Reports Jun 29, 2017 | 9:17 PMby Colin McGourty

Leuven GCT, Day 2: The Bird ≥ The Word

Magnus Carlsen got in some high-level trolling when he beat Vladimir Kramnik with the Bird - 1.f4 - but his 2.5/3 for the day wasn’t enough to close the gap on leader Wesley So, who achieved the same score with wins over Vishy Anand and Baadur Jobava. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is level with Magnus in 2nd place after two draws and also beating Jobava, who left him sitting alone at the board for three and a half minutes. Baadur may have wished he never turned up at all, as he ended the day on 0/12.

If only he knew... Vladimir Kramnik about to be hit by the Bird | photo: Lennart Ootes

For the second day in a row in the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven we had 11 decisive games and only 4 draws, with mayhem wherever you looked. You can replay all the action using the selector below – click on a result to go to the game with computer analysis, while hovering over a player’s name will show you his results so far:

Let’s look at some of the day’s most enjoyable moments:

1. The Bird ≥ The Word

Vladimir Kramnik beat Magnus Carlsen in their last encounter in Altibox Norway Chess, which added even more spice than usual on Thursday to one of the biggest rivalries in chess. Playing White in Round 5 of the Leuven Grand Chess Tour, he decided to go for something offbeat - "the Bird" i.e. Henry Bird’s 1.f4

So far, so good for Vladimir... | photo: Lennart Ootes

By Carlsen’s standards that wasn’t so extravagant – he once played 1.a4!?? vs. Radjabov in the World Blitz Championship (yes, he won) – and Vladimir also took it in his stride, at least at first. Black seemed to be doing well, then the edge had vanished, and then it became critical:

Here Vladimir swapped off queens with 26…Qxf2+ but after 27.Kxf2! (not 27.Rxf2, as the rook's place is on the c-file!) the a5-pawn dropped for no compensation and the white a-pawn was unstoppable. From a few moves before this moment until the end of the game Magnus’s play was absolutely flawless.

That’s one of the games that Jan Gustafsson looks at in his recap of the day’s action:

Afterwards Magnus found the time to tweet between rounds:

That was a homage to Family Guy, Peter Griffin and the scientists who had come to the same conclusion…

Was that the real reason for playing 1.f4, though? After Game 1 of the Carlsen-Karjakin match, Radio Jan, who some suspect was on Team Magnus, had let rip at the World Champion’s choice of the Trompowsky. He foresaw dark times ahead…

Conspiracy theorists had other explanations as well, though. Was Magnus Carlsen hitting back at the offence to Scandinavians everywhere of suggesting Bent Larsen was a coffeehouse player unworthy of serious study?

And you thought chess was a simple game…

2. Jobava’s no show

Baadur Jobava put up a real fight in the first round of the day against leader Wesley So. It wasn’t just that he won the sunglasses duel by default when Wesley silently acknowledged he couldn’t look that cool…

…he also won a pawn with the black pieces and it seemed only a question of whether or not he could convert that into a win or would have to settle for a draw. Alas, he slowly became entangled and slipped into a mating net. That fourth loss in a row would have been enough to break anyone’s spirit, and for the next round we got a shock:

It was only when Baadur’s clock had counted down over 3 minutes that he finally rushed to the stage, apparently having been found wandering about outside – you want to imagine dazed and disorientated. Jobava blitzed out his moves from that point on, but he was worse in a dozen moves and then had to sit in agony as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave slowly but very surely reeled home the full point. Resignation came on move 71.

Alas, his day wasn’t going to get any easier, with Magnus Carlsen up next:

This time Baadur went badly astray on move 14 and the rest was X-rated. Magnus wasn’t going to miss his chance to fill his boots. The question has already become whether Jobava will manage to score a point in the rapid section of the event.

3. Kramnik and the clock

World no. 2 Vladimir Kramnik finds himself above only Jobava on the standings after a tough Day 2 in Leuven. He played an exquisite exchange sacrifice against Ian Nepomniachtchi in the first round but couldn’t convert his advantage into a full point. Then there was Bird vs. Word, and then came another classic encounter: Kramnik-Aronian.

The ice-cool Kramnik we know best... | photo: Lennart Ootes

Vladimir was doing just fine until he allowed Black’s knight to join the party with the clever 24…Nd5!

Soon White was not only down a piece but had connected passed pawns racing down the board towards him, though there was one moment Kramnik could have saved himself with some nice geometry:

45.Qxb4!! Rxe5 46.Qb8+! Re8 47.Rxe8+ Bxe8 48.Qxe8+ Kh7 and it’s simply a drawn queen and pawn ending. By this stage, though, the players were engaged in a battle with the clock and had no time for such niceties. As Levon put it:

We were both blundering and he blundered last. It was an achievement for both of us how badly we both played.

That was all just the prelude to the final stages, when the delay time control and a bad position reduced the usually cool Vladimir Kramnik to a quivering wreck:

Seldom has anyone tried harder to make a losing move in a losing position! It was fitting, perhaps, that Vassily Ivanchuk was on hand to witness it, since he starred opposite Kramnik in one of the most famous pieces of similar footage:

4. So good

After that choppy win against Baadur Jobava in the first game of the day Wesley So was back to his serene best, taking an effortless draw with Black against Anish Giri and then beating the great Vishy Anand with the White pieces. The key moment came here:

31…Bd4! seems to have been better to stop White’s brilliant invasion into the black rearguard. In the game Vishy dodged So's 33...Rc7 34.Rxh6!! brilliancy with 33…Bxb6 34.Rxb6 – Wesley was only up a pawn, but it proved enough for him to squeeze out a victory that kept him two points clear of the chasing pack.

Wesley So is looking completely in control in Leuven so far | photo: Lennart Ootes

Anand had a tough day, but did score a model slow-motion attacking win over Vassily Ivanchuk.

5. Chucky defeats Nepo, gives epic interview

Spot what’s "wrong" in the following photograph:

Ivanchuk given something to think about by Nepomniachtchi | photo: Lennart Ootes

Yes, somehow a black h-pawn has found itself on h3 right out of the opening. If Ian Nepomniachtchi’s plan was to get Ivanchuk’s creative juices flowing and cause him to burn up time it worked, but as so often with Vassily the problem was that he also played some great chess. The point at which the game swung in White’s favour came after 32…Qa8?!:

33.e4! cut off the queen’s path back to where it could do damage on the kingside, and White gained full control of the board after 33…a5 34.a4 Rb8 35.Qe3. To say the rest was easy would underestimate what could go wrong with little time on your clock, but Vassily ended a day that started with two heavy losses (Giri called Ivanchuk’s play in their game “mission suicide” and a belated birthday present) on a high note. Better was to come, though, as he gave an interview to Maurice Ashley:

You can watch it below (along with the rest of the day’s action):

6. Aronian’s new chess rule of thumb

Chess strategy never stops developing, and Levon Aronian has helped us to formulate a new rule of thumb. No doubt you know, “if your opponent attacks on the flank hit back in the centre.” Well, now we can add, “if your opponent’s knight forks your heavy pieces hit him with a bishop sacrifice with check”! It’s worked for two days in a row for the Armenian no. 1, against some very decent opposition:

Against Jobava he played 26.Bxf7+! while Anand was hit by 29.Bxh7+! - he went on to win both games.

7. Nepo’s tricks and sympathy

There are few trickier players than Levon Aronian and Ian Nepomniachtchi, and in their Round 5 game they kept exchanging sharp ideas until finally Levon cracked:

There’s one saving move here, though it’s hardly intuitive. 43…Rf8! gives up the exchange, but Black’s king and bishop will be able to thwart White’s plans. Short on time, however, Aronian played 43…Ra8 and after 44.Bxf6! gxf5 45.Rg7+! had to walk into a killer discovered check with 45…Kh8, since 45…Kf8 loses even faster to 46.Rh7! and the threat of mate. Levon made another six moves before throwing in the towel.

Afterwards, though, it seems Nepo felt his opponent’s pain 

Going into the final day of rapid chess (remember that once again after that we have 18 rounds of blitz at the weekend!) the standings are as follows:

Again the day’s action will start with a bang as we have Giri-Carlsen, Nepo-So and Jobava-Kramnik – can Jobava avoid going through the whole rapid tournament without getting off the mark? Don’t miss all the action here on chess24 from 13:50 CEST onwards! 

You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:


See also:

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