Image by Georgios Souleidis / Grenke Chess Classic
He won his third consecutive game, while his closest rivals drew. The World Champion also won his first game of the event.
With his third consecutive victory, Levon Aronian of Armenia has taken control of the Grenke Chess Classic. After five rounds, he leads his closest pursuers by a full point with only two games left to play.
Among the group a point behind Aronian are Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion from Norway, Fabiano Caruana of the United States, and Hou Yifan of China.
As happened in Round 4, the matchups between players who were more or less ranked the same ended in draws, while the games between players of larger ranking disparities were won by the higher rated player — Aronian and Carlsen.
Georgios Souleidis / Grenke Chess Classic
Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, finally won a game and is now tied for second.
Carlsen had started poorly with four draws (including missing a clear win in an earlier game), but in Round 5 he demolished Georg Meier of Germany after Meier took too many liberties in the opening.
1. d4Nf62. c4g63. Nc3d54. Nf3Bg75. g3?This is just a dubious move. White can choose to play Nc3 or g3 in the Grunfeld, but the combination is a bad idea. 5... dxc4!If White could play Na3 and win his pawn back, he would be doing great. As it is, it's not so easy to recapture. Meier made the only move that guarantees that he maintains material equality, but he loses a lot of time. 6. Qa4+
( 6. Bg2O-O7. O-Oc68. Ne5Ng4!Is well known to be good for Black. )
6... Nfd77. Qxc4Material is
Equal again, but now Black develops his central pressure very quickly. 7... Nb6!8. Qd3O-O9. Bf4
( 9. Bg2Nc6Was not much better 10. e3e5!And White has a lousy fianchetto Grunfeld where he has been forced into playing Qd3 instead of castling. 11. d5Nb4 )
9... Nc610. Rd1
( 10. e3f6!?The bishop on f4 is in trouble. Black threatens g5 and if White plays h4, then: 11. h4e5!12. dxe5Qxd313. Bxd3fxe5 )
10... Bf5!11. Qd2
( 11. e4Bg4And White's center falls apart. )
11... Bg4!12. Bg2Bxf3!Energetic play from Carlsen. White is nearly lost already. 13. Bxf3Nxd414. Bxb7Nc415. Qc1Rb816. b3Rxb717. bxc4c5The fireworks are over and material is equal, but Black has a huge lead in development and the White pawn on c4 pawn is ripe for the taking. 18. O-O
( 18. e3Does not win a piece because of: 18... Qa5! )
18... Rb419. Bh6Bxh620. Qxh6Rxc421. Ne4Nxe2+22. Kg2Qa823. f3Rxe4!The simplest. Black never again has to worry about Ng5. 24. fxe4Qxe4+25. Kf2Nd4With White's king exposed, the knight on d4 is as good as a rook. And with three extra pawns for the exchange, Black is easily winning. Carlsen cleaned up without trouble. 26. Qe3Qd527. Rd2e528. Re1Re829. Qe4Qe630. Re3Kg731. Rb2c432. g4Qf6+33. Ke1Qg534. Kf2Re635. Ke1h536. h3Rf637. Kd2Rf438. Qxe5+Qxe539. Rxe5Nf3+40. Ke3Nxe541. Kxf4Nd3+
1. c4e62. g3d53. Bg2Nf64. Nf3dxc45. O-ONbd76. Qc2c5?!I don't like this move
( 6... a6This is thematic. Black would be fine after: 7. Qxc4b5 )
7. Na3!White is able to take on c4 with the knight instead of the queen. Black should not have allowed that. 7... Nd58. Nxc4b59. Ne3Bb710. Nxd5!Bxd511. e4!Energetic and strong play from Aronian. He takes control of the center and opens the position before Black can castle. 11... Bb712. d4cxd4
( 12... Be713. Rd1Was no better for Black. )
13. Nxd4Rc814. Qe2a615. Rd1Bc5If Black had one more move so that he could castle, he would be okay. But Aronian continues to use the initiative effectively. 16. Nb3!Be717. Rd3!Preparing to double on the d-file. Black is still unable to castle. 17... Qc7
( 17... O-O18. Qd1!Bc619. Nd4!Ba820. Nxe6!And White would win material. )
18. Bf4!Ne519. Rc3!Qb820. Qh5!Every move White makes is forcing and direct, and Black is never able to consolidate. 20... Bd621. Rxc8+
( 21. Nc5This looks simpler to me, but the move played by Aronian is also good. )
21... Bxc822. Rd1!Another forcing move. The threat is Rxd6. 22... Bc7
( 22... O-O23. Rxd6Qxd624. Bxe5 )
( 23... Bxa524. Bxe5And Black would lose too much material. )
( 23... O-OThis may have been relatively best, though after: 24. Bxe5Bxe525. Nc6Qc726. Nxe5g627. Nxg6!hxg628. Qg5White is up a pawn and Black has no compensation. )
24. Bxe5!The most normal way for a human to play, and the most energetic. White is ready to give up material for a strong attack. 24... Bxe525. Rxd7!Kxd726. Qxf7+Kd627. Bh3!Re8Literally every move since Nb3 has been forced for Black. White is totally in control of the game and Black's position is on the brink of collapse. 28. Nb7+Kc629. b4!White is now ready to bring the knight to c5. 29... Rf8
( 29... Qxb730. Qxe8+ )
( 30. Na5+This was a little more accurate because it avoids Bc7. 30... Kb631. Qe7With a likely transposition )
( 30... Bc7!This offers more resistance, though after: 31. Na5+Bxa532. Bxe6!Black would still have a difficult position. )
31. Na5+Kb632. Qxe6Re833. Qd7Black has to give back his extra material. 33... Bxb434. Nc6Qd635. Qxe8Qxc6White is up a pawn, but he has a four-on-two kingside majority, which was enough to win. 36. Qb8+Qb737. Qxb7+Kxb738. f4Kc639. Kf2a540. Kf3a441. Bf5h642. Bg6Kd743. e5Bc544. Bd3Kc645. Bc2Kd546. Be4+Kc447. Bc6Bg148. h4Kc549. Be8Bd450. h5Bc351. Ke4Be152. g4Bd253. Kf5a354. g5b455. Ba4Kd556. gxh6gxh657. Bb3+Kc558. Ke4
Two of the world's top players, Fabiano Caruana, left, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had an interesting game, but neither ever got the upper hand and it ended in a draw.
The other two games were draws, though not without some excitement. Every recent game between Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, when Caruana has White, has been a sharp Najdorf Sicilian, and Round 5 was no exception. Neither player really managed to generate serious winning chances, but the game had some interesting moments.
( 21. g5!This would have preserved a small edge for White as he has a strong initiative. )
21... Rae822. g5h523. Be2g624. exf7+Qxf7Black now has a pleasant position. He is very solid, his king is safe, and his pieces are active. 25. Nb3!The most accurate move. White clears d4 for his other pieces and might try to put the knight on c5 at some point. 25... Nc426. Rf3Qg727. Rxf8+Rxf828. Qd4Qxd429. Rxd4The exchanges have favored White, but Black has enough activity to hold a draw. 29... Rc830. Bd3Nxb2!Well calculated. 31. Rxb4
( 31. Kxb2Bxc3+ )
31... Nxd3+32. cxd3Rxc3+33. Kd2Rc734. Ke3White's active pieces offer him enough compensation for a pawn, but not more. The game was shortly drawn. 34... Bc835. Kd4Kf736. Nc5Ra737. Kxd5a538. Rf4+Bf539. Kc6Ke740. Rd4a441. Kb6Ra842. Nxa4Bxd343. Nc5
Hou Yifan was unable to beat the player in last place and re-establish her momentum. She remains tied for second.
In Round 6, Aronian will play Hou and have his second consecutive game with White. If he wins, he would lock up the tournament with a round to spare.
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.