Magnus Carlsen Cruises To Victory In Leuven

Magnus Carlsen Cruises To Victory In Leuven

| 37 | Chess Event Coverage

Magnus Carlsen won the Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour with three rounds to spare. Wesley So played good, pragmatic chess and clinched second place. Carlsen's next event? His GM Blitz Battle on with Tigran Petrosian on Thursday 23 June!

The weather in Leuven returned to being very unpredictable; simultaneously the tournament could go either way as well. Why? Because half of the field (including Carlsen!) had been watching at least parts of the NBA final. To do so, they had to stay up in the middle of the night in Europe! However, these players are used to performing in any circumstance, so perhaps the effects of a bit less sleep weren't that great.

Round 10 copies round 1

Monday's tenth round was rather similar to the first round on Sunday. Magnus Carlsen, leading by a point, drew with Levon Aronian but increased his lead to 1.5 points as Wesley So again lost to Vladimir Kramnik. The round was still a bit disappointing for the Norwegian as he spoiled a promising ending.

So and Kramnik played an old line of the Catalan where it seemed that the Russian GM was more in his element. Especially 26.Qb1 was a strange move, and from that moment on, Black had the upper hand. However, just after he got back into the game, So blundered big time.

Kramnik again “helped” Carlsen early in the day.

Meanwhile Vishy Anand, who started the day trailing Carlsen by two points, outplayed Veselin Topalov in a Najdorf that really looked like a Sveshnikov. It can be very useful to understand the themes of one opening and use them in another. The five-time world champion is one of the best, if not the best player in the world at this.

Round 11: 1.5 becomes 2

The gap became two points as Carlsen's win against Topalov was the only decisive game of the round. In fact, it wasn't exactly clear whether Black was losing in the final position, but as we saw yesterday, Topalov can be fairly disgusted by his own play. Sometimes, he just stops the clock when he has seen enough. It's a bad habit that many amateurs will recognize (including the author of these lines!).

Another early resignation by Veselin Topalov.

So ended up with an extra piece for two pawns against Fabiano Caruana, but he couldn't find a way to make progress.

Round 12: 2 becomes 2.5

The trend continued as Carlsen increased his lead to two and a half points in round 12. This time he defeated Anand with the black pieces. There wasn't so much going on perhaps, but Carlsen kept the game going, used less time on the clock, and continued to find annoying moves.

Carlsen denied that Anand also resigned too early: Vishy was very short on time as well. There really aren't many chances to save the game.”

With six rounds to go, the world champion seemed to be putting his signature mark on the event. “2.5 now. That's nice. It was good to have a complicated game in the first round. I didn't play well, but it helped me to get into some kind of rhythm. In the third game, I was calm and played better than in the rounds before.


Carlsen getting into the rhythm and beating Anand as Black. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

Not playing a significant role this time, Nakamura recovered and won the all-American clash with Caruana. The latter played a Pirc, but that didn't go so well. Nakamura dominated from start to finish (except for one moment) and won convincingly.

Round 13: 2.5 becomes 3

“He seems to be in his own zone. When the world champion is playing his best chess, he's imperial,” said Yasser Seirawan in the live broadcast. Carlsen was completely outplaying Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the black pieces. It's indeed amazing how such a strong player can be completely helpless. After this round, it seemed just about over. As Maurice Ashley said, Carlsen's rivals went “from contenders to pretenders”.

Aronian was reasonably close in the standings but lost to Caruana. Two other near rivals of Carlsen — Anand and So — drew a sharp game. The Indian GM was definitely lucky to escape with a draw in this one. Did So have a bit too much respect for his great opponent here?

Round 14: 3 almost becomes 3.5

In this round, the gap remained three points, but it could have been 3.5 or 2.5 as well. Carlsen was slowly outplaying Kramnik in the latter's favorite Berlin, and he reached a completely winning rook ending. Then he allowed Kramnik too much counterplay. If you look at the number of alternatives White had in this rook endgame, it's hard to believe Carlsen didn't win this one.

Carlsen was playing a model game but spoiled it in the end.

After this round, So was still the player closest to the leader, but he could have gotten a bit closer. In a game that was equal for a long time, it looks like Nakamura took on too much risk but then saved a lost position.

So still “best of the rest” at this point. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

Round 15: Carlsen clinches

Was the half-hour break going to change anything? Well, no. This round saw yet another crushing victory by Carlsen, who hesitated for a few seconds after 1.Nf3, went for a Grünfeld setup, and then outplayed Caruana in the opening. Another dominant win for the Norwegian.

Carlsen clinches the tournament with three rounds to go.

Anand won a good game with Black against Nakamura. Nakamura was already in big trouble when he suddenly got himself checkmated.

Round 16: The battle for second place

From this point on, the question was who would be winning the battle for second place. Well, that would be So, who again took a half point lead over Anand with a convincing win over Topalov. The latter was better out of the opening, but he blundered a standard trick. Although So won a pawn, he missed something stronger. Topalov made further mistakes, and ultimately the rook endgame was dead lost.

So never really let go of that second place.

Carlsen was finally stopped, but it was too late. Perhaps he allowed his concentration to diminish. He played a frivolous game against Giri, who wasn't impressed by Carlsen's Grand Prix Attack, typical pawn sac, and ultimate piece sac. As Eric Hansen put it, throwing the kitchen sink at Giri is one way to give yourself good losing chances!

Giri finally spoiled the fun for Carlsen.

Round 17: Aronian, not Anand

In the penultimate round, the tournament winner also didn't make a great impression. Against So, Carlsen got “as bad a Stonewall as Black could possible achieve” (Seirawan). However, he avoided further mistakes and was hanging on. So didn't want to take too many risks in the fight for second place which explained the final peace.

As it turned out, that strategy worked for So as his main rival, Anand, went down against Aronian. The game was a spectacular performance by the Armenian grandmaster, who had a clear advantage after move 35, but he also had only 8 seconds left vs 2 minutes and 50 seconds for Anand. The 2-second increment proved sufficient, and after 57.Ra2!, he was back to 23 seconds. That proved more than enough to win this rook endgame. Great blitz material!

Around this time, Garry Kasparov entered the building again and was briefly interviewed by Maurice Ashley. “When Magnus plays chess it looks easy,” Kasparov stated. “He makes the moves, the opponents make their moves, and at the end of the day, in most cases, he prevails.” The 13th world champion also said that he was impressed by Carlsen's desire to improve. “He has this hunger to get even better with every game and every move.” 

Carlsen made it look easy.

Round 18: Claiming a draw

The final round started with a very quick win by Kramnik over Giri. The Dutchman had a drawing streak of eight games (the last three on Sunday and the first five on Monday) before he defeated both Topalov and Carlsen. After last round's draw, the Dutchman dropped to plus one like this:

As in Paris, Carlsen finished his tournament playing Nakamura. However, this time he didn't beat the American two times in the blitz. He drew twice. In fact, it was Nakamura who had the better of the rook ending after Carlsen dropped a pawn, but it wasn't enough to win.

"I'm not so upset with the result," said Nakamura, "but I am extremely upset with the quality of my play."

Despite a disappointing tournament in Leuven, Nakamura is still one of the favorites to win the 2016 Grand Chess Tour.

So finished in second place after a solid draw as Black against MVL. The other games were drawn as well.

Caruana drew his game in a special way. He claimed a threefold repetition which the arbiter ruled incorrect, but since Anand agreed to the draw, it was irrelevant. However, the position after 40...Nc7 was about to appear for the third time with 44...Rb8 so it's not clear what the arbiter deemed incorrect.

What is the first thing that chess players do after four days of chess? Play more chess! Whether you're organizing a small event at your local club or a million dollar event, a closing ceremony will always be delayed somewhat because a bunch of players don't want to call it a day. 

Even Garry Kasparov joined the fun for a bit (as a kibitzer) in the players room.

At the closing ceremony, organizer Malcolm Pein noted: “We prepared three trophies: one for the rapid, one for the blitz, and one for the overall prize, but one man won them all!” An even bigger smile appeared on Carlsen's face when Pein added: “Since we are in Belgium, two of them are filled with chocolates.”

After the ceremony, Carlsen remarked that he might have won the tournament with three rounds to spare against two for Nakamura, but that he had scored less points. In Belgium, he scored 23 compared to his 24.5 in Paris, where Nakamura collected 25.5 points. His below-par score even resulted in a new number one in the blitz live ratings!

23 points was still enough for Carlsen to win the tournament. The difference was that this time nobody else was playing nearly as well. Here's an interview with the winner:

Carlsen's next event? His GM Blitz Battle on with Tigran Petrosian on Thursday 23 June!

Image courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

Image courtesy of Spectrum Studios.

The Leuven Grand Chess Tour took place June 17-20 in the Town Hall in Leuven, Belgium. First, there were two days of rapid (Friday and Saturday, nine rounds), then two days of blitz (Sunday and Monday, 18 rounds). In the rapid, a win yielded 2 points and a draw 1; whereas in the blitz, it was 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. chesspawn.png

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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