Reports Jun 13, 2018 | 9:18 PMby Colin McGourty

Leuven GCT, Day 2: Wesley extends his lead

Wesley So continues to do a fine Magnus Carlsen impression in the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven. For a second day in a row he was the only player to score two wins as he extended his lead over 2nd placed Levon Aronian to two points. Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand both had false dawns as they tried to mount a comeback after Day 1, though at least they had company in misery as Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk also suffered.

Playing Wesley So is a pure joy right now... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour using the selector below:

And here’s the live commentary on Day 2:

Let’s again take a winners and losers approach:


Wesley's secret weapon? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Once again the list of players who can be entirely satisfied with their second day in Leuven is limited to a single name: Wesley So. He thanked the Lord again, and divine oversight was visible early on as things came together perfectly against Anish Giri after 22…f5 (not really a blunder, as the position was already falling apart):

23.Nxa6! Wesley: “I figured it was going to be a good day!”

The point is to clear the c-file, so that 23…bxa6 runs into 24.d6! and Black can't capture the pawn, but after 23…Nf7 in the game 24.d6! followed anyway. Although White “only” emerged a pawn up it was a dream position for Wesley in his current form and the victory that followed never looked in doubt.

Giri was Wesley's first victim of the day | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You couldn’t say the same about the second game, but you know it really is your day when you can win a pawn ending like this against a player like Alexander Grischuk:

To be fair, it was tricky, and perhaps it would have been better to keep queens on the board, since after 30…Kf7 31.Kf1 f5 32.gxf5 h5 33.Ke2 Kf6 34.Ke3?! (34.f4!) 34…Kxf5 White was already fighting an uphill battle. The clock was Grischuk’s enemy, and after Wesley won the race to queen first he was able to mop up the white pawns and force victory.

Levon Aronian had a good day, including a convincing win with Black against Anish Giri, and has never been one to show false modesty about his own ability:

We’d love to be able to use the headline, “Levon wins Leuven,” and he could have caught Wesley if he’d beaten him in the final game of the day. So knew that, of course, and wasn’t going to take any risks. It sums up how smoothly things have gone so far if we point out the one moment of danger he faced:

Wesley said he’d spotted immediately after playing 16.Bf4?! that here Levon had 17…Ba3!, when White would have had to play accurately to hold. #FirstWorldProblems, compared to the troubles the other players encountered! 

Aronian has also been smooth so far, if not quite as effective as So | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Of more interest in the interview with Maurice Ashley was that Wesley explained that it was just 15 seconds after his fateful 41…Rd3?? in the last round of Norway Chess that he realised 41…Rd2! would have been “so much stronger”. His success in Leuven is doing a good job of exorcising those demons.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is perhaps the other player you could class most easily as a winner, since everything went his way as well. He admitted that during his start to the tournament he was “basically begging for a draw in every game”, but then when it looked like he’d end Day 2 with six draws he picked up a win against Vishy Anand after playing 46.a4:

MVL said that Vishy “should just have taken on a4”, and also pointed out that the computer gives 0.00 after 46…Rh4! Instead, after almost four minutes, Anand played 46…Kb8?! 47.a5 Rh3? and the king invading with 48.Kd6 proved terminal.

MVL & Nakamura's clash was a bar brawl of a game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The other reason to flag up Maxime’s play is for perhaps the most beautiful move of the day. An eventful encounter reached the following position:

And here Maxime unleashed the queen sacrifice 26…Re8!! ("I didn't have a choice, basically" - MVL), which sent Hikaru Nakamura into an 8-minute think, during which he reluctantly and correctly concluded there was nothing better than 27.Nxf5 Rxe1+ 28.Qf1, when after 28…d2 he had strictly the only defence 29.Ne3. The game ended in a spectacular repetition:

The computer, and Ukrainian commentator Evgeny Miroshnichenko, felt Black could have played on, but objectively it seems it should still have ended in a draw.


There were signs of hope for those who ended the first day in last place, since Fabiano Caruana started with a fine win over Hikaru Nakamura. 

Caruana got off to a great start in the all-American clash | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

He commented, “I wanted to play a bit better than yesterday”. Vishy Anand was in the same boat, and explained, “what I did yesterday was just to pretend, to tell myself that the tournament begins today”. That seemed to be working when a draw against Karjakin was followed by a win over… Caruana, in which the ex-World Champion demonstrated keen positional judgment to win what initially seemed to be an innocuous minor piece ending. We’ve already seen that the day didn’t end well for Vishy, though, while Fabiano went on to lose a second game in a row.

Vishy and Fabi before the start of Day 2 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was back to the all-action version we knew and loved before he became super-solid recently, and while his ambition might have been punished by a player in better form, it was Fabiano who blundered last in their game. 48.Rf2? was a move that would have worked a move previously, but not now!

48…Rf3 wins, but why play that when 48…Rxh2+! is mate-in-2! Caruana resigned without waiting for 49.Rxh2 Qf3+ 50.Rg2 Qxg2# Shak would in fact have had as good a day as Wesley if not for missing multiple chances to beat Sergey Karjakin. This was perhaps the easiest:

Play 61.Rg7+, exchange rooks and bring in the white king and even the Minister of Defence wouldn’t have been able to hold. Instead after 61.Ke5 the moment had gone, though Shak went on to miss various wins in a Rook + Bishop vs. Rook ending. 

Shak was enjoying himself, but Karjakin would have the last laugh | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Sergey remains unbeaten, at least on the chessboard…

There were others who joined the losing club, though. We’ve already seen both of Anish Giri’s losses, to make it 3 defeats and 1 win so far for the wild card. Alexander Grischuk had crumbled in time trouble against Wesley So and then went on to do the same against Hikaru Nakamura, who summed up, “the moral of the story is that you can’t get down to one minute when your opponent has 5 minutes”.

He may not have hit top form on the chessboard yet, but Grischuk has been a photographer's dream | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Grischuk has been doing just that for his whole career, but the difference is perhaps that he’s one of the world’s most comfortable players when playing on increments. Here there are none, just the awkward delay that makes it impossible to dig your way out of a time-trouble hole when you fall into it:

Grischuk could still draw here if he ran his king to the b7-pawn, starting with 39.Kd4, but instead he went for the break 39.e6? only to be cut down by 39…Rxg4+ 40.Ke5 Rg5+ 41.Ke4 Rd5!

White can’t avoid the exchange of rooks, and the black pawns will be unstoppable.

That left Hikaru as the only player on 50%, while So leads Aronian by 2 points and Karjakin, Mamedyarov and MVL by 3:

Once again we can give the regular warning that there’s a very long way to go, with 24 points still up for grabs for each player. Tune in for the final day of rapid chess from 14:00 CEST!

See also:

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