Wesley So beat Levon Aronian and drew two games to cruise to a 2-point victory in the rapid section of the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished second after somehow winning a game that looked destined to be remembered for a Vishy Anand brilliancy. Despite going on to draw Magnus Carlsen and beat Baadur Jobava, a dejected Vishy said afterwards, “there’s no point playing chess like this”. Magnus is three points back after drawing all three games on Friday. Giri did the same, allowing Baadur Jobava to reach the dizzy heights of 1/18.
For the first time in the Leuven Grand Chess Tour we had more draws than decisive results on Friday, but there was still no shortage of thrillers. 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:
To get the low down on how things are going we have Radio Jan, who focusses on Magnus Griffin, Wesley Spock and the Frenchman!
There's no escape, you have to watch or you won't know what they're talking about
As on Day 2 in Leuven, Wesley had a slightly shaky start on Day 3, playing the thematic positional move 19…c4?:
That had the minor drawback that 20.Qxc4! simply wins a pawn, but Ian Nepomniachtchi didn’t take up the offer and instead soon ended up down a pawn after 20.Nd4?. No real harm was done for either player, though, as an eventful game ended in a draw by perpetual check.
Wesley turned on the style in the second round of the day, showing fine judgement and resourcefulness against Levon Aronian:
Here he gave up his queen - an idea he had to have seen many moves ago: 46.Qxa1! Qxa1 47.Rxe6. He went on to show exactly why his rook, bishop and pawn army was more than a match for Black’s queen.
With no-one putting pressure on him Wesley was content with a 33-move draw in a still unbalanced position against Vassily Ivanchuk, meaning he’d ended the rapid section of the event with an unbeaten +5:
The story of Friday’s first round seemed certain to be a simply sensational move by Vishy Anand. MVL played his beloved Najdorf and has just tried the tricky 20…Bg5:
The simple 21.h5 is good for White, but Vishy’s 21.Bb5!! was much more dramatic! Suddenly the white rooks are connected and whatever Black does White has a huge advantage. Maxime played the sad 21…Bf4 22.Bxd7+ Kxd7 and knew he was lost, but afterwards explained that his strategy was simply to keep calculating and trying to find positions where at least he couldn’t see a clear winning blow for Vishy. It worked out better than he could have imagined, though he missed a chance to meet brilliancy with brilliancy after 34.Nc4?:
34…Qh8!! is a beautiful winning move. It’s not just that 35.Rxh8? runs into the abrupt mate 35...Rg1+ 36.Kc2 Rc1#, but wherever the h1-rook goes it runs into a world of hurt: d1 - Qh5, f1 – Qh3, e1 – Qh4, with the black pieces ready to hunt down the white king.
Maxime was on the lookout for counterplay but admitted “that idea didn’t cross my mind” and instead played 34…Nxe4, when Vishy was again in the driving seat. As in the game against Vladimir Kramnik, though, Maxime kept on fighting and this time was rewarded with more than a draw. It all fell apart in the space of two moves from Vishy:
47.Qb6? left the h7-rook undefended (47.Qa7! was best, although you can see MVL's point that there's no obvious killer blow) and after 47…Qg8! Vishy pushed on with his idea of 48.Qf2+, but after 48…Kg4 it turned out the tactical sequence that followed only left Black an exchange up. Maxime went on to win a game that had enough content to fill the whole day (we can’t of course do it justice here).
That proved the inspiration for Maxime in his next game, when he broke through in a wild encounter against Ian Nepomniachtchi with 39.e7!:
Nepo replied 39…Qxe7, giving up the f4-knight, since 39…Bxe7 runs into 40.Nf5!, threatening the bishop on e7 and mate on g7. Both those threats can be stopped by moving the bishop, but wherever it goes 41.Re7+! is crushing on the next move.
Maxime could have caught Wesley if he’d won his last rapid game against Levon Aronian, but despite putting up absolutely heroic resistance after losing an exchange on move 23 his luck finally ran out and he had to resign on move 88. That left him in sole second place, two points behind So:
As you can see, Magnus Carlsen is three points back going into the 18 rounds of blitz, after a day when he drew all his games. You might say he was infected by the first round when, as almost always happens, he drew against Anish Giri. The last round also saw an uneventful draw with his friend Ian Nepomniachtchi, but sandwiched in between those games was another absolute thriller co-starring Vishy Anand. The former World Champion decided to ask the big question here with 21…g6:
Magnus’ response was to sac the knight with 22.e4!, when after 22…gxh5 23.exf5 Vishy responded in kind with 23…e4 24.Bxe4 Rxe4! and all hell broke loose:
Although Magnus was close to winning at some point he was struggling on the clock, not for the first time in the 2017 Grand Chess Tour, and allowed Vishy to enter his position and gain two pieces for a rook:
It may have been winning for Black, but Carlsen rustled up enough counterplay with his king, g-pawn and rook to hold a draw.
Most of the day’s other stories involved Baadur Jobava, whose mission was simply to avoid a 0/18 rapid score. It didn’t get off to a perfect start when he found Vladimir Kramnik in scintillating form:
Kramnik has just given up his queen for White’s two rooks and is attacking the b1-bishop, but Jobava has correctly gone for the jugular with 33.f5!. What followed was wonderful calculation from Vladimir, who resisted the temptation to take the bishop on b1 for a full 10 moves, until on the 11th move Baadur seems to have lost on time:
It was a good time to run out of time, though, since Black has finally covered the mating threat on h7, made seven moves earlier, and the rest is just a mopping up operation.
Kramnik’s other win was also impressive, since despite his kingside attack stalling and being down on time against Vassily Ivanchuk he managed to bamboozle his opponent at the end:
49.a4! was the winning move, since White just needs to give his king some luft to prevent perpetual check with Qg1+, Qd4+. Vassily resigned after 49…bxa3 50.a7 a2+ 51.Ka1.
In the final round Kramnik drew with Giri to end on 50% before the blitz, which brings us back to Jobava! After seven losses he faced Anish Giri and, once again, managed to get a worse position with White by move 10.
This time, though, the Gods were on his side, and after 84 moves in which Anish probed in a tricky queen ending he’d done it! Baadur had something to his name on the scoreboard:
Jobava told Maurice he was expecting some champagne from the organisers, but instead there was a final game with Vishy Anand. Baadur duly lost, and his result was too good an opportunity to miss for some grandmasterly trolling – even Anish himself broke his resolution to win more and tweet less!
(for the "ironic" reference you may want to check out the end of Jobava: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly)
Meanwhile that last-round win did nothing to cheer up Vishy Anand, who called it “par for the course, this nonsense”. It was true he gave Baadur chances to escape, but it’s clear the missed wins against MVL and arguably Magnus had taken their toll. When Ashley tried to diplomatically describe Vishy’s play the great champion responded:
It’s nice to say ‘just a little bit off’ – I thought I was just mental! … There’s no point playing chess like this.
Let’s hope Vishy is back in good spirits for the blitz on Saturday, since for all the misses he still played some of the moves of the day!
Wesley So commented on the upcoming blitz:
I’m very excited for tomorrow because I’ve never really won a blitz tournament in my career. My results in blitz are below average.
He’ll try to put that right, although another great champion, Garry Kasparov, also tipped Magnus Carlsen and MVL to do better in blitz. You can watch his interview with Maurice Ashley, and the rest of the day’s show, below:
All that’s left to say is don’t miss all the blitz action here on chess24 from 13:50 CEST onwards! The first nine rounds are on Saturday before the final nine on Sunday.
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