Carlsen Catches So At Leuven Blitz Halfway
So resigns his game with Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Carlsen Catches So At Leuven Blitz Halfway

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So are tied for first place halfway the blitz segment of the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven, Belgium. Carlsen started with a three-point deficit but scored 7.5/9 and caught So in first place at the end of the day, when he won their direct encounter.

If you don't mind about the blunders, blitz is just great. Even Garry Kasparov seems to be enjoying it more and more these days.

Still in Leuven, after his talk at the university last night, he was asked to join Nigel Short for an hour today as co-commentator. But The Boss was having so much fun, that he ended up staying for the whole day.

"It's fun! It's easy to criticise other players' moves," he said at some point.


Kasparov and Short giving commentary in Leuven today.
Not a bad duo, is it? | Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The first round of blitz didn't see a single draw. Wesley So expectedly defeated Baadur Jobava, but Magnus Carlsen kept the pace and won as well. Vishy Anand, who was so dejected about his play the other day, again suffered an unnecessary loss.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who played a brilliant blitz tournament in Paris, initially did well again. He started with a win against Levon Aronian, who tipped over some pieces when he had just four seconds left on the clock, and, realising he would never be able to put them all back in time, resigned the game.

Things got even worse for Vishy Anand, who made another terrible blunder against So in the early middlegame. A world champion unworthy, but what to do?

"Really surprising. One move earlier the position was completely equal," said So.

Jobava lost again. Eventually, he would score only half a point, with a quick draw in the very last round against Ivanchuk, who by then had lost his interest in the tournament as well. "I'm tired of blundering all the time," Jobava said after this game with Ian Nepomniachtchi.


Jobava only scored two draws out of 18 games so far. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In the next round, Carlsen scored "an important victory" (Kasparov) against Vachier-Lagrave from the black side of a Berlin Endgame. The world champ found a series of powerful moves to win material but erred once, and then was lucky that his opponent didn't find the narrow path to a draw.

Carlsen: "It was very tough. I tricked him in the opening so I was better early on but it was very hard to make something of it." About the endgame with knight vs pawns, he said: "It was shit scary to be honest."

Kasparov reminded the audience of MVL's two blitz victories over Carlsen in Paris. "Magnus looks confident now. This is a game of nerves."


Carlsen and MVL noticed at some point that their clock wasn't
running (and fixed it themselves). | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Carlsen won his next game very quickly. Ivanchuk, who had lost on time in a completely winning position against Giri, couldn't put up a serious fight:

So was doing well (very well) vs MVL, but he blundered, out of the blue. Shocked by this sudden turn of events, the tournament leader failed to find good moves and lost quickly.

"I was just lucky," said Vachier-Lagrave. "My position is just busted after 15 moves. As usual, apparently. I actually think I played better against Magnus even though I lost."

Kasparov. "I had some kind of relief when Wesley blundered this exchange because I blundered two knights against him last year. It was some sort of compensation. Not only people of my age makes these blunders!"

After this So was on 16.5 points, whereas both Carlsen and MVL were on 14.5 points. Kasparov: 
"This is a big test for Wesley. We'll see how he can manage under such big pressure."

Meanwhile, Anand and Kramnik played an amazing game with a funny final phase where both players played "on the delay"—well, for the spectators and Kramnik it was funny.

Not for Anand: "For some reason, I just refused to stop and think. I mean, three seconds is not much, but it's enough to not lose all my pawns."

Ivanchuk had started with 0/4 but played spoiler as his first half point was against So, who played it safe.

Carlsen took profit with a crushing win over Nepomniachtchi, whose sideline in the Centre Game was so bad that the loss was slightly embarrassing.


Aronian having some fun in between rounds with Carlsen
and his second Peter Heine Nielsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Kasparov: "It's very clear that Magnus is now playing his best game. Wesley needs to do more than trying to preserve his lead."

As it turned out, Vachier-Lagrave couldn't bring his great form of the blitz in Paris to Leuven. He lost two games in a row, against world champions Anand and Kramnik.

In his interview with Maurice Ashley, Anand revealed once more in what kind of mood he's playing: "I was happy just to finish it today, let's put it that way."

With four rounds to go, Carlsen was 1.5 points behind So (and MVL 2.5). But the world champ just kept on winning!

His game with Levon Aronian was about equal, but Aronian went into the rook endgame with 12 seconds left, plus three seconds delay for each move. It wasn't enough to put up a proper defense.


Strong rook endgame technique yielded Carlsen another point. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

So kept his half-point lead as he beat Nepomniachtchi, albeit from a close to lost position. MVL dropped further down as he got crushed by Kramnik, who said: "For the moment I am playing pretty decently. Of course, I got very lucky with Vishy.

"As the Russian saying goes, our final is a semifinal. I don't think I can catch the leaders but at least to be in the first half that would be my goal."


MVL and Kramnik after their game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In round 16 (or round seven of the blitz) everything seemed to change. Carlsen, who had been looking invincible so far, suddenly suffered his first loss.

It started with arriving a bit late for his game with Anish Giri, and he never seemed to be "in the zone." Especially with that ...Ra8-a6-a8 ("A loss of two tempi. I don't see Magnus getting away with that" - Seirawan), it was just a very bad game from the world champion.

Giri: "In the end, I'm clearly winning but it's always nice when they give you a full rook."


Special support for Anish Giri in the playing hall
today: his wife and son. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

"Magnus played fantastic from what I've seen and what I've heard. I'm playing like I always play, pretty bad in blitz. But in blitz, in one game, anything can happen. So it happened." 

So increased his lead back to two points as he drew with Aronian. The American player seemed to be going into the last day in the lead—but no. Carlsen made up for the two points in the last two rounds.

For starters, Giri also helped him! The Dutchman had a great little run as he also defeated So, who was actually much better for most of the game, but then collapsed at the end.

About his piece sac on move 24, Giri said: "I was hoping Garry Kimovich was still watching because that was the main reason I did it!"

Carlsen expectedly beat Jobava to make the gap only half as big, and then, in the ninth round, he got the chance to level the score with So completely in their direct encounter. And he did, with his new pet line 1.d4 and 2.Bf4, in an excellent game.

Carlsen started being down three points at the start, but he was equal at the end of the day. "I ran a little but out of steam at the end but fortunately I played better than he did. Obviously the result today was fantastic."

In the last few rounds, both players weren't playing with the highest energy. Carlsen: "I felt fresh for the first five rounds probably and since then I felt a bit tired. It's OK. Probably towards the end of such days you have to play by adrenaline anyway."


Carlsen on their mutual game: "Obviously it was important but... there is a big job yet to be done. Tomorrow I don't have the advantage of coming from behind!" | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Your Next Move (Leuven) Grand Chess Tour | Blitz, Round 9 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Carlsen,Magnus 2850 3046 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 7.5/9
2 Kramnik,Vladimir 2790 2894 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 6.0/9
3 Giri,Anish 2760 2855 1 0 ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 1 5.5/9
4 Anand,Viswanathan 2771 2814 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 5.0/9 18.75
5 Nepomniachtchi,Ian 2767 2815 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 1 5.0/9 17.50
6 So,Wesley 2781 2775 0 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 4.5/9 16.75
7 Aronian,Levon 2787 2775 0 ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 0 1 1 4.5/9 15.75
8 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2789 2775 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 1 1 4.5/9 14.25
9 Ivanchuk,Vassily 2755 2561 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 2.0/9
10 Jobava,Baadur 2706 2292 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0.5/9

Your Next Move (Leuven) Grand Chess Tour | Current Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf Pts
1-2 Carlsen,Magnus 2851 2933 18.5/27
1-2 So,Wesley 2789 2873 18.5/27
3 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2783 2833 16.5/27
4 Giri,Anish 2764 2835 15.5/27
5 Kramnik,Vladimir 2789 2832 15.0/27
6 Nepomniachtchi,Ian 2766 2796 14.0/27
7 Aronian,Levon 2780 2776 13.5/27
8 Anand,Viswanathan 2775 2775 13.0/27
9 Ivanchuk,Vassily 2757 2636 9.0/27
10 Jobava,Baadur 2703 2292 1.5/27

Note that for these tables the ratings of the Grand Chess Tour's
Universal Rating System have been used.

On Sunday we'll see it all again, with reversed colors. This means that So and Carlsen will again face each other in the very last round!

You can watch the Grand Chess Tour on and the games at starting tomorrow from 2 p.m. CET, 8 a.m. New York or 5 a.m. Pacific. The commentary is provided by GM Maurice Ashley and GM Nigel Short in Leuven, and GM Yasser Seirawan, IM Jovanka Houska & GM Christian Chirilla from St Louis.

The rapid tournament is a round-robin with games played at 25 minutes with a 10-second delay from move one. The blitz tournament is a double round-robin with games played at five minutes with a three-second delay from move one. The prize fund is $150,000, with the first prize of $37,500.

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