So Leads As Grand Chess Tour Takes Off
So and Giri watching MVL and Karjakin. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

So Leads As Grand Chess Tour Takes Off

| 23 | Chess Event Coverage

Wesley So showed great form and took an early lead at the Your Next Move rapid and blitz event in Leuven, Belgium which kicked off the 2018 Grand Chess Tour today. 

Except for a switch at the start, with first Leuven and then Paris instead of the other way around, the 2018 Grand Chess Tour is quite similar to its first two editions.

After the two rapid and blitz events, this week (Leuven) and next week (Paris), the next events will be the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz (August 10-16) and the Sinquefield Cup (August 17-28), both in St. Louis. The tour will again finish in London in December, this time with a four-player playoff.

The total prize fund is $1,050,000 with $150,000 allocated for the three rapid and blitz events each, with a $37,500 first prize. The fund is $300,000 each for the Sinquefield Cup and for London.

Grand Chess Tour 2018 Leuven participants

The players on the balcony of the Leuven Town Hall, yesterday during the opening day. Most traveled straight from Stavanger. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The field consists of nine "fixed" players, who all play in Leuven, Paris and the two events in St. Louis, and one wildcard for each event. This means that the participation of Magnus Carlsen (who declined as regular participant) or Garry Kasparov at one of the events in St. Louis cannot be ruled out just yet.

Vladimir Kramnik also turned down his invitation as regular participant, but he'll be the wildcard next week in Paris. Here's the field for Leuven, where Dutch GM Anish Giri is the wildcard and eight players were playing Norway Chess only a few days ago:

Your Next Move 2018 | Participants

# Rank Fed Name Rating B-Year
1 2 Caruana, Fabiano 2816 1992
2 3 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 2808 1985
3 6 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2789 1990
4 7 Giri, Anish 2782 1994
5 8 Karjakin, Sergey 2782 1990
6 9 So, Wesley 2778 1993
7 10 Nakamura, Hikaru 2769 1987
8 11 Grischuk, Alexander 2766 1983
9 12 Aronian, Levon 2764 1982
10 14 Anand, Viswanathan 2759 1969

Again in the historic Leuven Town Hall (built in the years 1448-1469!), the Your Next Move tournament took off with three rounds of rapid, played at 25 minutes per game with a 10-second delay from move one.

Leuven playing hall Grand Chess Tour

For the third year this splendid playing hall is in use. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The first player to get into trouble was Anish Giri, who did seem well prepared for a topical line in the London System. However, some tactics in the opening were in Hikaru Nakamura's favor, who got two bishops for a rook. It wasn't completely winning yet, but practically hard to play against.

Nakamura-Giri, Leuven 2018

Giri throws in the towel. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So were paired against each other in this very first round, less than a week after playing their crucial last-round encounter in Norway. After winning, So admitted that it was sweet revenge: "Yes, definitely. At least I can beat somebody even though it's speed chess."

The third decisive game in this early round was just spectacular, and easily the game of the day. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's Nimzowitsch Sicilian led to an original middle game, where his bishop sacrifice on g2 was a fantastic shot. Vishy Anand got two knights around his king, but they couldn't provide enough protection.


Mamedyarov-Anand, Leuven 2018

A great sacrifice from Mamedyarov vs Anand. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The second round was very typical for speed chess, as it had lots of missed opportunities and blunders as a result of the limited time on the clock. It's also possible that the players need a couple of rounds to get used to the delay (instead of increment), which they only get to use in Grand Chess Tour events.

Sergey Karjakin scored a lucky win against his compatriot Alexander Grischuk, who missed a fairly easy win and then unnecessarily lost an endgame, all in time trouble of course.

Not knowing yet that his position was already lost there, Karjakin described the moment, and his poker face:

"Actually I played d4 and the next second I realized that I blundered. It was very critical, because he was thinking for about 30 seconds but he didn't find [it]. Of course I was lucky, but basically the game was complicated and interesting. I was just trying not to pay any attention. I was concentrating and sitting!"

Karjakin vs Grischuk, Leuven 2018A lucky win for Karjakin. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Wesley So also won his second game as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov for a moment forgot White's threat in a queen endgame:

Vishy Anand lost his second game in a row in a game with two stories: first, both players missed a remarkable intermediate move in the opening, and then Anand hardly made Anish Giri's life difficult in the technical rook endgame.

Giri-Anand, Leuven 2018

Anand didn't have a great first day. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Levon Aronian vs Hikaru Nakamura was a great fight with a material imbalance for most of the game. Aronian explained his positional queen sac: "Generally, with a short time control, it's easier to play with the rook and the knight against the queen."

He said this was the "safer" way of playing, but it only got really safe when he managed to cement his blockading knight on d4. White had enough compensation and the game was heading to a draw until some crazy things happened in time trouble, with Aronian missing a beautifully winning rook move and Nakamura then missing a way to give perpetual. 

"I had kind of a boring tournament in Norway so now I wanna produce some interesting games. That's the goal, to enjoy," said Aronian.

Round three saw more missed opportunities, starting with Mamedyarov who agreed to a draw (after repeating moves) while having a devastating sacrifice in the final position. "Both players had their mouths on the floor," was how commentator Maurice Ashley described their reaction when local-audience commentator Nigel Short showed them the move Rh1-h6.

Three-time world blitz champion Grischuk played a fine game against Caruana, where he used a new (in this particular position)setup with b3 followed by wonderful geometry with his queen to annihilate the star of 2018 in his beloved Petroff: 

Caruana Leuven 2018

"I played absolutely horribly in game one and three," said Caruana. "The problem with rapid or blitz is that if you have a bad day, you can lose a bunch of games and not just one." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

As the rapid games count double (two points for a win, one point for a draw) these are the standings after the first day, with So in the lead after playing very well in all three games:

Your Next Move 2018 | Round 3 Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
1 So,Wesley 2778 3083 1 2 2 5.0/3
2 Karjakin,Sergey 2782 2895 1 1 2 4.0/3 6
3 Aronian,Levon 2764 2885 2 1 1 4.0/3 5.0
4 Vachier Lagrave,Maxime 2789 2792 1 1 1 3.0/3 5.0
5 Nakamura,Hikaru 2769 2776 1 0 2 3.0/3 5.0
6 Grischuk,Alexander 2766 2787 0 1 2 3.0/3 3.0
7 Mamedyarov,Shakhriyar 2808 2773 0 1 2 3.0/3 2.5
8 Giri,Anish 2782 2779 0 1 2 3.0/3 2.5
9 Anand,Viswanathan 2759 2506 1 0 0 1.0/3 2
10 Caruana,Fabiano 2816 2499 0 1 0 1.0/3 1.5

Games via TWIC.


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