Reports Apr 21, 2019 | 9:32 AMby Colin McGourty

GRENKE Chess 1: Carlsen “outlasts” Keymer

World Champion Magnus Carlsen beat Vincent Keymer in Round 1 of the 2019 GRENKE Chess Classic, but it took 6 hours, 40 minutes and 81 moves to break down the resistance of the 14-year-old German talent. Magnus credited his opponent with putting up “a great fight” in what became a rollercoaster of a game. The remaining clashes were all drawn, with Svidler-Caruana the most intriguing battle. It featured a repeat of Game 8 of the Carlsen-Caruana match in London, though Fabi switched colours.

Magnus Carlsen needed all his skills to finally beat 14-year-old Vincent Keymer | photo: Eric van Reem, GRENKE Chess  

You can replay all the games and check out the pairings for the 2019 GRENKE Chess Classic using the selector below:

And here’s the almost 7 hours of live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko – apologies for some technical issues with the cameras which will hopefully be resolved in the coming days:

Carlsen 1:0 Keymer: A great fight

Keymer may have lost, but he'll have gained more fans in the process | photo: Georgios Souleidis, GRENKE Chess  

Vincent Keymer had played on the stage in Karlsruhe at the end of the 2018 GRENKE Chess Open, but to find himself there sitting opposite the World Champion under the full focus of hundreds of fans and the media, while FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich made the first move, is something else entirely. Magnus commented:

It was clear from the start he was a bit nervous. He was spending so much time on comparatively simple moves, but I think he grew into the game and he gave it his all and gave a good fight.

This video of the opening moves gives a real idea of how it must have felt for the youngster:

Magnus himself had a different issue, since the 329-point rating gap simply obliged him to play for a win, even with the black pieces:

It’s hard because he’s obviously a good player, looking at his results here last year, and he’s beaten players like Boris Gelfand as well, which means that he’s not a weak player. He’s solid, and as Black you can’t just expect to beat him easily.

The Benoni system with 3…g6 was one Magnus had only ever employed in a couple of blitz games against Ding Liren in St. Louis, and it succeeded in getting Vincent thinking for 14 minutes on move 4. Magnus varied from what he’d played there with 7…e5, but though he was clearly ready to take risks this was a position played with Black by the likes of Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi – so the computer’s healthy evaluation in White’s favour could be taken with a grain of salt.

What was impressive, however, was how well Vincent handled the manoeuvring stage, until he finally pulled the trigger:


Here he went for 28.g4! Nd7 29.g5! Qa5 30.g6!? Fabiano Caruana and Peter Svidler had a discussion about whether Magnus could have stopped this plan or not, with Peter commenting:

It looked to me like Magnus should have been pressing, and then I don’t know if he is tempting Vincent due to the clock situation, or he actually had to allow g4-g5, but after g4-g5 only White can play for a win, I guess - but now it’s very concrete.

The clock situation was that on playing g4 Vincent had 12 minutes to his opponent’s 39, and by the time he went for g6 he was down to just over 4 minutes, while Magnus had only used up his 30-second increments. Peter explained:

Obviously we’re not criticising Vincent - we’ve all done that, and it’s his first game against Magnus, but keeping the clock under control is kind of important, because then you don’t end up having this.

“This” was the situation just a few moves later. 30.g6!? was already risky (30.h4 was the suggestion of Vincent’s coach Peter Leko), but when the youngster decided to take two tempi out to move his king from f2 to d2 he suddenly lost his grip on the position:


34…Nf8! interrupted Caruana and Svidler discussing the merits of White’s position, since it turns out the g6-pawn is on the verge of falling. It’s too late for h4, so the only way to defend the pawn directly would be the ugly 35.Bh5!? Peter concluded that had to be tried, since, “You lose slowly, but kind of surely, if you give up on g6”. Vincent instead tried 35.Bf2!? Qe7 36.Ke3?! Qf6 37.Kd2 Nxg6 and by this stage Peter Leko was already steeling himself for a tough evening with his student. It’s one thing to lose to the World Champion, but another to lose after having had a real chance to actually win the game.

A tough day at the office for the World Champion | photo: Georgios Souleidis, GRENKE Chess  

After that, though, the game developed curiously. For a long time Magnus could make no progress, and then just when he seemed to be on top he offered an exchange of rooks with 56…Rg7?


Once again Vincent was down to 4 minutes to make a time control, but his sense of relief was palpable as he quickly went for 57.Rxg7! Kxg7 58.Qg3+! Kh8 59.Qg6!. Magnus must have assumed his a-pawn would easily win the game with material exchanged off, but computers were already giving 0.00, and to a human eye it was also understandable that the threat of the white queen giving perpetual check tied down the black pieces.

Magnus had to win the game all over again, but this is the stage where he showed his best qualities. He managed to forget what had gone before and find a way to apply the maximum pressure to his opponent. 63…Qg7! was a much better offer of an exchange on g7:


This one had to be accepted, but after it White needs to walk the narrowest of tightropes to claim a draw. Vincent’s first steps were correct: 64.Qxg7+ Kxg7 65.Bxf5! Nf6 66.Kxa3! Nxc3, but here he took a step into the abyss:


The only move was 67.Kb3!, when after a line like 67…Ne2 68.Bxf6+ Kxf6 69.Bxe4 Nxf4 70.Bf3 it turns out the white king will be in time to get to the d6-pawn if Black goes after h5. “Basically you needed one hour on the clock,” concluded Leko, while with a couple of minutes Keymer went for 67.Bf2? Ne2 68.Ka4 Nxh5 and the black knights and passed pawns went on to dominate. There were no more plot twists before Magnus finally wrapped up the game:

So it was a fourth win in a row for the World Champion, but he admitted it had been anything but easy:

I don’t think I played too well today. I was playing way too much for tricks and my head was a bit heavy, so well done to him for a great fight. It was just a matter of outlasting him, to be honest, there wasn’t much in it. You’ve got to fight to the end and sometimes you get rewarded… To be honest, it’s not really a memorable game for me in terms of quality. In terms of fight, for sure, but the main thing I take from it is one point, a lead in the tournament and some rest for tomorrow!

Watch the interview below:

And here's a video recap of Day 1 of the GRENKE Chess Classic:

You can also now check out analysis by Spanish Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca:

None of the other games ever really burst into life. MVL-Anand was a Caro-Kann that didn’t feature a single new move before it ended in repetition on move 20, though the 17-minute think Maxime took before finally agreeing to that suggests who was happier with the outcome.

Maxime could get nothing against Vishy's Caro-Kann | photo: Eric van Reem, GRENKE Chess  

Meier-Vallejo got off to a slow start as the players competed to surprise each other and spent almost half an hour on the first 3 moves, but in the end it also ended in a quick repetition. Aronian-Naiditsch, meanwhile, was more of a full-blooded fight. Arkadij played the Najdorf and until move 15 was actually following a rapid game he’d won against Leko back in 2013. Black eventually took over, but just when our commentators were expecting Naiditsch to play the ending out for an hour or two he offered a draw on move 41.

The most interesting of the draws was Svidler-Caruana, since for 18 moves it followed exactly Game 8 of the Carlsen-Caruana World Championship match in London. Magnus ended that game “happy to have survived” after blundering with 18…g5? and allowing the powerful 19.c4! This time it was Fabi playing the black side, and he corrected the mistake with 18…Bf6! 19.c3 g5!

There were two puzzles here, however. The first was that Fabiano was half an hour behind on the clock in a position that couldn’t have been more familiar to him, while the second was that Peter here stopped to think for 17 minutes. We got the explanation from the players afterwards:

Svidler: It’s weird, because of the two of us I spent the last two days looking at this, with the help of Kirill Alekseenko, who’s here with me, and Fabi told me after the game that he hasn’t returned to all this material, or this particular position at least, since the match.

Caruana: 12.Bd2 is the first move I tried in this position against Magnus. We kind of looked at it a bit after the game, and we found that there were various ways for Black to play, and then we discarded it as an option. We started looking at b4 and Kh1 stuff. Basically since that game I played against Magnus I haven’t looked at this move at all.

Svidler: And still I felt like this is a weird position which for me I thought if I don’t play this I really have no ideas at all against Fabi’s repertoire currently, so I thought this is at least a very interesting, very double-edged position, but two days clearly aren’t enough to get a grip on what’s going on here! … It’s very difficult to cover this ground and be prepared for everything, and I felt that out of all these things the likelihood of Fabi actually repeating what Magnus did in Game 8 was maybe the lowest.

Caruana: It was the only thing I remembered!

Svidler: If I knew that was the case it would have slightly changed my approach…

Sometimes players are only pretending to be uncertain about opening positions, but here the play that followed makes it easy to believe them. Svidler confessed that his 20.Be2!? was played with the idea of meeting 20…f4 with 21.c4?, only to then realise that runs into 21…f3! (a move he was correct to be “spooked” by). He took another 17-minute think to switch to 21.Nxc8, after which both players felt their position to be slightly worse, though if anything Black seemed to have the advantage before the game ended in a draw by move 40.

There aren't many chess events that can compete with the spectacle of the GRENKE Chess Open and Classic in Karlsruhe! | photo: Eric van Reem, GRENKE Chess

That means, of course, that after one round we have a single leader, Magnus Carlsen, and one player in last place, Vincent Keymer, with the rest on 50%. In Easter Sunday’s Round 2 it doesn’t get much easier for Keymer as he faces Black against another great champion, Vishy Anand, while Magnus has Black against Paco Vallejo. In their six previous classical games there hasn’t been a single draw, with Magnus leading 4:2.

Follow all the action from 15:00 CEST, when Jan Gustafsson will again be joined by Peter Leko live here on chess24.   

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