Grenke: Black strikes back

by Albert Silver
4/3/2018 – The third round of the Grenke Classic seemed headed to a very dull series of draws, but somehow things changed before the games ended. Carlsen tried very hard to lead young Bluebaum astray, but no luck, while Caruana final scored a win after a fairly sharp game against Meier. Finally, Hou Yifan lost a tough game against MVL. | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

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Black strikes back

Facing the lowest rated player of the field, Magnus Carlsen certainly had to feel this would be a good chance to start racking up some points, especially as that lowest-rated player was also the least experienced. Nevertheless, Matthias Bluebaum had already shown excellent resilience and nerves in the previous round, protecting the fort against Fabiano Caruana’s insistent attempts to storm it.

Magnus Carlsen completed Matthias Bluebaum's test of fire as the German was now faced with a long hard defence in the endgame. | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Here his mettle was tested differently as the opponent was the world champion, who tried his very best to apply that famous boa constrictor death grip he is so famous for. At the very least one would feel nervous just by the situation, but Bluebaum never wilted and played precisely to the very end.

Matthias Bluebaum ½-½ Magnus Carlsen

[Event "GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden GER"] [Date "2018.04.02"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Bluebaum, Matthias"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E92"] [WhiteElo "2631"] [BlackElo "2843"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "119"] [EventDate "2018.03.31"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. Be3 exd4 8. Nxd4 Re8 9. f3 c6 10. Bf2 d5 11. exd5 cxd5 12. O-O Nc6 13. c5 a6 {E92: King's Indian: Classical: 6 Be2 e5: 7 dxe5, 7 Be3 and Petrosian System without 7... Nbd7} (13... Bf8 14. Kh1 Bd7 15. Qd2 Rc8 16. Nb3 d4 17. Nxd4 Bxc5 18. Nxc6 Rxc6 19. Bxc5 Rxc5 20. Rad1 Qe7 21. Qd4 {1/2-1/2 (38) Inarkiev,E (2732)-Radjabov,T (2722) Monzon 2016}) 14. Qd2 Qa5 15. Rfe1 $146 ({Predecessor:} 15. Nb3 Qb4 16. Rfd1 Bf5 17. Bf1 Rac8 18. Rac1 Be6 19. Qc2 Bh6 20. a3 Qf4 21. Nd4 {0-1 (48) Taras,I (2239)-Lloveras Rebell,J (2200) ICCF email 2006}) 15... Qxc5 16. Ne6 Qa5 17. Nxg7 Kxg7 18. a3 d4 19. Bxd4 Nxd4 20. Qxd4 Rd8 21. Qe3 Bd7 22. Rad1 Be6 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Rd1 Rxd1+ 25. Bxd1 Qd8 26. Be2 Qd6 27. f4 Bd7 28. Bf3 Bc6 29. Bxc6 Ng4 30. Qg3 Qc5+ $1 31. Kf1 Ne3+ 32. Ke2 Nf5 33. Qf2 Qxc6 34. g4 {The position is equal.} Qc4+ 35. Kd2 Nd4 36. Qe3 Nc6 37. Ne2 h5 38. h3 hxg4 39. hxg4 {[#]} g5 $1 40. fxg5 Qxg4 41. Qc3+ Kg8 42. Qf6 Qg2 43. Ke3 Qh3+ 44. Kd2 Qd7+ 45. Kc2 Ne7 46. Nc3 Ng6 47. b4 Nf8 48. Qe5 Qe6 49. Qxe6 Nxe6 $11 {With the white king so far away, one might be inclined to worry black has managed to finally get his edge, but although White will need to play with some precision and 'sang-froid' this is a draw.} 50. Ne4 Kg7 51. a4 b6 52. Kc3 Kg6 53. Kc4 Nxg5 54. Nd6 f5 {[#]} 55. Nxf5 $1 Kxf5 {Now it is Black's king's distance that prevents him from capitalizing.} 56. Kd5 Nf3 57. Kc6 {[#]} b5 $1 58. axb5 Nd4+ 59. Kc5 Nxb5 60. Kb6 1/2-1/2

Georg Meier faced a strange situation on the surface. Fabiano Caruana has been playing strong and hard as shown in his efforts to overcome Bluebaum in round two, so he decided to keep it simple and opted for the Exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. There was no peace and love to be had, and Caruana was not shy about his intentions as he shoved 10…g5 and 11…Rg8 early on.

After the very trying Candidates that ended shortly before Grenke, one might expect Caruana to seek to rest or take it easy, but if anything, he is showing some bloodthirsty chess | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Though Black achieved a winning advantage after 20 odd moves, he had trouble delivering that mercy blow to put White out of his misery. Time was short for both though, and eventually, Meier slipped once more and this time Caruana did not miss him.

Georg Meier 0-1 Fabiano Caruana

[Event "GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden GER"] [Date "2018.04.02"] [Round "3.5"] [White "Meier, Georg"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C69"] [WhiteElo "2648"] [BlackElo "2784"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventDate "2018.03.31"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Qf6 6. d4 exd4 7. Bg5 Qd6 8. Nxd4 Be7 9. Be3 {This is hardly the first time Caruana plays the Ruy Lopez Exchange, and nor is it the first time he ekes out a win with it.} Nh6 (9... Nf6 10. f3 O-O 11. Nd2 c5 12. Nc4 Qd8 13. Ne2 Qe8 14. Bf4 b5 15. Ne3 c4 16. Kh1 Qc6 17. Nd4 Qb6 18. Ndf5 Bc5 19. Qe1 g6 20. Nh6+ Kg7 21. g4 Bb7 22. g5 Nh5 23. Be5+ f6 24. gxf6+ Nxf6 25. Neg4 Bd4 26. Bxd4 Qxd4 27. Rd1 Qxb2 28. Nxf6 Qxf6 29. Ng4 Qf4 30. Rd7+ Rf7 31. Qc3+ Kg8 32. Rxf7 Kxf7 33. Rd1 Rf8 34. Kg2 Bc8 35. h3 Kg8 36. e5 Qg5 37. Qd4 Bb7 38. Kh2 Bxf3 39. Nf6+ Kg7 40. Rg1 Qf5 41. Kg3 Bc6 42. h4 Rf7 43. Qe3 Re7 44. Ng4 h5 45. Qh6+ Kg8 46. Nf6+ Kf7 47. Qh7+ Ke6 48. Qg8+ Kxe5 49. Re1+ Kd4 {0-1 (49) Naiditsch,A (2716)-Caruana,F (2757) Baden-Baden 2013}) 10. Qd2 g5 (10... Qg6 11. f3 Bd7 12. Nc3 O-O-O 13. Qf2 f6 14. Nce2 Qe8 15. Ng3 Nf7 16. f4 g6 17. Rae1 c5 18. Nde2 b6 19. c4 f5 20. Nc3 Qf8 21. Nd5 Bh4 22. Qf3 Nd6 23. exf5 gxf5 24. Bf2 Kb8 25. Qb3 Bc6 26. Bxc5 Qf7 27. Bd4 Nxc4 28. Nb4 Bb5 29. Bxh8 Rxh8 30. a4 Bd7 31. Nxa6+ Kc8 32. Rc1 Be6 33. Qb5 Bf6 34. b3 Bd4+ 35. Kh1 Nd6 36. Qc6 Bc5 {1-0 (36) Naiditsch,A (2724) -Maiorov,N (2548) Bastia 2013}) 11. Nf3 Rg8 $11 {If you thought the Exchange variation was supposed to lead to peace and love positions, think again.} 12. h4 Qg6 13. hxg5 Ng4 14. Nc3 h6 15. Bf4 Be6 16. Bxc7 Rc8 17. Bb6 hxg5 18. Ne2 c5 19. Ng3 Rh8 {Black's king is still stuck in the center, but since White has zero pressure against it, and is trying to avoid being caught by the tsunami building up, there is no problem.} 20. Rfd1 Qh6 21. b4 (21. Qd3 $11 {keeps the balance.}) 21... cxb4 $17 22. Bd4 f6 $1 23. c3 bxc3 $2 ({Black should play} 23... Bd6 $19 24. e5 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Nxe5 26. Nxe5 fxe5) 24. Bxc3 $11 Kf7 (24... Bc5 $15 25. Bd4 Bd6) 25. Rac1 $1 Rc4 26. Bd4 b5 27. Qa5 Nh2 28. Qxa6 $2 (28. Ne1 $1 $11 {and White was ok.}) 28... Nxf3+ $1 $19 {Finally!} 29. gxf3 {[#]} g4 $2 (29... Qh2+ $1 $19 {was even stronger.} 30. Kf1 Rhc8 31. Qxc8 Bxc8) 30. f4 $17 {[#]} Qxf4 (30... Qh2+ $142 $1 31. Kf1 Rhc8) 31. Rxc4 bxc4 32. Be3 Qf3 $36 33. Rd6 $2 Rh3 34. Rxe6 Rxg3+ $1 {Black mates.} 35. fxg3 Qxe3+ 36. Kh2 Qf2+ 37. Kh1 Qf1+ 0-1

Spanish Exchange Variation

A simple idea underpins the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez. Take all the pieces off and White wins the ending. Naturally, the execution of this plan is anything but simple because Black obtains the Bishop pair and free piece play to compensate him for his doubled pawns on c6. Nevertheless, it is useful to have something to aim for! Many World Champions have employed 4.Bxc6

The next and last win of the day was between Hou Yifan and Maxime Vachier Lagrave. MVL played a fairly classic English Hedgehog with Black, a line he favors and has played before, so Hou Yifan could hardly have been surprised. Black’s official novelty wasn’t much of one, but his plan of not placing any rooks on the half-open c-file was not usual.

It was an interesting battle with opening ideas by MVL in the hedgehog | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Whatever his plan, it quickly led to nothing and the game was well balanced, with some minor swinging, for much of the game. Time trouble reared its ugly head once more, and Hou Yifan made a fatal mistake before the time control which cost her the game.

Hou Yifan 0-1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

[Event "GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden GER"] [Date "2018.04.02"] [Round "3.2"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A04"] [WhiteElo "2654"] [BlackElo "2789"] [Annotator "Albert Silver"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2018.03.31"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. b3 Bg7 5. Bb2 b6 6. Bg2 Bb7 7. O-O O-O 8. d4 cxd4 9. Qxd4 Nc6 10. Qc3 {Symmetrical English: Double Fianchetto and Hedgehog} Qc7 $146 {Though a novelty, tbhis isn't really that big a deal, since Qc7 is fairly standard and appears regulalry at this juncture or a move or two later. What matters is what follows.} ({Predecessor:} 10... Rc8 11. Rd1 Qc7 12. Qe1 Qb8 13. Nc3 Rfd8 14. Rac1 e6 15. Ng5 h6 16. Nge4 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 Ne7 {1-0 (88) Aronian,L (2780)-Vachier Lagrave,M (2783) Leuven 2017}) 11. Rd1 Rad8 12. Na3 a6 13. Rac1 Rfe8 {[#] This is the real difference: if you compare with the Aronian game above, MVL had previously developed his rooks to c8 and d8. Here he chooses to place them on the central files. This is not at all obvious since the semi-open c-file for Black does seem to invite a rook.} 14. Qe1 (14. b4 $14 {was another possibility.}) 14... Qb8 15. Nc2 b5 16. c5 d5 {This is the idea. If White does not take en passant, Black hopes to create a powerful pawn center, with an excellent blockading knight on c6.} 17. cxd6 Rxd6 $11 18. Rxd6 Qxd6 19. Nfd4 Nd5 20. Ba3 Qd7 21. Nxc6 Bxc6 22. e4 Nc7 23. Nb4 (23. Rd1 $5 { was worth considering with the idea} Qc8 24. Ne3 $14 {and Black needs to think carefully as ...e6 would open the dark squares to White, notably the readily positioned Ba3.}) 23... Bb7 24. Rd1 Qc8 25. Qe3 a5 $1 26. Nd3 b4 27. Bb2 Bxb2 28. Nxb2 Nb5 29. Nc4 Nc3 30. Rd2 Rd8 31. Nxa5 Rxd2 32. Qxd2 Ba6 33. Bf1 $2 { In time trouble, the Chinese player blunders tragically.} (33. Bf3 $1 $11 { was the correct continuation.}) 33... Bxf1 $19 34. Kxf1 Qa8 ({And not} 34... Nxe4 35. Qxb4 Qc2 36. Qb8+ Kg7 37. Qe5+ f6 38. Qxe7+ Kh6 39. Qa7 $11) 35. Nc4 Qxe4 {[#] Threatening Qh1 mate.} 36. Kg1 Ne2+ 37. Kf1 Nd4 38. f3 Qxf3+ 39. Qf2 Qh1+ 40. Qg1 Qe4 41. Qf2 f6 42. Ne3 Kf7 43. h4 Qh1+ 44. Qg1 Qxg1+ 45. Kxg1 Ne2+ 46. Kf2 Nc3 0-1

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is intent on redeeming himself after failing to qualify for the Candidates, and is doing an excellent job so far | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

The two other draws of the day were fairly uneventful, and though played out, never showed any real ‘danger’ of turning into a decisive result.

MVL and Vitiugov lead with 2½/3, and the tournament will now move to Baden-Baden after the rest day.

Standings after three rounds


All games



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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