GCT: Karjakin prevails in Leuven's first day of blitz

by Antonio Pereira
6/16/2018 – The first of two days of blitz in Leuven finished with Wesley So still in the lead, despite his losses in the final two games of the day. Sergey Karjakin was the star of the day, getting four wins and no losses to reduce So's advantage to only 1½ points. Levon Aronian won four and lost two and is tied with Karjakin in second place. The tournament concludes tomorrow with nine more rounds of blitz. | Photo: Spectrum Studios / Grand Chess Tour

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Wesley So published two new opening DVDs: 1.b3, the so called Nimzo-Larsen-Attack, for White and his black secrets in the modern Italian. Get them in a package and save money!


Increasing the speed

After three days of rapid chess, the players switched to a time control of 5 minutes plus 3 seconds of delay (note that, once again, they are not using increment in the GCT). Therefore, as expected, the amount of mistakes and misfortunes increased, and nerves started to play a bigger role. Sergey Karjakin, known as one of the most cold-blooded players in the elite, was the only participant capable of finishing the day undefeated.

Karjakin started with three draws, against So, Nakamura and Aronian, but gained speed after his win with Black over Anand. The Russian closed the day with three consecutive wins, a good omen for the last day of blitz.

The opposite happened to man-of-the-hour Wesley So, who arrived with a convincing three-point lead. In the first seven rounds, he scored a win over tail-ender Anish Giri and drew the rest, which included an impressive save against Fabiano Caruana. When it seemed like he would continue in cruise control until the end of the event, his amazing run suddenly was cut short with two losses in a row, against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura.

On Thursday, Nakamura had bluntly declared that Wesley So was “not the best player here". Many pointed out that So had won the Norway Chess blitz opener and climbed to the third place of the blitz ratings list (behind Carlsen and Nakamura). This small controversy seemed to have played against Nakamura, as So overtook him in the live list temporarily after the sixth round. However, Hikaru's win over Wesley in the last round showed that the incident might have actually affected So's confidence. 

So-Nakamura and the rest of the games startings | Photo: Lennart Ootes, tournament page

Sharing second place with Karjakin is Levon Aronian. His day was not as straightforward as Wesley's or Sergey's, however. He alternated wins and losses until the sixth round, but finished with 2½/3 to remain with strong chances of taking first place.

The standings show five players within a three-point range of the leader — Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura complete the chasing pack. Everything is set for a great final day in Leuven. To boost the enthusiasm, it has been announced that Garry Kasparov will join the live commentary tomorrow, someone who never lacks in engaging and sometimes provocative insights.

Grischuk the entertainer

One of the fan favourites, especially in faster time controls, is the three-time World Blitz champion Alexander Grischuk. On Friday, he won two and lost one, but provided some of the most memorable moments of the event.

In the second round of the day, he defeated Caruana from the white side of a sharp Sicilian. The whole game is worth being replayed:


My Black Secrets in the Modern Italian

The Italian Game is considered a sound but quiet opening without early trades, giving rise to rich positions where plans are more important than forced variations. So shows black's plans on this DVD.

In round five, he had Black against Karjakin. With both kings completely open and few seconds on the clock, Sasha fearlessly took White's knight:


Grischuk played 37...Rxf3. Karjakin did not spend any time recapturing and immediately attacked the king. The game continued 38.Qe8+ Kb7 39.Qd7+ Ka6 40.Qc8+ Qb7 41.Qxe6+ Ka7 42.Nc6+.


Alexander did not hesitate to sacrifice his queen with 43.Qxc6 and, after 43...Bxe3, Karjakin decided there was nothing better than a perpetual. Draw.

The most astounding incident was seen on the seventh round, though. Grischuk obtained a strong attack against Vishy Anand's king thanks to a great coordination between his queen and knight. In a wild time scramble, the Russian missed many chances to finish-off the resourceful Anand, but what left everybody dumbfounded was the sudden conclusion of the game:


Anand has just blundered horribly with 71.Qf8, allowing mate-in-one after 71...Qd1# or 71...Qe1#. Grischuk, however, assumed Vishy would play the correct 71.Qf7 and grabbed his king to escape. Anand offered a draw and Grischuk accepted. Everything happened in seconds.

Macauley Peterson was on-site and saw how both players sort of shrugged after the episode. When he tried to ask Anand about what had just happened, he simply shook his head and, understandably, said, "Don't ask".

An amazing incident finished the game between Anand and Grischuk | Photo: Lennart Ootes, tournament page

Round-up show

All blitz games


Commentary webcast

Commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Jovanka Houska, Alejandro Ramirez (St. Louis)
Maurice Ashley and Nigel Short (Leuven)


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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