Fabiano Caruana escaped Magnus Carlsen’s clutches in a rook ending that was so complex it reduced the World Champion to an exasperated, “what do I know?” In the end the only decisive game in Saturday’s Round 1 of the GRENKE Chess Classic was Nikita Vitiugov’s win over Matthias Bluebaum after a fantastic tactical shot. More blood could have been spilt, though, with Arkadij Naiditsch close to beating MVL and Hou Yifan initially on top, then in some danger, against Vishy Anand.
Check out some video highlights of the first day’s play in the GRENKE Chess Classic:
You can replay all the GRENKE Chess Classic games using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results and pairings:
Caruana said after winning the Candidates that he hoped to “send a message” to Carlsen in the GRENKE Chess Classic, but for most of their Round 1 encounter in Karlsruhe it looked as though it was the World Champion who was going to reassert his dominance. An unusual opening left theory early on, until Magnus seized the initiative with Black. Logical play by both sides lead to a rook ending that at first looked a simple win for Black. Magnus thought he went astray in this position:
It’s the old thing you learn as a child, not to play too quick at critical moments. I think I just had this one lapse where after 38.Rxh7+ if I just go 38…Kg8 I think the game is over. And then after I went 38…Kg6 it wasn’t so easy anymore. I thought he could just resign, but if I’d thought for 2 minutes then I would see that after [39.Rxc7 Rxc7] 40.Kf2 there was still some play, at least. It wasn’t very bright.
Magnus later gave his “winning” line 38…Kg8 39.Rxc7 Rxc7 40.Kf2 Rd7, only to see the computer assessment and comment, “Apparently 41.g5 draws, how can that be?” and conclude, “What do I know?”
Watch the final interview with Carlsen and Caruana (and the whole of the Round 1 show) below:
Magnus in fact used that phrase once more:
Carlsen: I thought it was a good thing for me that he might have a bit of a hangover, from Berlin, I mean not literally…
Caruana: Well maybe literally too!
Carlsen: What do I know? That’s why I also tried to play fighting chess because I thought it would be a very good chance to beat him today and I came pretty close, but then… rook endings are difficult!
Peter Leko in fact described what followed as, “such a complex rook ending which I haven’t really seen in my career at the top level”, with Black’s far advanced passed pawns proving stoppable while White had connected passed pawns of his own. Both players conducted it perfectly until the position after 54…Rc8:
And here, it turns out, there was only one move to win – 54…Rh7, stopping the white kingside pawns. Instead after 54…a5 55.h6! it turned out the white passed pawns were so strong that there was nothing better for Magnus than to force a draw.
Neither player had spotted the win, and Carlsen admitted, “I’d pretty much given up at this point”. Peter Leko shows us the study-like win for Black, and also recaps the other games:
Nikita Vitiugov has good memories of Karlsruhe, winning the GRENKE Chess Open in 2017 to qualify for this year’s Classic, and in Round 1 he played a game deserving of taking the tournament lead. Nikita criticised Matthias Bluebaum’s 12.Qa4, with Black able to land a tactical blow a few moves later:
15…Nxc5! 16.dxc5 d4 and here White perhaps wisely gave back the material with 17.0-0. That wasn’t the last or the most dramatic tactical blow, however, since shortly afterwards Nikita unleashed 24…Ne4+!!
The game ended very abruptly with 25.Kg1 Ra3!! and White had to resign since there’s no square from which the queen can stop Black’s Qd4+, picking up the a1-rook (and often giving mate). Nikita commented afterwards:
It was quite a decent game, but I was very lucky, because until the very end it was balanced. Then he just missed this quite nice move 25…Ra3, but instead of 25.Kg1 of course he had to take on e4 and it must be a draw.
This is one of those cases where it would have been better for Vitiugov’s status as a tactical genius if he hadn’t talked to the media (here Eric van Reem) straight after the game, though, since it turns out Black is winning in all lines. The key move after 25.Bxe4 is 25…Rc7!, hitting the queen and threatening to fork White’s king and rook on d4 or f6. Giving up the queen for Black’s rook with 26.Qxc7 Qxc7 might give some practical chances of setting up a fortress, while some of the other lines are beautiful. For instance, our commentators liked the quiet sting in the tail of, 25.Bxe4 Rc7 26.Qa8 Rc8 27.Qa6 Qd4+ 28.Kg3 Rc3+ 29.Bf3 g5!! (though 29…Rc4 should also get the job done)
While the other games were drawn two of them were very close to producing a decisive result:
Arkadij Naiditsch beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 1 of the 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic, and this could easily have been a repeat. Maxime admitted of his opening, “I played a bit too loose and my position was very suspicious”, and by move 14 White could strike:
14.Nxd5! ushered in tactical mayhem of the kind both players enjoy: 14…Re8+ 15.Ne3 f4 16.Bc4+ Be6 17.Bxe6+ Rxe6 18.Qb3 Qe8 (the computer’s gives 18…Qd6! as a way to equalise) 19.Ne4 Nd7 20.gxf4 gxf4 21.Ng4 Kh8 22.f3:
22…Rxe4+! meant White would have no easy path to consolidation, with Maxime summing up his position:
Practically speaking it was enough in the game to make a draw. Against a computer I wouldn’t have assessed my chances as so great!
In the end Maxime managed to whip up enough counterplay to confuse his opponent and draw, though there were still chances (computers suggest 30.Kg2! instead of 30.Qg2, while Naiditsch himself called 31.Ng4 “horrible”, preferring 31.cxd4). The French no. 1 was happy to have survived:
I haven’t played in a long time so it’s always good to have a decent, sharp game as some kind of accelerated warm-up.
Watch both players talking after the game:
After having lost with the black pieces to Anand twice recently, on the Isle of Man and in Wijk aan Zee, Vishy’s 7.g4!? was surely the last thing Hou Yifan wanted to see:
Her response was fearless and strong, though, as she decided to “change the type of the position” by going for a pawn sacrifice with 7…d4! 8.exd4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 e5, after which Black seemed to have a clear advantage by move 12. Vishy was equally bold in reply, though, giving up the exchange for a position in which his bishop pair gave White compensation. In fact it was soon White who was on top, with Hou Yifan admitting she was worried until Anand exchanged queens on move 34, after which she had no trouble setting up a blockade.
Up next is Magnus Carlsen, which is one of the things Hou Yifan talked about after the game:
The remaining game was Meier-Aronian, a 5.Re1 Berlin that Levon described as “mildly enjoyable”, but which never left the bounds of equality. He talked afterwards about getting back to the board after the disaster in Berlin:
So after Round 1 Vitiugov leads, Bluebaum is last and everyone else is level on 50%. Round 2 promises decisive action, since the higher rated players have White on all five boards (though of course MVL-Anand is a closely matched contest):