History tells us that the snappy Latin phrase “Veni, Vidi, Vici” – literally meaning “I came, I saw, I conquered” – is attributed to Julius Caesar after a fast and easy victory over Pharnaces II at the Battle of Zela in 47 BC. The expression has, of course, also found its way into popular culture – and “Veni, Vidi, Vici!” was the fitting title used by the Grenke Chess Classic media team for Magnus Carlsen’s winner’s interview video after the Norwegian left a trail of destruction in the wake of his storming victory in Baden-Baden.
With a dominating performance from start to finish, Carlsen took the plaudits and the honours with his unbeaten 7.5/9 to make it two pulsating elite-level victories in the month of April, and the third straight elite tournament triumph of 2019, adding to his successes at Tata Steel Masters in Wjik aan Zee, Netherlands, in January, and the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, early last month.
Now, as Carlsen rating surges to 2875 – and ever-closer to his own all-time record high of 2882 – on the unofficial 2700.com live list (Grenke just missed the May 1 deadline for the official FIDE 1 May list, which will now be carried over to 1 June), everyone is asking the same question: can he possibly break the 2900-barrier? “I don’t know,” says Carlsen in the Grenke video. “Right now I am just happy to be playing a lot better than I have. Frankly, some people have asked me privately over the last few years whether I’d ever get over 2900 and my answer has always been a pretty resounding ‘no, I don’t think I’m gonna get there.’ I still don’t particularly think so but now it’s at least a half-attainable goal.”
And in what’s been seen as Carlsen’s busiest year ever in chess, we don’t have to wait long to see him back in action again – next week, in fact! The new 2019 Grand Chess Tour season starts next Wednesday in Abidjan with the Côte D’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz. This year the GCT comprises eight events, with each of its 12 participants playing in both classical tournaments in Zagreb and St. Louis, as well as three of the five Rapid and Blitz events.
Carlsen and last year’s Tour champion Hikaru Nakamura play in the Côte D’Ivoire Rapid & Blitz, as do Sergey Karjakin, Ding Liren, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, as well as wildcards Wei Yi, Veselin Topalov and Bassem Amin.
The tournament is also set to make a little history, as this will be the first to feature a reigning world champion seen in competitive play in the African continent.
GM Magnus Carlsen – GM Levon Aronian
Grenke Chess Classic, (7)
Queen’s Gambit, Vienna variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.e4 Bb4 6.Bg5 c5 7.Bxc4 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bxc3+ 9.bxc3 Qa5 The Queen’s Gambit Vienna, where White accepts a slightly worse pawn structure in return for a lead in development – but Carlsen has a surprise up his sleeve. 10.Bd2!?N An early novelty from Carlsen – and it looks so innocuous. Previously, we’d seen sharp ideas here such as 10.Bb5+ Nbd7 11.Bxf6 Qxc3+ 12.Kf1 gxf6 13.h4 Qb4 14.Rh3 a6 15.Be2 Ne5 16.Rb1 Qd6 17.Rc3, as occurred in Grischuk-Karjakin, Saint Louis 2018. 10…0-0 Perhaps worried about what the world champion and his team had prepared here, Aronian baulks, as he avoids what must surely be the crunch line with 10…Nxe4!? 11.0-0 (A bit too ‘spirited’ is 11.Qg4 Nxd2 12.Qxg7 as after 12…Nxc4! 13.Qxh8+ Ke7 14.0-0 Nd7 15.Qxh7 Nf6 and Black’s pieces are quickly set to mobilise with strong outposts for the knights on d5 and c4.) 11…Nxd2 12.Qxd2 0-0 13.Rab1 Nc6 14.Rfd1 where White has more space and it is not so easy for Black to develop his pieces – but he does have a solid position and an extra pawn for this discomfort. 11.Qe2 e5 12.Nb3 Qc7 13.0-0 Bg4 14.f3 Rc8 15.Bd5 Nxd5 16.exd5 Bh5 17.c4 Nd7 18.Rfc1 The moves all come naturally for Carlsen, as he cranks up the pressure on Aronian’s slightly vulnerable queenside – and the world champion’s understanding and technique is now flawless. So flawless in fact, that neither player (nor online pundits) could pinpoint exactly where Black goes wrong! 18…b6 19.a4 a5 20.Qf2! Carlsen has achieved the optimum position he’s been seeking – the Black b-pawn is now a permanent weakness and Aronian will have to make concessions to keep it from falling. If it does fall, his game will collapse with it. 20…Qd6 21.Be3 Bg6 A tough call, as Aronian may well have fared better with the more ‘spirited’ try with 21…Qb4!? forcing 22.Qc2 Bg6 23.Qc3 Qd6 24.Nd2 Rab8 and, while it does not solve all of Black’s problems, he would, nevertheless, have achieved a better position than he got in the game. 22.Qd2! As Carlsen himself explained, this was a better plan, as the immediate 22.Qb2!? allows 22…Bd3 23.Nd2 Qg6 with the idea of 24…h5, offering Black counterplay he didn’t have in the game. 22…f6 Unfortunately for Aronian, while not bad per se, this was just the move that Carlsen wanted to provoke, as now the Black queen can’t cross over to the kingside as in the above note. 23.Qb2 Rc7 24.Nd2 Nc5 25.Qa3 Rd8 26.Rc3 f5?! Aronian’s dilemma is that he has to do something, and while this looks at least an active plan, long-term it just creates weaknesses in his position – and with it, I suppose this is the moment where we can pinpoint where it all began to go wrong for the Armenian. 27.Re1 e4?! The last chance for Aronian to offer up any resistance was with 27…f4!? 28.Bxc5 Rxc5 and very realistic chances of saving the game. 28.fxe4 fxe4 Forced, as 28…Nxe4? 29.Qxd6 Rxd6 30.Nxe4 fxe4 31.Bf4 easily wins. 29.Bxc5 Rxc5 30.Nxe4 It never rains but it pours! Aronian loses a pawn just as he also falls into severe time pressure – and no doubt he got into that predicament just wondering how, from next to nothing, Carlsen can seem to pile the pressure on his opponents. 30…Qe5 31.Rce3 Rcc8 Unfortunately for Aronian, there’s no relief even by sacrificing the exchange for the two troublesome pawns. After 31…Rxc4? 32.Nd2 Qxd5 33.Nxc4 Qxc4 34.Qb3! Qxb3 35.Rxb3 Rd6 36.Re7 h5 (No better is 36…Bc2 37.Rc3 Kf8 38.Rcc7 g5 39.Rf7+ Kg8 etc. 40.Rg7+) 37.Rb2 and White will gang up on first the b- then the a-pawn. 32.h3 Qc7 33.Nd2 Carlsen consolidates – and with it, the end is nigh for Aronian. 33…Re8 34.Re7! [see diagram] Pure power-play now from Carlsen, who ruthlessly turns the screw with his dominance of the e-file. 34…Rxe7 35.Rxe7 Qd8 36.Qe3 Rc7 37.Re6 Rc5 38.Qb3 1-0 Aronian resigns – and you can see why, as the b-pawn is lost and so is Black after 38…Be8 39.Qxb6 Qxb6 40.Rxb6 Bxa4 41.Ne4! Rc8 (The rook gets forked after 41…Rxc4 42.Rb8+ Kf7 43.Nd6+ etc.) 42.c5 and the central pawns now roll up the board.