Fabiano Caruana outplayed Arkadij Naiditsch from a drawish position to join Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Nikita Vitiugov in the GRENKE Chess Classic lead after four rounds. That win also saved us from a day of what looked destined to be all draws, with the key Carlsen-MVL clash setting the tone by fizzling out into an ending where Maxime showed the necessary precision to avoid getting tortured by the World Champion. Vitiugov-Anand, Aronian-Hou Yifan and Bluebaum-Meier also failed to spark into life.
On the rest day the players switched from Karlsruhe to the nearby spa town of Baden-Baden, where they were no playing to the accompaniment of a 1500-player open. Fabiano Caruana was one of the players who welcomed that:
Karlsruhe has a nice atmosphere with so many chess players, but here it’s a bit more relaxed. After three rounds there I was also kind of happy to get away from the crowd.
Check out the new surroundings in this quick video giving an impression of the fourth day’s play:
It was a day on which it was a major factor that the players were unable to offer draws until move 40, something Vishy Anand only discovered during the round (he’d assumed it was 30 moves). You can replay all the games using the selector below – click on a game to open it with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his or her results:
There were different theories for why the day had been quiet:
Peter Leko had a personal explanation:
I was wondering if maybe the players wanted to be kind to me… Today I’m not that sharp. Yesterday I had a very rough day. I had some food poisoning and a temperature of 39 degrees.
Of course Peter was still pretty sharp, while the day’s commentary with Peter and Jan Gustafsson also includes post-game interviews with Carlsen & MVL, Anand & Vitiugov, and Caruana:
Drama can usually be expected when Fabiano Caruana and Arkadij Naiditsch play, but on this occasion it looked as though the quiet atmosphere of the other games had affected them as well. An Anti-Berlin that had both players on their own by move 10 seemed to have run out of steam by the time Caruana played 28.g3.
The time situation was relatively comfortable, as Arkadij had 22 minutes and Fabiano 18 to reach the time control at move 40. Caruana later explained that his opponent went wrong here trying to calculate a forced draw instead of simply finding good squares for his pieces:
I thought he kind of played well up to a point, and then we went in to a very drawish ending, but I still thought he has to make a few more moves to prove it, and he started to take a lot of time after 28.g3. He took maybe 15 minutes or more, and then I started to feel like he was uncomfortable and he started to go wrong very quickly, which I think is usually what happens when you spend so much time.
28…Ne5!? 29.Qe3 Nc4!? “felt wrong” according to Fabi, and after 30.Qc3 Qe5 31.Qd3 Nxb2 32.Qc2 Qe1+ 33.Kg2 Qd1 34.Qe4 Qxa4? (34…Qd7! was the last chance to claim equality) 35.Qxb7 Qa2?! the situation was critical:
Black is clearly struggling to defend, but the only winning move here was the one Caruana played: 36.Ne3!! That quiet knight retreat was deadly, preventing the white knight from getting back in the action by covering its squares and also vacating f5, so that 36…Nd3 could be met by 37.Qe4+, winning the knight. The black queen, meanwhile, is tied down to the defence of the knight. As Fabiano put it during the live commentary:
The knight on e3 is just so beautiful. It stops Qd5 and basically dominates both of his pieces.
Jan and Peter were also highly impressed, with Jan devoting most of his Round 4 recap to this vital stage of the game and round:
The players made the time control with seconds to spare, and after that it was enough for Arkadij to check that his opponent wouldn’t blunder the one big trick in the position:
The "mating" 41.Qe5?? would actually lose to 41...Qxf2+! 42.Kxf2 Nd3+!, a fork both Fabiano and our commentators missed at one point while analysing, but after 41.Qb7! Kh8 42.Qe7 Naiditsch resigned.
Watch Fabiano’s separate interview after the game:
In the post-game press conference he explained the reasoning behind his rough schedule, where GRENKE Chess has followed the Candidates, with the US Championship to come soon afterwards:
I thought if I win the Candidates I won’t mind playing, and if I don’t win the Candidates then I’ll probably want to forget the tournament, and in that case it’s good to play another one.
There was also an update on the situation with Fabiano’s broken mobile phone:
Jan: How’s your phone situation?
Fabiano: Still don’t have one.
Peter: Wow, respect!
Jan: Peter’s happy, because he’s never had one.
Peter: I’ve never had one but now I have one already, so I very much respect your decision.
Fabiano: It’s not my decision – my phone broke! Although I could have gotten a replacement, but I thought before the Candidates it’s probably a blessing in disguise to have no phone.
Elsewhere action was thin on the ground. Carlsen-MVL followed a sharp line in the English Opening where Black takes on g2 with a pawn on move 7 while White takes on d7 on move 8. The French no. 1 had tried it twice against Alexander Grischuk last year, with Magnus commenting:
Frankly I thought Maxime was a little bit worse in the games against Grischuk, so I expected him to deviate, and when he went for this so quickly I sort of froze a bit and just felt like doing something else.
12.Qe5+ is how Grischuk had played, but rather than find out what improvement Maxime had prepared in that line the World Champion swapped off queens with 12.Qxb6 axb6. There as well, though, MVL knew what he was doing, with at the least the first 22 moves in his preparation. Magnus afterwards lamented his decision on move 25:
He called 25.a4 “very, very sloppy”, but the impression from the post-game press conference was that Maxime would have had no problems after other lines either. In his individual interview Magnus wasn’t too happy with how things are going:
In general the last two games have been rather dull. There basically hasn’t been too much to fight for after the opening, which is a bit disappointing. I think today Maxime was excellently prepared. Also after that he played very precisely in the ending, while I probably could have pushed a little bit more if I’d played better. It’s kind of disappointing, but I’m still only trailing by half a point, so it’s no disaster, but it’s far from ideal.
The best part about the interview is perhaps the smile Magnus gives when he says, “we’ll see what happens next year”, about Vincent Keymer playing in the GRENKE Chess Classic:
Maxime talked about his rivalry with Magnus and echoed the feelings of most chess players when he commented, “I don’t like the taste of defeat!”
There was barely a tactic in that game, and the same goes for the other encounters. Bluebaum-Meier was the last game of the day to finish, but also perhaps the least interesting, with a near symmetrical queen and knight position reached by move 23.
Aronian-Hou Yifan was a Catalan which until move 15 followed Piorun-Hou Yifan from Round 1 of the 2017 World Cup:
Here Kacper Piorun went for 15.Nd2 and was held to a draw before losing the 2nd game. Levon will have been a very interested spectator, since he was playing the winner of that match and eventually, after four draws, he won both blitz games to beat Hou Yifan in Round 2 and go on to win the whole event. In Baden-Baden, Levon varied with 15.Rc1, but if anything he got even less play than Piorun as the game ended in a 39-move draw.
That leaves Vitiugov-Anand, a Caro-Kann where it seems from the post-game press conference that all the tension was in the early middlegame:
Vishy was considering 12…f6!?, but eventually opted for 12…a5, which Nikita called “kind of a relief”, since he’d been worried about his b3-knight being stuck out of the game after 12…f6. He called what followed, “just a normal position”, and it soon liquidated into a draw.
Nikita continues to lead on an unbeaten +2 after four rounds, though he has tough tests ahead. Black against Hou Yifan in Round 5 is the first of three black games in four rounds, while his final four opponents are MVL, Aronian, Carlsen and Caruana. The standings after four rounds of the 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic look as follows:
In Round 5 there are the heavyweight clashes Anand-Caruana and MVL-Aronian, while despite having the black pieces it’s likely the World Champion will want to end a frustrating couple of days in Meier-Carlsen.