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.

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.

Hou Yifan vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Grenke Chess Classic | Baden-Baden, Germany | Round 1 | 15 Apr 2017 | 1-0
7. Bf1 O-O!? This is a more ambitious move than the standard
7... Nxe5 Black 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. d4 Nf5 9. Nf3 d5 The position is symmetrical, but the coordination of White's pieces is a little better. Still, Black should be fine with precise play.
10. c3 Bd6 11. Nbd2 Nce7?! 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+ Qxe8 13. Bd3 g6  )
12. Qc2 c6 13. Bd3 g6 14. Nf1 Now 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... Ng7 This looks more natural to me, preparing Bf5.  )
15. h3 Rf7 16. Bd2 Bd7 17. Re2 c5? This was too rash, particularly considering that Black played c7-c6 just a couple moves earlier.
17... b6 Black should just wait. His position is a little unpleasant but very solid.  )
18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Bf4 Rc8 20. Rae1 After 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... g5 21. Ng3! Well calculated.
21... Nxg3
21... gxf4 22. Nxf5 And Black is busted  )
22. Bxg3 a5 23. Qd2 a4 24. b4! I like this move. Hou does not allow Black to gain space on the queenside.
24... axb3 25. axb3 Ng6 26. h4! Not the best move, but a very human one. I like the idea: Black's kingside is compromised, so tear it open!
26. b4 Bf8 27. Bc2 Apparently this was a faster way to win, but I prefer the move played by Hou.  )
26... gxh4 27. Nxh4 Nxh4 28. Bxh4 Qf8 29. Qf4 Bd6 30. Qd4 Rd8 31. Re3! Lifting the rook should be decisive.
31... Bc8 32. b4 Kg7 33. Bb5! Eyeing the weak e8 square.
33... Bc7 34. Re8 Qd6
34... Rxe8 35. Rxe8 The bishop on c8 is lost.  )
35. Bg3 Qb6 36. Qd3 Bd7 37. Bxd7 Rdxd7 38. Qf5 Bxg3 39. Qg4+ Kh6 40. Qh3+ Not Caruana's finest day. His rating drops below 2800 with this loss.

Naiditsch dispatched Vachier-Lagrave shotly thereafter.

Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime vs. Naiditsch, Arkadij
Grenke Chess Classic | Baden-Baden, Germany | Round 1 | 15 Apr 2017 | 0-1
15. Rg1 White 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. h4 Na8! 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... Nc7 18. 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... Ne6 19. Bxf5 Nxf4 20. Bxf4 Bxf5 21. Qxf5 Qd7 White would have won his pawn back, but he still cannot play e6. Chances are equal.  )
17... Bxe6 18. Nxe6 fxe6 Black is now up two pawns, and White can only hope to win one back.
19. Rg6
19. Qxe6+? Re7 And the queen is lost  )
19... Nc7 20. Bf4 Bd6 Black has consolidated his opposition and kept his material. He will lose the pawn on g7, but this is of little consequence.
21. Qh2
21. Bxd6 Qxd6 22. Rxg7  )
21... Bxf4 22. Qxf4 Kd7! 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+ Kc8 24. O-O-O Qf6 25. Qg5 Qxg5+ 26. hxg5 Ne8! 27. Rg6 Re7 Now 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. Re1 Kd7 29. Rh6 Rg8 30. Bh3 Nd6 31. Rg1 Ne4 32. Kd1 Reg7 33. Rh5 Nd8 34. Ke2 Nf7 35. g6 Rxg6 36. Rxf5 Rxg1 37. Rxf7+ Ke8 38. Ra7 Rb1 39. Bxe6 Rxb2+ 40. Ke3 Rg3 41. Bxd5 Nxc3 42. Bc6+ Kf8 43. d5 Rg4 A fine game by Naiditsch

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.

Blbaum, Matthias vs. Carlsen, Magnus
Grenke Chess Classic | Baden-Baden, Germany | Round 1 | 15 Apr 2017 | 1/2-1/2
Nc5 White is under some pressure, but with accurately play he holds his position together.
29. Ree1! Nd3 30. Re3! e4 31. Bxg7 Kxg7 32. Ne1! Expelling the knight
32... Nc5
32... Nxe1 33. Rexe1 And chances are equal.  )
32... Nb4 33. Rxd8 Rxd8 34. Rxe4  )
33. Rxd8! Rxd8 34. b4! Bluebaum's defense has been perfect thus far.
34. Kf1 The engine prefers this move, though White will suffer after:
34... a5! Securing the outpost for the knight on c5.  )
34... Nd3 35. Rxe4 Nxb4 White has a bad pawn structure, but he was ready for this:
36. a3! Nc6
36... Nd3 This is the computer's suggestion, but it should be a draw after:
37. Nxd3 Rxd3 38. a4 Ra3 39. c5 bxc5 40. Rc4 This setup is known to be defensible.  )
37. Nc2! Preparing Nb4, challenging the knight on c6.
37... Rd1+ 38. Kg2 a5 39. Ne3! The knight is heading to d5 to pick off the pawn on b6.
39... Ra1 40. Nd5 Rxa3 41. Nxb6 Bluebaum has reached the first time control and has a very defensible position. He held a draw with no trouble.
41... Rc3 42. Re8 Rb3 43. c5 Rc3 44. Na4 Rc4 45. Rc8 Ne5 46. Nb6 Rc2 47. Nd5 a4 48. Ne3 Rc3 49. Nd5 Rc1 50. Ra8 Rxc5 51. Ne3 Nc4 52. Rxa4 Nxe3+ 53. fxe3 Rc2+ 54. Kf3 g5 55. Ra5 f6 56. e4 Rc3+ 57. Kf2 Rc2+ 58. Kf3 Rc3+ 59. Kf2

An exciting start to the tournament! 


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.