Grenke: The power of white

by Alex Yermolinsky
4/2/2018 – In a day when White scored 4½/5, how else could one describe the round? Even the one draw took herculean measures by Matthias Bluebaum (with black) to survive Fabiano Caruana's powerful attack. For Nikita Vitiugov, the qualifier from last year's Open, it means 2/2 also. Still, be sure to see the fascinating notes by GM Yermolinsky, who sheds light on how chess understanding has changed in the last 20 years. Not to be missed! | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


Black scores a mere half point

Round two stands out for a huge margin in favour of the players with the white pieces. In all five games, Black came under heavy pressure, and it didn't help their cause to have the higher-rated player sitting across the board and mercilessly turning the screws.

The first to succumb was Arkadij Naiditsch, who's Kings Indian didn't pan out at all against the calm demeanour of Levon Aronian.

Aronian Naiditsch

Aronian gets his first win | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

Levon Aronian 1-0 Arkadij Naiditsch

The great champion Tigran Petrosian had games such as that in mind when he quipped that the Kings Indian was a great opening that had been feeding his family for 30 years. Of course, the Iron Tigran made that comment in jest, since he'd also been known to play at as Black, although not in the late stages of his career. Anyway, a great win for Aronian, which may signify the beginning of a healing process.

[Event "5th GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2018.04.01"] [Round "2"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Naiditsch, Arkadij"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E70"] [WhiteElo "2794"] [BlackElo "2701"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. e4 d6 4. d4 Bg7 5. Nge2 {In my own experience the main practitioner of this system was GM Gregory Serper. White plans on building a Saemisch-like position without bothering with f2-f3.} O-O 6. Ng3 e5 {Arkadij is a classical mold KID player, and he always aims for e7-e5.} ({The Benoni transition} 6... c5 7. d5 e6 8. Be2 exd5 {leaves White with a choice between the standard} 9. cxd5 ({and} 9. exd5 {which is what Serper preferred.})) 7. d5 a5 8. Be2 Na6 9. h4 $1 h5 {Practically forced.} ({Allowing White to go forward with his h-pawn} 9... Nc5 10. h5 {is unattractive. Not only Black then would have to watch out for a standard attack along the h-file, his own counterplay plans involving f7-f5 would become too risky.}) 10. Bg5 Qe8 11. Qd2 Kh7 $6 { While this move has its points, it appears to be too slow to really bother White.} ({Black is better off sticking to the standard} 11... Nc5 12. f3 (12. O-O-O Ng4 13. Bxg4 Bxg4 14. f3 Bd7 {worked out well for Black in Carlsen-Radjabov, 2014}) 12... Bd7 ({or} 12... Nh7 13. Be3 f5) 13. O-O-O a4 14. Nf1 (14. Nb5 $5) 14... a3 15. b3 Nh7 16. Be3 f5) 12. f3 ({Serper-Panzer, 1991 saw White immediately going} 12. Nb5 {The point of this knight jump is to rule out all counterplay with c7-c6.}) 12... Ng8 (12... c6 {would have been a try, but still, White is for choice after} 13. dxc6 Qxc6 14. Nf1 Nc5 15. Ne3 Be6 16. g4) 13. Nb5 $5 b6 14. a3 Bd7 15. b4 {[#] Looking at this position one might ask where White is going to hide his king. The answer is, in the absence of c7-c6 and f7-f5 breakthroughs White doesn't have much to worry about yet. This restricting strategy started back to the 1950's and is credited to Aronian's great predecessor, World Champion Tigran Petrosian.} f6 16. Be3 f5 $2 {This is what White has been waiting for.} (16... Bh6 $1 {would have been consistent with the plan that began with 11...Kh7.} 17. Rb1 (17. Bxh6 Nxh6 18. bxa5 $6 bxa5 19. Qxa5 f5 {is the kind of mess Black is hoping for.}) 17... Bxe3 18. Qxe3 Nh6) 17. exf5 gxf5 18. Bg5 $1 {Underlining the severe weakness of Black's K-side caused by the h7-h5 move.} e4 $6 (18... Nf6 19. Rb1 f4 20. Bd3+ Kh8 { was a tougher defence. The Aronian would consider a pawn sacrifice} 21. Ne4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 Bxb5 23. cxb5 Qxb5 24. Kf2) 19. Rb1 exf3 20. gxf3 axb4 21. axb4 Bxb5 22. cxb5 Nb8 {[#]} 23. O-O $1 {So, White castles on move 23 when he already knows he will hit his targets. The game is practically over.} Nd7 24. Rbc1 Ra7 25. Bd3 Qe5 26. Nxh5 Qxd5 27. Nf4 Qb3 28. Bc4 Qb2 29. Rc2 Qd4+ 30. Qxd4 Bxd4+ 31. Kg2 Be5 32. Ne6 Rc8 33. Nd8 d5 34. Nc6 Ra3 35. Bxd5 1-0

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1-0 Vishy Anand

Vachier-Lagrave and Anand, who both sat out this year's big show at the Candidates, look poised for big fights, as it seemed from their play in the opening round. Today they faced each other, and the Sicilian Defense fit the bill perfectly. First, it was Vishy who tried to surprise Maxime with his choice of the Paulsen Variation, but the hunter soon became the hunted, as MVL showed the depth of his preparation.

[Event "5th GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2018.04.01"] [Round "2"] [White "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B48"] [WhiteElo "2789"] [BlackElo "2776"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 {A somewhat surprising choice from Anand, who usually relies on his great expertise in the Najdorf.} 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qf3 Nf6 8. O-O-O Ne5 9. Qg3 b5 10. a3 $5 {[#]} ({White is beginning to lose faith in} 10. f4 Neg4 {after his debacles in Vachier Lagrave-Grischuk, Blitz and, more importantly, Karjakin-Caruana, London Classic, both played late last year.}) 10... Bb7 ({The point of the modest pawn move is revealed after} 10... h5 11. Bf4 d6 12. Bxb5+ axb5 13. Bxe5 dxe5 14. Ncxb5 Qc5 15. b4 $1) ({It appears Black doesn't get enough out of} 10... Bxa3 11. Ncxb5 axb5 12. Nxb5 Bxb2+ 13. Kxb2 Ra2+ 14. Kxa2 Qxc2+ 15. Ka3 Qxd1 {where White has a pleasant choice:} 16. Nc7+ $5 ({or simply} 16. Qxe5 O-O 17. Qd4) 16... Kd8 17. Qxe5 d6 18. Qc3 {planning e4-e5.}) 11. Bxb5 {This has already been played, albeit not in high-profile games.} Rc8 $1 {Anand plays the best reply.} ({White dominates in case of} 11... axb5 12. Ndxb5 Qb8 13. Bb6 Nc4 14. Bc7 Qc8 15. Rd4) ({Black should stay away from} 11... Bxa3 12. Bf4 Bd6 13. Nxe6 fxe6 14. Rxd6 Qxd6 15. Bxe5 Qe7 16. Bd6 Qf7 17. Bd3 {with a great position for White in Admiraal-Leenhouts and Frolyanov-Khanin, both in 2017.}) 12. Ba4 {The bishop takes a modest job of protecting c2 while keeping an eye on d7.} Nxe4 13. Nxe4 Bxe4 14. Bf4 Qc4 15. Bxe5 Qxa4 16. Rd2 {[#] This position is easily reached by engine analysis. It is much harder, however, to evaluate it.} f6 (16... h5 $5 {was interesting. Black intends to develop his rook via the h-file.}) 17. Bd6 Kf7 18. Re1 Bg6 19. Bxf8 Rhxf8 20. Qd6 Kg8 21. f4 {[#] We have come a long way since the heyday of the Sicilian defence in the 1960's-1990's. Positions such as this one used to be considered good for Black purely based on the absence of immediate threats to the black king. The talk was about Black losing short games and winning long ones in the Sicilian. We just don't think this way anymore. In this particular case Black is hampered by the blockade on d6 and, therefore, is hard-pressed to develop some play against the white king.} Rfe8 ({One last chance to make something happen was} 21... Qc4 $1 22. Qxd7 Bf7 23. Nxe6 Qa2) 22. Re3 $1 {This is it. The white rook controls the c3-square, making b2-b3 possible. For the rest of the game Anand just drifts.} Qc4 23. b3 Qc7 24. Qxc7 Rxc7 25. Kb2 Rb8 26. g4 Bf7 27. a4 Rc5 28. Ne2 Rc7 29. Rd6 Ra7 30. Red3 Be8 31. f5 exf5 32. gxf5 Rc8 33. Nc3 Rc5 34. R3d5 Rc6 35. Ne4 Kf7 36. Rd3 Rac7 37. c4 g6 38. fxg6+ 1-0

Anand tends to lose in this fashion more often than in any other way. It seems that he's willing to concede one game to preserve his energy for future battles when things, hopefully, will go his way out of the opening.

The Sicilian Tajmanov-Scheveningen

The Sicilian has been known for decades as the most reliable way for Black to obtain an unbalanced but good position. Among the most popular Sicilians at the top level the two that certainly stand out are the Najdorf and the Paulsen.

Matthias Bluebaum ½-½ Fabiano Caruana

One guy who buckled down under pressure and refused to lose was the young Matthias Bluebaum, recovering from his ugly defeat in round one. Facing a massive offence directed at his king by the newly appointed World Championship Challenger Fabiano Caruana, the German player stayed calm and found all the best responses.

Matthias Bluebaum showed superb resilience against Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

[Event "5th GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2018.04.01"] [Round "2"] [White "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Black "Bluebaum, Matthias"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C11"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2631"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Be3 O-O { In the past Black stayed away from castling too soon, instead concentrating on developing his play on the Q-side.} 8. Qd2 {[#]} a6 $5 ({Previously, Matthias relied on} 8... b6 {His game with Vachier-Lagrave, TCh-France 2016 saw} 9. Nd1 a5 10. c3 Ba6 11. Bxa6 Nxa6 12. O-O b5 {I'm sure Caruana was well-prepared to face that.}) 9. Bd3 $5 ({White is not advised to allow} 9. O-O-O c4 {as Black's pawn storm will be frightening.}) ({Previously seen was} 9. Be2) 9... b5 10. Qf2 {Caruana is trying to provoke c5-c4, but Bluebaum is not in the mood to oblige.} Nc6 $5 11. dxc5 Qa5 ({Also interesting is} 11... f6 $5) 12. O-O b4 13. Ne2 Nxc5 14. Nfd4 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 Qc7 $1 (15... Bd7 16. Nb3 $1 Nxb3 17. axb3 {hits the a6-pawn.}) 16. Nb3 Nxb3 17. axb3 a5 18. Bb6 Qc6 19. Bd4 { It appears White has come out with a slight advantage.} Bd8 20. g4 {Fabiano launches a standard plan of K-side attack.} ({It's not clear what White gets out of} 20. c4 Bb7 21. Rac1 Be7) ({Perhaps,} 20. Rfc1 Bb7 21. c3 {was worth a look.}) 20... Ba6 21. f5 Bxd3 22. cxd3 {[#] So, it's going to be mate once White plays f5-f6, right?} f6 $1 {Not so fast.} 23. Rac1 (23. Rae1 fxe5 24. Rxe5 exf5 25. Rxf5 Be7 {and then what?}) 23... Qd7 24. fxe6 Qxe6 25. Qf5 Qxf5 26. Rxf5 fxe5 27. Rxf8+ Kxf8 28. Bxe5 Kf7 29. Kf2 Ra6 30. Kf3 Bf6 31. Rc7+ Kg6 32. d4 Re6 33. Kf4 Bg5+ 34. Kf3 Bf6 35. Kf4 Bg5+ 36. Kf3 1/2-1/2

What a competent save from Bluebaum, particularly coming on the heels of a terrible blunder the day before.

Nikita Vitiugov 1-0 Georg Meier

Nikita Vitiugov made it 2/2 by producing a gem of positional play against another German entrant, Georg Meier, who must have been left wondering why his bishop pair turned out to be no match for the white knights.

[Event "5th GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2018.04.01"] [Round "2"] [White "Vitiugov, Nikita"] [Black "Meier, Georg"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2735"] [BlackElo "2648"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 Nh6 7. b4 cxd4 8. b5 $5 { A new concept. Some innovations should be expected from Vitiugov who wrote a critically acclaimed book on the French Defense.} (8. Bxh6 gxh6 9. cxd4 Bd7 10. Ra2 Rg8 11. g3 Rg4 {Grischuk-Caruana, Blitz 2014}) ({Nikita himself defended the black colors in the main line} 8. cxd4 Nf5 {although he lost to Savchenko in 2014.}) 8... Na5 9. Bxh6 gxh6 10. cxd4 Bd7 11. Nbd2 Rc8 12. a4 {[#]} Qc7 { Georg stays on a solid ground.} (12... Bb4 13. Bd3 Bc3 14. Rc1 Bxd4 15. Rxc8+ Bxc8 16. O-O Bc5 {is a somewhat risky proposition fro Black.}) 13. Bd3 Qc3 14. Ke2 Be7 15. Rc1 Qxc1 16. Qxc1 Rxc1 17. Rxc1 Bd8 {The main problem for Black is the future of his Na5} 18. Nf1 Bb6 19. Rc3 Ke7 20. Ng3 a6 $1 21. Ke3 axb5 22. axb5 {[#]} Nc4+ $2 {Too eager to begin his counterplay Meier gives Vitiugov a clear-cut plan of invading the d6-square.} (22... Ra8 23. Nd2 f6 24. exf6+ Kxf6 25. f4 {remains roughly balanced.}) 23. Bxc4 Rc8 (23... dxc4 24. Rxc4 Ra8 25. Rb4 Ra5 26. Ne4 Rxb5 27. Rxb5 Bxb5 28. Nd6 {wins the b7-pawn due to the threat of Nc8+}) 24. Nd2 Ba5 25. Rc2 dxc4 ({In case of} 25... Bxd2+ 26. Kxd2 Rxc4 ({ Unfortunately, no time for} 26... dxc4 {as then} 27. Ne4 {ruins the day for Black.}) 27. Rxc4 dxc4 {White has the key move} 28. b6 $1) 26. Nge4 c3 27. Nb1 {[#] It's amazing how White manages to keep control while going backward. In all lines Black's bishops are rather useless.} Rg8 $6 {A desperate attempt to generate counterplay.} (27... Rc4 28. Nbxc3 Bxb5 29. Nd6 Rxc3+ 30. Rxc3 Bxc3 31. Nxb5 Bb4 32. Kd3 h5 33. Kc4 {may have represented Meier's best chance of survival.}) ({Else, he could have tried} 27... Rc7 28. Nbxc3 Bxb5 29. Rb2 Bd7 30. Rb3 Bxc3 31. Nxc3 Bc6 32. Ne4) 28. Nbxc3 Rxg2 29. Nd6 ({Also,} 29. d5 Rxh2 30. d6+ Kd8 31. Nc5 {looked mighty good for White.}) 29... Rxh2 30. Nxb7 Bb6 31. Nc5 h5 32. Nxd7 $1 {Simple and strong. White queens his pawn first.} Kxd7 33. Ne4 h4 34. Rc6 Bd8 35. Nc5+ Ke8 36. b6 Rh1 37. b7 h3 38. b8=Q h2 39. Rc8 1-0

The French Defence for the Tournament Player

This French Defence DVD is a complete attacking opening repertoire for black after 1.e4 e6. GM Nick Pert has played the French defence his whole life and provides all his la test and most up to date analysis crammed into 1 DVD.

Magnus Carlsen 1-0 Hou Yifan

And, finally, it was the World Champion's turn to get on the scoreboard. His battle against Hou Yifan took a decisive turn in White's favour just before the time control. Hou Yifan put up good resistance but it was vintage Carlsen.

When the world's best female faces the world's best male | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

[Event "5th GRENKE Chess Classic 2018"] [Site "Karlsruhe"] [Date "2018.04.01"] [Round "2"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Hou, Yifan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C24"] [WhiteElo "2843"] [BlackElo "2654"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "121"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. d3 c6 4. Qe2 Be7 5. Nf3 d6 6. c3 Nbd7 7. Bb3 O-O 8. O-O a5 9. d4 a4 10. Bc2 Re8 11. Re1 Bf8 12. Qd1 b5 13. Nbd2 Qc7 14. Nf1 g6 15. Bg5 h6 16. Bd2 Bg7 17. Ng3 Nb6 18. b3 axb3 19. axb3 Rxa1 20. Qxa1 Bg4 {[#] A rather regular Beyer-like structure. One might think Black is equal, but Carlsen hasn't even started playing for real yet.} 21. Qc1 $5 {It's amazing how Magnus manages to turn a structural disadvantage to his advantage. A sign of a true mastery in positional chess.} ({Lesser beings would feel compelled to play} 21. Nh4) 21... Bxf3 22. gxf3 h5 23. Bh6 Qe7 24. Bxg7 Kxg7 25. Qg5 Kh7 26. f4 {[#]} Nfd7 $2 {Trading down to a worse endgame is not the optimal strategy against Magnus Carlsen.} ({For better or worse Hou had to try} 26... exf4 27. Qxf4 Nbd5 28. Qg5 (28. Qd2 h4 29. Nf1 Nh5) {Of course, then she would have to see} 28... Qe6 $1 ({Not} 28... Nxc3 29. Re3 b4 30. e5 {with powerful attack.}) 29. c4 bxc4 30. bxc4 Nb4 31. Bb1 Kg8 32. e5 Nh7 33. Qd2 h4 $5 { which would keep Black afloat.}) 27. Qxe7 Rxe7 28. fxe5 dxe5 29. Rd1 (29. Ra1 $5) 29... Re8 $6 {Another concession.} (29... exd4 30. cxd4 Kg7 31. Bd3 c5 { represented her best chance to obtain counterplay.}) 30. dxe5 Nxe5 31. f4 Ng4 32. Rd6 Re6 33. Rd8 Kg7 34. Nf1 Rf6 {This meets with a tactical response.} ({ Better was} 34... Nf6 35. Nd2 h4 {aiming at Nh5.}) 35. h3 Nh6 36. f5 $1 gxf5 37. Ng3 Rg6 {[#]} 38. Kf2 $2 {Carlsen's only slip-up.} ({The correct} 38. Kh2 { would help White to deal with} Rg5 {by playing} 39. h4 Rg4 40. Kh3 $16) 38... fxe4 $2 ({In heavy time trouble Hou missed her last chance.} 38... Rg5 $1) 39. Nxh5+ Kh7 40. Bxe4 f5 41. Bg2 {[#] A classic Carlsen position. There's no man or woman alive on this planet who can escape Magnus' positional clutches in situations like this.} Nf7 42. Rf8 Ne5 43. Nf4 Rd6 44. Rxf5 Nbd7 45. Ke2 Kg7 46. h4 Nf7 47. Be4 Nde5 48. Nh5+ Kh6 49. Ng3 Re6 50. Ke3 Kg7 51. Rf1 Kf8 52. Nf5 Ng4+ 53. Kf4 Nf6 54. Bf3 Nd5+ 55. Bxd5 cxd5 56. Ra1 Kg8 57. Ra8+ Kh7 58. Ra7 Rf6 59. h5 Kg8 60. Rd7 b4 61. cxb4 1-0

I don't think we will see many rounds like this. There has to be more balance in chess than White scoring 90%. In the next round the higher-rated players get to play Black, and we'll see what happens then.

Standings after round two


All games



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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