Hou Yifan beat Fabiano Caruana in Round 1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also lost, while Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, was held to a draw.
The Grenke Chess Classic began on Saturday with several surprises: Hou Yifan, the world’s top woman player, upset Fabiano Caruana of the United States, who is ranked No. 4 in the world (according to the Live Ratings List Web site); Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, No. 5, lost to Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan, No. 42; and Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, drew with Matthias Blübaum of Germany, who is No. 145.
The tournament is an eight-player round robin, with four of the world’s top players, Hou, and three German players. The gap between the top four and bottom four is sizeable, so the expectation is that the top players would do very well against the lower-ranked opposition. But the exact opposite occurred in Round 1.
Grenke Chess Classic
The playing hall at the Grenke Chess Festival has more than 1200 players.
Caruana’s loss was his third in the last two weeks to a player rated in the 2600s. The result dropped Caruana’s rating below 2800 for the first time in a while.
7. Bf1O-O!?This is a more ambitious move than the standard
( 7... Nxe5Black is slightly worse, but in basically all top-level games Black should have little trouble holding a draw. Caruana clearly wanted to keep more pieces on the board because he hoped to make the game more complicated. )
8. d4Nf59. Nf3d5The position is symmetrical, but the coordination of White's pieces is a little better. Still, Black should be fine with precise play. 10. c3Bd611. Nbd2Nce7?!This looks like a poor move to me.
( 11... Re8!Contesting the open file first and only then playing Nce7 once the rooks have been traded is Black's best plan, as Wesley So recently demonstrated in a game against me. Black is fine after: 12. Rxe8+Qxe813. Bd3g6 )
12. Qc2c613. Bd3g614. Nf1Now Black is worse. Normally he would get a position a lot like this one but with the rooks on f8 and e1 no longer on the board. That is better for Black. 14... f6
( 14... Ng7This looks more natural to me, preparing Bf5. )
15. h3Rf716. Bd2Bd717. Re2c5?This was too rash, particularly considering that Black played c7-c6 just a couple moves earlier.
( 17... b6Black should just wait. His position is a little unpleasant but very solid. )
18. dxc5Bxc519. Bf4Rc820. Rae1After 20 moves, Black looks nearly lost. His piece coordination is terrible and White dominates the only open file. And Black has an isolated pawn. 20... g521. Ng3!Well calculated. 21... Nxg3
( 21... gxf422. Nxf5And Black is busted )
22. Bxg3a523. Qd2a424. b4!I like this move. Hou does not allow Black to gain space on the queenside. 24... axb325. axb3Ng626. h4!Not the best move, but a very human one. I like the idea: Black's kingside is compromised, so tear it open!
( 26. b4Bf827. Bc2Apparently this was a faster way to win, but I prefer the move played by Hou. )
26... gxh427. Nxh4Nxh428. Bxh4Qf829. Qf4Bd630. Qd4Rd831. Re3!Lifting the rook should be decisive. 31... Bc832. b4Kg733. Bb5!Eyeing the weak e8 square. 33... Bc734. Re8Qd6
( 34... Rxe835. Rxe8The bishop on c8 is lost. )
35. Bg3Qb636. Qd3Bd737. Bxd7Rdxd738. Qf5Bxg339. Qg4+Kh640. Qh3+Not
Caruana's finest day. His rating drops below 2800 with this loss.
15. Rg1White has sacrificed a pawn for piece activity, and his main plan is to play e6. Anticipating this, I really like Naiditsch's reply: 15... Ra7!Excellent prophylaxis. The threat of playing Re7 deters e6. This move has another subtle point. 16. h4Na8!Another excellent move. Black plans Nc7, overprotecting the e6 square and apparently preventing the e5-e6 break. 17. e6?!This is understandable since it was now or never. But the move is still dubious.
( 17. Bh3!This move would have kept the position under control. After: 17... Nc718. Qc2!Black has a
hard time holding onto the f-pawn, since g6 can be met by h5 and Ne7 is very ugly. Still, after 18... Ne619. Bxf5Nxf420. Bxf4Bxf521. Qxf5Qd7White would have won his pawn back, but he still cannot play e6. Chances are equal. )
17... Bxe618. Nxe6fxe6Black is now up two pawns, and White can only hope to win one back. 19. Rg6
( 19. Qxe6+?Re7And the queen is lost )
19... Nc720. Bf4Bd6Black has consolidated his opposition and kept his material. He will lose the pawn on g7, but this is of little consequence. 21. Qh2
( 21. Bxd6Qxd622. Rxg7 )
21... Bxf422. Qxf4Kd7!I like this move. Black is up material but his king us not too safe so he decides to run it to safety on the queenside! 23. Rxg7+Kc824. O-O-OQf625. Qg5Qxg5+26. hxg5Ne8!27. Rg6Re7Now that queens have been exchanged, Black has consolidated his position, the
pawn on g5 is easily kept under control, and the bishop on f1 is forever locked out of the game. White is busted. 28. Re1Kd729. Rh6Rg830. Bh3Nd631. Rg1Ne432. Kd1Reg733. Rh5Nd834. Ke2Nf735. g6Rxg636. Rxf5Rxg137. Rxf7+Ke838. Ra7Rb139. Bxe6Rxb2+40. Ke3Rg341. Bxd5Nxc342. Bc6+Kf843. d5Rg4A fine game by Naiditsch
Matthias Bluebaum, left, held Magnus Carlsen to a draw in Round 1.
The only game where the top dogs had any chance was Carlsen’s game with Blübaum. Even though the World Champion was only slightly better, I thought he might win, particularly as Blübaum fell behind on the clock. This was not to be the case as the young German defended very well with little time to make the first time control.
Nc5White is under some pressure, but with accurately play he
holds his position together. 29. Ree1!Nd330. Re3!e431. Bxg7Kxg732. Ne1!Expelling the knight 32... Nc5
( 32... Nxe133. Rexe1And chances are equal. )
( 32... Nb433. Rxd8Rxd834. Rxe4 )
33. Rxd8!Rxd834. b4!Bluebaum's defense has been perfect thus far.
( 34. Kf1The engine prefers this move, though White will suffer after: 34... a5!Securing the outpost for the knight on c5. )
34... Nd335. Rxe4Nxb4White has a bad pawn structure, but he was ready for this: 36. a3!Nc6
( 36... Nd3This is the computer's suggestion, but it should be a draw after: 37. Nxd3Rxd338. a4Ra339. c5bxc540. Rc4This setup is known to be defensible. )
37. Nc2!Preparing Nb4, challenging the knight on c6. 37... Rd1+38. Kg2a539. Ne3!The knight is heading to d5 to pick off the pawn on b6. 39... Ra140. Nd5Rxa341. Nxb6Bluebaum has reached the first time control and has a very defensible position. He held a draw with no trouble. 41... Rc342. Re8Rb343. c5Rc344. Na4Rc445. Rc8Ne546. Nb6Rc247. Nd5a448. Ne3Rc349. Nd5Rc150. Ra8Rxc551. Ne3Nc452. Rxa4Nxe3+53. fxe3Rc2+54. Kf3g555. Ra5f656. e4Rc3+57. Kf2Rc2+58. Kf3Rc3+59. Kf2
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter, has his own site, and is also on Facebook.