Matthias Bluebaum pulled off the shock of Round 6 of the GRENKE Chess Classic by beating Vishy Anand in a strange game where the former World Champion played fast and calmly even as he slipped to defeat. The best games of the day were Carlsen-Aronian, a fascinating opening battle, and Caruana-Hou Yifan, a 7-hour, 98-move thriller where the women’s no. 1 came very close to beating the World Championship challenger. Arkadij Naiditsch picked up the day’s other win after Georg Meier blundered in time trouble.
It wasn’t really chess weather in Baden-Baden, as the sun finally came out:
That didn’t stop the players giving us the longest day yet at the board:
Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko commentated right to the end, with Magnus Carlsen’s coach Peter Heine Nielsen also joining the show early on:
Matthias Bluebaum succeeded where his German colleague Georg Meier failed the day before and beat a World Champion, but he was clearly still in shock after the game, commenting, “I guess he just blundered something”. A position that seemed headed for a draw changed utterly on move 19:
19…Bd5? was described as “very risky” by Bluebaum, who went on to take the pawn on offer with 20.Rxc8 Rxc8 21.Bxa6 Ra8 22.Bf1!. Vishy got the pawn back here with 22…Rxa5, but that ran into 23.Nb5!
You have to assume this is what Vishy missed, since the threats of Nxd6 and then Bxb4+, or just Bxb4+ immediately if Black’s dark-squared bishop leaves the a3-f8 diagonal, are devastating (or maybe Vishy had counted on 22.Be2 instead of 22.Bf1, since then Black would have the saving 23…Bc4!).
Vishy had clearly seen this when playing 22…Rxa5, since he took under a minute for each of his next four moves, and in fact for all his remaining moves except three. He gave up a piece with 23…Bc5 24.Rc1 Ra2!? 25.Rxc5 Rxb2, with Matthias commenting:
He really looked very confident even when he went for 24…Ra2 and I was a bit confused, because I thought this can’t be really working for him, but it’s not so easy. I have to find this 26.e4, but I thought it’s a piece up, so it should be somehow better for me.
In a way it was opposite of what Peter Heine Nielsen talked about in relation to Magnus Carlsen during the live show:
Vishy mastered the poker face and ultimately had his opponent down to under 30 seconds a move at some points, but the game was all but up when Bluebaum found a good plan on move 26:
26.e4! Rxd2 27.exd5 exd5 clarified the position at the cost of a pawn, and although Vishy might have put up more resistance (33…Kd6! instead of 33…Kf6 was Bluebaum’s suggestion), the game ended in its logical conclusion.
That loss was Vishy’s second of the event and left him on a disappointing minus 2, while the win took Matthias Bluebaum back to 50%:
For Bluebaum it was more good news after his miraculous escape the day before, when he admitted he’d “just played terribly” against Arkadij Naiditsch. Naiditsch himself commented, “yesterday I think it’s one of the worst games I ever played,” and talked about the pain of not winning despite the fact that Bluebaum, “did everything he could to lose this game”. His fortunes would also turn in Round 6!
This game was perhaps a hangover from the day before for Georg Meier, who had come so close to beating the World Champion. With White against Naiditsch he played unconvincingly in the opening, drifted into time trouble, failed to exploit his opponent’s inaccuracies in conducting an attack and then collapsed with 33.cxb6??
33.Nb4, 33.c6 or 33.Rd1 would all have dealt with the one huge threat in the position – Black taking control of the long a8-h1 diagonal. After the move in the game 33…Qb7! left White staring at mate or huge material losses, since the white king has no refuge from the black pieces. Georg simply resigned and is in sole last place, while Naiditsch climbed to 7th. He talked about the last two days' play:
The other three games were drawn, though all in fierce struggles.
This 7-hour marathon got off to a psychologically interesting start, when Hou Yifan played the Petroff against Fabiano Caruana, the man who had made good use of that seemingly innocuous “weapon” to earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen. Would Fabi reveal the secret of how to combat it?
No, is the short answer we got from the game, since as in some of Fabi’s own games Black ended up better remarkably quickly, and it was an advantage that endured deep into the ending. It seems both players went about their task extremely well, and only at one point of the game was a clear win missed – though it would have been a stunningly beautiful study-like win for someone to find in the 7th hour of play:
64…Kd2!! was winning, but only because of 65.Bxa6 Nd3+!!, and if White accepts the sacrifice with 66.cxd3 then 66…d4!! is the key move. Black creates a passed c-pawn that can’t be stopped from queening.
Peter Leko, who earlier recommended endgame studies as the best way to improve your calculation, takes us through this one:
In the game there followed 64…a5 65.Kc1 Ne2+ (65…Ke2! may still win) 66.Kb2 Kd2 (66…Nf4!) 67.Bxd5 Nxc3 and the worst was over for Black.
Caruana remained in the lead on an unbeaten +2 after repeating an endgame escape as impressive as the one he managed against Carlsen in Round 1:
This was a heavyweight struggle between the other two leaders, with Nikita Vitiugov dodging a potential Najdorf by starting with 1.d4, but not avoiding some sharp opening preparation:
In all the games that had reached this position, including a few involving Maxime, Black had played 6…Nxd5. Instead this time he sacrificed a pawn for fast development with 6…0-0!?, though Nikita barely blinked. Maxime later criticised himself for playing a little too fast in the middlegame (he admitted missing 16.Nb3!) and condemning himself to a long defence. White eventually had 4 pawns vs. 3 on the kingside, but the French no. 1 held a relatively comfortable draw in 68 moves.
Then last, but certainly not least…
Once against Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian played out an entertaining and provocative battle, with Levon commenting:
I think Magnus provokes me much more! He gets much more dubious positions than I do, but I do blunder cheapos much more. Therefore the result is the way it is.
Magnus has a 14 wins to 7 score against Aronian, but for the early stages of the game the advantage seemed to be on Levon’s side, since he played the first new move 9…c4 and was moving fast in an extremely sharp position, while his opponent was taking his time. Levon was interviewed twice after the game, but it never became clear to what extent he was bluffing (he limited his revelations to the nugget that he’d mainly checked the line for White). In any case, on move 19 he suddenly sank into a 40-minute think, even though Carlsen’s 19.Rc1 had been the computer’s clear first line:
It’s hard to know what to say about this position without serious analysis, but Black still has the option of delaying recapturing the exchange. Instead Levon went for clarity with 19…Bxe2, and after 20.Qxe2 Bxc1 21.Rxc1 Qa3! Black was doing well. It seems Magnus may have missed a trick by not playing 20.Rxe2! instead, or at least that was the move that was getting the vote of our silicon overlords.
The game remained murky and was perhaps summed up by the position after 30.Qxa3:
Aronian took 20 minutes here, with Magnus cheerfully noting afterwards that he could see how upset his opponent was to realise that the planned 30…a5? doesn’t work. The point of that move was that 31.Qxa5 would be met by the fork 31…Nc6?, but after 32.Qxd5 Nxb4 White has the crushing 33.Qxc4!
The threat of e7+ means Black can’t keep his extra piece and is in fact simply lost. Levon eventually settled for 30…Nc6 immediately and the players blitzed out the remaining moves as Black comfortably held an ending a pawn down.
That means that although the second half of the table was shaken up we had no changes at the top, with Carlsen and Aronian still half a point behind the leading triumvirate of MVL, Vitiugov and Caruana:
Round 7 promises action, with Naiditsch-Carlsen almost guaranteeing an interesting struggle. Arkadij beat the World Champion in classical games in 2014 and 2015, drew their 2017 GRENKE Classic encounter and can be relied upon to try and win with White – in turn giving Magnus a chance to finally make his move before the last two rounds. MVL-Caruana is a battle of the leaders, while the white players in Anand-Meier and Aronian-Vitiugov will also be fighting to improve their tournament situations.