Vishy Anand blundered a piece on move 8 against Fabiano Caruana but still drew and ended the first day of the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour as the sole leader on an unbeaten 7/10. It was that kind of day. Paris GCT winner Hikaru Nakamura started with three losses, Vladimir Kramnik blundered pieces in two games in a row and even Magnus Carlsen got in on the act by dropping a piece on move 11 against Nakamura in an inexplicable moment of chess blindness.
Odd things happen in Leuven, Belgium…
…but still, the start to the rapid section of the second stage of the Grand Chess Tour was bizarre. In Paris it was only when blitz began that blundering full pieces became the norm, but it was happening left, right and centre in Leuven. Don't miss replaying all the action:
And relive the commentary with Jan Gustafsson and Anna Rudolf:
Hikaru Nakamura had been supreme in Paris, first losing in his 18th game and only losing three games in total out of 27. In Leuven, though, he was well beaten by Vladimir Kramnik in Round 1 and then Veselin Topalov in Round 2.
Then, in his own words, he “lost his mind” against Anish Giri in Round 3, going on tilt and an attack with an uncastled king that was always likely to end badly. He would finish the day bottom of the table, but not without a moment to celebrate – as we’ll see.
Other strugglers in Paris scored well. Veselin Topalov beat Vladimir Kramnik as well as Nakamura, while Fabiano Caruana would have ended the day in the joint lead if not for missing (or rejecting) a perpetual check in his final game against Wesley So. It was an extraordinary day for Fabiano, who played a brilliant rook sacrifice vs. Topalov in Round 1, held an exchange down against Giri in Round 2 and spectacularly turned the tables in Round 4, just when it seemed Magnus Carlsen’s inventiveness and will to win was going to take him into the lead:
43…Re5!! was Fabiano’s stroke of genius. If now 44.Bxe5 then 44…Qxe5+ 45.Kh1 Ng3+ and 46…Qxe1 wins material. Caruana’s manager Lawrence Trent revealed his player had thought he was winning here, but actually the computer claims it was still level after 44.Rf1 Rg5 and only 45.Rf3? was the losing move (Lawrence also revealed Magnus almost played the correct 45.Rf2!):
45…Rxg2+! 46.Kxg2 Nd4! won the pinned piece.
We skipped one game of Caruana’s, though, which brings us to…
Viswanathan Anand’s blunder was at least well enough disguised that it took Fabiano a while to spot, though Vishy himself noted he saw it as soon as he played 8…Bg4?
9.Bxg8! picked up a piece, since 9…Rxg8 10.Qc4 is a classic double attack. That was very far from the end of the story, though, since after 9…Nd7 the black position was by no means resignable. Vishy noted he had a space advantage and, slightly less seriously, “once you lose pieces it's easier to calculate fast!”
The path to salvation involved an extraordinary career for the black queenside rook before it gave up its life on g2:
Fabiano could still have converted his advantage into a win, but on move 47 Vishy finally won back the piece and the US Champion could ultimately be glad that the game hadn’t ended with anything worse than a draw by perpetual check.
Vladimir Kramnik blundering, meanwhile, is hardly news after his misadventures in Paris, but it was still a bitter pill for him to swallow that he did it first in Leuven against his arch-rival Veselin Topalov. Our commentary team was already chalking up a win for Big Vlad when he reached an ending a pawn up, but he gave it all away with 58.f6?
Kramnik threatens mate-in-1, but given the 27-second think on the move it’s likely he was analysing the complexities of the piece sacrifice with 58….Rf1+ 59.Ke5 Rf5+ 60.Ke6 Rxg5 61.Ra8+ Kh7 62.f7 (and the pawn will cost a rook) rather than simply thinking he was winning on the spot. Alas, after 58...Rg4+! Black is one tempo ahead and manages to stop Ra8+ check. Kramnik played on for 10 moves, but the game was gone.
And that leaves the blunder of the day. Magnus Carlsen had seemed ready to exploit Nakamura’s woes and seize the lead. After two draws he beat Levon Aronian from the slenderest of endgame advantages and then had Caruana on the ropes in the next game. As we saw, though, Fabiano turned the tables, and that bitter blow must have been a factor in the debacle that followed:
11…Nxd5?? Answers on a postcard, as they used to say, if you can explain this move Magnus could have resigned immediately, or after 12.Nxd5, or at any moment until he actually did on move 17.
It was painful to watch:
Lawrence Trent reported the World Champion’s reaction afterwards:
Magnus just came up and laughed and said, 'I've got to get out of here!'
For Hikaru it was a lifeline, and if ending the day with a draw against Anand and a win against Carlsen couldn’t take him off the bottom of the table it at least set him up for a comeback in the 22 rounds remaining.
Vishy Anand skipped the first stage of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour since he was playing in Leon, but he now plays the remaining three events. In Leuven he showed exactly why he was for a long time the acknowledged king of rapid and blitz chess. His first win, against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Anti-Berlin, was exquisite:
26…Nxf2! 27.Kxf2 Qh2+! 28.Ke3 Qg2!!
The star move, which Vishy said he’d spotted when playing 22...Qf7. If now 29.Rf1 Black takes advantage of the pin on the a7-g1 diagonal to play 29…Ne5!, but that would have been preferable to what happened in the game. 29.Qe2? Rxf3+! 30.Qxf3 Bxd4+! 31.Kxd4 Qxf3 and White’s uncoordinated pieces were no match for Black’s queen, knight and passed d-pawn.
So after Day 1 of the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour Vishy Anand leads, with a table that, as many have noted, would look at least as normal if it was turned on its head!
There’s a long, long way to go yet, though, with four more rapid games on Saturday before 18 rounds of blitz on Sunday and Monday. Before Round 6 today you can still enter our Prediction game (or alter your entry) by using the Predictions tab under the live broadcast.
If you’re short of something to do before the Grand Chess Tour starts you may want to check out the Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup of the President of Kazakhstan. The tournament features Grischuk, Svidler, Nepomniachtchi, Gelfand, Hou Yifan and co. all fighting for $100,000 in prize money over 11 double rounds of blitz on Saturday and Sunday.
Watch all the action here. You can also follow all the tournaments at chess24 using our free mobile apps: