Grand Chess Tour - Leuven: Wesley So wins Rapid stage

by Alex Yermolinsky
7/1/2017 – Day three showed no big surprises as far as the winner was concerned, with World no. 2 Wesley So winning the Rapid stage of the Leuven tournament with 14.0/18, two points ahead of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who lost his final round game against Levon Aronian, and three points ahead of Magnus Carlsen, who stands at 11.0/18. There will still be 18 blitz games to follow over the weekend, so the event is still very much undecided. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky.

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The Leuven tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is running from June 28 to July 2 in Leuven, Belgium. It is a combination of Rapid and Blitz games. The ten participants are Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Viswanathan Anand, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Vassily Ivanchuk, and Baadur Jobava. They will play nine rapid games, three a day, from June 28–30. Each day the games will start at 14:00h, 15:30h and 17:00h European Standard Summer Time. The Blitz tournament is on July 1-2, with nine rounds on each day, starting at 14:00h. The total prize fund is $150,000!

Note that the event is using the Bronstein mode: the players have 25 minutes for all the moves of a rapid game, and a ten second delay per move. This means that the clock does not run for ten seconds – the point is that you cannot accumulate time by playing very quickly in the Bronstein Mode.

Round 7

All photos by Lennart Ootes

The final stretch of the rapid part almost started with another win for the leader. Wesley So did blunder a pawn on move 19, but Ian Nepomniachtchi missed his chance, and, instead, went for a rather questionable pawn push. His d6-pawn looked about to fall, but So erred on move 29, allowing Nepo to show his magic. Out of nowhere White was able to force a drawn queen ending.

Anish Giri-Magnus Carlsen was a solid draw, so all eyes focused on Vishy Anand-MVL, the incredible battle it was.

Vishy Anand - MVL

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Rapid"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.06.30"] [Round "7"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [BlackElo "2795"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "160"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e5 7. Nde2 h5 8. Bg5 Be6 (8... Nbd7 9. Nd5 $1) 9. Bxf6 $1 Qxf6 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Qd3 Nd7 12. O-O-O { I find White's position attractive.} g6 (12... b5 13. Nec3 Rb8 14. Nb4 $1 { brought Anand success earlier in the tournament against Nepo.}) 13. Kb1 Rc8 14. Nec3 Bh6 15. h4 Nc5 {Not the best square for the black knight in the English Attack structure.} (15... Nb6 16. Nxb6 Qxb6 17. Qxd6 Qxd6 18. Rxd6 Rd8 19. Rxd8+ Kxd8 20. Be2 Kc7 {offers Black excellent drawing chances, but this isn't the way Maxime plays chess.}) 16. Qe2 Bd7 17. f3 Ne6 18. Qf2 Rc5 19. g4 hxg4 20. fxg4 Bg5 {[#] Missing White's excellent reply.} (20... Bg7 21. Be2 Nf4 22. h5) 21. Bb5 $3 Bf4 (21... Bxb5 22. hxg5 Rxh1 (22... Rf8 23. Nf6+) 23. Rxh1 Qxg5 24. Rh8+ Nf8 25. Nf6+ Ke7 26. Ncd5+ {winning.}) 22. Bxd7+ Kxd7 23. Na4 Rc6 24. Qa7 Ke8 25. Qxb7 {White's advantage is decisive, but rapid chess has its own rules.} Rc4 26. Nab6 Rd4 27. h5 gxh5 28. gxh5 Rxh5 29. c3 (29. Rdg1 $1 Rxh1 30. Rxh1) 29... Rxd1+ 30. Rxd1 Kf8 31. Rg1 $2 {Anand continues to play for mate, possibly not the most optimal strategy in this situation.} ({Still, even after } 31. Qxa6 Nc5 32. Qc4 Qg5 33. b4 Ne6 {White isn't on the home stretch yet.}) 31... Nc5 32. Qc6 Rg5 33. Rh1 Kg7 34. Nc4 $2 {[#]} (34. a3) 34... Nxe4 $2 ( 34... Qh8 $3 {is a classic deflection, missed by both players.} 35. Re1 (35. Rxh8 Rg1+ 36. Kc2 Rc1# {is not the most common mating pattern, so it's missable.}) 35... Qh4 36. Rd1 Qh5 37. Re1 Qe2 $19) 35. Nxf4 Ng3 36. Ne6+ $5 { Vishy gets caught in the spirit of things. He wants checkmate and nothing less than that.} ({The trivial} 36. Nh3 Rg6 37. Rd1 Qh4 38. Nf2 Qf4 {was there for him.}) 36... fxe6 37. Qb7+ Kf6 38. Rh7 {I cannot say enough about MVL's play from this point on. He keeps on finding the only moves to keep the game going.} Qf8 39. Nxd6 Kg6 $1 40. a3 Nf5 41. Nc4 Ng3 42. Ka2 e4 43. Rh3 Kf5 44. Qh7+ Kf4 45. Qc7+ e5 46. Rh7 Rf5 {[#]} 47. Qb6 $2 {Right diagonal, wrong square.} (47. Qa7 {to keep Rh7 defended, would decide matters.} Kg5 (47... Qg8 48. b3) 48. Qg1 Kf4 49. Rh3 Rg5 50. Qf2+) 47... Qg8 48. Qf2+ $2 (48. Rc7 $142) 48... Kg4 49. Rg7+ Qxg7 50. Ne3+ Kh5 {The only move again, and suddenly Black is better, if not winning.} 51. Qh2+ Kg6 52. Qxg3+ Rg5 53. Qh4 Qf7+ 54. c4 Qf4 55. Qh3 Qf3 56. Qe6+ Kh5 57. Qe8+ Kh4 58. Qh8+ Kg3 59. Nd5 Qd3 $5 {Interesting practical decision by MVL. He trusts his technique in a queen ending, rather than allow the white knight stay on the board. Knights are very dangerous pieces when you're low on time.} (59... Rh5 60. Qg7+ Kf2 61. Nc3 e3 $19) 60. Qf6 Qxc4+ 61. Ka1 Qc1+ 62. Ka2 Qc4+ 63. Ka1 Qxd5 64. Qxg5+ Kf3 65. Qh5+ Ke3 66. Qh3+ {[#]} Kd2 ({It's never too late to blunder:} 66... Kd4 67. Qc3#) 67. Qg2+ Kd3 68. Qf1+ Kc2 69. Qf2+ Qd2 70. Qc5+ Kd1 {Finally the checks run out.} 71. Qxe5 (71. Qg1+ Qe1) 71... e3 72. Qh5+ e2 73. Ka2 Qd4 $1 {Centralization!} 74. Qf3 a5 $1 { Sealing the white king's cage just in case.} 75. Kb1 a4 76. Ka1 Kd2 77. Qg2 Qe5 $1 78. Ka2 (78. Qf2 Kc2 $1) 78... Ke3 79. Qg1+ Kf3 80. Qe1 Qd5+ 0-1

Vladimir Kramnik added another blow to Baadur Jobava's misery, while LevonAronian couldn't make headway against Vassily Ivanchuk's steady play.

Round 8

Kramnik won his second in a row, and climbed out of the cellar. Ivanchuk probably had a draw at the end, but fighting against a passed pawn in a queen ending is never easy.

Jobava finally lit the scoreboard by accurately holding a draw against Giri in another queen endgame, where he could afford to lose all of his pawns, except for the one on h6.

The highlight of the round was the game that almost became Vishy's revenge for Chennai and Sochi.

Magnus Carlsen - Vishy Anand

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Rapid"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.06.30"] [Round "8"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "2851"] [BlackElo "2775"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "122"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. c4 e5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nge2 c6 5. a3 Ba5 6. b4 Bc7 7. d4 O-O $6 ({ I'm surprised Vishy didn't choose} 7... d5 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Bb2 a5) 8. d5 $1 d6 9. Ng3 a5 10. Rb1 axb4 11. axb4 Nbd7 12. Bd3 c5 13. b5 Ba5 14. Bb2 {[#] Black is gasping for air here.} Re8 ({More reason to consider} 14... e4 $5 15. Ngxe4 Nxe4 16. Bxe4 Qh4 17. Bd3 Ne5 18. Qe2 Bg4 {One problem with shorter time controls is that the players can ill afford spending a whole lot time in the opening, even at critical moments.}) 15. O-O Nf8 16. Qc2 $16 Ng6 17. Nce4 Ng4 18. h3 Nh6 19. Nh5 f5 20. Neg3 Nh4 (20... Qh4 21. f4 Bb4 22. Qf2 Bd7 23. Ra1 Ra5) 21. f4 g6 22. e4 $1 {Never mind the knight. Carlsen plays his notes like a symphony orchestra.} gxh5 23. exf5 e4 $1 {Anand answers the call. In order to survive Black must keep the f-file closed.} 24. Bxe4 Rxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxf5 26. Nxf5 N4xf5 27. Ra1 b6 {[#]} 28. g4 (28. Qe6+ Kf8 29. Rf2 {Still, White looks much better here.}) 28... hxg4 29. hxg4 Nd4 {Same goes for the long diagonal.} 30. Bxd4 cxd4 31. g5 Nf7 32. Rf3 (32. Ra3 Bc3 33. Ra6 $1) 32... Bd2 33. Rxa8 $6 ({Much stronger was} 33. Ra6 $1 {which would introduce an additional problem for Black to worry about, and that could have proved to be too much:} Be3+ ({or } 33... Rxa6 34. bxa6 Qa8 35. Rh3 Qxa6 36. Qxh7+ Kf8 37. g6 Be3+ 38. Rxe3) 34. Kg2 Qf8 35. Rh3 Nxg5 36. Rg3) 33... Qxa8 34. Qxd4 Bb4 35. Qe4 ({Better was} 35. Kg2 Bc5 36. Qe4 Qa2+ 37. Kh3 {but then Black keeps on bothering him} Qa1 38. Rg3 Qd1 {etc. I no longer believe White can win this game even if he had all the time in the world. In reality, Carlsen's time was low.}) 35... Qa2 36. Kh1 Bc5 37. Rf1 Qd2 {[#]} 38. Qf3 $6 {Magnus takes a crazy risk by giving up his Q-side pawns.} (38. f5 $5 {was suggested by IM-elect David Brodsky, and it's a good try. In turn, Black has to find} Qe3 $1 ({not} 38... Ne5 39. f6 Qxg5 40. f7+ Kf8 41. Qxh7 {and White wins.}) 39. Qxe3 Bxe3 {eliminating the g-pawn, which should be enough to hold the balance.}) 38... Qc2 39. Re1 Qxc4 40. Kg2 Qxb5 41. Re7 Qb2+ 42. Kg3 Qd4 43. Re4 Qg1+ 44. Kh3 {[#]} h6 $5 {Now it's Anand's turn to play for a win.} (44... b5 45. Re7 b4 46. Qe4 $11) 45. Re6 $2 ( 45. Re8+ Kg7 46. Re7 Kf8 47. Qe4 hxg5 48. Rxf7+ {ends in perpetual check.}) 45... hxg5 46. Rg6+ Kf8 47. fxg5 Qe3 48. Rf6 Qxf3+ 49. Rxf3 Kg7 50. Kh4 b5 51. Kh5 b4 52. Rf1 Bd4 53. Rf4 Bc5 54. Rf1 Ne5 55. Ra1 Nd3 56. Rd1 Nf4+ 57. Kg4 { [#]} Ne2 (57... Ng2 $1 58. Kh5 Ne3 59. Ra1 Nxd5 {would have given Black a crucial extra tempo, which he can put in good use after} 60. Ra8 b3 61. Rb8 Bb4 62. Rb7+ Kf8 63. g6 b2 64. g7+ Kg8 65. Kh6 Bd2+ 66. Kg6 Ne7+ 67. Kf6 Nc6 { with Bb4 to follow.}) 58. Re1 Nc3 59. Re7+ Kf8 $2 {Oh, so close...} (59... Kg6 $1 60. Re6+ Kf7 61. g6+ Kg7 62. Kg5 Nxd5 {would make this an epic win for Former World Champion.}) 60. Rb7 Nxd5 61. g6 Ne7 1/2-1/2

From the opening moves So had a great game going against Aronian.  Wesley's fianchettoed bishops and flexible central pawns looked straight out of Richard Reti's vision of the future. It all should have ended in the middlegame, but White made a wrong decision by self-pinning his bishop, which provided Black with some counterchances. Wesley was glad to emerge with Rook and Bishop vs Queen, with plenty of extra pawns. After some adventures in time trouble he brought home an important win.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made an amazing comeback in Paris thanks to his blitz skills. Will history repeat itself?

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Ian Nepomniachtchi

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Rapid"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.06.30"] [Round "8"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B51"] [WhiteElo "2783"] [BlackElo "2766"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O a6 5. Bd3 b5 ({As Black MVL prefers} 5... Ngf6 {which he played five or six times. The game that started this whole line was the memorable battle Carlsen-Topalov, Sinquefield Cup 2015, which ended in a surprising defeat for the World Champion.} 6. Re1 b5 7. c4 g5) 6. Re1 Bb7 7. a4 ({Carlsen's idea} 7. c4 {can be tried here too.}) 7... b4 8. Bc4 Ngf6 9. d3 e6 10. Nbd2 Be7 11. Nf1 O-O 12. Ng3 d5 13. Ba2 dxe4 14. dxe4 Qc7 15. Qe2 a5 16. Bc4 Bc6 {[#]Black seems to have built a solid position on the Q-side. Seeing no other way to processd Maxime went after the black king.} 17. e5 $5 Bxf3 18. gxf3 Nd5 19. f4 N7b6 20. f5 exf5 $2 {Letting the white knight come close is one of those unfortunate decisions Nepo has been making lately. At times he just gives his opponents too much to play with - a dangerous strategy when facing the best in the world.} (20... Nxc4 21. Qxc4 Qc6 22. Qg4 Kh8 $15) 21. Nxf5 g6 22. Nh6+ Kg7 $6 (22... Kh8 $142) 23. Ng4 g5 $2 (23... Rfd8 24. Bh6+ Kg8 25. Rad1 Qc6 $14) 24. Bd3 c4 25. Be4 Rad8 26. Qf3 f5 $3 {Now Ian fights on.} 27. Bxf5 ({White had a good option in} 27. exf6+ Nxf6 28. Be3 $1 (28. Bxg5 Nxg4 29. Qxg4 Kh8 $132) 28... c3 29. b3 Nxe4 30. Qxe4 Nd5 31. Bd4+ {etc.}) 27... Nf4 28. Qe4 Nbd5 29. Bxf4 Nxf4 30. Rad1 Rxd1 31. Rxd1 Rd8 32. Re1 c3 $1 33. b3 h5 34. Ne3 Bc5 35. e6 Rd2 $1 {Extremely energetic. Now it's anyone's game.} 36. Qf3 g4 37. Bxg4 hxg4 38. Qxg4+ {[#]} Kh7 $2 {Off the mark.} ({The right move was} 38... Kf6 {and White has no better than a draw:} 39. Qf5+ Kg7 40. Ng4 Kh8 41. Kf1 Qg7 $1 42. Qxf4 Qxg4 $3 43. Qxg4 Rxf2+ 44. Kg1 Re2+ 45. Kf1 Rf2+) 39. e7 $3 {Brilliant.} Qxe7 (39... Bxe7 40. Nf5 Bf6 41. Re7+) 40. Qxf4 Qe6 41. Qc7+ Qe7 (41... Be7 42. Ng2 Re2 43. Rxe2 Qxe2 44. Ne3) 42. Qxe7+ Bxe7 43. Nc4 Rxc2 ( 43... Rd7 44. Nxa5 {is useless.}) 44. Rxe7+ Kg6 45. Kg2 Rc1 46. Nxa5 Rb1 47. Rc7 Kf5 48. Rc4 Ke6 49. Nc6 Rxb3 50. Nxb4 1-0

Round 9

The final round almost felt anticlimactic. The exhausted warriors fought at half-speed In Nepo-Carlsen, Ivanchuk-So and Giri-Kramnik. Anand punched in the expected win over Jobava, which left one game to determine the standings.

Maxime had a chance to catch Wesley, but he needed a win with Black against Aronian. The problem was not only the strength of the opponent, but also the fact that so far in this tournament Levon had responded to losses by winning the very next game. The pattern held, as MVL got in trouble early, and despite heroic resistance he went down, although it took 88 moves for Aronian to convert.

Looking at the standings we see familiar names at the top. Knowing Magnus and Maxime's blitz skills, it'll take a good effort from Wesley to keep his lead.

The disappointment of the tournament, aside from Jobava's horrendous result, is Nepo's mediocre showing. The three losses he had suffered could have easily been doubled to six, due to the general unsoundness of Ian's play here.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

To be fair, I'd remind the reader that Nepo came to the tournament straight from the World Team Championship in Khanty, which represented a major change in all aspects, from the time control to the quality of opposition to a time zone difference of 4 hours. I still hope to see him do well in blitz.

Final rapid crosstable*

(Click for full size)

*Note: All rapid games are worth double
*Note: FIDE Rapid ratings are used in crosstable with appropriate ratings gains and losses.


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Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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