20 - 29 April 2019

Carlsen still in the lead, Caruana still in the chase

Magnus Carlsen is well on his way towards repeating his glorious run in Shamkir, here at the GRENKE Chess Classic. In round 8, he scored his third straight win of the tournament over Peter Svidler. This meant that if Fabiano Caruana, the only player to have remained in contention for the title, was in a must-win situation to keep his chances of winning the tournament alive. Playing GM Georg Meier, Caruana did manage to pull out a win but catching the world champion still remains a bleak hope. If Carlsen, who is a full point ahead, wins or even draws tomorrow, he will run away with the title.

For the unstoppable Magnus Carlsen, round 8 was no different than the rest. His opponent, Peter Svidler was one of the very few players to hold a positive score against the world champion until this round. In the eighteen games they had played thus far, fifteen had been drawn while Peter had scored two victories in comparison to Carlsen’s one. 


Keeping in mind Carlsen’s bend for the Sicilian Sveshnikov lately, Svidler decided to drift away from the main lines of the opening with the white pieces. Carlsen still seemed to be well acquainted with the position. With his 12…Kh8 and 13…f5, he tried to generate play along the kingside.


Position after 20.Qg5


Svidler said he thought his 20.Qg5 was “an imaginative idea” but he had missed Carlsen’s immediate 20…Qf8, which discouraged Svidler from taking on d5 with the bishop as 21…Rf5 would have lost black a piece. Following this, Carlsen said his game was rather easy. He quickly planted his knight to e3 and stormed his pawns to deliver a decisive attack. Towards the end, Svidler, very sportively allowed the world champion to checkmate his king with two pawns.



An interview with 'the beast' 


Like his archrival Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana has also been dabbling into the Sveshnikov Sicilian of late. Therefore, it wasn’t quite a surprise to see Georg Meier choose the 3.Bb5 setup. Meier also went on to uncork a novelty on his 11th move but Caruana had his own surprise in stock as he sacrificed a pawn very soon afterwards.


A sharp battle ensued very soon. Caruana expanded on the kingside with f5-f4. After the game, he said, “There is a lot of risk for both sides,” after black’s fifteenth move. Another important moment arose about ten moves later when, after Caruana’s 25…Rd8, computers began screaming a win for white, spurting out complex variations beginning with 26.Rxg6.


When asked about the position, Caruana said he had briefly looked at it but hadn’t considered it as a serious possibility. “I guess, I was a little careless,” he added. But Meier, too, had missed this chance and made the position tip in favour of the former world championship challenger once again.


A critical error from Meier came on the 33rd move when he went 33.h5 allowed Black to close the kingside with 33…g5. Soon after the first time control, Meier’s position looked seriously worse and a blunder on the 44th move lost him a decisive amount of material.


Caruana managed to retain his chance of catching up with Magnus with a win over Meier | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was very impressed by his young opponent, IM Vincent Keymer after their eighth round game. After the game, the Frenchman was quoted as saying that Vincent played very well.


As white, ‘MVL’ had chosen the rather offbeat path of the Alapin variation to counter Keymer’s Sicilian. However, neither player was in home prep for too long in the game. After Vincent’s queen had penetrated into the d3 square, Maxime lifted his rook and swung it all around the board, not only driving her majesty off but also generating threats on the kingside.


Vincent Keymer lost his game but earned the praise of his opponent Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Eric van Reem


During the game, Keymer’s coach, GM Peter Svidler seemed unsure of his protégé’s choice of 22…f5 as he thought it could create long term weaknesses. But Maxime explained after the game, that while Leko was right in his fears, the move was necessary to parry short term problems. For a long time, Vincent had managed to successfully hold ground but soon, time trouble loomed in. In a very complex endgame, Keymer erred on his 37th move and let white’s heavy pieces come flooding into his position. Maxime was quick to win a couple of pawns and force resignation after this.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave speaking to Eric van Reem after the game


Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian had both lost their games in round 7. In their eighth-round matchup, neither side took inordinate risks. Anand answered Aronian’s 1.e4 with a Berlin and while Aronian did sidestep the mainline endgame, his pawn sacrifice, 13.f4 led the game straight into placid waters.

Much of the play revolved around white recovering the pawn after this. And once Aronian had accomplished it, Anand struck in the centre and induced an exchange of queens. More pieces were swapped off very soon and the players decided to sign peace in an endgame with bishops of opposite colour.

Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand played out a solid draw | Photo: Georgios Souleidis

The game of Francisco Vallejo Pons was once again the longest game of the day. This time, the Spanish number one tried for a full six hours, twenty minutes and eighty-seven moves before agreeing to split the point with Arkadij Naiditsch.


The two discussed a Queen’s Gambit in which Vallejo had reached a slightly better position by establishing a knight on e5. However, the position was rendered equal once the Spanish number one decided to trade this knight. By the 25th moves, queens were traded and while the position still looked pretty equal, Vallejo managed to create some chances for himself by advancing his ‘d’ pawn. Naiditsch did manage to check this pawn’s advance but had to shed a pawn for it. Another pawn soon fell off in the rook and knight versus rook and bishop endgame.


Despite being two pawns up, the endgame was a tough one to convert for white given black’s active pieces and his own split pawns. After a hard fought game, Naiditsch managed to save a half point giving up his extra piece for the last white pawn.


Francisco Vallejo Pons played another marathon in Round 8 | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Going into the final round, Fabiano Caruana still holds a mathematical chance to catch up with the tournament leader, Magnus Carlsen. However, this can only happen if Maxime Vachier Lagrave manages to bring down the world champ with the black pieces while Caruana also wins his game with white against Levon Aronian. Do join the action at 15:00 CEST on April 29, 2019 to find out what happens.


Round 8 (28.04.2019 / 15:00)
1 10. Vallejo Pons, Francisco - 9. Naiditsch, Arkadij  - 
2 1. Meier, Georg - 8. Caruana, Fabiano  0-1
3 2. Aronian, Levon - 7. Anand, Viswanathan  1/2-1/2
4 3. Svidler, Peter - 6. Carlsen, Magnus  0-1
5 4. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime - 5. Keymer, Vincent  1-0


Standings after round 8
1. 1. Carlsen, Magnus 2845 ** ½   1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 6.5 5
2. 2. Caruana, Fabiano 2819 ½ ** ½ ½ ½ 1   ½ 1 1 5.5 3
3. 3. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2773   ½ ** ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 5.0 2
4. 4. Svidler, Peter 2735 0 ½ ½ **   1 0 ½ 1 ½ 4.0 2
4. 5. Anand, Viswanathan 2774 ½ ½ ½   ** 0 ½ 1 0 1 4.0 2
6. 6. Naiditsch, Arkadij 2695 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ** ½ ½   1 4.0 2
7. 7. Aronian, Levon 2763 0   ½ 1 ½ ½ ** ½ ½ ½ 4.0 1
8. 8. Vallejo Pons, Francisco 2693 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ** ½   3.0 0
9. 9. Meier, Georg 2628 0 0 0 0 1   ½ ½ ** 0 2.0 1
10. 10. Keymer, Vincent 2516 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½   1 ** 2.0 1

Text by Aditya Pai