Grenke Classic 2017: A feast of fighting chess

by Elshan Moradiabadi
4/18/2017 – It is impossible to predict how a tournament will pan out, whether quiet or all-out war. Round three at the Grenke Classic has definitely put it in the latter category. For the second straight day, three of the four games ended in decisive results, and although Carlsen drew against Hou Yifan, he got into trouble! Caruana, who won in style, has now played nine straight games ending in decisive results! Here is the large illustrated report with GM commentary.

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Grenke Classic 2017: A feast of fighting chess

All photos by Lennart Ootes (click on images for high-res)

Round 3 (17.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Bluebaum, Matthias
0 - 1
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Hou, Yifan
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Caruana, Fabiano
1 - 0
Meier, Georg

As expected, we saw another exciting day at the Grenke Classic in round three. The battle that everyone were looking forward to, Hou Yifan- Magnus Carlsen was not as exciting as one might have hoped, considering that Carlsen showed ambition and determination by playing the Sicilian Najdorf. Still, far less expected was to see Carlsen tied up in knots and punished for his temerity by Hou Yifan.

A look at the playing hall with enthralled spectators

Video highlights of round three 

Most likely surprised by the World Champion’s opening choice, Hou Yifan opted for the solid 5.a4 which became popular thanks to American GM Gata Kamsky. After Carlsen’s expected …e5, the World Women No.1 opted for a modest and solid continuation where a lot of minor pieces were exchanged. The ensuing middlegame was balanced and without much action, in which Black’s active pieces compensated White’s better pawn structure. Between moves 22 to 26, Carlsen felt the urge to do something and went for the overly optimistic 22…. b5?!, but after a few strong moves by Hou Yifan, White gained a clear advantage without any counterplay for Black. In fact, when Hou Yifan decided to call it a day and go for 27.Rxb5 and Nxd6, she could still press forward with moves like h4 or Ra1. Although I have not managed to dig deep enough yet to find a sure way for White to gain a winning advantage, at the very least the burden would have been on Carlsen to hold the game.

Hou Yifan - Magnus Carlsen

There is little doubt the World Champion dismayed when he got that dry middle game out of a Najdorf in a more or less forced continuation, and his 22…b5?! may have been a reaction to try to liven the position up and turn the game around. Still, it is entirely to Hou Yifan’s credit that she responded so well and forced the world no.1 to think about holding, rather than winning.

 

Hou Yifan shares her impressions of her game against Carlsen

Hou Yifan signs autographs for her ever-growing legion of fans

 

A delighted Hou Yifan talks about her game in round two

The other three games were exciting tense battles with great decisive outcomes where white edged black 2-1.  Fabiano Caruana, proved that he is determined to play for decisive result as his victory against George Meier was his 9th consecutive decisive game, including his last 6 games in the US championship. With a 6-3 feat in these nine games, Fabiano is trying hard to fix his loss of Elo and stay in the exclusive 2800 club. In a French Rubinstein encounter, where Meier is the world’s greatest expert to play it as black, a complex middle game was reached where white appears to have a dangerous attack while in fact black is just fine. However, as his game yesterday, George Meier was too relaxed about his king and let Caruana shatter the pawn structure in front of his monarch leading to a difficult position. He let Caruana play a decisive piece sacrifice, after which White was completely winning.

Incredibly, this is nine straight games by Caruana that have ended in a decisive result!

Fabiano Caruana - Georg Meier

Matthias Bluebaum seems not to have read the memo that Arkadij Naiditsch plays well in Baden-Baden, since instead of trying to remain objective in a difficult position he spent too much time around Black’s seemingly weak pawns on a6 and c6. This let Naiditsch push his kingside pawn and get a good position which he gradually converted. On another note, Bluebaum’s opening choice was quite interesting with Be3 and Qc1 and trying to exploit Black’s pawn weaknesses at the cost of a pawn but I am not sure if he has more than adequate compensation there. Still, a fresh idea, albeit not entirely new, that deserves some attention from opening experts.

 

The former German no.1 (now playing under the Azeri flag) gives a quick interview after his win against Matthias Bluebaum

Arkadij Naiditsch has always done well at the Grenke Classic

Finally, Aronian beat MVL to tie for second in a hot pursuit for the title. In a calm English game, the players followed some of the popular lines from the Grischuk-Kramnik Candidates match in 2011. An even position was reached where a draw could be expected, but MVL’s over-extended position, combined with Aronian’s great piece play, led to a two bishops endgame in which Aronian sacrificed a pawn to reach a winning bishop endgame. The last two moves of the game are a true masterpiece!

Levon Aronian struck oil and finished off his opponent in great style. Worthy of inclusion in endgame manuals.

Levon Aronian - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has been uneven, though never a boring player to watch

Levon Aronian comments on his excellent win against MVL 

Round four’s big matchups are the out-of-shape MVL against ‘on fire’ Hou Yifan and Carlsen-Caruana.

Peter Leko, who has been providing live commentary, gives his own recap of round three 

Standings after three rounds

Pairings and schedule

Round 1 (15.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
0 - 1
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Bluebaum, Matthias
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Aronian, Levon
½ - ½
Meier, Georg
Hou, Yifan
1 - 0
Caruana, Fabiano
 
Round 2 (16.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij
0 - 1
Caruana, Fabiano
Meier, Georg
0 - 1
Hou, Yifan
Carlsen, Magnus
½ - ½
Aronian, Levon
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
1 - 0
Bluebaum, Matthias
 
Round 3 (17.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Bluebaum, Matthias
0 - 1
Naiditsch, Arkadij
Aronian, Levon
1 - 0
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Hou, Yifan
½ - ½
Carlsen, Magnus
Caruana, Fabiano
1 - 0
Meier, Georg
 
Round 4 (19.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij   Meier, Georg
Carlsen, Magnus   Caruana, Fabiano
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime   Hou, Yifan
Bluebaum, Matthias   Aronian, Levon
 
Round 5 (20.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Aronian, Levon   Naiditsch, Arkadij
Hou, Yifan   Bluebaum, Matthias
Caruana, Fabiano   Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Meier, Georg   Carlsen, Magnus
 
Round 6 (21.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Naiditsch, Arkadij   Carlsen, Magnus
Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime   Meier, Georg
Bluebaum, Matthias   Caruana, Fabiano
Aronian, Levon   Hou, Yifan
 
Round 7 (22.04.2017 / 15:00)
Player
Res.
Player
Hou, Yifan   Naiditsch, Arkadij
Caruana, Fabiano   Aronian, Levon
Meier, Georg   Bluebaum, Matthias
Carlsen, Magnus   Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime

Solution: White played 40.e6+!! giving up his pawn to reach a dead won endgame. After 40...Bxe6 41.Bxe6+ Kxe6 42. Kd2 Black resigned. Not only must he keep watch of the h-pawn, but he cannot stop White from playing Bd8 and Bxa5 after which the a-pawn will also enjoy a run to queen.

Links

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Elshan Moradiabadi is a GM born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He moved to the US in 2012. Ever since, he has been active in US college chess scenes and in US chess. is a veteran instructor and teaches chess to every level, with students ranging from beginners to IM. He can be contacted for projects or teaching.
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The_Tenant The_Tenant 4/19/2017 01:47
It would be amazing is Yifan won this. I hope she does.
The_Tenant The_Tenant 4/19/2017 01:43
Kramnik might become world number 1 in the ratings, but he wont be getting paid for it unless he starts winning games.
Daniel Miller Daniel Miller 4/18/2017 03:43
if Kramnik continues to be inactive in traditional time controls, he may be number 1 in the World by the end of the year. Something to think about. Caruana already went below him and Carlsen and So have fallen closer to him.
WildKid WildKid 4/18/2017 10:35
Web programming error: In the space where Hou - Carlsen is supposed to be, there is another copy of the Caruana-Meier game. Please fix, thanks so much!
xrosstheh xrosstheh 4/18/2017 10:25
Can't see the Game Yifan - Carlsen
benedictralph benedictralph 4/18/2017 09:58
Good show, Yifan! You might win this tournament yet.
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