Carlsen Still Leads In Leuven After Blitz Day 1

Carlsen Still Leads In Leuven After Blitz Day 1

| 22 | Chess Event Coverage

Also after the first day of blitz (5 minutes with 2 seconds increment), Magnus Carlsen is leading the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour. Trailing by a point, with nine rounds to go, is Wesley So.

Leuven (and the rest of Belgium) woke up to a very pleasant morning — the day after the “Red Devils” defeated Ireland 3-0 at Euro 2016 — and the weather finally improving. Lennart Ootes, who has been shooting excellent photos for the Grand Chess Tour, was certainly enjoying himself in the hours before the blitz.

Round 1: So down, Nakamura up

Starting as the tailender is not what Hikaru Nakamura had in mind, but at least you can only go up, right? He started his desired comeback with a nice win against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. It seemed that both of his bishops were completely out of play, but in reality, Black was applying pressure both in the center and on the kingside. It was still nearly equal when MVL missed, or underestimated, a nasty pin.

A good start for tail-ender Nakamura.

Like the previous day, Magnus Carlsen arrived late. This didn't go unnoticed by his colleagues and organizer Malcolm Pein. The latter used the phrases “wherever he may be” and “perfect timing” when Carlsen entered the hall just in time to get to his board when his name was called.

The tournament leader drew his game with Levon Aronian, but nonetheless increased his lead to 1.5 points as runner-up Wesley So lost to Vladimir Kramnik. The victory was yet another vintage Kramnik, positional game.

Kramnik, next to MVL, in a good mood at the start of the day.

Round 2: Carlsen escapes

Veselin Topalov began to get the reputation of a “spoiler” as he had already beaten several players at the top of the standings. He was nearly about to do it again! In a Najdorf, English Attack the Bulgarian grandmaster got a winning position, but then, with much more time on the clock, blundered away everything.

So made sure the distance between him and Carlsen, 1.5 points, wasn't getting any bigger. His win over Caruana wasn't a smooth affair though, and in fact, the game was decided because Caruana lost on time. “I wasn't playing very well this game, and I was missing some moves. In the final position, it's hard to win,” admitted So. Maybe John Nunn can help out?

So keeping up the pace with Carlsen.

The blunders return in round 3

Another round and another game where Carlsen couldn't complain. He played with Viswanathan Anand and was doing OK, but then he made a huge mistake that turned the tables. “I thought I was doing alright, at least from a practical point of view, and then I just blundered everything away in one move,” he said. “I missed that he can insert a check, and then of course, I'm completely lost.” Despite that, Anand couldn't quite finish it off.

A big chance missed by Anand.

So drew as well; consequently the standings remained the same. The only decisive game in this round was won by Kramnik, who played his King's Indian Attack in an original way with an early Bf4 and d3-d4. Aronian couldn't find a good answer to it, got under serious pressure, and soon after was just lost when Kramnik found the nice 27.Bc5+. Then the blundering returned: Kramnik missed a simple win, and then Aronian dropped his queen...

Aronian wasn't immune to the blunder virus either.

Round 4: Pushing your luck

The story was the same in round four! Somehow Carlsen was lacking focus, or perhaps he skipped breakfast again? Whatever the reason, he got himself into a very bad position yet again in his game with Vachier-Lagrave.

Not again. This time it was three times out for Carlsen. He did come back in the game, and the tactics seemed to be in his favor at some point. However, with less time on the clock, the game went downhill. 

“Magnus blundered in the opening, then he managed to create an attack out of basically nothing, but somehow I also managed to get some chances,” said MVL. “At some poin,t I thought he was not worse anymore, but with a few seconds anything could happen.”

No escape for Carlsen this time against Vachier-Lagrave.

Aronian beat Caruana using a spectacular queen sortie that could well end up as Move of the Week in the next episode of ChessCenter, our weekly video news show that keeps on improving (ahum). It was a fantastic game by the Armenian, who would score 5.5/9 today.

Nakamura vs Giri was a crazy game that definitely should be included here as well. It's hard to believe that the American managed to win this one if you look at the position below. “Resourcefulness is his middle name,” Maurice Ashley commented.

How did Nakamura not lose that game?

Round 5

No less than four decisive games were seen in the fifth round, and yet things remained very close in the standings. The first winner was Anand, but the game wasn't easy to understand so if anyone knows what was going on, feel free to share in the comments. 

Carlsen tends to do well after a loss. It's as if he is capable of saying to himself: “Enough is enough! Time to start playing good chess!” He went for the Stonewall Dutch against Kramnik's 1.Nf3, and this went quite well. White might be a bit better after the opening, but Kramnik couldn't hold on to the advantage, and he got outplayed.

Bouncing back is kind of a hobby for the world champion.

So kept the pace though. He remained a point back from the leader by beating Nakamura, who was shaking his head afterward. Perhaps Nakamura thought that the rook endgame must have been a draw (it was, at one point) or realized that a true comeback wasn't going to happen? 

Round 6: Carlsen goes down, but so does So

After a half-hour break, play resumed in Leuven with a shocker as the tournament leader got himself checkmated on the board. Escalating the drama, this shocker occurred only after he pushed too hard for a win, having had a big advantage earlier on. 

“It was a bit random that I got this,” said Caruana. “He was obviously better at some point. He should have just taken a draw, but he pressed too hard. I know the feeling; I've done it myself!”

It's not every day that a world champion gets checkmated! | Photo Lennart Ootes.

However, in a very important game for the standings, So quickly lost to Aronian after playing a completely incorrect combination in the opening. He basically tricked himself, as they say. 

Round 7: So coming closer

Mentally So is making a very good impression despite the previous misfortune. He quickly recovered from this loss and won his game against an in-form Topalov. In the opening he offered an interesting positional pawn sac which was played for the first time in 1950 by O'Kelly de Galway. Topalov might have resigned a bit too early, but he was suffering throughout the game so it was understandable that he had had enough.

Mentally strong, So is turning into one of the best blitz players in the world.

Carlsen drew with Giri. Consequently, after this round, So was only half a point behind the Norwegian and a point ahead of Aronian and Anand. Before we move on to the big clash, have a look at Caruana vs Vachier-Lagrave, where at some point Black had six pawns for a rook!

Round 8: The big clash

The big clash was, of course, Carlsen vs So — the #1 and #2 in the standings. On the board it wasn't the big fight the fans were expecting; it was a one-sided affair where Carlsen was always in control. The game was a fine demonstration of the strength of the bishop pair.

A surprisingly easy win for Carlsen versus So.

The longest game of the round was Topalov vs Nakamura, which reached the infamous R vs RN endgame. Many fans will immediately name the game Polgar vs Kasparov from Dos Hermanas 1996 as arguably the most famous example of the stronger side actually winning. Garry Kasparov himself surely was thinking about that game too as he entered the playing hall in Leuven and witnessed everything from the back of the room!

On Monday night, the 13th world champion will give a lecture here about his book Winter is Coming.

Kasparov next to Jan Callewaert, the sponsor of the tournament.

Round 9: Back to a point

After the ninth round, the tournament was basically back to where it started today, with So trailing Carlsen by a point. The deficit should have been one and a half point though.

First let's look at So's win over MVL. The Frenchman is not a bad blitz player at all; he's also the one who came third in Paris behind Carlsen and Nakamura. However, So is just in excellent shape here in Leuven, and he won a good game to make it clear that he is the one playing for the top prize this time.

Carlsen was 1.5 points ahead but dropped half a point as he missed a win in a pawn ending. He went for the right breakthrough, but then he missed the correct follow-up. “It's good that I'm still leading after a less than perfect day,” he said. “I want to play a bit better. I thought my was play today was a little bit better, but to be honest, it was a bit abysmal at the start. It's going in the right direction.”

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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