Reports | October 13, 2012 20:14

Carlsen beats Caruana 2-0 in playoff, wins 5th Masters Final

Magnus Carlsen is the winner

In an unexpected scenario on the last day, Magnus Carlsen won the 5th Masters Final in Bilbao. The final round started with a 19-move draw between Fabiano Caruana and Paco Vallejo, who went for a famous move repetition in the Zaitsev Ruy Lopez. Carlsen drew his game with Levon Aronian to finish shared first. The Norwegian then won both games in a blitz playoff to retain his title in Bilbao.

Magnus Carlsen is the winner! | Photos provided by the organizers 

Event 5th Grand Slam Masters Final | PGN via TWIC
Dates October 8-13, 2012
Location Bilbao, Spain
System 6-player round robin
Players Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Vishy Anand, Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana, Paco Vallejo
Rate of play

90 minutes for the first 40 moves, then 60 minutes for the remaining moves with a 10-second increment

Extra Players are not allowed to agree to a draw without the arbiter’s permission. In case both players request it to him, the arbiter will make his decision after consulting with the technical assistant. The football scoring system is used: 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 for a loss.

The night before the last round, after his very disappointing loss against Karjakin, Paco Vallejo posted a status update on Facebook which caused a storm of reactions. Normally we refrain from publishing private messages, but in the meantime it has been discussed widely online and also by Vallejo himself, with Leontxo Garcia, in Saturday's press conference.

Well, today another ridiculous game. Thanks people for the encouragement. But I decided that I retire from competitive chess indefinitely (obviously I will respect some commitments, luckily [there are] not many).

This explained, at least partly, the 19-move draw between Vallejo (with White!) against Caruana. The Italian played the Zaitsev Ruy Lopez, and the Spaniard forced tablas with Nf3-g5-f3-g5, a well known theoretical move repetition.

PGN string

Vallejo vs Caruana, with the Zaitsev position on the board

Vallejo first gave chess technical reasons for his decision (for which he spent, by the way, 19 minutes on the clock), but then made clear that there was more to it.

I did not expect him to play the Zaitsev. I tried to remember my analysis and I felt that I did not remember it well enough. But besides the chess reasons... after a tournament this difficult, this cruel, especially the last couple of games, it was difficult to motivate myself. My general state of mind is not very optimistic right now.

About his Facebook message, Vallejo said:

I still have some games to play, for example for the Bundesliga, for the Catalan team, and I also qualified for the World Cup which I will play of course. This was not a decision that was made on the fly. Yesterday it was a very tough game, I had so many good options. You know, when you realize you are making the same mistakes over and over again, there comes a moment when you have to make a decision. I think it's a good idea to take some rest and quit playing for about five years. I haven't spent two full months with my family for the last twenty years. I think I have the right to do things that I haven't been able to do. I think I will return to chess at some point, but I don't know exactly when. I don't think I will leave chess, in fact I think will continue to train. One of the reasons to retire for a while is to improve certain aspects of my play.

Caruana was also asked about the quick draw, with which he risked dropping to second place, if Carlsen would beat Aronian.

I didn't actually expect to make a draw this fast; I was expecting it to be a big fight. I was actually looking before the game not how to win but first how to get a normal position. Of course after I choose this opening, the Zaitsev, I don't really have chances to avoid it if White wants to make a draw. Instead of ...Re8 I guess there is the move ...h6 or ...Nd7 but all these lines are quite dubious I think. Of course if I'd play recklessly I could easily be punished.

The last round under way in Bilbao

The second game to finish was Anand vs Karjakin - a great battle right from the start. It looked like for the first time in the tournament Anand went "all in", as if he wanted to take more risks than ever to finish his tournament on a 50% score. In reality this game could have been played in any round, because Anand was mostly repeating a sharp line which he played earlier this year.

PGN string


My position looked a little bit scary but probably I was fine.


I saw many entertaining ideas, but there was never a concrete win.

About his loss against Carlsen, the World Champ said:

Yesterday was a big disappointment. I reached a position where I had absolutely no problems, and then I spoilt everything in two or three moves.

On the last day all the players were asked the same question by Leontxo Garcia: "Do you feel like a sportsman, a scientist or an artist?" The spectators laughed loudly when Anand answered:

You feel like a sportsman every day. Sometimes you feel like a scientist, sometimes you feel like an artist and sometimes you feel like an imbecile.

Magnus Carlsen never got close to an advantage with Black, let alone to breaking Garry Kasparov's rating record.

PGN string

Aronian vs Carlsen, drawn in 44 moves

This meant that Carlsen and Caruana were still tied for first after the last round. This year the regulations stated that a blitz playoff would decide upon the winner: two blitz games (4 minutes plus 3 seconds increment) and in case of 1-1, an Armageddon (5 minutes against 4).

A blitz playoff between Carlsen and Caruana

Before the playoff, Karjakin said that for him Carlsen was the big favorite.

In my view Caruana made a big mistake by drawing his game so quickly. He had to try to win against Paco.

And indeed, Carlsen won this playoff most convincingly: he beat Caruana 2-0. In the first game he played the Berlin Ending.

PGN string

Carlsen starts with a win in the infamous Berlin Ending

In the second game Caruana was caught in the opening: as early as move 10 he couldn't avoid the loss of material. The sort of thing that just happens every now and then in a blitz game...

PGN string

Obviously there was a huge interest from the spectators for the blitz playoff

And so Carlsen won yet another tournament. That's almost no news anymore!

Caruana played one of his best tournaments ever, but asked about this he put things in perspective:

By performance it might be the best tournament, but I felt I played better in a few others, like Wijk aan Zee at the beginning of this year. I also think I played better in the second half, where I only scored 50%, than in the first half.

A final group photo of the players

Grand Slam Masters Final 2012 | Schedule & results

Round 1 24.09.12 20:00 CET   Round 6 08.10.12 17:00 CET
Anand 1-1 Vallejo   Vallejo 1-1 Anand
Aronian 3-0 Karjakin   Karjakin 1-1 Aronian
Caruana 3-0 Carlsen   Carlsen 3-0 Caruana
Round 2 25.09.12 20:00 CET   Round 7 09.10.12 17:00 CET
Vallejo 0-3 Carlsen   Carlsen 3-0 Vallejo
Karjakin 0-3 Caruana   Caruana 1-1 Karjakin
Anand 1-1 Aronian   Aronian 1-1 Anand
Round 3 26.09.12 20:00 CET   Round 8 11.10.12 17:00 CET
Aronian 1-1 Vallejo   Vallejo 1-1 Aronian
Caruana 1-1 Anand   Anand 1-1 Caruana
Carlsen 1-1 Karjakin   Karjakin 1-1 Carlsen
Round 4 28.09.12 20:00 CET   Round 9 12.10.12 17:00 CET
Caruana 3-0 Vallejo   Karjakin 3-0 Vallejo
Carlsen 1-1 Aronian   Carlsen 3-0 Anand
Karjakin 1-1 Anand   Caruana 3-0 Aronian
Round 5 29.09.12 20:00 CET   Round 10 13.10.12 16:30 CET
Vallejo 1-1 Karjakin   Vallejo 1-1 Caruana
Anand 1-1 Carlsen   Aronian 1-1 Carlsen
Aronian 1-1 Caruana   Anand 1-1 Karjakin

Grand Slam Masters Final 2012 | Round 10 standings (football)


Grand Slam Masters Final 2012 | Round 10 standings (classical)


Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Hugh Jass's picture

Fair play to plug beating tootsie to 1st place looked unlikely at hlf-time.

icaroh's picture

Circumstances have made MC win by tiebreak, but he has been the best. He has dominated the tournament. He lost in the first round against Caruana when he was about to win, and in the rest of games he has always been pushing for a win, except maybe both games against Aronian, especially the first. Moreover he has delighted us with two masterpieces, as the ones against Caruana and the WCC. On the contrary, Caruana "won undeservedly" the games against Carlsen and Aronian (he also drew undeservedly against him in Sao Paulo).
Besides, Carlsen's opponents are already used to play for a draw against him, while Caruana has not been so "respected", which provides him more opportunities for a win. Caruana is close to 2800, but in the following he will have to hold them (or rise if he is so superb). Look at the cases of the rest of youngsters, as Karjakin, Giri, Radjabov, Vachier, Naka, etc. They seem to have found a barrier around 2730-2780 that they are unable to break.
So overall, no chess fan can complain about Carlsen's victory, which has been fairly deserved.

Bertil's picture

I second that. A matter of fact, the total score looks very fair overall this time.

Kobla's picture

dear icaroh, I totally disagree.
In fact Caruana won the tournament, Carlsen won the tie-break blitz show.
I think that blitz can't be considered as chess, but a funny club entertreinment.
You said that Carlsen and Aronian lose their plays for blunders, but when someone win is always for a blunders of the opposing player. In chess the winner is the player who makes the less blunders.
I agree totally with you that Carlsen is now the best player in the world but I' m even observe that Caruana, when is playing in important tournement, in this year, is always in his rear so, I hope, that in the next month we can see thrilling tournement and probably Carlsen must concentrate more if he want to mantain his leadership.
Thank you for your attention

mattie's picture

even the world championship is decided by rapid playoffs nowadays..

Daniel's picture

Vamos Paco!

KingTal's picture

Caruana digged his own grave here not trying to play for a win against Vallejo, he is not a good blitz player, see Tal Memorial.

Well besides that congratulations to Carlsen, btw does someone know how many tournaments he already won in comparison to Kasparov or Karpov? Just curiuos.

Thomas's picture

I was also puzzled about Caruana allowing an early move repetition, but maybe he just didn't want to benefit from Vallejo's situation? Some may call this "unprofessional", for me it would rather be praiseworthy - even more so if he doesn't talk about it in public!?

In any case, he didn't "dig his own grave", he is alive and kicking!

S3's picture

I find that highly unlikely and rather suspect the prize money is divided equally in case of a tie (can anyone confirm or deny?). In that case it would make sense to play a quick draw.

Thomas's picture

I cannot confirm or deny, but I seriously doubt that the blitz tiebreak only determined who gets the trophy and bragging rights.
Funny that Carlsen fans criticized the Kazan format (to justify Carlsen's absence) because of blitz tiebreaks, but talk about Carlsen's dominance after he won a blitz tiebreak.

Anonymous's picture

Well, you'll always find someone critizing something. On the other hand, everybody knows that Carlsen is always the huge favourite in any chess competition he enters. Sometimes "only" finishing 2nd is the worst case scenario for him nowadays. That's when one of his rivals has a small chance to win something and today Caruana just didn't go for it by drawing in 17 moves against the tailender.

redivivo's picture

"Funny that Carlsen fans criticized the Kazan format (to justify Carlsen's absence) because of blitz tiebreaks"

All reasonable people criticized the Kazan format, not to justify Carlsen's absence but because it sucked, just as it did when it was used in FIDE World Championships.

MW's picture

I was going to respond to Thomas until I saw you wrote pretty much the same thing I was going to.

I would also add that no one is talking about Carlsen's "dominance" on the basis of his winning a blitz tiebreak in a single tournament but rather his winning nearly 3/4ths of all the tournaments he plays in and being almost unassailable in the number one ratings spot to boot.

MW's picture

Didn't read Tarjei's comment before I wrote this. I guess I needn't have responded at all.

rogge's picture

Don't worry. Responding to nonsense can't be wrong.

MW's picture


Tarjei's picture

"Funny that Carlsen fans criticized the Kazan format (to justify Carlsen's absence) because of blitz tiebreaks, but talk about Carlsen's dominance after he won a blitz tiebreak."

The so called "Magnus fans" is not talking about Carlsen's dominance because he won the tournament after a blitz playoff, but because he has won 11 out of the last 17 super tournaments he has taken part in at the age of 21. In addition, he's been the highest rated player (with two exceptions) since January 2011, now with more than 30 points ahead of #2, and 50 points ahead of #3. I call that dominance.

Bronkenstein's picture

I was just about to write it down - exactly the same folks that were ´tomatoing´ and boo-ing KOs in general - esp Kazan and TB in Vishy-Gandalf, were extatic-to-hysterical about Bilbao TB, (Beatlemania comes to my mind) , and especially it´s outcome =)

redivivo's picture

"extatic-to-hysterical about Bilbao TB, (Beatlemania comes to my mind)"

I don't notice anyone being Beatlesmaniacally hysterical about a couple of blitz games, only the same bunch of people as always being bitter about Carlsen playing great chess in another tournament.

Bronkenstein's picture

There was loads of Beatlemania on ChessBomb, (where I followed the broadcast), and I was amused - as always, why bitter? BTW I congratulated MC and Fabiano approximately @ the same time you wrote this one - it should be somewhere on page 2 ATM.

MW's picture

First, the main tournament here is a round-robin format and the KO is relegated to the tiebreak. Given that some pretty iffy methods are used anyway for tiebreaks, this is hardly a step down (or a big issue).

Second, I don't know why it is so hard to see that what flies on the level of "just another tournament" would be inappropriate when competing for the highest title in chess - I mean sure, Bilbao is a major tournament, but It's just one tournament on the yearly calendar.

Bronkenstein's picture

Just to clarify, I am all for the blitz/rapid TBs, even further - for more blitz/rapid tournaments, better organized WCH in those formats etc (luckily, we already have long-time-ago-promissed rating lists). I thought that it was clear from my initial post that I keep my tomatoes for other things :)

MW's picture

I guess I didn't make my point very clearly. I was just trying to point out that it's not necessarily a contradiction for the "same folks that were ´tomatoing´ and boo-ing KOs " to think that the KO format or blitz tiebreaks are unacceptable in one context (e.g. "Kazan and TB in Vishy-Gandalf") but acceptable in another (e.g. regular tournament like Bilbao)

Personally I don't like football scoring either and don't think it should ever be implemented at the WCH level but find it, grudgingly, acceptable in just a regular yearly tournament.

Bronkenstein's picture

I agree completely on football scoring in WCC cycle. On blitz TBs , I see no key difference. The question is - what would be (and why) the alternative TB in, say, matches?

PS the extatic ChessBomb crowd - which I had on my mind while typing - was mostly 1000 miles away from such nuances, I certainly missed to clarify it in my initial post.

MW's picture

I personally think I would favor a return to the tie odds for the champion (if and only if longer matches were a part of the equation.) It might seem like an unfair advantage for the champion except that each champion will also once have been a challenger and had to face that hurdle him/herself. Also it requires the challenger to prove superiority by beating the champion - and isn't that the point? to prove superiority over the existing champion?

Bronkenstein's picture

I could agree with draw odds, it has it´s logic (even the much more controversial 9-9 clause can be argued for, IIRC Arpad Elo was pro - 9-9 back in the 70s, together with some American GMs), my feeling is that they go better with longer matches, which are, kinda, out of fashion.Practically speaking, I don´t believe that it will be implemented again anytime soon, such are the times. In that regard, I don´t see any realistic alternative to rapid/blitz TBs.

calvin amari's picture

Quite a competition to single out the most absurd the-earth-is-flat comment from Thomas but this one is more than sufficient to strip him of any shred of credibility.

Anonymous's picture

if you say so...

Alfonso's picture

Carlsen has won 11 SuperTournaments. At his age Karpov had won just one (Tal Memorial Moscow 1971) and Kasparov two (Bugojno 1982 and Niksic 1983). Numbers vary according to where the cut-off value for SuperTournaments is set, but the picture is clear: at this pace, Magnus Carlsen might be the greatest player ever

KingTal's picture

Ah, thanks, but would be more interesting to know the wins in total not looking at the age.

Alfonso's picture

Karpov=27 SuperTournaments

Kasparov=36 SuperTornaments.

Alfonso's picture

Anand=13 SuperTournaments
Kramnik=22 SuperTournaments
Topalov=17 SuperTournaments

redivivo's picture

Kasparov won 63 tournaments in 25+ years, all of them weren't super tournaments but those are hard to define anyway and most of them were strong for their day. I think Carlsen has won 16 strong tournaments in five years. Kasparov played a couple of games in matches as well though :-)

Alfonso's picture

Kasparov won 42 (round-robin) tournaments in total, not counting blitz, rapid, team events, matches, etc...

redivivo's picture

Hmm, maybe 42 is right if only round robin classical events are counted. Carlsen's 16 round robin wins the last five years look quite good already, and he won quite a few weaker events before that of course.

Macauley's picture

Not to mention the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything... ;)

Thomas's picture

Where do these statistics come from? A bit odd to organize a Tal Memorial in 1971 when Tal died only in 1992 ...

Alfonso's picture

Ooops, Alekhine Memorial, sorry..

Alfonso's picture

I did the statistics. For each Tournament the FIDE list is checked, and points were assigned (20 por the 1st player on the list, 19 for the 2nd, 18 for the 3rd....and 1 for the 20th). A cut-off value of more than 60 points was selected. The strongest Tournament seems to be Linares 1993. Somewhat arbitrary, I know, but useful...

RealityCheck's picture

No biggie @Alfonso Who can remember all these events and keep track?
It just goes to show that ultimately it is not about tournaments. It's all about the WC Crown.
Ok, maybe it was important for Karpov to win tournees since Fischer cheated him the normal path to the crown. In a way, he had to win as many tournees as possible to justify his WC status since he got it by default.
That's certainley not the case with WC Anand today. Players don't have to worry about losing years of effort because some idiot didn't want to play. We have a champion who will take on anyone who meets the challenge. Today many more players compete and get a fair shot at the title regardless of Age, Gender, Nationality, Race, Religion, or Elo-Rating.....because of WC Anand.

Mr. Humbug's picture

Why not just make the obvious correction about the 1971 tournament yourself?

Anonymous's picture

Karpov had won just one tournament at this age because he didn't get to play as much. He became GM at his first international tournament and won his 2nd international supertournament. Kasparov too didn't get to play many supertournaments early on. And not because he wasn't ready. If you feel the need to compare you should talk percentages.

Alfonso's picture

Magnus Carlsen is playing top elite tournaments since he was 15 (Moscow 2006). He is not to blame for his precocity...

Anonymous's picture

Nor are Karpov and Kasparov for the lack of opportunities at an early age. It's the comparison that doesn't make sense.

Alfonso's picture

The question could be "who won more tournaments?", and not who is the better player. By the way, in 1981 Kasparov played 2 Supertournaments and won none of them. Therefore, he had the opportunities. During his preparation against Karpov, he played very few Tournaments. Therefore, he lost the chance to be the most succesful young tournament player ever (that is Carlsen). But he got the World Championship. One cannot have everything.

rogge's picture

The Carlsen hype is unbearable.

giovlinn's picture

Yeah and so is his chess. Awful.

S3's picture

I tend to agree. Has he ever won Bilbao outright without needing to win on TB's?

Anonymous's picture

Not yet, S3. However, Magnus Carlsen is the only player who won the Masters Final twice in its 5th edition.

I sincerely feel with all the Carlsen haters since Magnus' dominance is so evident, definitely a bitte pill to swallow for them. Almost a nightmare though at the same time seeing world champion Anand unable to win a single game, lose against the world Number One and finishing close to last place. My sincere condolences.

Anonymous's picture

lol anonymous, do you know what irony is?


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