Hou Yifan and Arkadij Naiditsch pulled off sensational wins in the first round of the 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic to knock Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave out of the 2800 club. There were surprises everywhere, with Magnus’ glasses’ gambit almost as unexpected as his failure to beat 19-year-old Matthias Bluebaum from a point at which his opponent had not only a shaky position but a minute left to complete 20 moves. Levon Aronian could also consider himself fortunate not to have been tested harder by Georg Meier.
The 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic got off to a spectacular start in front of the kind of audience we’re not used to seeing for chess events – it helps if a tournament is being run alongside an Open event featuring over 1200 players!
The Classic players didn’t disappoint in Round 1:
The live broadcast is being produced by chess24, and for the first three rounds in the Congress Centre in Karlsruhe our commentators are Peter Leko and Lawrence Trent. When the action moves to Baden-Baden after a rest day on Tuesday, Jan Gustafsson will take over from Lawrence for the final four rounds.
You can rewatch the first live show below:
Magnus Carlsen is always the focus of attention wherever he appears in the chess world, but he stole the show even before it began on Saturday… by wearing glasses! His appearance drew some comparisons with the Norwegian no. 2:
He would later explain:
I took a test recently. I was always a little bit near-sighted, but I was always told that you can use glasses or you can not – it’s your choice, you don’t need to. Then I’ve been getting some kind of headaches recently and I took a new test and it turned out that all sorts of things were wrong, so I didn’t have a choice anymore.
The game itself followed a predictable script, but only until halfway. Magnus responded to 1.d4 with 1…d6, making it clear that black pieces or not, he was out to beat a young opponent he outrated by 206 points. Carlsen went on to set up a classic Hedgehog structure, and although hostilities were delayed Matthias burned up his time trying to figure out what to do. Facing Magnus is tough, with Leko commenting:
I'm pretty sure that in any other game against any other player Bluebaum would have the same position with 40 minutes more on the clock.
Jon Ludvig Hammer agreed:
Bluebaum found himself down to just a minute, plus increments, with around 20 moves still to make to reach the time control in a position that was also starting to fall apart. As Magnus put it, “Basically here it’s gone very, very wrong for him so I can pick and choose what I want to do.”
For all his experience, though, Magnus then made the classic mistake of playing much too fast in his opponent’s time trouble. His 22…d5 break was good, but he hadn’t even considered his opponent’s response 23.Bg2:
That was no problem, since Magnus had all the time he could possibly need on his own clock to assess moves like 23...dxc4 - the move both he and Leko recommended after the game - or 23...dxe4. Instead he took only a minute to follow up with 23…e5?! only to realise to his horror after 24.Nc2 that his intended 24…d4 wouldn’t be met by the knight retreating, with a won position for Black, but by 25.Nd5, when Black is only marginally better. He summed up colourfully, “When I went e5 it was basically just a complete brain fart!”
Instead of 24…d4 Magnus went for 24…dxe4 and multiple exchanges. Bluebaum, who had admitted about his earlier position, “I thought it was completely over,” now got the chance to make a sequence of forced moves that brought him towards the time control. It was still hugely tense, since it was precisely the kind of seemingly harmless position in which Magnus is so lethal, but the young German held on for a precious draw.
The good news for Magnus, though, is that by never being worse or actually losing he’d outperformed his fellow Top 10 stars.
Fabiano Caruana has had a tough time recently, with his loss to Hou Yifan the third time he’s been beaten by a sub-2650 player in the last 10 days. That run has seen him shed 17.9 rating points and drop to 2799.1 and world no. 4 on the live rating list.
On Saturday he had only himself to blame. He played the Berlin Defence, but then seemed to want more than it could offer in the middlegame when he went for 17…c5?!:
Hou Yifan felt that change of the structure was critical and went on to make absolutely natural moves – 18.dxc5 Bxc5 19.Bf4 Rc8 20.Rae1 until Fabiano again upped the ante with 20…g5!?
Here Hou Yifan found the powerful 21.Ng3! and in only a handful more moves Fabiano was left to survey the ruins of a position featuring no less than four isolated pawns. To paraphrase a quote from a recent video by Pepe Cuenca, “What you want in life? You want health? You want money? No! You want this position with White!"
What followed was a massacre, with Hou Yifan getting off to the best possible start after her recent difficult match in China, where she’d lost both games with the white pieces to Vassily Ivanchuk. She talked about her win:
Arkadij Naiditsch has fond memories of the GRENKE Chess Classic. In the last edition in 2015 he beat Magnus Carlsen in their classical game and then only fell short when Magnus won the tournament in the final Armageddon game of the playoff. He has a reputation for being able to beat, or lose to, anyone, but as Peter Leko pointed out, when Arkadij plays the top guys he doesn’t feel the same demand to win at all costs and can show himself for what he is – a very strong and aggressive chess player.
Those qualities of course apply to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as well, and both players were willing to take big strategic risks. In a French Defence Maxime sacrificed a pawn with 12.f5 and was happy with his position until Arkadij spent 25 minutes on his 15th move and came up with a plan:
15…Ra7!? prepared to route the knight on b6 to e6 via a8 and c7. After 16.h4 Na8, Maxime decided the time had come to take a radical decision to stop the plan with a second pawn sacrifice: 17.e6!?
The whole game depended on the correctness of this decision, with Leko commenting:
It's clear that White has beautiful compensation, but is it enough to claim an advantage, or is it just beautiful?
The verdict of the game was that it probably was just beautiful, with play continuing 17…Bxe6! 18.Nxe6 fxe6 and Naiditsch ultimately managing to consolidate his extra material and score a convincing win. When it was put to Maxime that it was unusual that he’d lost without it being clear where his decisive blunder had been he responded:
When you go for such complicated lines you must expect you can do things wrong even if they’re not obvious.
Despite Maxime regularly going for such complicated lines he managed to post a 67-game unbeaten streak last year. Now, of course, it’s Wesley So who’s managed to match that streak and could improve on it when he plays Shamkir Chess in a week’s time.
The one quiet game of the round was Aronian-Meier, but that almost had a twist in the tale. Here’s the position after Levon’s 39.f3:
Georg Meier quickly played his planned 39…h5, but he could have exploited the weakening of the e3-pawn with 39…Nf5!. White is forced to defend with 40.Kf2 when 40…Qc7! targets the other pawn that 39.f3 weakened – g3. 41.f4 would again be forced, and the opening up of the e4-square and the weak white pawns on a4 and c3 would have left Levon grovelling for a draw.
Instead Aronian could join Carlsen in considering the first round to have gone ok, given what happened to his illustrious colleagues!
For another summary of the games check out a recap from our commentator Peter Leko:
It’s Easter Sunday, and all of us at chess24 would like to wish you a Happy Easter! If you look carefully around the site you may even discover an Easter egg
Chess players of course celebrate by playing chess! In the open there’s a double round:
In the Classic, meanwhile, we get the classic Carlsen-Aronian match-up, while Caruana and MVL will be trying to stage a comeback. Black against Naiditsch won’t be easy for Fabiano, while Maxime will try to succeed where Magnus failed against Bluebaum.
Don’t miss all the games with commentary from Peter Leko and Lawrence Trent here on chess24 from 14:50 CEST onwards. You can also watch in our free mobile apps: