After a disastrous end for Wesley So on the opening day of the Grand Chess Tour “Your Next Move” blitz tournament in Leuven, Belgium, that saw the US #2 squandering his big lead carried over from the rapid tournament, after he walked into a brace of calamitous knight forks in the final two rounds to Shakriyar Mamedyarov and Hikaru Nakamura, the big questions everyone was asking was: could So hold his nerve and now his slim lead through the final blitz day?
He did on both counts, but only just! Despite holding onto his 1.5-point lead going into the penultimate round, So was lucky to lift the winners’ trophy and the first prize of €37,500 (roughly $43,500) after he suffered the double whammy of again losing his final two games of the day to Mamedyarov and Nakamura – and with it, it looked as if he’d managed to contrive to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
But his two nearest rivals Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian (just a half point off the lead), also suffered setbacks by losing their last round games. And so So – despite scoring less than 50% in the blitz, with 8/18 – managed to just scrape home to take the overall title and maximum tour points. At the closing ceremony, So remarked: “It’s a miracle, really. When I lost my game to Hikaru I was about to cry, because I thought I don’t even get to play tie-breaks.”
So now adds to an unparalleled series of victories for the Stars and Stripes’ in major tournaments in recent months, as he now joins Fabiano Caruana and Sam Shankland in the winners’ rostrum – and all coming as a major boost for the USA team ahead of defending their Olympiad Open title in Batumi, Georgia, in late September.
The Grand Chess Tour circus now moves to the next leg in Boulogne, a suburb of Paris. The Paris GCT tournament starts on Wednesday and will take place in the studios of the French television station Canal Plus, who will broadcast eight one-hour programmes with highlights each evening from the five day’s play in France and in French territories abroad.
Again the prize fund is $150,000, and joining the fray will be ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik, who received the Paris wildcard spot. The full line-up (with tour points accrued in Leuven) being: Wesley So (USA) 13; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 9; Sergey Karjakin (Russia) 9; Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 7; Levon Aronian (Armenia) 6; Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 5; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 4; Vishwanathan Anand (India) 3; Fabiano Caruana (USA) 2.
Your Next Move final standings:
1. W. So (USA), 22/36; 2-3. S. Karjakin (Russia), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), 21.5; 4. H. Nakamura (USA), 21; 5. L. Aronian (Armenia) 20.5; 6. A. Grischuk (Russia), 17.5; 7. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), 17; 8. V. Anand (India), 14.5; 9. F. Caruana (USA), 13.5; 10. A. Giri (Netherlands), 11.
Photo: Wesley So punches the air in delight after discovering he’d won | © Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)
GM Anish Giri – GM Levon Aronian
GCT “Your Next Move” Blitz, (16)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 Giri opts for the Anti-Marshall; and arguably a wise call, as Aronian is – along with Peter Svidler – one of the world’s leading authorities on Frank J. Marshall’s eponymous attack after 8.c3 d5. 8…b4 9.d4 d6 10.dxe5 Nxe5 11.Nxe5 dxe5 Black has easy equality here. 12.Qe2 Unwittingly, Giri walks into the rarity of a novelty being uncorked during a high-level blitz game – but in fairness to the Dutchman, the alternative of 12.Qxd8 Rxd8 13.Nd2 Bc5 14.Nf3 Ng4 15.Be3 Bxe3 16.fxe3 Rd6 17.Rad1 Be6 as seen in Robson,R-So,W from this year’s US Championship in St. Louis, proved to be harmless for Black and comfortably drawn in 40 moves. 12…a5 13.Bg5 Ba6!N Many would wonder why an elite player would play a TN in a blitz move? But in fairness to Aronian, it doesn’t take a team of top analysts, slaving 24/7 over a hot playing engine to figure out that hitting the queen is an obvious move, so if he didn’t play it now, then soon someone else would. Previously played here has been 13…Bc5 14.Nd2 h6 15.Bh4 Qe7 with equal chances. With 13…Ba6, Aronian is just looking to activate his bishops and bring his rooks to the middle of the board – but underneath all this ‘simple chess’ there lurks a nasty surprise that Giri walks right into. 14.Qf3 h6 15.Rd1? The obvious move, expecting 15…Qe8 – but Aronian has other (well-prepared!) plans. And in view of this, safer was 15.Be3 Bd6 16.Nd2 Qe7 with equal chances. 15…hxg5! This is the whole point of Aronian’s novelty – with the queen sacrifice, he gets to rapidly mobilise all of his pieces while Giri is lumbered by just how to complete his development with his rook and knight stranded on their starting squares. 16.Rxd8 Raxd8 17.h3 Bc5 18.Bd5 Giri is in a bind of what to do about his knight and rook. The alternative 18.c3 Rd6 also didn’t look all that attractive – but arguably better than what he played. 18…Nxd5 19.exd5 e4! [see diagram] The blows just keep on coming – and alarmingly for Giri, Aronian here was simply blitzing out his moves, seemingly on ‘automatic pilot’. 20.Qd1 It’s an ugly retreat of a move to have to make, but the alternative 20.Qxe4 Rfe8 21.Qg4 Re1+ 22.Kh2 Bxf2 23.Qxg5 Bg1+ 24.Kg3 Re3+ 25.Kf4 Rde8 26.Nd2 Bh2+ 27.g3 f6! 28.Qg6 Bxg3+ 29.Qxg3 g5+ will lead to either mate or a heavy loss of material – or even both! 20…e3 Blitz, rapid or even classical, it is not often you see Giri reduced to such an awkward, passive looking position from the opening. 21.fxe3 Rfe8 Giri is consigned to his fate, as the rooks now join the bishops to launch an attack on the White king – and the Dutchman still hasn’t managed yet to develop his knight and rook! 22.Kh1 Rxe3 23.Nd2 At long last the knight gets developed…but only to walk right into an awkward tempo-winning pin. 23…Rxd5 24.Qc1 Rf5 The only ‘bad move’ of the game from Aronian – the clinical kill was with 24…Bb7! 25.Nf3 (There’s no defence to the carnage. If 25.Nb3 Rxh3+!! 26.gxh3 Rd2#!) 25…Rxf3 26.gxf3 Rf5 and to avoid mate, White will have to return the queen with 27.Kh2 Rxf3 28.Qd2 Rf2+ 29.Qxf2 Bxf2 and a hopelessly lost ending. 25.Nb3 Bb6 26.Qd2 Bb7 27.Kh2 Rd5! Aronian would have been in his element in such an overwhelming position, as the amiable Armenian smoothly secures the convincing win – and all because Giri walked right into his opening novelty trap. 28.Qc1 Re2 29.Qf1 Rde5 0-1 Giri resigns, not wishing to play-out 30.Rd1 Rf2 31.Qg1 Ree2 etc.