Grenke Classic: Magnus grinds a second win

by Antonio Pereira
4/22/2019 – Another epic battle ended up with Magnus Carlsen on top at the 2019 GRENKE Chess Classic — his victim on Sunday was Francisco Vallejo Pons, who was not able to withhold the world champion's pressure in a complex endgame. Veterans Vishy Anand and Peter Svidler also won in round two to reach 1½/2 and stand half a point behind the leader. Vishy will have the black pieces against Magnus on Monday. | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

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Decisively strong

We named the last report from this year's Shamkir supertournament "Magnus makes it five", referring to the amount of wins he had obtained in Azerbaijan. By that time, his last round win over Alexander Grischuk was his third straight victory. Now, after having won his first two encounters in Karlsruhe, Magnus has "made it five" again...despite having started the single round robin with two Blacks.

The games from Shamkir have not been officially reported yet, but his 9 out of 11 so far in April has resulted in him gaining exactly twenty rating points, reaching an exorbitant 2865 mark, twenty-four points short of his historical record. Norwegian journalist Tarjei J. Svensen keeps track of all relevant stats about Carlsen and, before the event began, he pointed out the score Magnus would need to surpass his rating record...which now seems slightly less unreachable, given the fact that the world champion has four games with White left.

The new — more ambitious — version of Magnus surely welcomed the fact that his record against Paco Vallejo in classical chess does not include any draws. Before their Sunday encounter, the world champion had defeated Vallejo four times and lost on two occasions. As you might have already noticed, his win in round two, again, "made it five" for Magnus...

After twelve moves of a Ruy Lopez, the Norwegian decided to challenge Paco's setup by harassing White's bishop with a somewhat surprising advance:


Typical manoeuvres like 12...♜e8 or 12...♝g4 are perfectly playable in this position, but Magnus decided to go for the more challenging 12...g5, weakening his king indefinitely. Vallejo gave up the bishop pair with 13.xd6 xd6 and the queens were immediately exchanged. Black had a shattered pawn structure, but the initiative was also on his side.

Francisco Vallejo Pons

No draws in this match-up | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Carlsen played actively, advancing his d-pawn as quickly as possible to get rid of his position's structural issues, while creating problems for his rival. Vallejo, meanwhile, was having trouble dealing with the complexities of the position, which pushed him to spend way too much time from his clock. Each side had a rook, a knight, a bishop and two pawns, when Paco made a slight yet costly mistake:


The computer gives 37.a3 as the most accurate. From a human point of view, this choice also would have given White counterplay on the queenside after capturing Black's b-pawn, which, in hindsight, would have been very helpful. Instead, after 37.e3 d2+ 38.h3 d3, Magnus has a free hand to put pressure on White's position.

Paco managed to get rid of all the pawns left on the board, increasing his drawing chances, but needed to give up an exchange in order to do so:


White's only choice is to give up the rook for the knight with 50.xf4+ xf4 and the tablebases dictate that, with perfect play, Black can give 54 moves! Defending such a position against an endgame virtuoso is not easy, however. Paco failed to find the most stubborn defensive resources and gave up the point after 73 moves. A second lengthy victory for the world champion. 

Endgame analysis with Magnus Carlsen and Jan Gustafsson

Anand and Svidler score

While Carlsen needed over six hours to get both his wins so far, Vishy Anand and Peter Svidler managed to score on Sunday in around forty moves each. Anand inflicted Vincent Keymer his second loss of the event and Svidler got the better off the always ambitious Arkadij Naiditsch.

Keymer bravely played the Najdorf against Vishy, despite the fact that the former world champion has always been one of the strongest practitioners of the Sicilian. Thus, the opening did not go well for the German youngster, as White was the one with all the positional trumps in the middlegame. In the post-game interview, Vishy pointed out that after 24...f4 he had a clear advantage:


After 25.xf4 exf4 Anand had 26.e6, a concrete manoeuvre that clearly showed who was on top. From that point on, it was all Vishy, who obtained a strong pawn phalanx on the queenside, which provoked Vincent to give up shortly after the time control:


There is no way anybody can survive this against Vishy.

Vishy Anand

A Sicilian expert from Madras | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Meanwhile, Svidler was facing Naiditsch's Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez. As noted by Peter afterwards, Arkadij does not play this — or any other — opening looking for a quick way to split the point, but instead as an attempt to get a game and go all in for the win. This time, however, the Azeri did not handle his position precisely and faced a ruthless Svidler, who kept putting pressure on his opponent's weak e4-pawn:


The player from Saint Petersburg calmly rerouted his knight to d6 with 30...d8, 31...b7 and 32...d6, creating more threats against White's vulnerable central structure. With all the positional advantages on his side, Black went on to push his h-pawn and calculate a precise way to break his opponent's defences. 


Black's knight and queen are attacked, but 37...b5 is enough to keep all the material advantage, and some more. Naiditsch resigned after 38.c2 c4 39.e6 xe3.

Peter Svidler

Peter Svidler | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Round-up show

GM Yannick Pelletier takes a look at the highlights of Round 2
(Due to a technical hiccup, this video breaks after 26 minutes)

All games



Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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