Anand Leads After Blunderfest In Leuven

Anand Leads After Blunderfest In Leuven

| 48 | Chess Event Coverage

Viswanathan Anand leads the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour after five rounds of rapid chess. The first day of rapid saw a number of huge blunders that made the playing hall seem haunted.

The second leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour started on Friday with five rapid games at 25 minutes and 10 seconds per move. After some ceremonial first moves, the games quickly began in the beautiful Leuven Town Hall. The exquisite surroundings wouldn't inspire the players to show great chess though; the first day of rapid saw a surprising amount of blunders.

Round 1 starts with a bang

Viswanathan Anand, who didn't play in Paris because he was busy winning León, started his Grand Chess Tour with a fantastic win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. With the black pieces, he refuted moves by the Frenchman that looked to begin an attack and launched his own onslaught.

A great start for Vishy Anand.

Before he had even seen this game, Fabiano Caruana said: ”He's perhaps the best player of our time and perhaps all time. It's fantastic to have him here.” It sure is.

Hikaru Nakamura, who is leading the Grand Chess Tour after winning the first leg, started the second with a loss. He was slowly outplayed by Vladimir Kramnik after failing to choose an active defense just at the start of a double rook endgame.

Kramnik quickly washed away the bad memories of that horrible last day in Paris (but not for long). “I got a lot of sleep the last few days,” said the 14th world champion. “But the problem is the last day, not the first!”

A good technical win for Kramnik.

The round, in fact, saw four decisive results; only Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen split the point in a 6.Be3 Najdorf. Levon Aronian won a pawn and a good technical game against Anish Giri, but we're going to look at Fabiano Caruana's win against Veselin Topalov, which saw a nice rook sacrifice.

“At some point, I thought I had a pretty dubious position, but he got too ambitious,” said Caruana. “He diverted all his pieces from the kingside to the queenside. He had chances to defend but blundered at some moment.”

Topalov topples Nakamura in round 2

The early winner in round one was also the first to finish in round two. Anand played the solid 5.Re1 line in the Berlin, but Aronian had done his homework and easily held a slightly worse position. Caruana was on the wrong side of a blunder this time against Giri. The tactic that won the Dutchman the exchange was quite nice, but then, yet again, Giri failed to win a winning position.

“It was hopeless for 30 moves give or take,” said Caruana. “But near the end he got into time trouble, and his g3-g4 was a big mistake. After hxg4 I realized that my queen and knight were giving him serious issues and I didn't see a win for him.”

Caruana was dead lost but nonetheless escaped versus Giri.

Carlsen vs MVL and So vs Kramnik also ended in draws. The only decisive game was won by Topalov, which means that Paris winner, Nakamura, started with zero out of two. He made it a very interesting game right out of the opening with the novelty 11...f5 and 12...Nxf2 and seemed to be on his way to a win. Somehow Topalov was hanging on: “I didn't really understand what was going on, but then the coordination of my pieces was much better,” he said. ”Of course, the game was full of mistakes.”

Hanging on by a thread after the opening, Topalov played the second half of the game well.

Nakamura from first to worst in round 3

There must have been something wrong with Nakamura's mindset at the start of this tournament in Leuven. Whereas he finished the rapid segment in Paris as the only undefeated player and only lost three games in the blitz, he started with three losses in Leuven.

“This game showed that he didn't manage to recover from the first two rounds,” said Giri. “This h2-h4 is rarely good in the Grünfeld because the counterplay is coming fast. There I'm already much better I guess.” And then when he got ...e7-e5 in, Anish didn't see a defense for his opponent — as early as move 14. He did have some comforting words for his opponent: “I wouldn't write him off that easily yet.”

Giri's Grünfeld counterplay was too quick and too strong.

Meanwhile Nakamura's main rival in Paris, Magnus Carlsen, won his first game after drawing two. The Norwegian used some strange Nimzo/Queen's Indian/Dutch hybrid once played by his old trainer Simen Agdestein. Not impressed, Levon Aronian kept a slight edge until move 27. From there it went from equal to worse, and Aronian lost a rook endgame that he should never have lost.

Carlsen wins a drawn rook endgame versus Aronian.

Kramnik got back to his old habit way too early in the tournament: blundering. He was outplaying his arch-enemy, Topalov, and reached a very promising endgame only to spoil it with one move, which dropped a full piece. Just horrible.

Was the beautiful playing hall, which dates back to the
15th century, haunted today? | Photo Lennart Ootes.

More crazy things happened in Caruana-Anand when the great Indian dropped a piece as early as move eight! As is so often the case, the tactical motif of a “double attack” was behind it. “The moment I played 8...Bg4, I saw it of course” - Anand.

However, to the Indian's good fortune, it wasn't that clear. “I did have compensation. A lot of space, his pieces aren't coming out... It's not a slam dunk. You play the hand you're dealt. Clearly there's no reason to resign.”

Round 4: Blunder-Kramnik is back

After a draw between Giri and Topalov, the first winner of the round was Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman outplayed Kramnik in an Anti-Berlin (not easy!) but then failed to find the knockout blow. There was still a technical task ahead when Kramnik suddenly hit himself in the face with another huge blunder. Just unbelievable.

A week later, Kramnik is still blundering.

Nakamura finally got himself on the scoreboard with a solid draw against Anand, and So vs Aronian was another draw. The last game still going, Carlsen vs Caruana, was a truly dramatic affair where everything was decided when both players were down to less than a minute on the clock.

After a long game, Carlsen had finally managed to reach a winning position. He only had to put back his bishop and move the c-paw. Then he started to hesitate. A few sub-optimal moves allowed Caruana to get back in the game, and suddenly there was a winning tactic for him.

Caruana grabbed the lead in round four with a fortunate win versus the world champion.

Round 5: Carlsen joins the blunderfest

Perhaps his 45.Rf3 against Caruana might not be called a blunder, but what happened next certainly was. Even the world champion wasn't immune to the virus today. He dropped a full piece in the opening. After resigning, he was quickly back to reality and even put the kings on white squares, to “tell” the electronic board, and all the fans at home, the result.

“It's kind of nice, certainly,” said Nakamura. “I've had a rough day to say the least. Hopefully it will give me some momentum to go forward.” Nakamura said that the blunder was “even in his file” (on his computer). His explanation of what happened: “It's been a long day; everyone's tired. It didn't shock me that much; it happens.”

Obviously it was a great boost for the American to score this point, against this opponent. “This was important. If I'll have a good day tomorrow, I'll be in the hunt.”

Carlsen not understanding what happened to him. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

After a draw between Aronian and MVL, Anand was the next to finish. He defeated Topalov in a good English game as Black. “I'm obviously very satisfied. Plus two is a nice score, but we'll take it a day at a time,” was Anand's remark. He knows that this is only the beginning.

Anand sealed a strong performance with a round five win. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

With this win Anand, in fact, grabbed the lead as Caruana lost his game to So. If we hadn't seen enough craziness, here's some more. Caruana was on his way to lose this game, but then he got a chance to give a perpetual and... didn't take it!

Image courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

The Leuven Grand Chess Tour takes place June 17-20 in the Town Hall in Leuven, Belgium. First, there are two days of rapid (Friday and Saturday, nine rounds), then two days of blitz (Sunday and Monday, 18 rounds). In the rapid, a win yields 2 points and a draw 1; whereas in the blitz, it is the regular 1 for a win and ½ for a draw. The Tour also includes the Sinquefield Cup in August and the London Chess Classic in December.

You can watch the action in Leuven at with live commentary by grandmasters Yasser Seirawan, Eric Hansen and WGM Jennifer Shahade streaming from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis with Grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez reporting directly from Leuven. chesspawn.png

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