Bilbao Preview: Magnus Carlsen Or Someone Else? (UPDATED)

Bilbao Preview: Magnus Carlsen Or Someone Else? (UPDATED)

| 28 | Chess Event Coverage

Starting this Wednesday, Magnus Carlsen will be back at the chessboard in Bilbao, Spain where he will face five tough rivals: Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Sergey Karjakin and Wei Yi.

After two quiet weeks, there's plenty of elite chess this month. The tournament in Dortmund is underway, and so is a big event in Danzhou, China which will be covered soon here at

However, the biggest of all is the Masters Final in Bilbao, Spain, which starts on Wednesday.

2016 Masters Final, Bilbao | Participants

# Fed Name Rtg World # Born
1 Magnus Carlsen 2855 1 1990
2 Hikaru Nakamura 2787 6 1987
3 Anish Giri 2782 7 1994
4 Sergey Karjakin 2774 9 1990
5 Wesley So 2770 11 1993
6 Wei Yi 2694 44 1999


Update: Tuesday's Press Conference

On Tuesday at noon, a press conference was held with the players, and the mayor, in Bilbao's Town Hall. It started with a photo session with Carlsen and Karjakin at a chess board making a few nonsense moves, so the players were already avoiding their world championship match preparation! 

Here's a transcript with quotes from the players.

Wei Yi: “This January [in Wijk aan Zee], it was the first time that I played with the absolute world top. My result, 6.5/13, was pretty good. I am confident that I can enter the top 20 in the world.”

Nakamura: “Pretty much the last couple of years I think I've been slowly progressing. My rating and my ranking have gone up, especially in the last year and a half. So certainly things have been going well. I've won more tournaments. At this point, it's just important to be consistent. I think if you look at Magnus, for example, the reason that he has kept the top ranking and has been the best player for quite a while now is because he's always consistent, much more than anyone else. So I will just try to be consistent, keep playing well, and hopefully I can keep improving, and hopefully in two years from now, I'll have another shot perhaps in the Candidates' Tournament.”

Giri: “It's too early to draw big conclusions [about my style]. I'm still very young; I'm 22. There's still some space for me to improve my style and my strength in general.”

So: “The federation change was a big thing. Moving from the Philippines to the United States has been a hard change, but I think things are getting better. Also the chess in the USA seems to be growing bigger thanks to some sponsors, especially, of course, Rex Sinquefield. That's a very positive thing. As for my play, I just want to play well in every tournament, and I'm very glad to be back in Bilbao.”

A group photo with the participants during Tuesday's opening ceremony

The last two players, who will meet in many more games this year, were asked to point out each other's strong points.

Karjakin didn't seem too comfortable with the question: “Of course I know a lot about Magnus. I don't want to comment anything before the match, but of course, Magnus is very strong, but we'll see.”

Carlsen, with a smile: “I think Sergey is a very consistent player. That's his main strength!”

About avoiding obsession with the match:

Karjakin: “I just want to play my tournaments. I will play here, then I will play in the Olympiad. Of course, I want to show the best results here also. Now I'm concentrating on this tournament, and then I will concentrate on other events. I have a little son, and a wife, so we spend time with each other because much of my time goes to tournaments and training sessions, so of course, when I'm at home, I'm happy to be with my family.”

Carlsen: “I go here, that's what I do... and I reply in a very poor way to your questions... It's a very good way to take your mind off chess!”

After that, the drawing of lots was performed. The results were: 1. Karjakin, 2. Giri, 3. Carlsen, 4. Nakamura, 5. Wei Yi, 6. So. This means that the first round pairings are Karjakin versus So, Giri versus Wei Yi, and Carlsen versus Nakamura. 


[The original article continues here.] Of the six participants, four are in the current top 10, and the top seed is none other than Magnus Carlsen. The world champion returns to Bilbao after four years; he won the 2012 edition in which he defeated Fabiano Caruana on tiebreak. He also won in 2011 but not in 2008, the inaugural tournament, when he finished second behind Veselin Topalov.

Carlsen spent last weekend in Paris where he attended the Euro 2016 final won by Portugal over France. Two of his favorite players played a major role at the start since Dimitri Payet was the one responsible for Cristiano Ronaldo's injury!

Carlsen is both the top seed and a slight favorite in Bilbao. 

Carlsen is coming to Bilbao after having won his last two events: the Leuven Grand Chess Tour and his Grandmaster Blitz Battle with Tigran Petrosian here on 

He should be the favorite in Bilbao, but it's definitely not going to be easy.

On paper, his closest rival is Hikaru Nakamura. The American — the oldest player in this group — had an up-and-down month of June, which started with that tremendous success in Paris. However, he couldn't manage a good follow-up in Leuven. Which Nakamura will we get to see, and will he finally manage to beat Carlsen in a classical game?

Will Nakamura finally beat Carlsen?

He might profit from the time control in Bilbao, which is slightly faster than usual (see below). Still, in our preview on ChessCenter, GM Robert Hess doesn't think he's ready yet:

“Chess fans are more eager for Nakamura beating Carlsen than Harry Potter fans are for the next J.K. Rowling book. Everyone is waiting for it to happen, and eventually it will, but not in Bilbao.”

Only five Elo points below -- and one place in the rankings behind -- Nakamura is Anish Giri. The Dutchman, who lost to So in the Bilbao playoff last year, took this tournament seriously. Last week, he spent some time in the well-known Dutch sports center Papendal, a training location for elite athletes, with his team which consists of his wife Sopiko GuramishviliErwin l'Ami and Santosh Gujrathi Vidit.

Five days earlier, at the start of his training, Giri tweeted the photo below. It was kind of intriguing as it seemed to include two references to Carlsen: the water bottle and maybe also the 3.d4 King's Gambit on the board. Carlsen played this opening on at least one board in the Leuven simul. Surely we're seeing too much here! 

The tournament is very interesting for another reason. You could say that the world championship match starts here as Carlsen will twice play against his new match opponent, the first not named Vishy Anand: Sergey Karjakin.

The Russian GM has stated that he won't be playing his main opening weapons this summer. Perhaps the chess fans can already started guessing which openings he will play from his games!

Karjakin's last tournament was the Eurasian Blitz Cup, where he finished on a respectable fifth place behind Farrukh Amonatov (the surprising winner), Ian Nepomniachtchi, Baadur Jobava, and Vladislav Artemiev.

Karjakin also played in Bilbao in 2009 and 2012.

Wesley So, last year's winner in Bilbao, is out of the top 10 at the moment, but only just. The world #11 is definitely a dark horse selection for this tournament, especially after showing excellent form in the Leuven Grand Chess Tour. Thanks to a shared fifth place in Paris, So is in fact tied for first place with Nakamura in the current Grand Chess Tour standings.

Is Wesley So the real dark horse in Bilbao?

The sixth player is Wei Yi from China; the 17-year-old wunderkind seems to be on the brink of making the next step up in the rankings. Currently just out of the top 40 in the world, he is as much a force to be reckoned with as anyone.

Wei's last event was the Chinese Team Championship in late June. There he drew with Zhang Zhong of Singapore before losing to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan. Prior to that, he lost to Vishy Anand in the final of the Leon tournament.

Will Wei Yi make the next step in Bilbao?

The tournament is a double round robin, with the first five rounds played July 13-17 and the next five July 19-23. The venue is the Campos Eliseos Theatre in Bilbao, Spain where the games start at 4 p.m. local time, which is 10 a.m. Eastern and 7 a.m. Pacific. The last round will start an hour earlier. 

The rate of play will be 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 60 minutes to finish the game. There will be a 10-second increment per move beginning on move number 41. Players are not allowed to agree to a draw without the arbiter’s permission.

Players get 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. If two players tie for first, they will play a blitz match immediately after the last round. The match will consist of two games and, if necessary, an Armageddon games. If more than two players tie for first, only the top two players according to the following tiebreak rules shall play the match.

  1. Traditional scoring. Players get one point for each game won and 0.5 points for each game which ends in a draw.
  2. Mutual result (based on traditional scoring).
  3. Koya system (based on traditional scoring).
  4. Sonneborn-Berger (based on traditional scoring). will provide on-site coverage, round-up shows on, and live games in Live Chess.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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