20 - 29 April 2019

Round 7: Carlsen takes another stride towards the title

Exciting games abound the antepenultimate round of the GRENKE Chess Classic as full-blooded battles were witnessed on every board. A welcome change this time was that Magnus Carlsen got to take a break from his long battles and was, in fact, the first one to finish his game in the seventh round. With this, he retained his one point lead while the list of his pursuers dropped from six to one. After the dust of the battles had settled, Caruana was the only one to keep the one point distance with his win over Arkadij Naiditsch.


Levon Aronian had a very tough day at the office against the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen, who was playing with the white pieces in the game, had reached a pleasant position out of a Queen’s Gambit Ragozin. After the game, he himself pointed out that while the position remained objectively equal, it was tough to play as black as he struggled to find a plan. Trying to find the best way to address the position, Aronian had gone down to a minute on his clock while just around 25 moves were played in the game.


“It’s very, very strange. You make all these natural moves but then you are somehow stuck. I am sure that objectively the position is still okay for black but my play is so simple. I know what my moves are going to be and it’s much more difficult for him. You see everywhere some little problems,” Carlsen explained.


In the eyes of the silicon monsters, a key moment came on the 26th move when Aronian finally decided to try and generate some play with 26…f5. In a few moves following this, Carlsen had established one of his rooks on the seventh rank and was in a dominating position. It didn’t take long after this for him to convert.


Carlsen played the shortest game of the day against Aronian in round 7 | Photo: Maria Emelianova


While Carlsen and Aronian played the shortest game in terms of time, Caruana and Naiditsch played the shortest game of the day in terms of the number of moves. Both players were sharing the second spot, a point behind Magnus, going into the round. However, in only 33 moves, the former world championship challenger had managed to clinch the full point.


The game had opened with a sharp Open Catalan where Naiditsch had found himself in severe time trouble getting out of the opening phase. Caruana’s provocative 9.b3 had won him a pawn while the position remained complicated. By the 19th move, Naiditsch found his minor pieces tripping on each other’s toes while the white queen wreaked havoc attacking all of them at the same time. Naiditsch was forced to give up the bishop pair at this point and it turned out to be the beginning of the end. Caruana won a couple of more pawns and soon his position was overwhelming.


Caruana was the only one to retain his second place after round 7 | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Viswanathan Anand was playing Georg Meier with the white pieces. Interestingly, while Anand is a heavy favourite on paper, he hadn’t won a single one of their previous three classical encounters, which were all played in GRENKE.


In their last two clashes, Meier had discussed the Rubinstein French with the former five-time world champion with the black pieces. This time was no exception. Anand went for the same line he had essayed against the German grandmaster back in 2013 edition of the tournament. Players castled on opposite wings and an exciting duel seemed to be on the cards.


About thirty moves into the game, Anand was walking on thin ice. Having gobbled a pawn on b4, he had let Meier unleash his rooks along the ‘b’ file while his ‘e’ pawn march down the centre of the board. Anand did manage to catch the ‘e’ pawn with his counterplay against Meier’s f7 point but Meier’s rooks had breached into the white camp in the interim. Following an exchange of queens, the position looked like it had stabilized but a blunder by the Indian number one on the 36th turn ended the game on the spot.


Vishy Anand suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of the local GM Georg Meier | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Vincent Keymer, who has been on a roll since the last two rounds scoring 1½ points in his last two games, played audaciously in the opening against eight-time Russian Champion, Peter Svidler. In a Queen’s Indian Defence game, the fourteen-year-old offered a pawn after 11 moves, establishing his knight on e4.


Talking about Vincent’s play in the opening, GM Peter Leko, the prodigy’s current trainer said, “Vincent has gained a lot of confidence after his last two games. He does not mind going into complicated lines against these top players.”


Svidler correctly declined the offered pawn sacrifice but was unable to create much play of his own either. Twenty-six moves into the game, a queen and rook endgame was reached wherein Keymer had little problems holding ground.


Vincent Keymer managed to hold Peter Svidler rather comfortably to a draw | Photo: Maria Emelianova

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave versus Francisco Vallejo Pons was the longest game of the day. As black, Vallejo had essayed a French Defence – quite befittingly, if you will – against the top French Grandmaster. ‘MVL’ chose the advance variation of the opening, which he had already been seen deploying at the London Chess Classic, last year.


Vallejo’s choice of closing the position with 6…c4 eventually led to a closed game full of maneuvres. In fact, even for the first exchange to occur, it took a good twenty-five moves and believe it or not, that was the only exchange of the game. Players went on with the struggle until the 43rd move but neither side was ever in any danger and eventually, peace was signed.


Maxime Vachier-Lagrave versus Francisco Vallejo Pons saw only one capture in the whole game! | Photo: Maria Emelianova


With two more rounds to go, Magnus Carlsen is the heavy favourite to win the event. Round 8 will begin at 15:00 CEST on April 28, 2019, at the Kulturhaus in Baden Baden. Pairings for the same can be found below.  


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

Text by Aditya Pai