Grenke Classic: Magnus caps grand performance with a win

by Antonio Pereira
4/30/2019 – Magnus Carlsen scored a fourth straight win to claim clear first place at the 2019 GRENKE Chess Classic. The world champion knew in advance that he would win the tournament, as Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian signed a 43-move draw, but kept on pushing to convert his extra pawn against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Arkadij Naiditsch and Francisco Vallejo Pons also finished the tournament with wins. | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

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.


"I never dreamed it would be this good"

The closing balance: six wins and three draws, a 2990 rating performance, a gain of 14.4 rating points (leaving him 14 points away from his all-time peak). Magnus Carlsen won his fourth consecutive super-tournament, and his performance during the last six months can only be compared with some of the greatest streaks of good form in chess history. Now that he is 25 points away from breaking the 2900-barrier, even a level-headed Carlsen dares to call the challenge of surpassing the exorbitant mark "at least a half-attainable dream".

At the latest edition of the Gashimov Memorial, Carlsen won with a round to spare and finished on 7 out of 9; in the very next event, he increased his score by a half point, after winning six of his games. The level of opposition in Azerbaijan was slightly higher and the nature of the Norwegian's games differed in both events, however — this prompted Magnus to declare in a post-tournament interview:

I still feel like the quality of my play in Shamkir was a bit higher, but clearly the last four rounds have been great — before that it wasn't too brilliant, but the trend is very, very positive. 

The reporter went on to remind Carlsen that Caruana was a finger-breadth away from surpassing him in the ratings list — what changed? Magnus replied:

I didn't start too well in Wijk aan Zee — I started with four draws — but since then it kind of just clicked, I guess. And it helps me that I still have ideas and concepts from the world championship. I feel well in general. The conditions are there, but obviously I never dreamed it would be this good.

Full interview with the champion

Carlsen had the white pieces against world's number six Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and opened with the unambitious sequence 1.c4, 2.g3, 3.g2, 4.c3, 5.f3, 6.0-0, 7.h3 — after all, a draw was enough to secure first place. After ten moves, there was still a precursor game that had arrived at the same position. At that point, though, MVL's novelty gave up a pawn: 


When talking about the game, Magnus explained: "It was really only one key moment, when he played 10...b5, which I think is a completely incorrect pawn sac, so I didn't think too much, I just took it, and hoped for the best. And, after that, he's really just struggling to survive".

White, naturally, looked for exchanges that would lead to a favourable endgame, and managed to find just that after 36 moves:


Seven moves later Vachier-Lagrave resigned, with Black's f-pawn about to fall and White's a-passer well on his way to promotion.

Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

MVL could not stop the champion | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Naiditsch clinches third

Azerbaijan's Arkadij Naiditsch faced Georg Meier with White after having lost against Fabiano Caruana and having survived a quasi-lost endgame against Paco Vallejo. The players explored relatively unknown territory from the get go, with Arkadij using two tempi to advance both his d and h-pawns (7.h3, 9.h4; 8.d3, 12.d4). Perhaps the original nature of the position favoured Naiditsch's fighting style — by move 15, both his knights had invaded Black's camp:


Feel free to move the pieces on the diagram above!

The game continued 15...xg2 16.xg2 c6 17.bc7+ d7 18.e1 b4 and the computers assess the position as clearly better for White after 19.f4:


The position is a mess, and we can only imagine how tough it was for the players to deal with such complications after eight rounds of first-class competition. At some point, it seemed like Meier was about to find a way to consolidate his king's position, but Naiditsch kept on putting pressure.

Arkadij Naiditsch, Georg Meier

Naiditsch represented Germany until 2015 | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

When the time control was approaching, White had a rook and two pawns for Black's knight and bishop:


There is no way to save the d7-knight after 39.d2 c7 40.f6. Meier resigned, ending up the event on 2 out of 9, while Naiditsch climbed to third place (helped by MVL's loss) after accumulating 5 points — he won three and lost two in Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden.

Arkadij Naiditsch

Fearless Arkadij got third place | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Vallejo beats Keymer

A recurring story of the event was seen in the game Vincent Keymer vs. Paco Vallejo: the young German got a good position out of the opening — Paco played the Benoni — but spent too much time and lost the thread until finally giving up another full point.

Black correctly opened up the position around move 20:


Vallejo made way for his queen on the d8-h4 diagonal with 20...f5 — the game continued 21.f4 h4 22.c5 g3+ 23.h1 xh3+ 24.h2 xh2 25.xh2. The queens had left the board and Black decided to go into an endgame with the pair of bishops against a rook and a pawn:


After 25...xc4 26.xf8 xf8 27.hxg6 exf4 28.exf5 xf5 the smoke had cleared and Black was clearly better:


Vallejo converted this position into his first full point of the event in eight moves. 

Francisco Vallejo Pons

Paco got a most deserving win | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Keymer finished on 2 out of 9, but surely went through a first-class learning experience:

Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian signed a 43-move draw, which left the American in clear second place, after scoring an undefeated +3, while Levon beat Svidler and lost against Carlsen throughout the event to end up on an even score. Also on an even score finished Vishy Anand and Peter Svidler, who drew after 34 moves out of a Spanish Opening.

Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian

Caruana and Aronian, two of the very best in the world | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Round-up show

GM Simon Williams recapped the action from Round 9

Final standings


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register