31 March - 9 April 2018

The calm before the last round storm?

It was another beautiful, sunny day in Baden-Baden and the peacefulness of the surroundings was reflected on the chessboard this afternoon. Three hours into the round four of the five games had ended in draws and Carlsen and Vitiugov were left to battle it out in the ‘Spiegelsaal’ on their own for almost twice as long.

Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa – the players’ hotel

The first game of the day to end was the clash between Caruana and Aronian, which had the subplot of Fabiano having beaten Levon twice at the recently concluded Candidates Tournament in Berlin. The American decided to avoid the Berlin mainlines by playing 5.Re1 and later temporarily gave up a pawn for piece activity. However, after Aronian returned the pawn with 17…d6 all the pieces were soon swapped off and a draw by repetition was agreed on move 32.Pretty much at the same time Naiditsch and Anand also repeated moves after what had been an interesting debate in the Giuoco Piano. The Azeri seemed to have gotten out of the opening with the initiative, but Vishy soon neutralised all threats with precise play and a dead drawn endgame was reached.

Carlsen was paying close attention to the opening stages of Caruana-Aronian

Georg Meier and Hou Yifan fought it out in a Catalan Opening, where queen came off the board on move 14. What ensued was a very practical ending where if anyone it was White who had a slight edge, but Hou Yifan never set a foot wrong and a draw was agreed on move 33. Both players are yet to score a win a full point in this year’s GRENKE Chess Classic, but tomorrow won’t get any easier as they face Vachier-Lagrave and Naiditsch respectively.

It hasn’t been the best of tournaments for Georg Meier and Hou Yifan

Vachier-Lagrave had the very unenviable task of beating Bluebaum with the black pieces if he wanted to have a chance of contesting tournament victory in the final round, but there was no toppling the young German player who has had an impressive showing since his first round defeat to Vitiugov. A few moves before the draw was agreed, Matthias offered to give up the exchange with 42.Rc3, but the resulting ending would have been a fortress as there was no way to infiltrate White’s position.

Matthias Bluebaum is unbeaten since his first round defeat

Magnus Carlsen came out fighting for his first ever game against Nikitia Vitiugov – incredibly these two players had never met before; not only in classical chess, but also in rapid or blitz. The World Champion got the slightest of advantages out of a topical Ruy Lopez and tried for many hours to convert what was a trademark Magnus edge in the ending. However, Vitiugov never showed a sign of weakness and held Carlsen to a 65-move draw without too much trouble. That is a sixth consecutive draw for the Russian after starting with two wins – a strong and solid performance on his GRENKE Classic debut.

Carlsen tried for a long time but there was no rattling the ‘Iceman’ Vitiugov

Five draws of course means the standings remain unchanged and Caruana goes into the final round as the sole leader, on 5.5/8. Carlsen and Vitiugov trail him by half a point, while Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave sit on 4.5/8. Since the all-decisive final round features the clash between Vitiugov and Caruana, only one of them or Carlsen can still win the event - in case of a tie there will be a playoff to determine the tournament winner. Carlsen meanwhile will be black against his predecessor, Vishy Anand, in a remake of the 2013 and 2014 World Championship Matches.Tomorrow’s last round kicks off at the usual starting time of 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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