Magnus Carlsen wins Leuven with three-point lead

by Alex Yermolinsky
7/3/2017 – It was all Magnus Carlsen in the last two days as he overcame a three-point deficit, trailing Wesley So, who had performed superbly in the rapid games, to win the Grand Chess Tour tournament in Leuven with a full three-point lead. His blitz performance of 3018 Elo over 18 games says it all. Wesley So came in second, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took third. Enjoy this illustrated report with analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky.

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The Leuven tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is running from June 28 to July 2 in Leuven, Belgium. It is a combination of Rapid and Blitz games. The ten participants are Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Viswanathan Anand, Wesley So, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Vassily Ivanchuk, and Baadur Jobava. They will play nine rapid games, three a day, from June 28–30. Each day the games will start at 14:00h, 15:30h and 17:00h European Standard Summer Time. The Blitz tournament is on July 1-2, with nine rounds on each day, starting at 14:00h. The total prize fund is $150,000!

Note that the event is using the Bronstein mode: the players have 25 minutes for all the moves of a rapid game, and a ten second delay per move. This means that the clock does not run for ten seconds – the point is that you cannot accumulate time by playing very quickly in the Bronstein Mode.

Day five

All photos by Lennart Ootes

For five day, the residents and chess fans of Leuven were treated to some of the best chess in the world, all in an exciting and dynamic format

To be honest, I didn't follow today's games live. It was the case of too much of a good thing. I was simply tired of watching them play, probably as tired as Magnus Carlsen was of winning and Baadur Jobava was of losing. So, I spent the first half of the day outdoors, away from the computer, and made a point of not even checking the results on my cellphone.

A young fan is invited to make the inaugural move in the game between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand

When I came home, looking over the games, I found the superlative quality I had expected, and share here a few that caught my fancy. Please, take a look.

Vassily Ivanchuk had a great day, scoring 6.5/9, only to be outdone by Carlsen himself (7.0/9)

Vassily Ivanchuk - Levon Aronian

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.07.02"] [Round "11"] [White "Ivanchuk, Vassily"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C89"] [WhiteElo "2757"] [BlackElo "2780"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 Bb7 {A rare line from the greatest expert on the Marshall.} 12. d4 Bf6 ({Years ago I tried} 12... Qd7 {but White is doing well after} 13. Nd2 Nf4 14. Ne4) 13. Re1 Re8 $1 {A very important move } 14. Be3 $6 ({Now} 14. Nd2 {allows} Nf4) ({White's best is} 14. Bd2 $1) 14... c5 $1 {A timely strike in the center gives Black excellent game.} 15. Nd2 (15. dxc5 Nxe3 16. Qxd8 Raxd8 17. fxe3 Bg5 $15) 15... cxd4 (15... Nxe3 16. fxe3 g6) 16. Bxd4 Rxe1+ 17. Qxe1 Nf4 ({Levon was not satisfied with mere equality after } 17... Bxd4 18. cxd4 Nf4 19. Qe5 Qxd4 $11) {In reply Vassily finds an excellent idea.} 18. Ne4 $1 Bxd4 19. Rd1 {[#]} Qe7 $2 ({The only way to maintain balance was} 19... Nxg2 $1 20. Kxg2 Qh4 $1 21. Rxd4 Re8 22. Bc2 f5 23. h3 $11) 20. Rxd4 Re8 21. f3 $16 Kh8 (21... Ne6 $142) 22. Qd2 Qe5 23. Bxf7 Rf8 24. Rd8 Ne2+ 25. Kf2 1-0

While Maxime Vachier-Lagrave placed an excellent third place in Leuven, after coming second in Paris, had he shown the same blitz acuity in Leuven as he had in Paris, he might have been challenging Carlsen once more for the top honors

Vachier-Lagrave tried to make a push to catch So in the race of second place, but ultimately came short by just half a point in the combined standings. That key half-point may have been lost in the following game.

Magnus Carlsen - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.07.02"] [Round "12"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [WhiteElo "2832"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "95"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. c4 e5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. g4 $5 {Carlsen's confidence is sky high, like in the good old days.} Bb4 $5 (4... h6 5. Bg2 d6 6. h3 {was Rapport-Aronian, 2014}) 5. g5 Bxc3 6. bxc3 (6. gxf6 Ba5 7. fxg7 Rg8 {can turn out in Black's favor.}) 6... Ng8 7. d4 $5 (7. h4 h6 8. Nh3) 7... Qxg5 8. d5 Nd8 9. d6 $1 c6 10. Nf3 Qf5 11. Rg1 Ne6 {[#]To use Kasparov's expression, the d6-pawn splits the board in two, but given time Black can find ways around it.} 12. e4 $1 { A fantastic concept.} Qxe4+ 13. Be3 {The black queen is in danger.} Qf5 14. Ng5 Nf4 {This looks logical, but, in general, White doesn't mind exchanging Black's active pieces, as long as Bc8 and Ra8 stay on the sidelines.} (14... g6 $5 15. Bd3 ({less impressive is} 15. Bh3 Qf6 16. Qe2 h6 17. Ne4 Qh4) 15... Qf6 16. Qe2 {leaves Black at a crossroads.} Nf4 (16... Nxg5 17. Rxg5 e4 18. Bd4 Qxg5 19. Qxe4+ Kf8 20. Bxh8 {looks better for White}) 17. Bxf4 Qxf4 18. Rg4 Qf6 19. f4 Qxd6 20. fxe5 Qe7 21. Ne4 {The knight comes to d6 to replace the fallen comrade.}) 15. Bxf4 Qxf4 16. Rg4 Qf6 17. Ne4 Qh6 18. Qf3 Nf6 $2 {[#]} ({ It's easy to recommend} 18... g6 19. Qg3 Qg7 {but over the board it's scary to face White's initiative:} 20. Rg5 {etc.}) 19. Rxg7 $5 {Marks for the attacking spirit, even if, objectively speaking, White had a better option.} ({I bet in a regular game situation Magnus would have settled for} 19. Nxf6+ Qxf6 20. Qxf6 gxf6 21. c5 b6 22. Bc4 $14 {keeping the bind in the endgame.}) 19... Qxg7 $2 ({ Maxime missed the cold-blooded defense,} 19... Kf8 $1 20. Rg3 Nxe4 21. Qxe4 Qxd6 22. Qh4 Ke8 23. Re3 Qe7 24. Qxe7+ Kxe7 25. Rxe5+ Kf6 26. Re3 d6 27. O-O-O Rd8 $15) 20. Nxf6+ Kd8 21. Qf5 {Black is as good as dead here. He cannot move anything.} Re8 22. Nxe8 Kxe8 23. c5 (23. O-O-O f6 24. f4 {also looked mighty good.}) 23... b5 (23... Qg6 24. Qxe5+ Qe6 25. f4 $18) (23... b6 24. O-O-O bxc5 25. Rd3 Kf8 26. Rh3 $18) 24. Bd3 f6 {[#]} 25. Ke2 $5 {Carlsen knew he had all the time in the world to bring his rook into play.} (25. Kd2 Qg5+ 26. Qxg5 fxg5 27. Re1 $18) 25... Kf7 26. Rh1 $1 {Study-like idea.} Rb8 27. Kf1 $1 Qg6 28. Qf3 Qh6 29. Rg1 Ba6 30. Qg4 Rd8 31. Rg3 $18 e4 32. Qxe4 Re8 33. Qg4 Bc8 34. Kg2 Qg5 35. Qf3 Qd5 (35... Qxc5 36. Bc2 Qxd6 37. Qh5+ Kf8 38. Bb3) 36. Qxd5+ cxd5 37. Bxh7 Re5 38. f4 Re2+ 39. Kf1 Rxh2 40. Bg8+ Kf8 41. Bxd5 Rh8 42. Kf2 Ba6 43. Ke3 Ke8 44. Kd4 Kd8 45. Rg7 Bc8 46. c6 dxc6 47. Bxc6 a5 48. Kc5 {A game like this wouldn't look out of place in any player's best games collection.} 1-0

Down goes Kramnik! Jobava finally wins one for his army of fans. It wasn't very pretty, but I'm sure Baadur was happy to take it.

Baadur Jobava - Vladimir Kramnik

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.07.02"] [Round "14"] [White "Jobava, Baadur"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2707"] [BlackElo "2808"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "115"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. e5 d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. cxd4 Bb6 9. h3 O-O 10. O-O f6 11. Bxc6 bxc6 12. Be3 f5 13. Qc1 f4 $5 14. Bxf4 c5 15. dxc5 Nxc5 16. Be3 Nd3 17. Qd1 Ba6 18. Nc3 d4 19. Bg5 Qe8 20. Nd5 Kh8 21. Nxb6 axb6 22. Nxd4 Qxe5 23. Qg4 Rae8 24. Be3 Nxb2 25. Nf3 Qe4 26. Rfc1 Qxg4 27. hxg4 Nc4 28. Rc3 c5 29. Rb1 Re6 30. g5 Kg8 31. Nd2 Rxe3 32. Rxe3 Nxe3 33. fxe3 b5 34. Ne4 Rc8 35. a3 c4 36. Nc3 Rc5 37. g6 hxg6 38. Kf2 Kf7 39. e4 Ke6 40. Ke3 Rg5 41. Kf3 Kd7 42. g4 Rc5 43. Ke3 Kc6 44. Kd4 Rg5 45. Rg1 Bc8 46. Rb1 Bd7 47. Nd5 Kd6 48. a4 Bc6 49. axb5 Bxd5 50. exd5 Rxg4+ 51. Kc3 {[#]Kramnik had been doing well throughout most of the game, but Jobava suddenly decided enough was enough, and simply refused to lose.} Kc5 $2 {Vladimir thought he had one more winning attempt left.} ({He could have tried a different interpretation of the same idea,} 51... Kxd5 52. b6 Rg3+ 53. Kc2 Rg2+ 54. Kc3 Rg3+ 55. Kd2 c3+ 56. Kc2 Kc4 {and still make a draw after} 57. Rb4+ Kxb4 58. b7 Rg2+ 59. Kc1 Rg1+) ( 51... Rg3+ 52. Kxc4 Rg4+ 53. Kd3 Kxd5 54. b6 Rd4+ {and the rook makes it to b8 in time.}) 52. b6 Rg3+ 53. Kd2 c3+ 54. Kc2 Rg2+ ({Suddenly} 54... Kc4 55. Rb4+ $1 Kxb4 56. b7 {and White queens, although it would still be a fight after} Rg2+ 57. Kd3 Rd2+ 58. Ke3 Kc4 59. b8=Q Rd3+ 60. Ke2 Rxd5 {etc.}) 55. Kxc3 Rg3+ 56. Kd2 Rg2+ 57. Ke3 Rg3+ 58. Kf2 {I bet it was the happiest Baadur felt in his five days in Leuven} 1-0

After his super win in the Rapid phase, losing to Magnus Carlsen by three points in the combined standings has to be a bitter pill for Wesley So to swallow, even if he did come clear second

Along with his old rival Kramnik, Vishy Anand seemed to run out of gas toward the end. However, in the following game a lot of credit is due to Aronian's imaginative play.

Levon Aronian - Vishy Anand

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.07.02"] [Round "17"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A21"] [WhiteElo "2793"] [BlackElo "2786"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Bb4 3. Nd5 Bc5 4. b4 Bf8 5. Bb2 c6 6. Ne3 Bxb4 {Vishy prefers a simple concept.} ({Jan Timman played} 6... f6 {against Shaked back in 1998, and won a nice game.}) 7. Bxe5 Nf6 8. g3 O-O 9. Bg2 Re8 10. Nf3 d6 11. Bb2 Nbd7 12. O-O Ne5 13. Qb3 $5 {Enterprising, but hardly necessary.} ({Aronian could have got himself a pleasant game with the simple} 13. Rb1 Ba5 14. Qc2) 13... Nxf3+ 14. Bxf3 $6 ({I thought the idea was} 14. exf3 Bxd2 15. Rad1 Bxe3 16. fxe3 Qe7 17. e4 {and the white pawns look as good as new.}) 14... Bxd2 15. Rad1 Bxe3 16. fxe3 Ne4 $15 17. Rd4 Nc5 18. Qa3 Qe7 ({The d6-pawn would fall anyway, so} 18... Bf5 19. Rfd1 Qg5 20. Rxd6 Ne4 21. R6d4 Qg6 {would have been a solid choice.}) 19. e4 Be6 20. Rfd1 Nd7 (20... Red8 {meets with} 21. e5) 21. Rxd6 Nb6 22. Qc3 Qg5 (22... f6 {was more natural.}) 23. Ba1 Bxc4 24. Bh5 $5 Rxe4 {[#]} 25. Rd8+ ({Seemingly, White had a winning shot in} 25. Rg6 {but the players saw } Qc5+ 26. Kg2 Re5 $1 27. Rgd6 Bd5+ 28. R6xd5 Nxd5 29. Qxc5 Nf4+ 30. gxf4 Rxc5 31. Bf3 {leading an unbalanced but roughly equal ending.}) 25... Re8 26. h4 $1 {Levon keeps on coming up with new threats.} Qh6 $2 {Finally, Vishy cracks.} ( 26... Qc5+ 27. Kh2 Qf8 {would stop everything, and the two extra pawns should decide the game in Black's favor.}) 27. R1d6 Be6 (27... Nd5 {was worth looking at, but White has} 28. Bxf7+ $1 Kxf7 29. R8d7+ Kf8 30. Qf3+ Nf6 31. Bxf6 Qe3+ 32. Qxe3 Rxe3 33. Rxg7 {retaining some attacking chances.}) 28. Rxe6 $1 fxe6 29. Rxe8+ Rxe8 30. Bxe8 Nd5 $2 {That's just fatigue.} ({The bishop is trapped after} 30... Kf8 {and White has to be content with just some advantage after} 31. Bxc6 bxc6 32. Kg2 Ke7 33. Qxc6 Qe3) 31. Qf3 Nf6 32. Bxf6 gxf6 33. Qg4+ Kf8 34. Qxe6 1-0

Ian ended his Leuven campaign on a sad note. A win in the last round would have vaulted him two spots up in the final standings, good for an extra $5000 in prize money, and two Tour points. Ian surely picked the wrong spot for yet another opening disaster.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Ian Nepomniachtchi

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Blitz"] [Site "Leuven"] [Date "2017.07.02"] [Round "18"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B51"] [WhiteElo "2796"] [BlackElo "2732"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "107"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ Nd7 4. O-O a6 5. Bd3 b5 6. Re1 Bb7 {Ian likes this move order.} (6... Ngf6 7. c4 g5 {was the famous game Carlsen-Topalov, Sinquefield Cup 2015}) 7. c4 $1 {[#]} ({The rapid game between the same opponents, played on Friday, went} 7. a4 b4 8. Bc4 Ngf6 9. d3 e6 {and Black equalized}) 7... Ngf6 $2 {This is not going to work well.} ({Neither is} 7... bxc4 8. Bxc4 e6 9. d4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Ngf6 11. Nc3 {where White gets a Sicilian-type active position without the backward pawn on c2. Also, the absence of the black b-pawn makes Nc3 stable.}) ({The right way to proceed was } 7... b4 $1 8. a3 a5 9. Bc2 e5 {In a closed formation like this Black should be able to complete his development.}) 8. cxb5 $1 axb5 9. Bxb5 Nxe4 10. d4 $1 { Sicilian motifs again.} e6 11. dxc5 Nexc5 12. Nc3 $16 {Black's position is simply unbearable.} Be7 13. Bf4 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 O-O 15. b4 Na6 16. a3 d5 17. Rad1 Nf6 (17... Nc7 18. Bxc7 Qxc7 19. Nxd5) 18. Bc6 $18 Nc7 19. Bxa8 Nxa8 20. Nb5 ( 20. Na4 Nc7 21. Nc5) 20... Qd7 21. Qd3 Nb6 22. Be5 Rc8 23. Nd4 Nc4 24. Nf3 Qa4 25. Ra1 Ne4 26. Bd4 Bf8 27. h4 h6 28. Rac1 f5 {Ian reacted to a non-existing threat.} (28... f6 $1 {and White might go for} 29. Rxc4 Rxc4 30. Rxe4 dxe4 31. Qxc4 exf3 32. gxf3 Qxa3 33. Bc5 $16 {but it's not over yet.}) 29. Ne5 $1 Ned6 30. Nxc4 dxc4 31. Qe2 Ne4 32. Rxc4 $18 Rd8 33. f3 e5 34. Bxe5 Qa7+ 35. Kh2 Rd2 36. Qe3 Qe7 37. Rxe4 fxe4 38. Qxd2 Qxe5+ 39. f4 Qf5 40. Qe3 Qf6 41. g3 Kh8 42. Re2 Qa1 43. Qb3 Qd4 44. Qf7 Qd6 45. Qe8 g5 46. hxg5 hxg5 47. fxg5 Kg7 48. Qxe4 Qd1 49. Qc2 Qd5 50. Qc3+ Kg8 51. Qe5 Qd1 52. Qe6+ Kg7 53. Rf2 Qh5+ 54. Kg2 1-0

I'm very much impressed with the way Anish Giri handled this tournament. Being a wild-card invitee, Anish has no stake in the Tour, but he made another step toward reasserting himself as a dangerous competitor. Watch out for Giri in the Geneva Grand Prix that starts in a few days – he's not out of the running yet.

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Time to look at the standings after the first two legs of the 2017 Tour. I think it's already over as far as the first place goes. Carlsen totaled 25 points, and I cannot see Magnus ever relinquishing his lead whatever his much publicized struggles in Classical might be. Even a bad Carlsen will rack up some points from the two remaining events to put it out of reach for anybody else. If anything, I expect him to win the Sinquefield Cup and make it official with one tournament to spare.

Group shot of all the players (click image for full-size)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems this year's tour only offers two overall prizes: $100 thousand to 1st, and $50 thousand to 2nd. It is not very inclusive, and it'll put a good half of the field out of the running way before the finish line. For that 2nd prize I see a three-man race between So, Vachier-Lagrave, and, who else, Nakamura.

The first two, and, more importantly, Carlsen along with them, are done with Rapid/Blitz events. In absence of some of the best speed players, the St. Louis Rapid/Blitz, scheduled to be held right after the Sinquefield Cup, seems a golden opportunity for Hikaru to take home the maximum haul of 13 Tour points. Of course, Fabiano and others may have their own ideas. We shall see.

Final rapid crosstable

(Click for full size)

*Note: All rapid games are worth double
**Note: FIDE Rapid ratings are used in crosstable.

Final blitz crosstable

(Click for full size)

*Note: FIDE Blitz ratings are used in crosstable.

Combined standings


You can use ChessBase 14 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs to replay the games in PGN. You can also download our free Playchess client, which will in addition give you immediate access to the chess server

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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