Grenke: Caruana, Carlsen, or Vitiugov

by Macauley Peterson
4/9/2018 – On a gorgeous Spring day in Baden-Baden there was another series of five draws in the eighth round. Magnus Carlsen tried to will his way to victory over Nikita Vitiugov, in the longest game of the round, but in the end, had to settle for a draw. Both remain a half point behind Caruana. It will be one of those three emerging as the GRENKE Chess Classic 2018 winner. Vitiugov, with White against Caruana in the final round (WATCH LIVE) has a chance to make a bold statement. For Magnus Carlsen, he'll have to try to win with black against Viswanathan Anand. Naiditch vs Anand is annotated by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson. | Photos: Macauley Peterson

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Tiebreak possible

After a suite of draws today, the range of possibilities has narrowed, but one intriguing one still available is a tiebreak match between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger Fabiano Caruana. That would surely be a riveting contest. However, Vitiugov plays Caruana in the last round, so for that scenario to come to pass that game would have to end in a draw, while Carlsen would have to win on-demand with black against Anand. [WATCH LIVE]

Of course Carlsen would have greatly preferred to score a full point in his last White game on Sunday, and he seemed determined to do so. But Vitiugov was equally determined to hold, and the experienced Russian grandmaster is known for having nerves of steel. The game ran into the night, while all the rest were finished within a few hours, providing ample time for them to enjoy the absolutely perfect Spring weather in Baden-Baden.

outdoor chess

This outdoor chess in idyllic surroundings is just two minutes walk from the venue | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Arkadij Naiditsch and Viswanathan Anand provided one of the more interesting games of the day, despite being among the first to finish (Aronian and Caruana beat them by a few minutes.) Anand noted how comfortable he feels after many visits:

"I’ve never hidden it, Baden is one of my favourite cities. It’s just incredibly beautiful — the parks and the scenery, there’s a river flowing through — I mean I find this place very calming. I wish I could play the chess to prove it but…it’s already my second bad year. 2015 was a disaster and this year is also not great. But I don’t know why — I like the town I like the tournament. I wish I would play better."

Strolling along the Lichtentaler Allee, a historic park and arboretum along the west bank of the Oos river, on a day like this one would make anyone disinclined to sit indoors at a chess board for six hours. The players' stay at the Brenners Park Hotel, a few minutes from the LA8 building on the opposite side of the main pedestrian path. You can get a sense of the clientele by the cars parked out front. First there was a red Mercedes sports car that caught my eye. But the pair of Bugatti roadsters that followed made the Mercedes look like a jalopy.


Click or tap to enlarge — more photos from the Lichtentaler Allee are in the gallery above | Photos: Macauley Peterson

Bugatti roadster

Multi-million dollar cars are (still) out of range of even the most elite chessplayer

Naiditsch ½-½ Anand

In such environs, the players could be forgiven for wrapping things up within two or three hours. But commentator GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson found this game the most lively despite being the second to finish (Aronian and Caruana beat them by a few minutes).

Annotations by Tiger Hillarp-Persson

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Here are Anand's own thoughts on the game

Carlsen ½-½ Vitiugov

Critical for the standings, this game ran over six hours. It was clear that Carlsen needed to win to put himself in the best position to fight for first place in the last round. It was his first game ever against Nikita Vitiugov.

When Vitiugov exchanged queens, it came at the cost of a weakened pawn structure, giving Carlsen a position typically to his liking: an endgame in which he himself had a noticeable advantage with no risk. But sometimes such an advantage is just not big enough.


Vitiugov summarises the encounter | GRENKE Chess on YouTube

Jan Gustafsson's round eight recap nicely explained the denouement:

Caruana ½-½ Aronian

A low-tension, 'correct' game that ended in an early draw. Both players obviously had no objection to this course of the game. Aronian offered a pawn sacrifice shortly before the end, which Caruana passed up. In view of the opposite-coloured bishops, pawn would have only extended the working day, rather than give chances to change the final result. A nice walk in the park was much more appealing.



Aronian is nearing the end of a very long six weeks of chess | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Bluebaum ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave

Matthias Bluebaum has had a strong tournament, with draws against Carlsen, Caruana, and now Vachier-Lagrave. At the end he erected a fortress, in a position which computers, amusingly fail to understand.

"I couldn’t do much of anything else in the opening and I grabbed my chances when I got them, but they were just too little", Vachier-Lagrave said afterward.



MVL is just starting his 2018 chess season | Photo: Macauley Peterson

Meier ½-½ Hou Yifan

Meier noted that he and Hou have played Catalans in the past, and indeed the game followed their 2015 encounter in Dortmund through move 13...Bxc5.


Both players joined Peter Leko to analyse the game on the live webcast:

Standings after eight rounds


In the event of a tie for first place there will be a tie-break match consisting of two games at 10 minutes plus 2  seconds per move; then if still tied, two games of 5 min. + 2 sec. per move; and finally a sudden-death 'Armageddon' game with 6 minutes for White and 5 minutes for Black (in the case of a draw, Black wins).

All games


Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Peter Leko and GM Jan Gustafsson


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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