John Henderson
By John Henderson

Back in 1938, Dutch radio sponsors AVRO hit upon the novelty of having peripatetic venues for their super-tournament. Moving each round to different Dutch towns not only helped share with the running costs, but it also took the game and the grandmasters to the masses in different communities. Now modern-day tournaments are adopting a “mini-AVRO” of sorts: The Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee goes “on tour” to different satellite venues; as does the Grenke Chess Classic in Germany.

After five rounds in Karlsruhe, with World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and his predecessor, five-time ex-champion Vishy Anand sharing the lead on 3½/5, the Grenke Chess Classic travelling circus headed down the autobahn to the Kulturhaus LA8 museum in Baden-Baden, the home of its IT leasing company sponsor. And with it, marathon man Carlsen was also on the move, both literally and figuratively.

Round six started well for the Norwegian, as he witnessed co-leader Anand uncharacteristically going down in flames to a shock loss in the Spanish Four Knights to Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan. And with Anand’s demise, Carlsen piled the pressure on his German tail-ender, Georg Meier, who duly cracked having to constantly defend what had become a very difficult position to hold.

As in first half in Karlsruhe – where each of his games averaged 59 moves and well over five hours plus – Carlsen was again the last player to “clock off”, with his game against Meier going the distance of 58 moves and approaching nearly five and a half hours of play. But it was all worth it in the end, as Carlsen’s third win of the tournament, coupled with his nearest rivals losing or drawing, gives him the comfort zone now of a full point lead at the top over a six-strong chasing pack going into the home stretch of the final three rounds.

And after a sixth successive marathon encounter, Carlsen said during his post-game live press conference that all the long games are taking their toll. “I was so tired and I couldn’t calculate anymore,” he readily admitted. “My play has deteriorated completely for the last few rounds. It’s definitely getting to me. It’s just the way it is…Today I cannot finish it off, so then it gets to be a long game again. It’s a bit frustrating but I have plus-three; I am in the lead so I shouldn’t complain.”

1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 4½/6; 2-7. V. Anand (India), P. Svidler (Russia), A. Naiditsch (Azerbaijan), F. Caruana (USA), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), L. Aronian (Armenia) 3½; 8. F. Vallejo Pons (Spain) 2; 9. V. Keymer (Germany) 1½; 10. G. Meier (Germany) 1.

Photo: He may well be tired, but is ‘marathon man’ Magnus Carlsen heading for a third successive victory of 2019? | © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com

GM Georg Meier – GM Magnus Carlsen
Grenke Chess Classic, (6)
King’s Indian, Double Fianchetto
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0-0 0-0 5.d4 d6 6.b3 b5!? Carlsen adopts a double fianchetto system with the added bite of clamping down on his opponents delayed c4. 7.Bb2 Meier can’t gain anything from Carlsen 6…b5. If 7.Ne5? dxe5 8.Bxa8 c6! 9.dxe5 Nd5 and Black will gain a big advantage by eventually picking off the trapped Ba8. 7…Bb7 8.Nbd2 Nbd7 9.c4 bxc4 10.Nxc4 If White plays 10.bxc4 then after 10…Ne4 Black stands marginally better in a totally symmetrical game – almost as if White had forgone his opening move advantage already by move 10! 10…a5 11.Rc1 c5 12.dxc5 Nxc5 13.Bd4 Ncd7N It’s not really a novelty per se from Carlsen, as also promising was 13…Nfe4 that led to Dutch legend Jan Timman obtaining a good position last year in the Grenke Open against Robert Fridman. Either move works well, as we basically end up with the same dynamics: Black’s central pawns commanding the middle of the board. 14.a4 Ra6 15.Na3 Qa8! This Reti-like hypermodern queen move guarantees Black an easy game. 16.Nb5 It looks good, but Carlsen’s take on this position during his post-game live press conference is very revealing: “I thought I was fine out of the opening. I didn’t particularly like his plan of Na3-b5. I felt the knight is not as great on b5 as it looked.” 16…Rc6! Carlsen is beginning to assert his authority on the position – and with this move, Meier, perhaps realising that he had miss-assessed the position, went into the tank here for what was a very lengthy think. 17.Rxc6 Bxc6 18.Ne1 Bxg2 19.Nxg2 Rc8 “Maybe this was not as great as I allowed some counterplay,” Carlsen reflected. Instead, he felt that 19…h5! was safe and good. 20.Na7 Rd8 The dust has settled somewhat, and Carlsen – with Meier’s minor pieces somewhat out of kilter with each other – is going to play …e5 and …d5. 21.Qc2 A minor setback for Carlsen, as he only expected the knight retreating with 21.Nb5 – but will he be able now to generate enough counterplay to compensate for the stranded and clearly doomed a5-pawn? 21…e5 22.Be3 d5! Better to cut to the chase and set Meier the problem of having to deal with the rolling central pawns right away, rather than give him time to better coordinate his position before going for the a-pawn. At least this way, Meier does face more danger. 23.Nc6 Re8 24.Bd2 Ne4 25.Nxa5 Rc8 26.Qa2 Ndf6 The major problem Meier faces right now, is trying to bring his Na5 back into the game. 27.Be1 It’s suddenly all getting awkward for Meier – and it didn’t help that he was eating up more clock time. And you can understand why, when you consider that 27.b4?! Nxd2 28.Qxd2 Ne4 29.Qd3 Nc3! 30.Ne3 e4 31.Qd2 Bh6! 32.Kg2 Qa7 looked even more dangerous to defend against. 27…Nc3 Admittedly, White does look all but busted once the knight comes into c3 – and this would have been the same result had Meier played 27.Bb4 rather than 27.Be1. 28.Bxc3 Rxc3 29.b4 Bf8 30.Qb2 Meier could also have gone for 30.Nb3 with the idea of quickly pushing his a-pawn up the board – but even here, Carlsen suspected he stood better after 30…Bxb4 31.a5 Qa6 etc. 30…d4 31.e3? “Pretty suicidal,” according to Carlsen. The only genuine try – and the move Carlsen was fully expecting – was bringing the ‘fianchettoed knight’ back into the game with 31.Ne3! but after 31…Qc8 32.Nec4 Rxc4 33.Nxc4 Qxc4 It gets somewhat tricky after 34.a5!? Qc8! (Obviously not 34…Qxb4?? 35.Qxb4 Bxb4 36.a6! and Black has to lose a piece to stop the pawn running home.) 35.e3 (Only now does this move work. Also note that it’s not so easy to push the pawns now, because of dangerous threats to the White king after 35.b5 Qh3 36.f3 Bh6! 37.Qb1 Be3+ 38.Kh1 Nd7 39.b6 Kg7 40.b7 Nb8 41.Qa1 (Unfortunately, trying to move the rook out of the aim of the Black queen with 41.Rd1 is well met by 41…Bf2!) 41…h5! and White is in deep trouble. 31…Ne4 More clinical was 31…Nd5! as White’s position quickly collapses after 32.exd4 Bxb4! 33.Nb3 Qxa4 34.Nc5 Qc2! 35.Qxc2 Rxc2 36.Ne1 Rc3 37.Ne4 Rc4 38.Nd3 exd4 with a clearly won ending. 32.exd4 exd4 33.Nb3 d3 34.Rc1 Rxc1+ Good enough to win. However, I speculated in the online chat on Chess24.com, that perhaps Meier’s only hope now was that Carlsen might get confused with having too many winning moves to have to consider – and I wasn’t far off the mark! In an amazing admission during his live presser, Carlsen, while saying he also considered 34…Bg7 that was also good enough to win, failed to notice when it was pointed out to him that he could also have taken the pawn with 34…Bxb4! that all but wins on the spot! “This is pretty insane,” he concurred shaking his head. 35.Qxc1 Qxa4 36.Qc4 Nc5! The reason Carlsen went for what he opted for, was that he had spotted this winning trick. 37.Nd2 The (full) point is that now 37.Nxc5? Bxc5 38.Qxc5 Qa1+ 39.Ne1 d2 easily wins. 37…Qa1+ 38.Nf1 d2 39.Nge3 Ne6 40.Qb3 Qe1 “I got lucky I have this,” said Carlsen, who originally intended to play 40…Nd4 though thought he’d missed that 41.Qd1 was saving the game for White – but according to the all-seeing, all-knowing engines, even this looks to be suspect after 41…Qc1 42.b5 (The only move, as 42.Qxd2?? (or even 42.Nxd2) is going to lose to the knight fork 42…Nf3+; 42.Nxd2) 42…Bb4 43.b6 Qc6! 44.h3 Nf3+ 45.Kg2 Ne1+ 46.Kg1 Ba5 and Black will safely pick-off the b-pawn before returning to the theme of making the d2-pawn the game-winner. 41.Kg2 As Carlsen notes, there’s no salvation in 41.b5 as 41…Nc5 followed by …Ne4 wins for Black. 41…Bxb4 “From afar,” rued Carlsen, “I saw that I will win this pawn and thought I should be gradually winning, but then I realized it was far more difficult.” 42.Qb2 h5 Not so much attacking-minded, more to prevent any potentially awkward Ne3-g4-h6+ activity. 43.h4 Of course, Carlsen hasn’t just left the bishop en prise, as 43.Qxb4? d1Q the White queen is under attack, and now if 44.Qb8+ Qd8 easily wins. 43…Ba5 44.Qb8+ Nf8 45.Qa8 Bc3 46.Qc6 Qc1 47.Qd5 Ne6 48.Qc4 Ba5 Carlsen regretted that he couldn’t quite see the clean kill that the engines all do with 48…Nd4! that leads to the sort of position the world champion was trying to get earlier. Now the game will run. 49.Qd3 Qa1! Admittedly, when all the focus is on making the d-pawn the game-winner, the logic of this move goes right out the window for humans. But that’s what decides the game now with 50.Nxd2 being well met by 50…Bxd2 51.Qxd2 Qa8+! that renders White defenceless to the threats from the queen and knight after 52.f3 Qxf3+ 53.Kh2 Ne2 54.Qe1 Qxe3 and White can resign. 49.Qd5 Bb4 50.Qb5 Qc3 51.Qd5 Qc1 52.Qb5 Bc3 53.Qa4 Bd4 54.Nd1 Kg7 55.Kf3 If Meier does “nothing” here, Carlsen will soon find a way to force home the win. Meier looks doomed anyway, but at least this way, by shuffling his king closer to the d2-pawn, Carlsen might panic and allow a draw. 55…Bf6 56.Ke2 Nd4+ 57.Kd3 Qb1+ 58.Kxd2?? [see diagram] If only it was this simple for Meier to think that he can safely capture the object of his pain; but Carlsen (realising that the pawn couldn’t be captured) thought his opponent had a “hellish” position to defend, erred in time trouble – and it came as something of a relief for the Norwegian, who couldn’t see how to win after 58.Ke3. But naturally, the engines see (as only the engines can see) that White is still in big trouble after 58…Be5 59.Nxd2 (If 59.f4 Bf6 60.Nxd2 Nf5+ 61.Kf2 Qd3 62.Nf3 Nd4! looks convincing.) 59…Qf5! with the idea of …Qg4 and …Qe2 mate, forcing White (and Black!) to find 60.Qa8 If (60.f3 Qh3 61.Ne4 Qg2 62.Ndc3 Nf5+ 63.Kd3 Qxf3+ wins.) 60…Nc2+ 61.Ke2 Qg4+ 62.Nf3 Qc4+ 63.Kd2 Bd6! and the Black pieces are moving in for the kill now. Engines: Don’t you just love ’em, Magnus? 58…Qe4! 0-1 Meier resigns, as there is no defence to …Qe2+ without walking into a discovered check winning the queen.


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