chess will change a lot. It's an open question about how it will change, but my guess is that competitive chess will slowly die. I find it difficult to explain the interest in these tournaments to non-chess players. I do not find them very interesting either. So, according to my opinion: if this is the future of chess, then chess has no future.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/27/2020 01:41
I always considered the criticism about unfought games and high draw rates invalid. Tournament games are sporting events where people compete with each-other. If someone wants to see a drama, I always recommended to watch a drama movie instead. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we do not have classical games. This is a huge experiment and, since tournaments with quicker time controls write patterns much more quickly than tournaments of classical time controls, we can compare the fighting rate, correctness and rate of decisive games between slow time controls and quicker time controls. Armageddon games tend to be having a guy going all out, while the other trying to make the game as uninteresting as possible. Since chess is a drawish game, Armageddon games tend to be blunder fests, making the players hardly any better than mere patzers. Since patzers hardly play much worse under normal time controls than super GMs at Armageddons, the Armageddon game, which is the "highlight" of the match is less interesting than playing a game on our own. It certainly is less likely to produce value. The games prior to that are high-risk games, where players are afraid of blunders and might take a safety-first approach. From 11 games 1 was decisive. That's 9.09%.
s8977 s8977 6/27/2020 01:27
giri doesn't need a win to get 1st place. just draw all games, choosing black in the armageddon.
fixpont fixpont 6/27/2020 12:10
@Jurchesscu: faster time control tournaments have way more viewership than classical so yeah, i think this is big part of the future
Jurchesscu Jurchesscu 6/27/2020 11:59
Is this the future of chess? Faster and faster time controls, top grandmasters trying to flag each other for more than 30 moves in a king & rook versus king & rook ending? it makes me sad.