Magnus Carlsen has finally won a game in the 2017 GRENKE Chess Classic, taking full advantage of a blunder as early as move 5 by Georg Meier. That put Magnus back in the hunt for 1st place, but his chances suffered a blow when Levon Aronian managed to convert a tricky ending against Arkadij Naiditsch. Fabiano Caruana is a point back with Magnus after trading blows with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the Najdorf, as is Hou Yifan, who could blow the tournament wide open if she managed to beat Aronian in their Round 6 game.
With only three rounds remaining it was now or never on Thursday for Magnus, and he took his chance. You can play through all the games with computer analysis by clicking on a result below:
The organisers continue to produce excellent videos giving an impression of each day's action:
And for a recap of the round you can't do better than our commentator Peter Leko:
You can of course also rewatch the full commentary with Peter and Jan Gustafsson:
Highlights of that 5-hour show include Leko comparing super-grandmasters in the playing hall to Jean-Claude Van Damme training blindfold in the movie Bloodsport… and his discussion of someone he’s often compared to:
Leko: Anish Giri I think is extremely good in openings. He’s also very flexible, he plays all kinds of stuff. I have to say I’m not happy at all that he’s called a drawish player, because for me as a top player it’s very interesting to follow Anish’s games. He always comes up with interesting ideas, so I’m really looking forward to every Anish game. People might joke about this that of course it’s because Anish has kind of taken over my place in elite tournaments by producing ideas but drawing many games. I really hope that Anish will come through this difficult period because I know that when suddenly people only start to talk about this, that Leko is only drawing, like now Anish is only drawing, this really affects you. You really feel like you have to prove to the whole world that no, you are fighting, you want to do this, that. In fact I think that Anish has switched with Black almost exclusively to the Najdorf the last year and that’s when all these so-called drawish streaks have happened. It has nothing to do with his ambitions. He’s ambitious, he wants to play good chess, but somehow maybe his converting the good positions is what he really has to master and another thing is once you have many draws you always have extra pressure when you have a better position, because you really feel like now you have to win because if you fail to win everyone will start making jokes about you again, so really there’s extra pressure. I feel for Anish in this sense, because I know exactly how difficult it is to handle this situation.
Gustafsson: I’ve talked a lot about this. I’m a big Anish fan and I believe nowadays it’s even worse than maybe during your time, because social media is so much more powerful. I’m sure that already now there’s a hundred Twitter jokes about Leko and Giri: Leko says Giri is my boy. And even though I believe Anish is tough mentally and he says he’s not affected you can’t help but realise these things and then you feel you have to prove it to the world and it slightly changes how he plays and I feel maybe that’s a reason why, of course he’s still up there, but he’s lost a bit of rating, he’s fallen from 2800 to 2770.
Leko: I’m pretty sure that he will come back. This is just temporary. I perfectly agree with you, because he had a very good Candidates Tournament in 2016 in Moscow. I think just by judging the quality of his games it looked like he was maybe playing some of the best chess there. However, it ended up with 14 draws, with a lot of jokes, and then in the next Stavanger tournament he started playing the Bg5 Najdorf with White, Najdorfs with Black and everything. He really wanted to prove to the world that yes, I’m going after blood.
Jan: It didn’t go well – he scored minus 1 or minus 2.
Leko: Exactly. I felt like he just really wanted to prove something to the world. I think when he finally calms down and will play chess again for himself then the results will come automatically as well.
Jan: He also just had a kid, so he probably didn’t get as much sleep and as much Najdorf time as usual. He will be back, but I’m sure he’s thrilled to hear our support! (laughs)
Our commentators then went on to discuss other opening specialists such as Vladimir Kramnik, who’s undergone a transformation of late, and many more subjects under the sun. If you’d like to support more shows with the likes of Leko here on chess24 please consider going Premium for only $9.99 a month – who knows, we may even be able to pay Peter enough for him to buy his first mobile phone!
But now let’s switch to the Round 5 games:
Arkadij Naiditsch and Georg Meier played out a bruising 6-hour draw in Round 4, and from what happened in Round 5 you might conclude that neither had entirely recovered from it. On the other hand, it’s easy to be made to look bad by the likes of Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian.
Magnus knew that despite having the black pieces his game against Georg Meier was a must-win if he wanted to have a real chance of retaining the GRENKE Chess Classic title he won in the last edition in 2015. He picked up the gauntlet by playing the Grünfeld Defence and reaped a reward as early as move 5, when Meier opted for 5.g3?!
Georg struggled to explain his choice:
It’s kind of a shame to admit that over the board I just decided to play g3, though I should know that it’s bad, and then when I realised how bad it is I tried to do at least something interesting, but it just doesn’t work at all.
Magnus said he didn’t know much, but he knew enough:
Usually in these positions Black takes on c4… it’s always good for Black. I didn’t expect it to be quite this good.
Carlsen said the position was just lost after he cemented his advantage with 17…c5 (“I don’t see how to avoid losing at least a pawn with a bad position”), while Meier revealed that it came as a “cold shower” to him when he realised his intended 16.Na4? Rxb7 17.Qxc4 ran into 17…Rb4!, when taking the rook is of course met by 18…Nc2+, forking the king and queen.
Georg didn’t finally resign until move 41, but Magnus didn’t put a foot wrong in converting his advantage. The glasses had scored their first win:
Carlsen gave a separate interview afterwards:
Leko commented, “Usually when he starts scoring he’s difficult to stop”, but even two wins in the remaining games might not be enough, since Levon Aronian is flying on +3.
The story with Arkadij Naiditsch was similar. He was tricked by a move-order surprise from Levon in the Catalan, and then led astray by his usual principled approach. He went for an ambitious setup with 7…Nd5 and 8…b5, but Aronian felt the next move was almost the fatal mistake:
9…Bb7?! was the most natural move in the world after pushing the b-pawn, but instead 9…Nb4 was the recommendation of the players and commentators. In the game Levon was able to burst through in the centre immediately with 10.Nxd5 Bxd5 11.e4 Bb7 12.d4 and although Arkadij called his 12…cxd4 “a horrible move”, it’s not clear there was anything better, even if it may not have been the “only move” Levon called it.
Aronian soon had what looked like an overwhelming position, but Naiditsch managed to avoid any immediate disaster and was instead simply on the wrong side of some beautiful chess. Leko felt 29.b4! from Aronian was the kind of aesthetic, dominating move you rarely get the chance to play on the board in modern chess:
Nevertheless, what it came down to in the end was an opposite-coloured bishop ending where Levon had a single extra pawn. Magnus Carlsen’s gut feeling was that Naiditsch should hold, and he gave a fortress line he felt would achieve that. He may have been right, but in the game there was no fortress. 45…Kd5 looked to be a step in the wrong direction:
After 46.Be4+! Kc4 47.Bc6 Black's queenside pawns were going nowhere and it seems the white pawn phalanx could no longer be stopped. Levon was able to blitz out his remaining moves before Naiditsch resigned on move 58.
There was a strong rumour that sharp lines of the Sicilian had been made all but unplayable by computing advances, but in the last year we’ve seen some spectacular theoretical battles at the very highest level of chess. In Round 5 of the GRENKE Chess Classic Fabiano Caruana played the 6.Bg5 Najdorf, with Maxime deviating with 13…Bb7 from 13…g5, that had seen Hikaru Nakamura go down in flames against Fabiano in the 2016 London Chess Classic. If Fabiano had then played 14.Bg2 it would have been following Hikaru’s win against Maxime from that same event. Instead he played a novelty, or at least a move he said had only been seen before in correspondence games: 14.h2-h4!?
When Jan Gustafsson introduced the players afterwards he said the game had ended peacefully, drawing the response from Maxime, “there was nothing peaceful about this game!” The players continued with typical play on opposite sides of the board until Caruana’s 19.f5:
Maxime, who is currently the world’s leading Najdorf expert, felt this was “definitely not the way to go”, but while it’s true that Black at least equalised after 19…Nxe5 20.fxe6 0-0 21.Qg1 Fabiano said he remembered 19.f5 was the correct move – it’s possible 21.g5! was the improvement in his forgotten notes.
The game entered murky waters, with Black stabilising and, as our commentators pointed out, that often means Black is better in the Najdorf. That seemed to be the case, but after queens were exchanged it was only Caruana who could then play for a win. Maxime commented:
I was quite ready to admit I was not better, but not to admit that I must force a draw!
The game of course deserves more analysis than it could possibly be given in a quick overview, but the result in any case was a draw on move 43.
The other game to end in a draw was Hou Yifan vs. Bluebaum. Both players were coming off a loss, or in fact in Bluebaum’s case three losses in a row, so you might consider it a game both would be happy to draw. On the other hand, who are you going to push for a win against in a supertournament like this if not the players at roughly your own rating level? That uncertainty as to goals perhaps manifested itself in the play.
Bluebaum was surprised by Hou Yifan’s 1.d4 but adopted a plan Leko had introduced in the Ragozin last year and achieved a good position. Just when Hou Yifan seemed to have a chance to castle and solve all her problems, though, she came up with the aggressive 20…h4!?:
She would later describe it as:
A little bit too aggressive. Not the best move, but in a practical game I decided to try something more interesting.
There were moments (e.g. with 24…g4!) when Matthias might have got something more, though then in a time scramble Hou Yifan might have had chances herself (the alternative 39.Rxf6 instead of 39.Nxf6 looks interesting). The draw reached on move 48 was ultimately a fair outcome, meaning Matthias had drawn the overall and women’s no. 1 in the event, while Hou Yifan is still in the group on second place.
She was interviewed afterwards:
The full standings with two rounds to go are as follows:
Aronian now has White against Hou Yifan and could take a huge step towards winning the tournament if he won. On the other hand, even if he does win if Caruana can beat Bluebaum with Black that would still mean Caruana would have the chance to beat Aronian in the final round (he has White) and force a playoff. Of course if Hou Yifan beat Aronian that would truly set the cat among the pigeons!
There’s also the Carlsen factor. He
has Black against Naiditsch in Round 6, and despite suffering a couple of big losses to Arkadij in the past the World Champion will no doubt be happy to have an opponent unlikely
to play for a draw. In the final round Magnus is White against MVL.
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: