Whether it be the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, his newly-minted world championship challenger, Fabiano Caruana, or even the legendary five-time ex-world champion, Vishy Anand, the Grenke Chess Classic – which has now moved from Karlsruhe to Baden-Baden, in Germany – has suddenly turned into a very risky game of ‘dodging bullets’ against the underdogs – with some successful, while others not so.
The biggest dodge of a bullet proved to be Carlsen himself. In round 5, the world champion’s German opponent, Georg Meier, had the Norwegian at his mercy, and for all intent and purposes looked set to have his name and the game forever enshrined in the anthologies – but not only did he admit in the post-game interview that he’d missed his moment of immortality, Carlsen also admitted that he, too, had simply overlooked the stunning mating attack!
And in round six today, we witnessed Caruana fighting a near-desperate position during a marathon clash with the women’s world #1, Hou Yifan, of China. Last year, Hou Yifan beat Caruana, and she nearly repeated this year again, but missed in their game that 64…Kd2!! was winning the N v. B ending, thanks to yet another inhuman, study-like finale flourish with 65.Bxa6 Nd3+!! 66.cxd3 d4!!
Luckily, the miss allowed Caruana – with some very resilient defense – to hold the draw after an epic 7 hours and 98 moves. But not so luck was Anand. In round six, he faced the German bottom seed, Matthias Bluebaum, rated 2631, and the Indian ace found himself being tactically outplayed during a sharp endgame where he was eventually shot down.
And with Caruana’s co-leaders, Nikita Vitiugov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave going down to the bare kings, and Carlsen and Levon Aronian sharing the points in a fascinating and highly-entertaining game, it’s as you were at the top and everything still to play for, with MVL. Vitiugov and Caruana still in the lead, and Carlsen and Aronian just a half point behind, as the tournament now goes into the home stretch of the final three rounds.
1-3. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 4/6; 4-5. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 3.5; 6. Matthias Bluebaum (Germany) 3; 7. Arkadij Naiditsch (Germany) 2.5; 8-9. Hou Yifan (China), Vishy Anand (India) 2; 10. Georg Meier (Germany) 1.5.
Photo: Magnus dodges a bullet against Meier | © Eric van Reem (Grenke Chess Classic).
GM Georg Meier – GM Magnus Carlsen
GRENKE Chess Classic, (5)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Bb4+ 5.Bd2 Be7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.0-0 Nbd7 8.Qc2 c6 9.Bf4 Ne4 With this move, normally the Catalan turns into a Stonewall Dutch with the follow-up of …f5. 10.h4 Ndf6 “I knew this line is bad but decided to play it.” commented Carlsen during the post-game interview. What he’s showing, though, is that he is willing to accept a slightly inferior position against weaker players, looking to mix things up to take them out of their preparations. 11.Nbd2N Yes, a novelty of sorts (the only other game with it being an obscure 2016 email game) – but it is a solid and reliable move, and therefore doesn’t come as such a big opening surprise. 11…Nxd2 12.Nxd2 Nh5 13.Be3 f5 Now we see the Stonewall Dutch set-up – the only difference being the Nh5. that now has to quickly get back ‘on-side’ with …Nf6-e4. 14.Bf3 Qe8 15.Bg5 Nf6 16.e3 b6 17.Rac1 Ba6 18.a3 Ne4 19.Bxe7 Qxe7 20.Be2 The exchanges has helped Meier achieve an equal and easy-to-play position that would have frustrated the world champion – which would have been the German’s game-plan. 20…Bb7 21.b4 Rac8 22.c5 e5 23.dxe5 Qxe5 24.Nxe4 fxe4 25.Qc3 Qf5 Magnus has a minute advantage – but nothing that Meier can’t cope with, especially with pieces being traded off and no meaningful pawn breaks available. 26.a4 g5?! This is risky, as it only offers Meier something that he didn’t have, i.e. the h-file – and that ‘something’ should have ended in Carlsen losing in a very dramatic fashion. 27.hxg5 Qxg5 28.Kg2 Rc7 29.Rh1 Rg7 30.Rcg1 Qf5 31.Rf1 Ba6 It looks awkward for White, but there’s a resource… 32.b5! cxb5 33.Rh5 Qf7 34.Qe5 Suddenly Meier’s sleepy position has sprung to life. 34…Bb7 35.cxb6 bxa4? Frustrated with the resilience of his weaker opponent, Carlsen, unwisely now begins to push the envelope as far as he can now, in a desperate effort to try to squeeze something out of the position that is simply not there. Safer was the preferred option of 35…axb6 36.axb5 Qf6, albeit that option looks likely to fizzle out to a draw. But Magnus wants more, hence going for the risky double passed a-pawn option – only he hasn’t seen that there lurks a hidden danger in the position. 36.bxa7 Ba8 Carlsen thinks he’s going to simply pick off the a8-pawn now, but he’s wrong – and in a big way! 37.Rg5 Qxa7 38.Bg4! Meier finds the key winning move! The big threat is 39.Be6+ Kh8 40.Rh1 and, with all the key pieces and squares pinned, the world champion won’t be able to stop the simple mate on h7 with Rgh5. Hence Magnus’ only next move, which at least keeps open the option of …Qf7 attacking f2. 38…Kh8 [see diagram] There’s no other option now. If 38…Rxg5 there comes the deadly zwischenzug (a fancy German name for an unexpected in-between move) 39.Be6+! Rf7 40.Qxg5+ Kf8 41.Rc1! Qb8 42.Qh6+ Ke8 43.Bxf7+ Kxf7 44.Qxh7+ and an easy win. 39.Ra1? Remarkably, Magnus dodges a bullet! After finding the key move of 38.Bg4, Meier now has a sudden attack of what golfers call ‘the yips’. He missed it completely and was perhaps thinking that, with 39.Rh1 after 39…Qe7 the lethal doubling of rooks on the h-file with Rgh5 would be stopped. But what he’d missed was his moment of glory and immortality in the anthologies, as the sensational sacrificial mate inflicted on a reigning world champion cannot be stopped. If 39…Qe7 40.Rxh7+!! Kxh7 41.Rh5+ Kg6 (Even more remarkable was the win after 41…Kg8 42.Be6+ Rff7 43.Qf5!! that leaves Black in a state of paralysis, and only able to look on in anguish with a few spite moves after 43…Bc6 44.Qh3! Rg6 (Worse is 44…Kf8 45.Rh8+ Rg8 46.Qh6+ Ke8 47.Rxg8+ Rf8 48.Qh5+ Kd8 49.Qe5! and there’s no way to prevent the Qb8 mate without a big loss of material.) 45.Rh8+ Kg7 46.Rh7+ Kf8 47.Rxf7+ Qxf7 48.Bxf7 Kxf7 49.Qh7+ Kf6 50.Qc7 Be8 51.Qd8+ Kf7 52.Qxd5+ with an easy win as the queen hoovers up the loose pawns.) 42.Rh6+!! Kxh6 (There’s no escape from the mate. If 42…Kf7 43.Qh5+ Kg8 44.Rh8#) 43.Qh5# And I don’t think any reigning world champion has ever been mated in such a dramatic fashion! 39…Qe7! This forces the trade of queens, and with it, the danger is over for Carlsen as the position now just fizzles out to a draw with multiple pieces being traded off. 40.Qxg7+ Qxg7 41.Rxg7 Kxg7 42.Rxa4 Bc6 43.Rb4 ½-½