31 March - 9 April 2018

Black is ok as Caruana and Carlsen score two big wins

It was another thrilling day of chess at the LA8 in Baden-Baden as the two games we hailed as clashes of the day in yesterday’s report both ended decisively. Although both were playing with the black pieces, Caruana and Carlsen scored key wins against Vachier-Lagrave and Naiditsch respectively.

It was a day to forget for Naiditsch and Vachier-Lagrave

The clash between co-leaders Vachier-Lagrave and Caruana was a surprisingly short-lived affair as the Frenchman found himself in relatively unknown territory very shortly after opening the game with 1.c4. Fabiano later explained he thought his opponent was unfamiliar with the finer details of the position after he went for 4…Bb4 and that White’s concept was wrong in the lead-up to 17.Bf1, which is maybe where things started going wrong. After 19…g5 Fabiano felt he was seriously better, while after 21…Qc5+ it is probably game over already. There were some beautiful lines in this position, which Peter Leko shed light on in his daily recap video.

A happy Caruana in the live show after beating Vachier-Lagrave

A short while later the encounters Aronian-Vitiugov and Hou-Bluebaum simultaneously ended in draws, but after following slightly different courses. While the latter was the most balances game of the day, Aronian was pressing against the Russian qualifier. The first interesting moment came on move 15, when Aronian offered to give up the e2 pawn by playing 15.Ne5, which would have led to some wild complications. However, Nikita decided not to take the pawn and play it safe but as Leko later pointed out ‘by playing it safe he gave the initiative to White’. Our commentator went on to explain that the draw was a result of slight carelessness by Aronian coupled with very precise play by his opponent.

After her 7-hour thriller yesterday, Hou-Bluebaum was the most balanced game of the day

The encounter opposing Anand to Meier saw the German respond to 1.e4 with his pet Rubinstein Defence and equalising without too much trouble. Just when the game seemed to be heading towards a draw, Vishy decided to play the interesting exchange sacrifice 29.Rxd5. After following up the sacrifice with a few inaccurate moves the former World Champion found himself on the brink of defeat once again but in the end his counterplay was just enough to secure the draw – meaning both players are still chasing their first full point in this year’s event.

Anand came dangerously close to losing to the German representatives on consecutive days 

The last game of the day to end was one which GRENKE Chess Classic fans will only be too familiar with as it opposed Arkadij Naiditsch to Magnus Carlsen. The two players battled it out until almost 1am in an epic playoff here in Baden-Baden back in 2015, when it was the World Champion who kept the upper hand in the end. However, Naiditsch can boast of having beaten Carlsen in two of their last three classical games, so it was clear we were likely to once again be treated to a big fight.

Those expectations were met from the very beginning as Magnus met 1.e4 with the Najdorf Defence, one of the sharpest variations there is. What ensued was an interesting battle, where Black seemed to have gained the upper hand from a very early stage. Despite the fact Magnus wasn’t happy with his play afterwards (he quipped ‘bad game, good point’ in his post-game interview), both our commentators and the engine felt Black was always in control and when Naiditsch went wrong just before the first time control the World Champion wrapped things up on move 42 and scored a crucial full point.

Carlsen joined Leko and Gustafsson in the studio after his game

Caruana’s victory coupled with Vitiugov’s draw means that the winner of the recently concluded Candidates tournament is now also the sole leader of the GRENKE Chess Classic on 5/7. Carlsen and Vitiugov trail on 4.5/7 and incidentally face each other in tomorrow’s penultimate round. Caruana meanwhile will be white against Aronian in another massive game. 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

Players on the official YouTube channel