Reports Apr 20, 2017 | 10:21 AMby Colin McGourty

GRENKE Classic 4: Aronian takes over

Levon Aronian won his second game in a row to take a half point lead into the final three rounds of the 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic. His victim was 19-year-old Matthias Bluebaum, who made an opening blunder that condemned him to a miserable defence. Hou Yifan found herself in a similar situation before eventually being hunted down by MVL. Magnus Carlsen missed Fabiano Caruana’s defence and had to concede a fourth draw in a row, while Arkadij Naiditsch threw away a win in a 6-hour rollercoaster against Georg Meier.

Kasimdzhanov quoted Kasparov that "the chess world is a better place when Aronian is in form" - Levon now has two wins in a row | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

If there were fears that the move from Karlsruhe to the Event Academy in Baden-Baden would lead to quieter chess, they proved unfounded, with all four games again featuring tough battles.

You can replay the full Round 4 commentary below. Not only did Jan Gustafsson return from Thailand in time to join Peter Leko in the studio, but Fabiano Caruana’s second (and former FIDE World Champion) Rustam Kasimdzhanov joined the live show for a long and enjoyable session:

Wednesday’s action was confirmation, if it was needed, that chess is a very tough game. Again and again the positions that arose proved impossible for either some of the world’s best players or the commentators to fathom to the end. Computers of course flashed up their evaluations and were invariably correct, but to see exactly why they were right is a whole different matter.

The lead changes hands

Let’s start, therefore, with perhaps the most straightforward game of the day, Bluebaum-Aronian. 

Bluebaum is experiencing a supertournament baptism of fire | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

The 19-year-old had suffered two losses in a row, and the last thing he needed was to spend 20 minutes in a known position and then make a bad move:

In Gibraltar earlier this year Fabiano Caruana played 11.Rfd1, bolstering the d-pawn, and only two moves later 13.h3. Here Bluebaum went for 11.h3?, when it turned out after 11…dxc4 12.bxc4 c5 that 13.d5 wasn’t good for White since the d-pawn is under-supported. That was still a better try than Matthias’ 13.Qe2 and soon Aronian had left White with an isolated d-pawn that dropped on move 23. White still had drawing chances, but down on the clock against Levon, who was on the back of a fantastic win over MVL, was a not a good place to be. Eventually Levon forced a queen trade with mating threats and went on to ease to victory.

Aronian is still unbeaten in the GRENKE Chess Classic and two wins in a row have catapulted him into the sole lead, since Hou Yifan’s dream start was finally brought to an end. The women’s no. 1 had managed to defy a 0/3 record against Magnus the day before, but she couldn’t improve her 0.5/5 score against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Maxime is yet to draw a game in this year's GRENKE Chess Classic | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

In an Anti-Berlin Hou Yifan came up against concrete preparation from Maxime, who indicated that 11…Qd6, not his opponent’s 11…Re8 (played after 12 minutes’ thought) was the “main line”. Soon queens had been exchanged and it was clear it was going to be a very tough day for the women’s no. 1, who had a weak isolated pawn on c7 and a knight against a bishop with play on both sides of the board:

Maxime commented, “I managed to get a very comfortable advantage in the endgame - it felt like I could press forever”, while Jan Gustafsson went even further, “I'll put it as drastically as I can - I'd reject a draw with White here!”

A first setback for Hou Yifan, but she has White against Bluebaum to try and bounce straight back | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

Hou Yifan has been in good form in the tournament, though, and she dug in to the extent that she came within touching distance of a draw. It wasn’t to be, though. Maxime’s 53.b3 may objectively have been a mistake – 53.Bd8+! Kg7 54.Be7! is the start of a line suggested by our silicon friends and missed by a combined Elo of over 10,000 at the board and in the commentary booth – but it was a trap that paid off:

There was a solution here, since 53…Nc5! seems to hold – if 54.bxa4 then the knight doesn’t capture but is ready to block the pawn on a6 later on. Instead Hou Yifan went for 53…Kg5 in this position and 54.Bb4! dominated the black knight and ultimately won the game. The point is that 53.Bb4 a move earlier doesn’t work due to 53…c5 54.Be1 and now 54…c4, a move no longer available after b3 has been played.

The knight could no longer block on a6 but had to put up last ditch resistance on a8. White may have had the “wrong-coloured” bishop to force promotion on a8, but was quite capable of setting up zugzwang.

Watch Maxime Vachier-Lagrave talk about his win:

Two very different draws

Magnus found himself all alone on stage at the start of the round | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

Time for a little meditation... | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

Carlsen was given tough pairings in the GRENKE Chess Classic, with White in the 3 games against his toughest rivals and Black in the remaining 4 games. Perhaps it would all have been different if he’d won with a huge positional and time advantage against Matthias Bluebaum in Round 1, but now he has four draws in a row and his frustration must be building. It would be hard to be too critical about the Round 4 game, though, since Fabiano Caruana is of course no pushover.

Fabiano sprung an early surprise with the Petroff Defence on move 2 (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6), but of course Magnus had ideas prepared and redirected the game into an Exchange French variation. Fabiano tried a new move that provoked Magnus into a central pawn break, before he staked his winning chances on 15.Nb5!?

The crisis had arrived for Black, but after 21 minutes’ thought Fabiano correctly concluded he could ignore the immediate crude threat and play 15…Nbd7!, when it turns out he’s at least ok in all lines. Magnus was perhaps a little harsh on his move:

15.Nb5 is a blunder. I’m not sure if White is objectively better but the reason I played 15.Nb5 is just that I missed his whole idea.

In the game we saw 16.Re1 Bc5 17.Bb3 Rac8 18.Bf4 Bxf3 19.gxf3 a6 20.Nxc7:

Magnus even managed to hold on to his loot with 20…Nh5 21.Ne6!, but after mass exchanges it was a simple opposite-coloured bishop draw.

Caruana is half a point ahead of Carlsen with 3 rounds to go | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

The final game to finish was a dramatic encounter between Arkadij Naiditsch and Georg Meier. Arkadij’s kingside assault seemed to be impressively countered by Georg on the queenside, but in the critical position he went astray:

Jan and Peter in the commentary studio felt Meier had missed that 26…Kd7 runs into the strong 27.Qc1!, though even that position may be defendable. Meier himself revealed that he had missed that 26…Bf8! is met by 27.Qa4, but after 27…Qb5 it appears that Black is holding. 28.Qa3 is met by the ugly but probably sufficient 28…Ne7.

Georg Meier looked to be completely busted... | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website 

In the game after 26…Ke7? 27.Rxb8 (27.Qc1 may be even stronger) 27...Rxc2 28.Rb7+ the intrusion of the rook into the black camp meant trouble. The encounter could have ended quickly in multiple ways, and perhaps most clearly after 33…Kxf7:

34.Ke1! Rc2 35.Bh5+! g6 (35…Kf8 36.Rd8#) 36.Bxg6+ and the rest is just a mopping up operation. Naiditsch would have had a 3rd win in 4 games and be tied for the lead with Aronian.

Instead Arkadij delayed one move with 34.Ra7 Rc2 35.Ke1 and after 35…Rxc3 suddenly White has no easy win in the rook ending after the same variation as above. In fact Naiditsch flirted with disaster when he rejected a draw by repetition and ended up in a position only Meier could win.

Peter Leko commented on how Naiditsch would react if he lost:

Normally if you lose such a game you make a declaration that you’re retiring… then you turn up the next day.

It didn’t come to that, and after a 6-hour 68-move marathon the game was drawn and the round was over, with Naiditsch in second place alongside Hou Yifan and Caruana:

We now have only three rounds to go, which means players need to start making their move. Magnus’ challenge is to do that with the black pieces against Meier, while hoping that Aronian won’t make White count against Naiditsch. Hou Yifan could get right back into contention for first if she handed Bluebaum a 4th loss in a row, while Caruana-MVL is the day’s all-star clash.

Let's hope Rustam Kasimdzhanov again gets bored of life as a second and joins the commentary... | photo: Georgios Souleidis

Tune in for commentary with Peter Leko and Jan Gustafsson here on chess24 from 14:50 CEST onwards. You can also watch in our free mobile apps:   


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