World Champion Magnus Carlsen eased to victory against Levon Aronian in Round 7 of the GRENKE Chess Classic to take a big step towards winning his 3rd supertournament of the year. Only Fabiano Caruana is currently within touching distance after the world no. 2 bamboozled Arkadij Naiditsch in complications. Peter Svidler and MVL drew and are 1.5 points back, while Vishy Anand is out of the race after blundering in a tough position against Georg Meier to lose his second game in a row.
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Kudos to the guys from E&R Solutions, who are producing all the high-quality official GRENKE Chess videos. Here's their latest short clip giving an impression of the atmosphere during Round 7:
And here’s Jan with a quick recap of all the chess goings-on:
After this game Magnus explained that, paradoxically, he finds it easier to play against his elite rivals rather than the tournament outsiders:
It’s much easier to play those guys that I’ve played so many times before. It feels like there’s less pressure and you can just go with the flow. With the other guys I’m over-thinking everything. Here I’m just playing much more fluidly. I think this helps, and also I had a good rest after yesterday. I was a bit worried before the game, like, ‘how am I going to beat Meier?’ But then when I did, I kind of relaxed, and with a 1-point lead also it was very pleasant to play today.
It also helps if you have a novelty up your sleeve, and you could see how relaxed Magnus was by the way that, after being the first player on stage, he decided to leave it for over three minutes after playing 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4:
No, that wasn’t the novelty , which came in one of the main tabiyas of the Vienna variation:
As Jan points out in his video series, the position after 9…Qa5 is a dynamic one, with two white pawns and a bishop under attack. White had always dealt with that in three ways, 10.Bb5+, 10.Bxf6 (as played by Nigel Short against Jan in Thailand recently) or 10.Nb5, as you can see from the Opening Tree tab under our broadcasts:
Here, however, Magnus went for 10.Bd2!?, a quintessentially modern opening idea. Objectively it’s probably nothing special, but it has the twin virtues of leading to a perfectly playable position and getting your opponent onto territory he’s unfamiliar with. As Jan put it, "It looks stupid enough that I'm not sure anybody has spent much time on this!"
Anybody, you assume, except for Magnus and Jan himself, who as a second for Magnus during the last two World Championship matches would have been responsible for precisely this kind of idea. He was giving nothing away in the live broadcast, but at the very least the consequences of 10…Nxe4!? would have had to be studied in some depth. Levon spent 9 minutes before taking the pragmatic decision to play 10…0-0, but it was clear that almost all of his subsequent decisions came only after anguished thought.
Magnus kept repeating the word “unpleasant” to describe Black’s position, while he felt White’s position almost played itself:
It’s very, very strange, you make all these natural moves, but then you’re somehow stuck. I’m sure that objectively the position is still ok for Black, but it’s just my play is so simple, I know what my moves are going to be and it’s much more difficult for him. You see everywhere some little problems.
There were of course subtleties, with Magnus describing his 22.Qd2 (instead of the immediate Qb2) as, “basically just a trick”:
His aim, which succeeded, was to hint at c5 and provoke Levon into playing 22…f6!?, after which Magnus felt Black no longer had potential counterplay with Bd3 and Qg6.
Levon, with his clock down to 6 minutes, eventually lashed out with 26…f5?!
He used almost all his remaining time on the 27…e4?! follow-up, and the time situation accelerated the collapse of the black position – on recent evidence Magnus must be licking his lips at the prospect of no increments before move 61 in the next World Championship match! The rest was very easy for Carlsen who, after six long, tough games, was finally the first to finish:
Grandmaster Pepe Cuenca takes us through the whole encounter:
And here’s Magnus talking to Jan and Peter after the game:
The World Champion was understandably in a good mood. His post-World Championship record just keeps on getting better and better…
…and there’s only one player within a point of him in Baden-Baden with two rounds to go:
Arkadij Naiditsch came into this game on the back of two wins in three, and perhaps at some point the adrenaline led him astray. He was doing well against Fabiano’s Catalan, until 17.Bf4:
Here he would have had things under control after 17…Rd5, 17…a6 or the move Magnus had spotted at a glance, since he had nothing to worry about on his own board: 17…Nxb3! The point is that 18.Nxb3 runs into 18…Rd5! when White would probably immediately give back the piece with 19.Nc5, since 19.Qc4 runs into 19…Rc8, and only Black can be better.
Magnus was hoping that would happen, but instead after 17…Bc3?! 18.Rac1 a6?! 19.Qe5! (fearing no ghosts!) 19…Bxf3?! 20.Bxf3 Bxd4 21.Qxa5 White had simply emerged from the complications with an extra pawn and better pieces. Things went from bad to worse and Arkadij resigned on move 33:
The other decisive game was a shocker:
This was a tough game for Vishy Anand, who followed a loss to Naiditsch by losing the thread against Georg Meier’s Rubinstein French and getting into real trouble. He then seemed to extricate himself, but just when he was comfortably ahead on the clock and favourite to make a draw he went for 35.Rd4?!, which was linked to the blunder 35…Rg1+ 36.Kc2??
There followed 36…Rgb1!
and Vishy resigned, since he must
have realised to his horror that his intended 37.Rxc4 doesn’t solve his
problems due to 37…R7b2+ 38.Kd3 Rd1+ 39.Ke3 Re1+ 40.Kd4 Rd2+ and White loses
the e5-rook. Other lines are just as painful. As Jan helpfully summed up in his
recap, “Vishy lost a rook in a double rook ending, which is bad news”.
For Meier it was a first win after three draws against the 5-time World Champion, who he therefore now has a plus score against. Not bad for an amateur, since as Georg revealed in the post-game interview he now lives in Baden-Baden for his day job of working as a “Risk Controller” for the GRENKE bank that sponsors the tournament:
The remaining two games were drawn, but neither were of the short, grandmasterly variety, and in both cases the underdog may have had a serious chance for an advantage. 14-year-old Vincent Keymer is suddenly guaranteed a respectable outcome of the tournament, after following up a win against Meier with two draws, first against Aronian and now against Peter Svidler.
The curious moment came after 23…a5:
Keymer could have played 24.Rxd8+ Rxd8 25.Qb5!, winning a pawn, and although Black may well have enough compensation to draw after a move like 25…Rd2, it would be up to Svidler to prove it. Instead after 24.a3?! it was White, if anyone, who was worse, though the draw that followed in 42 moves was never seriously in doubt.
MVL – Vallejo was also in the balance for one half-move:
Here Paco Vallejo played 27…h5!?, when after 28.g5 the structure was closed and would essentially never be opened up again for the rest of the game, even though Maxime attempted to make headway by sacrificing a pawn on f5. If Paco wanted a draw with Black against a formidable opponent 27…h5 was a good move, but the computer claims Black has a serious edge if he unbalances the position with either 27…g5!? or the preparatory 27…Reg8.
The game instead went on to be the longest of the day, only ending after 57.Rh2:
Not a single piece had been exchanged!
That result left the standings with two rounds to go as follows:
At a glance it seems that only Fabiano Caruana is realistically still in contention to stop Magnus, at least until you realise that Svidler and MVL, 1.5 points back, are the two players Magnus still has to face in Baden-Baden. Peter in particular could do his colleagues a favour with the white pieces in Round 8, while Caruana (Black vs. Meier) and MVL (White vs. Keymer) will no doubt be gunning for wins.
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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