20 - 29 April 2019

Magnus the magnificent pulls off a miracle to retain lead

Exciting matchups were lined up for the second round of the GRENKE Chess Classic. The youngest player in the field, Vincent Keymer pitted against former five-time world champion Vishy Anand; and then there was the battle between the heavyweights Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Magnus Carlsen was playing Francisco Vallejo Pons with black. The conclusion of the round brought three decisive results: Anand won comfortably against Keymer; Svidler defeated Arkadij Naiditsch; while Carlsen retained his read winning his second straight black game in a miraculous manner.

Carlsen's technique in his round-two game was nothing short of witchcraft! | Photo: Eric van Reem


Georg Meier’s against Levon Aronian was the first game to finish in the day. Meier countered his opponent’s Sicilian with the Moscow variation. He was also the one to come up with an opening novelty, thirteen moves into the game. Both pairs of rooks were traded off over the subsequent moves and when Aronian made a silent draw offer by repeating moves, Meier obliged.

Georg Meier versus Aronian was the shortest draw of the day | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


The second draw of the round was in the game Fabiano Caruana versus Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. This game lasted a lot longer than the Meier-Aronian encounter. Caruana, with the white pieces, chose a rare line of the Closed Sicilian to open the game. Players had castled on opposite wings but soon an exchange of queens followed. By the time the endgame was reached, Caruana had a slight edge due to his bishop pair but Maxime defended well and had little problems holding to a draw.

Caruana chose a rare line of the Closed Sicilian in his game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Having made Magnus Carlsen grub for the win for six-and-a-half hours, Vincent Keymer was slated to play his immediate predecessor Viswanathan Anand in round 2. As black, Keymer went for the ambitious Najdorf, a line his veteran opponent is an expert in. Nonetheless, he reached a decent position out of the opening with his pawns threateningly advanced in the centre and the kingside. Anand said after the game that it was difficult for him to judge what would happen if the black pawns had advanced any further.

Position after 24.Bg5


Here, Anand said he had planned 25.Nb5 had his opponent played 24…Bf6. “But he made a really big mistake; he played 24…Nf4. This allows me to put my rook on e6. After that, it’s unpleasant for black one way or the other,” Anand added.


Over the subsequent moves, Anand won a pawn, exchanged queens and established a queenside pawn majority. Converting the game was only a matter of technique.

Anand scored a comfortable win over Vincent Keymer | Photo: Georgios Souleidis


Peter Svidler’s game against Arkadij Naiditsch opened with a Ruy Lopez Exchange and featured castles on opposite wings. Play mainly revolved around white’s centre where the pawn duo on e4 and f4 was constrained by the black forces.

Position after 25.Rd1


Playing black, the eight-time Russian champion came up with a masterful knight manoeuvre to pile up the pressure on white’s centre and soon managed to win a pawn. Naiditsch dropped another pawn soon after this and decided to throw in the towel on the 39th move.

After their wins, it seemed Svidler and Anand will be joining Carlsen in the tournament lead. The world champion had been pressing in an equal looking position but the pawnless endgame that eventually arose (diagram below) looked too dull to bear any fruit. But then again, it’s Magnus Carlsen we are talking about. Conclusions drawn by mortals do not really apply to him.

Position after 49...Nf4+


In the above position, Carlsen had played 49…Nf4+ and after 50.Rxf4, the Norwegian super-computer, Sesse, announced mate in 44! Talking about the position to GM Jan Gustafsson after the game, Carlsen said, “I think, opposite coloured bishops and a rook is basically always winning.” Explaining further, he said that while he knew that it was always winning, he had no clue how. And he was sure that against good defence, it will surely take more than 50 moves.

Carlsen persevered for six long hours to pull off this incredible victory | Photo: Eric van Reem


Having won this endgame with such surgical accuracy, Carlsen also pointed out that it’s not the kind of position one gets to play every day. “I guess you get this once in your life and this was mine. I am so curious how to proceed but I will never get to use it again.”


The third round will begin on Monday at 15:00 CEST before the tournament goes into its only rest day on Tuesday. Pairings of round three can be found below.


Pairings of round 3 (22.04.2019 / 15:00)
1 Second Aronian, Levon - 10th Vallejo Pons, Francisco  - 
2 Third Svidler, Peter - 1. Meier, George  - 
3 4th Vachier-Lagrave, maxim - 9th Naiditch, Arkady  - 
4 5th Keymer, Vincent - 8th. Caruana, Fabiano  - 
5 6th Carlsen, Magnus - 7th Anand, Viswanathan  -