Grenke: Caruana clear first after clutch win

by André Schulz
4/10/2018 – Fabiano Caruana strikes again! A win with black in the final round in Baden-Baden leaves him alone atop the GRENKE Chess Classic standings, with no playoff needed. Caruana defeated Nikita Vitiugov, while all other games ended in a draw. Magnus Carlsen finished the tournament in clear second place. Vitiugov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian finished with 5 points apiece, tied for third through fifth. | Photos: Georgios Souleidis, Macauley Peterson

Chess News

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Magnus clear second

Today, the ninth and final round was played at the Grenke Classic in Karlsruhe / Baden-Baden. The newly crowned World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana entered the day with a half-point advantage in the final round, followed by World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Nikita Vitiugov.

Vitiugov and BartelIn his last game, the front-runner faced Vitiugov, with a chance to keep one of his two pursuers at bay, or perhaps even seal the tournament victory with a win. Carlsen had a tough task with black against Viswanathan Anand. If Carlsen still wanted to maintain his theoretical chance for a tournament victory, he had to play to win. Curiously Magnus has had the bad luck to be dealt black in nine out of his last ten games with his World Champion predecessor.

It’s impossible not to notice the stark parallels to the last round of the Berlin Candidates. Caruana in the lead, with a draw likely enough, he was black against a Russian opponent, played a Petroff, his closest pursuer made a draw while Caruana still playing, but by then he was winning, and easily converted after time control for a full point, wining the tournament by a full point to boot.

Vitiugov [right] strolled to the LA8 with his second, Polish GM Mateusz Bartel, who speaks Russian quite well, looking calm and collected despite the gravity of his upcoming game. A win would not only mean tournament victory but would likely have catapulted him into the top tier of elite tournament invites over the coming year.

But Caruana's form and good preparation carried over from his Berlin triumph and he even had a new move in the opening up his sleeve.

Vitiugov 0-1 Caruana

Going into the game Vitiugov's record against Caruana was ½:1½ in favour of the American, and he had played 1.d4 both times. This time he opted for e4 and Caruana was surprised to see the same position after five moves from the last round of the Candidates against Grischuk appear on the board. The deja vu didn't stop there.

Caruana hadn't prepared specifically for this line — in fact, he hadn't prepared much at all given the versatility of his opponent. But in the aftermath of his Berlin win, he had noticed a curious suggestion by the engine: 5...Qd7 


So far 5...Nxd2, as Caruana played against Grischuk, or a (more rarely) 5...Nc5 was played.

"It just looks so, so strange", Caruana admits, but the novelty had the distinct advantage of throwing Vitiugov off his rhythm. Over the next four moves, the Russian used about 30 minutes compared to Caruana's five minutes.

After the retreat of his knight from e4 to e6 where it was soon exchanged. Caruana recaptured with his f-pawn securing his pawn centre, and expanded on the queenside, developing his light-squared bishop to b7. By move 16, much like he had in Berlin, Caruana was enjoying a comfortable position and solid edge on the clock.


Caruana was perplexed by 16.Bg4, figuring that White should not allow black to get in the advance 16...d4, and Magnus Carlsen also later agreed with the assessment that 16.c3 necessary.

Vitiugov tried his best to generate counterplay, and Caruana noted on the live webcast that "[21.]c4 came as an unpleasant surprise…every instinct told me to keep the passed d-pawn." But it was a good practical decision to take en passant as the resulting isolated c-pawn became a target. Caruana calculated on his opponent's time a lot in this game, and steered clear of unnecessary complications.

A revealing moment underscoring the difference between human and computer evaluation came on move 25:


Fans watching online witnessed the engine line spike in Black's favour after the counterintuitive 25...Bxe4 26.Rxe4 h5 27.Be2 when both c4 and Qd5 are good for Black. But Caruana only briefly considered exchanging off the knight. "I didn't see tactics...I kind of considered it because the knight is very annoying, but I stopped my calculation because h5 Be2 looks like it helps White.

When pointed to the idea of 17...c4 he said "ah, some keep positional concept…it’s probably brilliant, but I didn’t consider it too seriously." Instead, he played 25...Qe7 just keeping everything together, and soon after a queen exchange, Black was clearly better.

"It also starts to remind me of my game against Grischuk", Caruana noted. By the time Anand and Carlsen had agreed to a draw, Caruana's position was already close to winning. The two World Champions gave their the assessment as "close to hopeless" for Vitiugov.

Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen discuss the Vitiugov-Caruana game

The last critical moment game not long after:


Black threatens 36...Bxd4 and 37...b4. Vitiugov tried to break out of a bind with 36.Nxf5, but 36...Ba3 was a cold shower, winning the exchange. After 37.Nxh6+ Kg7 38.f5 Caruana found the most precise 38...Bxc1, rather than opting for the liquidating line 38...Rxc3 39.Kxc3 Bxc1 40.Rxc1 Kxh6, which while also winning, still leaves some work for Black.

"Of course I wanted to do this [Rxe3]...I’m glad because if I’d taken on e3, I’d probably still be playing."

Caruana said his form from Berlin carried over fairly well. "Even though I was not very fresh. I was more or less calculating pretty well." He did sense a bit of impatience at times, and he had to restrain himself from rushing — as in the Rxe3 example able — but that was about the only practical difficulty, he encountered.

In contrast to Berlin, where he was preparing for games extremely hard "pretty much up to the game", Grenke was more relaxed.

Closing thoughts from the winner of the 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic

Anand ½-½ Carlsen

Carlsen has probably played every opening in his career so far, but the choice of the Classical Sicilian defence was somewhat surprising for Anand and could be regarded as a provocation. Most recently, Anand had this line at the World Rapid Championship in Riyadh, against Demchenko. If this game was on Carlsen's mind, it was no help, as Anand chose an alternative setup.

Anand and Carlsen

Anand against Carlsen

After 11.Kb1 b5 the players were already in unexplored territory:


Carlsen got a workable position, but could not do much against Anand's solid play. As the Vitiugov - Caruana game at the next table began trending in Caruana's favour, it made little sense for Carlsen to go for broke against Anand, and he settled for clear second place. On move 41, the point was divided.

Here the pair go over their game at length and reflect on the tournament as a whole. At the start, they were discussing a strike among staff at the Frankfurt International Airport which was expected to disrupt a number of flight plans on Tuesday.

Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Meier

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, one point behind, had one last opportunity to score with white against the tail-ender, Georg Meier. He opened with a structure similar to the Gruenfeld defence but without advancing his c-pawn, which Meier tried to take advantage of the by playing an early b5. 

Vachier-Lagrave against Meier

Vachier-Lagrave struck back in the centre with 9.e4.


Vachier-Lagrave has a slight initiative with his strong pawn centre but after Meier neutralized it with a well-timed c6-c5, and Black could even claim to be better. After some manoeuvring in an endgame with queen and minor pieces, the game ended in a perpetual check.

Aronian ½-½ Bluebaum

Levon Aronian and Matthias Bluebaum delivered a theoretical duel in the Vienna version of the Queen's Gambit. Aronian's 15.Rb1 was the first new move, after which the game followed the course taken by Jobava against Wojtaszek last year.


In an eventual rook endgame, Aronian had a pawn more, but it was not enough to win. 


Matthias Bluebaum had a good tournament ending on 50% | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Hou ½-½ Naiditsch

The last game of the 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic to finish was between Hou Yifan and Arkadij Naiditsch. They played on the terrain of the Modern Italian game. Naiditsch put the game according to his temperament sharp and went with a temporary figure sacrifice on the kingside. 


After some tactical tricks parried by the Chinese, a knight endgame arose with passed pawns for both sides. Naiditsch succeeded in leveraging his far advanced b-pawn as a counterweight to Hou's phalanx of pawns on the kingside, and a draw was agreed shortly after 8 PM local time, around five hours into the round.

Group photo

At a closing ceremony a group picture for players, organizers and sponsors. Wolfgang Grenke can be seen near the centre between Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave. | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Final standings


All games


Commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Peter Leko and GM Jan Gustafsson

Translation and additional reporting: Macauley Peterson


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register