Reports Apr 18, 2017 | 9:28 AMby Colin McGourty

GRENKE Classic 3: Magnus gets out of jail

“In such a position it’s about surviving one move at a time”, said World Champion Magnus Carlsen after staring defeat in the face against women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan. Once again that was the only draw, as Levon Aronian beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with astonishing ease, Fabiano Caruana crashed home in style against Georg Meier and Arkadij Naiditsch won his second game with Black to continue the baptism of fire for 19-year-old Matthias Bluebaum.

One false move by Magnus and we had a real chance of seeing the women's no. 1 beat the overall champion | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

This was the last round of the 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic to be held in Karlsruhe, and it didn’t disappoint:

Check out this video for a quick glimpse of the atmosphere around the tournament:

Peter Leko also provided a recap of the day’s play, where he talked about the psychological battle in the headline game of the day:

Magnus Carlsen went into his clash with Hou Yifan trailing by a full point, and if that wasn’t enough reason to press hard for a win he also had the memory of his 3/3 score in classical games against the women’s no. 1. He played the Najdorf Sicilian, but Peter Leko felt Hou Yifan reacted “very cleverly” with 6.a4, a line in which Magnus had relatively little experience. In the play that followed he solved his opening problems, but the position also simplified, and you could hear the frustration in his comment, “If you get a nice position like this without any worries you shouldn’t be too unhappy”.

Magnus would soon create a lot of problems for himself | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

If he was going to win he needed to unbalance things, which is why he eventually came up with the plan of 22…b5?, which he described as "just a disaster… the problem is 24.Rd5! more or less just busts me immediately!"

Black’s weakness on d6 is fixed and White has the simple plan of Nf3-d2-c4 to target it. Magnus confirmed that here he was thinking of a “get out of jail line”, said, “in such a position it’s about surviving one move at a time” and, most damningly, confirmed that, as our commentators had previously speculated, he would have accepted even a draw from Lawrence Trent 

This was also the moment we got a glimpse of the real Magnus, though, since he dug hard and found hidden resources in the position. After 24…Rcc6 25.Nd2 Nb7 26.Nc4 Rb5 27.Qa7 Qc7 Magnus was ready for White’s most obvious attempts:

He was hoping for the natural 28.Ra1, which he would meet with 28…Rb4 and then if 29.Rxa6 he has 29…Rcxc4! 30.bxc4 Rb1+! 31.Kg2 Qxc4 and White, losing a pawn with check, is actually the one in some danger. 

It matters which rook you take with on c4...

Hou Yifan wouldn’t be forced to take the a-pawn in that variation, though, and in general the computer recommends mysterious strengthening moves such as 28.h4. It was understandable, though, that unable to find anything concrete Hou Yifan decided to go for a position she couldn’t lose with 28.Rxb5 axb5 29.Nxd6 Nxd6 30.Qxc7 and soon a rook ending a pawn up. It was also a position that couldn’t be won, though, and the players blitzed out their moves until a draw was reached on move 38.

You can watch the players’ post-mortem — and the whole day’s live show — below:

Hou Yifan is on a 2.5/3 score she could barely have imagined in advance with a schedule that meant playing the world no. 1 and no. 3 in the first three rounds, but she couldn’t feel entirely satisfied:

The result I’m happy with, but somehow the recent two games are not so accurate. It’s ok, it’s a practical game, but of course I was hoping that the playing strength could be improved.

Watch her separate post-game interview:

Surprisingly that wasn’t the first game of the day to finish, since Levon Aronian scored one of the smoothest victories you’re likely to see in a game between two absolutely top class players. His victim was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who repeated a game they’d played in the 2015 London Chess Classic until Levon varied with 13.Ne4 instead of 13.Bh3:

That forced knights off the board, and when Aronian managed to lock the queenside pawns his bishops were able to dominate the encounter. Eventually the following sad (for Black) final position was reached:

For now Black is a pawn up, but the a5-pawn is a sitting duck and the game is easily won for White.

"You don't need to be a genius" (but it helps!) | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

In the post-mortem Levon explained that he and his second concluded when they put the position on a chessboard that it’s very pleasant for White despite the computer claiming Black is fine. He added, “You don’t need to be a genius to play this position with White!”

Levon then gave an interview about his win:

It was a line that we’ve played previously with Maxime. In that particular game it was a draw but in my opinion the position, despite having big drawing tendencies, is easier to play with White, so I assumed after a tiring game yesterday maybe it’s a good idea to play something that you can play without really thinking so long, and it worked out… I think my opponent’s play was lower than his usual very high standard.

That was a second loss in three games for MVL, but things are looking up for fellow 2800-star Fabiano Caruana. He’s now recovered from his opening loss to Hou Yifan with two wins in a row, and once again opening preparation was a factor. Fabiano and his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov had come up with an improvement on a line Georg Meier played earlier this year (13.Bh4 Rc8 14.c3 instead of 13.h4!?), and the German player was soon locked in deep thought. 

Fabiano launched a kingside assault and Meier admitted that the way he tried to block it (21…h5) was based on the fact he had to take some kind of concrete decision with his time running out. The even more radical 27…f5 posed a challenge that was accepted:

28.Nxe6+! fxe6 29.Qd4+ and the black king was in a world of hurt. The conclusion to the game was exciting as Meier was down to his last seconds while Caruana also had no time to stop for any longer thinks, but he had seen enough:

Here Fabi could have won beautifully with 34.Rh8+! Kxh8 35.Re8+ Kh7 36.Bg8+! and mate in 4 moves, but his choice of 34.Ree8 Qf1+ 35.Bd1 was more than sufficient to get the job done.

Caruana looks on as Aronian tortures MVL | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

In the final decisive game opening preparation backfired, after Matthias Bluebaum played the strange 7.Be3, a move once tried by Pavel Eljanov in a rapid game:

Arkadij Najditsch said he didn’t know the move, but had little reason to complain when he was left a stable pawn up. White had a clamp on the position as compensation, but Matthias let it slip, with Arkadij describing 23.Qa5 as a “terrible move”. 

Bluebaum's tournament has taken a turn for the worst after he started by drawing the World Champion | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

It’s not clear if it was really so bad, but 31.Rc1 seemed to be the point of no return:

Black ignored the threat to the c6-pawn and played 31…a5!, with that pawn later taking on b4 and deciding the game when it reached b2. Arkadij described himself as “very lucky” to win a second game with the black pieces in Karlsruhe, but it looked more like the benefits of experience:

That means that going into the rest day Hou Yifan remains the sole leader, with Naiditsch, Caruana and Aronian hot on her heels. Magnus is the only player to have started with three draws, and in fact there’s been only one draw in which he hasn’t been involved.

Things have come to an end in Karlsruhe, with the massive GRENKE Chess Open ending with Nikita Vitiugov taking first place on tiebreaks ahead of three players:

For the GRENKE Chess Classic players, meanwhile, the show moves to Baden-Baden, where they’ll play the final four rounds after a rest day.

Can Hou Yifan hold on to score the best tournament result of her career so far? | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

The action there will start with a bang on Wednesday as we have the classic Carlsen-Caruana, while Hou Yifan has Black against the wounded animal that is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. We'll again have the games with commentary from Peter Leko and the prodigal son returning from the Bangkok Chess Club Open, Jan Gustafsson, here on chess24 from 14:50 CEST onwards. You can also watch in our free mobile apps:   


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