31 March - 9 April 2018

Five draws but two huge opportunities missed

At the end of today’s live show Peter Leko was surprised when Jan Gustafsson announced all five games had ended in draws – it had been such an exciting day that for a second Peter struggled to believe there hadn’t been a single decisive result. Meier and Naiditsch are the two players who will be having the biggest regrets tonight as they had completely crushing positions against Carlsen and Bluebaum respectively. But let’s first have a look at the three games that ended peacefully without quite so much drama.

Co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave reflected in his glass of water

The first game of the day to finish was the clash between co-leader Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian. Our commentators felt Levon had missed the nice shot 19.Nxe6, while in his post-game interview the Armenian stated he merely underestimated it. He thought Maxime could have improved on the game by responding to 25…g5 with 26.Kh2, but he felt that even there he should have just enough play to hold the game to a draw.

Although Aronian underestimated MVL’s Nxe6 the game quickly petered out to a draw

A short while later a draw was also agreed in the game opposing Hou Yifan to Vitiugov. Yifan later commented that by playing the 12.d5 line against the Zaitsev she was hoping for a slight edge with comfortable play, but couldn’t manage to both prevent d5 and control the queenside. To hear all her thoughts on the game you can watch our interview with the women’s world number one player.

A third consecutive draw for Vitiugov after starting with two wins

Caruana responded to Anand’s 1.e4 with the Caro-Kann defence, which isn’t part of his main repertoire and our commentators felt he got out of the opening with a slightly worse position. However, after a complex middle game which both players handled very accurately the pieces slowly came off the board and a draw was agreed right after the first time control.

Anand-Caruana was a rare draw considering their recent results history

That brings us to the two dramatic games of the round, which will leave Meier and Naiditsch full of regrets. Let’s start with Georg’s late miss against none other than World Champion Magnus Carlsen. The crucial moment came just before the first time control, where in mutual zeitnot Magnus blundered with 37.Qxa7?. Georg found the winning 38.Bg4 and after 38…Kh8 he was only one move away from scoring a sensational upset, but with only 5 seconds left on the clock he settled for 39.Ra1 which led to an immediate draw. As Meier pointed out in his post-game interview, what both he and Carlsen had missed was that after 39.Rh1! Qe7 40.Rxh7 Kxh7 41.Rh5+ Kg6 the stunning 42.Rh6!! leads to forced mate. Magnus meanwhile commented: ‘I’m still in the tournament, for sure. It’s not been brilliant so far, but it’s never too late to start playing well.’

Meier was one move away from playing a masterpiece against Carlsen

Arkadij Naiditsch on the other hand came very close to getting his first win of the tournament in crushing style. Against Bluebaum he chose a very direct approach with an early Rg1-g4, which paid off as not only did the German player find himself in severe time trouble at an early stage once again, but his position was also very difficult to play. After defending against White’s attack accurately for a while Matthias eventually erred with 19…Bxd3 – winning a pawn but leaving the black king far too vulnerable. In the position after 22…Ne7 Black is still a pawn up, but the engine evaluates the position at -5.

One can understand Naitisch’s desire to end the game in style and the rook sacrifice 23.Rxg7 is one of many winning moves (the strongest being 23.f4), but after his follow-up 24.0-0-0 the black king suddenly escapes the mating net and the resulting endgame is far from clear. A visibly frustrated Arkadij pushed for the win for another 30 moves, but it was to no avail and Matthias escaped with a draw after some very resilient defence.

Naiditsch missed a huge opportunity to beat Bluebaum in style

A round with five draws of course means the standings remain unchanged as the leading trio of Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana and Vitiugov now stand on 3.5/5. On Friday all eyes will be on the evergreen encounter between Carlsen and Aronian as well as on the game opposing tournament leaders Vitiugov and Vachier-Lagrave.As usual the round will get underway at 3pm CEST and you shouldn’t miss our live show with commentary by GMs Peter Leko and Jan Gustafsson.

Text and photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

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