31 March - 9 April 2018

GRENKE Chess Classic gets off to explosive start

The 2018 GRENKE Chess Classic started with a bang before the games even got underway, as World Champion Magnus Carlsen was drawn to play his freshly crowned challenger Fabiano Caruana during Thursday’s opening ceremony. This much anticipated game kept all its promises as it was not only the last to finish, but also packed with tension, a couple of big twists and an unexpected outcome. But let’s have a look at things in chronological order.


The venue was completely packed as the GRENKE Chess Classic got underway

The first game to end saw Nikita Vitiugov score a crushing victory over Germany’s rising star Matthias Bluebaum. The Russian, who qualified to the tournament by winning last year’s GRENKE Chess Open, put his opponent under pressure with the black pieces from an early stage and was rewarded for his enterprising play by getting to play the brilliant moves 24…Ne4+ and 25…Ra3!, which forced immediate resignation.

There was no reason for Vitiugov to try and hide his face today

A short while later both Meier-Aronian and the encounter between Baden-Baden teammates Vachier-Lagrave and Naiditsch ended in draws, but those two games could hardly have been more different from one another. While the former was never out of balance, it looked like Naiditsch was going to get the better of MVL for the second year running after he landed the 14.Nxd5 blow. The Frenchman defended very tenaciously though, and after a couple of missed chances by Naiditsch managed to hold on to a precious half point by the skin of his teeth.

Vachier-Lagrave very narrowly escaped with a draw against Naiditsch

Next up to finish was the game between two former World Champions: Vishy Anand and Hou Yifan. The Indian legend had beaten Hou on the last two occasions when he had the white pieces (at the Isle of Man and in Wijk aan Zee), but today she met Vishy’s aggressive 7.g4 approach with a pawn sacrifice of her own. Hou emerged from the ensuing complications with a small edge, before the advantage swung slightly in Anand’s favour and eventually a fair and fighting draw was agreed on move 48.

Former World Champion Vishy Anand faced a real test in Hou Yifan today

That of course leads us to the game which had fans both onsite and all around the world on the edge of their seats in what was an absolute thriller of a game between Caruana and Carlsen. Despite the fact he was playing with the black pieces, the reigning World Champion made a pre-match statement by playing the opening phase very sharply and emerged from it with a serious edge. It seemed at this moment that the task of defending an unpleasant position with limited time on the clock would probably prove insurmountable for Caruana, but just as they were nearing the time control Carlsen committed what he later described as a ‘beginner’s mistake’ of playing too quickly and when move 40 was reached the players found themselves in an incredibly complex rook endgame.

They both went on to play flawlessly until the critical moment at move 54, when the very inhuman 54…Rh7! would have won Carlsen the game - both players were stunned when showed this line in the post-game analysis on air. Instead the World Champion, who commented that he had given up already at this stage, went for 54…a5 and the players shook hands a few moves later. Peter Leko probably summed the game up best when he quipped in the live show that ‘Magnus deserved to win and Fabiano deserved to draw’.

The game between Caruana and Carlsen kept all its promises

Despite there only having been one decisive game in the end, it could easily have been three as the GRENKE Chess Classic got off to an explosive start at the Schwarwaldhalle in Karlsruhe. Two more rounds will be played here before the players move to Baden-Baden, where the action will resume on Wednesday. During Sunday’s second round all eyes will be on the clash between Vachier-Lagrave and Anand, while in the other four games all rating favourites will have the advantage of the white pieces: Carlsen-Hou, Aronian-Naiditsch, Vitiugov-Meier and Caruana-Bluebaum.Make sure to tune into our live coverage with commentary by GM Peter Leko and GM Jan Gustafsson for what should be another thrilling day of chess when the games kick off at 3pm CEST tomorrow.

The 1482 Open participants fight it out on the same premises as the 10 Super Grandmasters

Text and photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Player interviews on the official YouTube channel