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Carlsen Phenomenal At Blitz, Wins Leuven Grand Chess Tour

Carlsen Phenomenal At Blitz, Wins Leuven Grand Chess Tour

Garry Kasparov, a man who knows what it means to dominate, called it a "phenomenal performance" when Magnus Carlsen clinched the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour in Leuven, Belgium with two rounds to spare.

Carlsen's blitz performance rating was one for the history books: 3014 over 18 games. The tournament exhausted him so much, that he could hardly express any positive emotions afterward.

Magnus Carlsen next to Maurice Ashley at the prize giving. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Nigel Short more or less predicted today's result when he said: "I would be astonished if Magnus Carlsen can be stopped."

Carlsen didn't lose a game today, scored 7/9 (half a point less than yesterday) and reached a blitz performance of over 3000. 

Wesley So, co-leader with Carlsen after the first nine rounds, could briefly enjoy the sole lead. With Carlsen and Anand drawing their game, he was back in first place thanks to an easy win against Baadur Jobava.

It was a model game for the Closed Sicilian from the black side, except that White started to burn his bridges so early in the game, that it will probably reach few instructional books.

5-year-old Oliver from Temse, Belgium was allowed
to make Carlsen's first move against Anand today.

What about Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was so brilliant in the Paris blitz? Well, he wasn't completely out of the running yet as he started with a win against Levon Aronian. After surviving a worse position, his endgame was a model game as well, for the theme of king activity.

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MVL sitting in between two world champions. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

So's lead was short-lived, as he lost his next game to Anand. It was one of Anand's best blitz games, even though the computer did find a draw for So at some point.

Anand had actually seen it, and his first thought was "with so many knights there won't be a perpetual," but when he released his rook on a8, he noticed that it was a perpetual anyway. But So didn't play it.

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So could only enjoy the lead for one round today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Carlsen grabbed the lead with a win against Vladimir Kramnik, who went kind of berserk with an incorrect piece sacrifice.

nullKramnik resigning his game with Carlsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

Vassily Ivanchuk's last day was is best of all five days. If you only look at the last nine rounds and observe the crosstable of today's single round robin, Ivanchuk was the best player, behind Carlsen, with 6.5/9.

Here's his win against Aronian, who missed a nice combination that would have equalised the position.


You could say that round 21 was when Carlsen won the tournament. He played a most extraordinary game with MVL and objectively speaking he was worse at some point, but his play was so inventive that the French GM didn't know how to handle it.

"I burnt my bridges early on so I just had to keep going," said Carlsen. "With his lack of development material doesn't really matter that much. I just try to play as aggressively as possible."

It was a bizarre game, and not only because of White's fourth move: 1.c4 e5 2.e3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.g4!?. Also what followed was good for bringing some popcorn.

Short: "Brilliant game. Loved every second of it!"

Carlsen himself: "It's not very similar to anything I've seen. At least there was one theme I was always playing for, this pawn on d6. Without this, there was no point in my play at all."

nullOne of the most enjoyable games of the tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

So was now on a full point behind after drawing with Kramnik. Jobava was doing slightly better today and scored two draws in a row, with Nepomniachtchi and Anand.

Aronian bounced back thanks to a huge blunder by Nepomniachtchi:


Round 22 started with Ivanchuk arriving late for his game with Carlsen. The arbiter wanted to start the clock, but Carlsen (who is known for often arriving late himself) twice made a hand gesture, saying "no, let's wait."

And then, when Ivanchuk finally arrived, he played the extremely rare 1.e4 e5 2.Ne2. After this opening, named after Semyon Alapin (1856-1923), not much happened actually until Ivanchuk started to go wrong in the endgame. Commentator Christian Chirila about Carlsen: "His opponents are making the mistakes. He's the one who doesn't make any mistakes."

nullGiri and MVL tied for second place in the blitz segment, with 10/18, 4.5 points behind Carlsen.  | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In a big game for the fight for second place, MVL beat So with 1.b3. "Today I am playing definitely much better than yesterday, but it's not enough to come close to Magnus. I think against me he played extremely well. He found some really unobvious moves."

Carlsen was now two points ahead, with five rounds to go, and increased it to 2.5 points the very next round. Whereas So drew with Ivanchuk, the world champ beat Nepomniachtchi, who allowed a simple back rank combination:

Chess.com's interview with Vachier-Lagrave after the tournament.

In this round Jobava finally scored his first (lucky) win, against Kramnik. Obviously, the Georgian grandmaster was immediately invited for an interview Maurice Ashley and said: 

"I did not expect I would win a game here. First I want to say a few special words about my preparation last evening. As I said, I was waiting [for] champagne from the organizers. They didn't bring it, so I decided to check all bars and drink the beautiful Belgian beers. It was a very good idea. I slept like a baby after it and I'm playing much better, also by quality, I can feel it. I need double more rounds to come back."

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Jobava managed to win one game in the tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

In the next round Carlsen seemed to be scoring a very similar win vs Aronian as yesterday, having a better rook endgame and Aronian playing on delay, with five seconds on the clock. But this time Carlsen let it slip away and drew the game.

Kramnik beat MVL, which was good news for So, who was now one point ahead of MVL but 2.5 behind Carlsen. Vachier-Lagrave's gambit, inspired by the Evans Gambit, is very rare (and probably rightly so).

The 25th round saw Carlsen drawing another very quiet game with Giri, but it was enough to win the tournament with two rounds to spare since So also couldn't get more than a draw vs Aronian. By this point Carlsen was on 24/34, So on 21.5, and MVL on 21.

Kasparov praised for the winner, and he would later repeat it on Twitter:

Jobava's nightmare tournament continued with an almost study-like loss, which got commentators Pontus Carlsson and Nigel Short hiding their faces (but not hiding their sorrow) as they just couldn't believe this also happened to the poor Georgian.

Chess.com's interview with Jobava after the tournament.

It was if the devil himself was fooling Jobava, game after game. He was falling for every trick in the book. After surviving Carlsen's first onslaught, he missed a checkmate (although by then the alternative was losing the queen).

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Poor Jobava fell for every trick in the book. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.

The penultimate round was bad news for MVL in the fight for second place. The Frenchman wasn't aware of all the Panov intricacies and quickly lost an exchange vs Ivanchuk. His novelty "improved" upon the famous game Fischer-Euwe, Leipzig 1960.

In the final round the clash between So and Carlsen wasn't critical anymore. It ended in a draw after some adventures in the opening:

Chess.com's interview with So after the tournament.

Right after the last round the players were called on stage, and after short speeches by the mayor, Kasparov and the sponsor, Maurice Ashley asked a few questions to Carlsen. The world champion was remarkably timid, and said in a soft voice: "It feels good—better than last year."

Asked whether he is looking forward to the Sinquefield Cup, he duly replied: "I'm looking forward to some rest."

It was one of those tournaments where Carlsen excelled but needed all his energy to do so. According to his father Henrik, his son was "totally exhausted."

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

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Carlsen 2850 3014 11 ½1 11 11 11 14.5/18
2 Giri 2760 2816 ½½ ½0 ½½ 11 10.0/18 84.25
3 MVL 2789 2812 00 ½½ 00 11 01 10 11 01 11 10.0/18 76.50
4 Kramnik 2790 2793 ½0 11 ½½ ½0 ½½ ½½ ½½ 10 9.5/18 83.75
5 Aronian 2787 2793 00 ½½ ½1 10 ½½ 01 11 9.5/18 75.25
6 Nepomniachtchi 2767 2776 00 ½1 10 ½1 ½0 10 ½1 9.0/18
7 Ivanchuk 2755 2758 00 01 ½½ 01 01 ½½ ½1 ½1 8.5/18 67.25
8 So 2781 2756 00 ½½ ½½ ½½ 10 11 8.5/18 66.25
9 Anand 2771 2738 ½½ 10 ½½ 10 ½0 ½0 01 8.0/18
10 Jobava 2706 2467 00 00 00 01 00 ½0 00 2.5/18


Your Next Move (Leuven) Grand Chess Tour | Final Overall Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf Rapid Blitz Combined Prize
1 Carlsen 2851 2949 11 14,5 25,5 $37,500
2 So 2781 2826 14 8,5 22,5 $25,000
3 Vachier-Lagrave 2789 2839 12 10 22 $20,000
4 Giri 2764 2815 10 10 20 $15,000
5 Kramnik 2789 2788 9 9,5 18,5 $11,250
6 Aronian 2780 2788 9 9,5 18,5 $11,250
7 Nepomniachtchi 2766 2776 9 9 18 $7,500
8 Anand 2775 2738 8 8 16 $7,500
9 Ivanchuk 2757 2740 7 8,5 15,5 $7,500
10 Jobava 2703 2423 1 2,5 3,5 $7,500


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

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All players with sponsor Jan Callewaert and Garry Kasparov. | Photo: Maria Emelianova. 

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Image: Spectrum Studios.

Download Tournament PGN

Update: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Carlsen's new FIDE blitz rating per 1 August will be three points shy of 3K.


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