Reports Apr 9, 2018 | 8:08 AMby Colin McGourty

GRENKE Classic 8: Vitiugov thwarts Carlsen

Nikita Vitiugov still has the fate of the GRENKE Chess Classic in his own hands after he survived his first game against World Champion Magnus Carlsen to go into the final round half a point behind Fabiano Caruana. He has the white pieces against Caruana, while Magnus knows he must beat Vishy Anand with Black to be in with a chance of a playoff for first place. The penultimate round ended in all draws, but Peter Svidler joined the commentary and Peter Leko talked about the 1.5 years when Bobby Fischer was living in his house.

Carlsen-Vitiugov was by far the most exciting and significant game of the day | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

It was the hottest day yet in Baden-Baden…

…though not on the chessboard!

You can watch the full Round 8 live show below:

Apart from the Carlsen-Vitiugov game there wasn’t too much action in the penultimate round, but that was made up for in the live commentary by a cameo from Peter Svidler (we’ve included the video later) and some fascinating stories from Peter Leko. The highlight was when he answered a question about the best chess player of all time by first talking about his childhood love of Tigran Petrosian and then revealing that Bobby Fischer had stayed in his house in Szeged, Hungary for around 1.5 years in 1998 and 1999:

Peter talked about when he realised how good Bobby was (and must have been):

It was a pure pleasure. It was at the time when I was about to enter the Top 10, so I was kind of full of energy, full of confidence and I’m like a coming star, and then we discussed… not even discussed, there were things like I would be working at my chessboard and I would have a computer next to me, Bobby would be sitting in front of me and falling asleep – it was summertime, incredible heat, no air conditioning in our house and the third floor, and then he falls asleep. I continue working, working, working on the position, and then from time to time when I got to 15 minutes he would just wake up, just like, ok, from asleep, looks at the position for like 1 second, one can feel how focussed and concentrated from nowhere, gets into the position, and bangs out the absolute best move, with a clear vision of why it’s happening. I was like 19 years old, about to enter the Top 10, and witnessing this I just thought wow, this is pure magic, and then I started appreciating how strong he could have been in his prime. I’m so happy that I had this privilege of seeing this, experiencing it, because it was just fantastic.

Watch the full clip, that includes Peter’s comments on some of Fischer’s chess conspiracy theories:

Four quiet draws

Let’s first briefly go through the day’s relatively quick draws. Caruana-Aronian saw Levon Aronian play the Berlin Defence, and with a half-point tournament lead Fabiano Caruana decided to play things safe with the 5.Re1 line. There were some new ideas displayed by both players, but it seemed inevitable when a draw followed on move 32.

Caruana had an easy day before the last-round showdown with Vitiugov | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

Naiditsch-Anand was a Giuoco Piano that followed a sharp Svidler-So game from last year’s Sinquefield Cup until move 12. At that point Vishy sank into a 14-minute think before exchanging his bishop for Arkadij’s knight, after which he showed a desire to get queens off the board as soon as possible. The position still seemed double-edged, but whether it was home prep or worked out over the board Vishy soon liquidated into a completely drawn position.

It hasn't been Vishy's tournament, but he still has a chance to spoil Magnus's event in the final round | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

Last-placed Georg Meier confessed after the game that he wasn’t in the mood to go for anything too radical against Hou Yifan:

Maybe it’s because of the way my tournament’s been going I decided not to go for any adventures.

Nevertheless, he seemed to get chances (“I was very optimistic about my position, at least from a human perspective”)...

...until accurate play by the women’s no. 1, now unbeaten in five games, saw the game end in a draw on move 33.

Was Georg Meier as puzzled as everyone else by Hou Yifan's top? | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

Bluebaum-MVL was perhaps the day’s most interesting game from a theoretical perspective. 

Bluebaum is gaining rating with 50% for the tournament, though after a disappointing Aeroflot Open he's not threatening Jan Gustafsson's current position as German no. 2! | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

Peter Svidler talked about how “everybody and their uncle” is now playing 6.dxc3, as Bluebaum did, in the Anti-Grünfeld:


It soon turned out exchanging queens on move 6 is far from as drawish as it looks, with Svidler an early victim after he lost to Teimour Radjabov in 31 moves at last year’s Geneva Grand Prix. Magnus Carlsen was beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with White in the same line in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, though he went on to lose in dramatic style. Then in the European Team Championship Viktor Erdos used the line to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in a game that saw Hungary, with Peter Leko on top board, beat Russia 2.5:1.5. Leko told the story of how they’d asked Viktor before the game what he was planning if Nepo avoided the queen exchange with 6…Qc7, and he revealed he’d come up with a plan of 7.e4 Nc6 8.Qd2!? and then forcing a queen exchange in any case. Nepomniachtchi instead exchanged queens on move 6, but Viktor was so happy with the result that in an article for the German chess magazine Schach he revealed the planned novelty.

It’s perhaps no surprise that it was a German player, Matthias Bluebaum, who got to play the move first, against Aryan Tari in the Tata Steel Challengers earlier this year. Play continued 8…e6 9.Qg5:


Here Tari played 9…h6!? and eventually survived a tricky position, while in Baden-Baden Maxime Vachier-Lagrave went for the main line with 9…f6 10.Qh5+ Qf7 11.Qxf7+ Kxf7, and again it was an ending that proved surprisingly unpleasant for Black to play. Peter Svidler summed up, “They are now trading queens even if you play 6…Qc7, which is breaking my heart!” Check out his full 40-minute cameo as together with Peter and Jan he talked about yesterday’s games and more:

Although Bluebaum-MVL looked promising for White, and then briefly for Black, the way it ended summed up the day’s play. 42.Rc3 was an elegant final touch:


Black can win the exchange, but it’s of course a fortress. A draw was agreed three moves later.

Carlsen ½-½ Vitiugov: What not to do against Magnus

Magnus got out his torturer's toolkit in the middlegame, but "ice-man" Vitiugov eventually managed to hold | photo: Georgios Souleidis, official website

This was Nikita Vitiugov’s first ever game against Magnus Carlsen, and initially he did everything right, reaching an equal position on the black side of the Ruy Lopez. He was upset with what followed:

The game was terrible. I’m very unhappy with my play after move like 20 until the first time control. I managed to go down from a very equal position to not losing, but extremely unpleasant, especially against Magnus. I gave him almost everything, but somehow I was able to survive.

Nikita allowed his kingside to be weakened by Magnus advancing his h-pawn and then accepted doubled isolated pawns on the queenside to remove queens from the board. The situation after 35…h5 was getting critical:


The Sesse computer was giving Magnus a significant (though not yet winning) +1.17 advantage here if he played 36.Ra5 and then followed up with the plan of g3 and f4, but for once Magnus’s magic deserted him. He played 36.Kf1 and by the time control those pawn advances were no longer possible and the evaluation had dropped to 0.00. It never changed after that, and while it was still no fun to play as Black, Nikita managed to find some truly virtuoso defensive resources. On move 59 he offered a pawn in exchange for his rook invading the white position, while on move 61 it also turned out he had everything under control:


Our computer-unassisted commentators thought Vitiugov was in big trouble here, since the natural 61…Kf6? runs into 62.Rxg5! Kxg5 63.Be7+, but Nikita quickly demonstrated 61…Rd2+! 62.Kc1 Bf6! with the beautiful point that if White takes the g4-pawn his rook gets trapped on the g-file. After 8 minutes considering his options a disappointed Carlsen decided there was nothing better than to play 63.Kxd2 and take a draw.

Jan Gustafsson shows us more on that dramatic moment and also recaps the other action:

After 5 draws the standings are virtually unchanged, but the tournament situation has become much clearer:


Only Caruana, Carlsen or Vitiugov can now win the 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic, and the final round games that matter are:

  • Vitiugov-Caruana
  • Anand-Carlsen

As in the last round of the Candidates, if Caruana wins with Black he’s the champion. If he doesn’t win, then Carlsen must beat Anand with Black in order to force a playoff. That playoff can be up to 5 games – 2 x 10+2, 2 x 5+2 and Armageddon where White has 6 minutes to Black’s 5.

Of course if Vitiugov beats Caruana (and his friend Svidler commented, "I have a feeling he'll play quite sharply for a win") and Carlsen fails to beat Anand, then Nikita will be the winner without the need for a playoff.

Don’t miss the last-round action, with live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko here on chess24 from 15:00 CEST!

See also:


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