Magnus Carlsen just couldn’t be stopped. A streak of four wins in five games obliterated the field, with victory finally confirmed with no less than three rounds to go. The World Champion took $37,500 and 13 Grand Chess Tour points, but with Magnus unable to play in St. Louis and London the prize for 2nd place - $30,000 and 10 Grand Chess Tour points – was a huge deal. It went to Wesley So, who edged out Levon Aronian (3rd) and Vishy Anand (4th) to join Hikaru Nakamura in 2nd place in the overall tour standings.
Replay all the games from the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour:
In our previous report we tried to talk up the chances of the players who could still challenge Magnus, but he wasn’t interested in a chase and instead gave us an exhibition. He could even afford a slight hiccup in the first round, failing to win an ending a pawn up against Levon Aronian but getting to watch his nearest rival, Wesley So, blunder a piece in horrific fashion:
Vladimir Kramnik gratefully accepted with 41…Rxd4+. Curiously Kramnik was the only player to beat So twice, though the ex-World Champion wouldn’t win another game until the final round.
That meant the gap had grown to 1.5 points, and it grew again in the next round as Magnus scored the only win. That game against Veselin Topalov had a curious ending after 36.Nb4:
It seemed Topalov had blundered into a fork and been duly punished, so nothing could be more logical than the immediate resignation that followed – Veselin’s third loss to Magnus in Leuven. It wasn’t so simple, though! 36…Rxf2+! keeps the game alive, since 37.Kxf2 Qd2+ picks up the rook, while 37.Qxf2 Qe4+ picks up the b4-knight. Magnus might have won anyway, but the game was far from over.
The day’s third round saw Magnus switch on beast mode to grind out another win from almost nothing against Vishy Anand, who decided there was no point playing on a pawn down in a bishop ending. So was held to a draw by Giri, meaning the gap had grown to an almost insurmountable 2.5 points.
There was no letting up, though, with Magnus showing he can crush you with a flashy tactical demolition if you prefer. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the victim:
Almost anything wins, but Magnus’ 33…Rb6! 34.Rxb6 e2! was elegant. The French no. 1 resigned before any new queens appeared on the board. The gap had grown to 3 points with 5 rounds to go, with Aronian’s hopes of first ended by a loss to Fabiano Caruana.
Perhaps the game of the day would have been Carlsen-Kramnik, with the World Champion playing a beautiful game in the notoriously dull 5.Re1 variation of the Berlin Defence. It was hard not to recall Carlsen’s win against Anand in the rapid, with a white rook making it to the back rank and announcing zugzwang:
It was the kind of grip Magnus never releases, but on this occasion Vladimir Kramnik hung on and managed to find a fortress two pawns down – activating the white rook would cost a pawn. Both players saw the funny side of the game:
The players took a lunch break, and then for desert Magnus
finally sealed victory mathematically by beating the one player who had beaten
him twice in Leuven – Fabiano Caruana. Fabi’s manager Lawrence Trent joined the
commentary just at the wrong moment, and was only able to offer the bleak
assessment on Carlsen in such form:
It's just impossible to play against him. What's the point?
The jinx was back
On the board 18…h6! was a polite enquiry as to Caruana’s
future plans for his f6-bishop…
It ended painfully, as such things usually do against Magnus, with mate-in-5 on the board when resignation came on move 36. Carlsen had improved on his 2nd place in Paris to win the stage in Leuven.
That still left three rounds to go, though, with the World Champion’s focus inevitably fading, while he also had the misfortune to encounter his “nemesis”, Anish Giri, in the following round. Giri had spoiled a sequence of eight draws by beating Topalov, and gratefully accepted when Carlsen began to offer up free pawns in the opening. Real complications, never mind an attack, never materialised, and the loss that followed was the one dent in Magnus’ day.
After learning that lesson he shut up shop to draw the final two games against So and Nakamura. That couldn’t stop Ding Liren taking over as the blitz no. 1, but at least that leaves Magnus with a goal in life!
It wasn't exactly a sprint. Wesley So followed the loss in the first game to Kramnik with seven draws and one crucial rook endgame win against Topalov.
He was far from the only pragmatist in town, with Levon Aronian following the same formula – seven wins, one loss (to Caruana) and one crucial rook endgame win, this time over his rival for third, Vishy Anand. In fact, Levon could have pushed for second, but instead started repeating moves early against Topalov in the final round, despite Veselin having lost four games in a row. At times it was a puzzling day.
There was something for almost everyone. Anand's 4th place was a decent start to his first event of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. Caruana’s 5th place (and crossing 2800 in blitz!) was perhaps more than he could have hoped for given his documented troubles at speed chess, while even Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will be able to come to terms with 6th place given his 3rd place in Paris. The same applies to Nakamura, though a 7th place finish in a blitz and rapid event is not the kind of thing you expect to see happen to him often.
Kramnik at least ended on a high by beating Giri in the final round, Giri still suffered only one defeat in his last 12 games and beat the World Champion, while Topalov… Well, he may have finished last to everyone but Fressinet in Paris, and now finished two points adrift in Leuven after six losses on the last day, but he did get a second win of the event against Kramnik. All is well with the world
The final standings in the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour are as follows:
And this is how the situation looks for the Grand Chess Tour as a whole.
The crucial point to note here is that only a player's best three scores count for the final standings, so while Anand and Carlsen will have to count each tournament, the rest can forget one event. Unless Magnus returns as a wild card in the London Chess Classic, this will be his last event of the 2016 series, so he's set the score the others need to try and match, but for once the odds are good that someone else will overtake him.
Thank you for following our coverage - we hope you enjoyed it! There's a slight lull in top level chess action for the next three weeks, if you don't count Lawrence Trent taking on Levon Aronian in a time-handicap match...
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