John Henderson
By John Henderson

The old German spa town of Baden-Baden, close to the French border, has held three great super-tournaments in the past: in 1870, 1914 and 1925. And in 2013, after a very lengthy hiatus, top-flight chess returned once again to Baden-Baden with the first edition of the Grenke Chess Classic. With a diverse field, it’s not quite classified as a super-tournament as such, but the return of elite-level competition to the spa town, steeped in its rich chess heritage, nevertheless is to be welcomed.

The latest edition of the Grenke Chess Classic has top-10 elite stars Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian headlining the marquee event of the very popular annual chess festival. There’s also Peter Svidler and Arkadij Naiditsch in the mix, and the field is rounded off with Francisco Vallejo Pons, Georg Meier, and the new young German star Vincent Keymer.

It’s a mixed bag, with something for everyone. After his sensational finale to the recent Gashimov Memorial, there was an added twist to Magnus Carlsen’s opening round opponent, as the World Champion had been paired with 14-year-old Vincent Keymer, who qualified by virtue of convincingly winning last year’s Grenke Open. And with the German teenager still “only” being an IM, many thought Carlsen was set for an easy win.

But that wasn’t the case, as Keymer – now trained by Peter Leko, the former elite-star and world championship challenger – belies his age and maturity, is  no pushover, and certainly one to watch for the future. And indeed, if anything, it was Keymer who set the agenda from the outset with his first clash with Carlsen, who stood worse after taking some risks in an attempt to unbalance the position.

It was only after the dust had settled from a couple of mutual errors in the run-up to the first time control that Carlsen finally took a grip of the position, and after a battle that lasted almost six and a half hours, Carlsen finally won the game – and that lengthy struggle was to set the agenda for Carlsen next four games. In round two, Carlsen reached a “once-in-a-lifetime” tablebase ending against Vallejo Pons; the sort where the Norwegian “instinctively” knew that having bishops of opposite colour in the complex ending of lone rook and bishop vs bishop and knight was winning – and went on to efficiently demonstrate the win.

Next up, another fascinating and complicated epic struggle against an old foe in Vishy Anand, the man Carlsen defeated to win the world crown. And as Carlsen relentlessly tried to squeeze home his advantage, he reached a position where lesser mortals may well have collapsed under the relentless pressure – but credit where credit is due, and the wily Indian five-time ex-world champion doggedly hung on to save the draw after Carlsen made his only wayward move of the whole game (see today’s game).

In round four, Carlsen faced his latest defeated title-challenger in Fabiano Caruana – and that also turned into a dramatic struggle of wills as the players revisited familiar territory of the Sicilian Sveshnikov from their London match, as the Norwegian held a clear advantage, only to see the American saving the day with a timely sacrifice of a piece that liquidated the position down to yet another tablebase technical draw of rook and knight vs rook.

And with round five against Arkadij Naiditsch proving to be another marathon ending of rook and pawns, Carlsen now shares the joint-lead with Anand going into Thursday’s rest-day – a rest-day that might well be welcomed by ‘marathon man’ Carlsen, who, according to the keeper of all-stats Carlsen, Tarjei J. Svensen, has averaged 69 moves and 5 hours and 18 minutes of playing time for each of his five games!

1-2. M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Anand (India) 3½/5; 3-6. P. Svidler (Russia), F. Caruana (USA), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), L. Aronian (Armenia) 3; 7. A. Naiditsch (Azerbaijan) 2½; 8. F. Vallejo Pons (Spain) 1½; 9-10. V. Keymer (Germany), G. Meir (Germany) 1.

Photo: Grenke Chess Classic ‘marathon man’, Magnus Carlsen, shares the lead at the midpoint with Vishy Anand | © Georgios Souleidis / Grenke Chess Classic

GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Vishy Anand
Grenke Chess Classic (3)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e4 Bxc3 5.dxc3 d6 6.f3 a5 7.Nh3 This all looks artificial from Carlsen – but you can bet that he and his backroom team have worked this all out from last year’s World Championship match with Fabiano Caruana. 7…a4 8.Nf2 Be6 9.Bd3 Nbd7 10.Qe2 c6 Anand takes his eye off the ball for just a few seconds – and he ends up being on the back-foot for the rest of the game! Much better first was 10…Nc5 11.Bc2 Nfd7! as now 12.f4? is well-met by 12…Nb6 and the c-pawn is lost. 11.f4! Now we see one of the points behind the funny early knight opening manoeuvre of Nh3-f2 – from f2, the knight stops …Bg4. And with the bishop now under threat, Anand has to urgently make a path for its retreat. 11…Nb6 12.Be3 c5 It’s a tough call, but Anand begins to worry about castling kingside, so starts the process for queenside castling – but in removing the threat to the knight, he’s perhaps giving Carlsen more space for his pieces than he should have. 13.0-0-0 Qe7 14.f5 Bd7 15.g4 h6 16.h4 0-0-0 17.g5 Ne8 18.Bd2 hxg5 19.hxg5 Nc7 Anand faces a long and awkward defence with his pieces all hemmed in – but to his credit, where others might well have buckled under the strain of Carlsen relentlessly pushing forward, he stays calm and makes Carlsen work hard for any advantage. 20.Ng4 Rdg8 21.Rh2 Qf8 22.Rdh1 Kb8 It’s a patient waiting game for Anand, who doesn’t want to exchange rooks, as after 22…Rxh2 23.Qxh2! White controls the h-file and will condemn Black to a very long and very torturous defence. 23.b4! Opening up a second front with the possibility of the action suddenly switching to an attack on the Black king. 23…axb3 24.axb3 Nc8 25.Kb2 Qd8 26.Rh7 Nothing wrong per se with Carlsen’s option – but with the second front now open on the queenside, I thought the idea he had in mind was 26.Be3!? with the threat of pushing forward with b4 etc. But then again, this could better explain why Carlsen is the world champion and I’m the one writing about chess! 26…Rxh7 27.Rxh7 Rh8 Anand simply can’t allow Carlsen to boss the h-file with Qh2, as all this will do is make his pieces more awkward on the back-rank and his defence harder. At least this way, by trading off all the rooks, Anand – to a certain extent – has a little relief from the pressure with fewer pieces now on the board. But he still faces a tough defence with all his pieces clumped together and no activity. 28.Qh2 Rxh7 29.Qxh7 Qf8 30.Ne3 Ne7 31.Kc2 Qg8 If Anand can somehow trade queens, then he has a very realistic chance of saving the game. And understandably, Carlsen avoids the trade. 32.Qh4 Qf8 33.Kd1 Nc6 34.Qh7 Ne7 Anand is on the ropes, and reduced now to making shuffling moves on his own back-rank – but can Carlsen find the knockout blow? 35.Ke2 Nc8 36.Kf2 Ne7 37.Be2 Qg8 38.Qh1 g6 39.Qh6 Ne8 There’s no relief. If 39…gxf5? 40.Qxd6! and with the game opening up for the White bishops and active queen, Black’s position will surely collapse. 40.f6 It looks more awkward for Anand – but at least by forcing f6 out of Carlsen, he’s committed White’s pawns now. 40…Nc6 41.b4 I rather liked better the plan of 41.Nd5 with the idea of switching the direction of the attack with Be3 and Qh1-a1 and the option of a b4 push for a possible assault on the Black king. 41…Nc7 42.bxc5 dxc5 43.Nd5 Ne6 At least now, Anand’s pieces have a little freedom. 44.Be3 Ka7? It’s getting difficult with Carlsen relentlessly grinding on, and with it hard to keep your eye off the defence of the vulnerable f7 pawn, but the engine shows no fear here and likes the plan of 44…Qd8! so now if 45.Qh7 Qf8! Black has a slightly more pleasant defence. 45.Bg4! Suddenly, Carlsen finds a potential chink in Anand’s dogged defence. 45…b6 46.Nc7! Qc8 47.Nb5+ With one little oversight with …Ka7, Anand has allowed Carlsen’s pieces to spring to life – and with it, he’s fighting again for his very survival. 47…Kb8! The only move. If 47…Ka8? 48.Nd6 Qg8 49.Bxe6 Bxe6 50.Qg7 Qd8 51.Nxf7 Qd3 52.Qf8+ Ka7 53.Nd6! the queen and knight will combine to mate the Black king – but there is a major difference with the king on b8, as we’ll see in the next note. 48.Nd6 Qg8 49.Qh1! Carlsen has the direct winning plan of Qh1-d1-a4-a6. But what’s wrong with the previous plan of trading bishops on e6 and Qg7, as in the previous note, you might well be asking? The difference is that now 49.Bxe6 Bxe6 50.Qg7 Qd8 51.Nxf7 Qd3 52.Qf8+ Kc7! means there’s no Nd6 available – and no win for White. 49…Qf8 50.Qd1 Ncd8 51.Nb5 Bc6 52.Kg1 Nc7 53.Bf2! [see diagram] Very clever from Carlsen, who hones in now on the threat of Bg3, as the loss of the e5-pawn will be a disaster for Black. 53…Nb7 54.Bg3 Bxb5 55.cxb5 Qd6 56.Qe2? Well, Carlsen proves he’s just human after all! This is probably his only misstep in what has been a fascinating battle with his old foe – and ultimately, it proves costly, as now he can’t win. The engines soon find the winning plan with the simple solution of 56.Kf1! Qxd1+ (What else is there? If 56…c4 57.Qxd6 Nxd6 58.Bxe5 Nxe4 59.Bf4! Nc5 (Unfortunately, 59…Nxc3? gets hit with 60.Be6!! winning on the spot.) 60.Ke2 Kb7 61.Bf3+ Kc8 62.Bxc7 Kxc7 63.Bd5 wins.) 57.Bxd1 Nxb5 58.Bxe5+ Kc8 59.Be2! Na7 (A humiliating retreat to the edge of the board – but remarkably forced, as 59…N5d6? 60.Bxd6 Nxd6 61.e5 Ne4 62.e6! quickly wins. And also if 59…Nc7 60.Bg4+ Kd8 61.Bxc7+! Kxc7 62.e5 Nd8 63.c4 Kc6 64.e6! fxe6 65.Bh5!! soon wins.) 60.Kf2 and the two bishops (combined with the direct threat of e5-e6) offers White genuine winning chances in the endgame. 56…Ne6! Just in the nick of time, the knight attack on g5 (which Carlsen may well have overlooked) saves the game for Anand, as Carlsen is forced to cede the bishop-pair. 57.Bxe6 Qxe6 58.Qh2 Qg4! Carlsen’s exposed king comes to Anand’s rescue, as there’s no way to avoid all the queen checks. 59.Kf2 Qxe4 60.Bxe5+ Kc8 61.Qh3+ Kd8 62.Qh8+ Kd7 63.Qh3+ Kd8 ½-½


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