But three players are only a half point back.

Hou Yifan of China, the world’s best woman player, had Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, on the ropes in Round 3 of Grenke Chess Classic, but she let him escape with a draw. Still, that was enough for her to continue to hold the lead in the elite tournament.

While Hou drew, three other players — Levon Aronian of Armenia, Arkadij Naiditsch of Azerbaijan and Fabiano Caruana of the United States — all won to close the gap on Hou to half a point. 

Caruana was the first to win, beating Georg Meier, one of the local players in the tournament. After losing to Hou in Round 1, Caruana has recovered well to put himself back in contention for first place.

Fabiano Caruana vs. Georg Meier
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 3.3 | 17 Apr 2017 | ECO: C10 | 1-0
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7 5. Nf3 Ngf6 6. Nxf6+ Nxf6 7. Be3 Bd6 8. Bd3 O-O 9. Qe2 b6 10. O-O-O Bb7 11. Kb1 c5 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bh4 Rc8 14. c3 Be7 15. Bg3 cxd4 16. Nxd4 Rc5 17. Rhe1 Qc8 18. Be5 Nd7 19. Bf4 Nf6 20. h4 Rd8 21. Be5! White puts his pieces on their most aggressive spots. He is ready to play g4 next.
21. g4!? This was also possible. White has a very strong attack, but after
21... Nd5 f4, h4, and c3 are all attacked. I prefer Caruana's move.  )
21... h5
21... Nd7!? This may have been stronger. It looks absurdly risky after:
22. Bxg7 Kxg7 23. Qg4+ Kf8 24. Nxe6+ fxe6 25. Qxe6 Ne5 26. Qxh6+ Kf7 But the computer cannot find a way for White to gain a decisive edge.  )
22. f3 Bd6 Not a happy move, but what else? The threat was g4.
23. Bxf6 gxf6 24. Qe3! Eyeing the weak h6 square
24... Kg7
24... Bf8 25. Bc2 The same plan is very effective at this point.  )
25. f4 Definitely not the only good move, but I like it. White is ready for f5 at some point and clears the g3 square for his queen.
25... Rg8 26. Bc2! Bb8
26... Bf8 This would offer a bit more resistance, but after:
27. Bb3 f5 28. Nxe6+ fxe6 29. Qd4+ Black's position is hardly a bed of roses.  )
27. Bb3! White is ready to sacrifice on e6, and Black can't do much to stop it.
27... f5
27... e5 28. fxe5 Rxe5 29. Qd2 Be4+ This would offer more resistance, though Black would still be in big trouble.  )
28. Nxe6+! fxe6 29. Qd4+! It is always necessary to play accurately until the end.
29. Bxe6? Be4+! And the tables would turn  )
29... Kh7 30. Rxe6 Be4+ 31. Ka1 Rg7 32. Qf6! Black will be checkmated.
32... Bxf4 33. Rd8 Qa6 34. Ree8 Qf1+ 35. Bd1

Aronian defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France in a fine display of classical endgame understanding:

Levon Aronian vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 3 | 17 Apr 2017 | ECO: A04 | 1-0
1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. e3 Nf6 5. d4 e4 6. d5 exf3 7. dxc6 dxc6 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. gxf3 Kc7 10. b3 Be7 11. Bb2 Rd8 12. h4 g6 13. Ne4 Nxe4 14. fxe4 h5 15. Be5+ Bd6 16. Bf6 Re8 17. f3 a5 18. a4 Be7 19. Bc3 Be6 20. O-O-O b6 21. Be2 Red8 22. Rdg1 b5 23. Kc2 b4 24. Be5+ Kb7 To the untrained eye (and to the computer) this position looks completely equal. But Black's crippled queenside pawn majority will never play an active role, while White can hope to play f4-f5.
25. Bf4! An excellent start to White's plan. Before anything else, he makes sure he always has e5 at his disposal.
25... Rd7 26. e5! Bf8
26... Rad8 27. e4 Black dominates the open file but there are no useful squares for his rooks. White will soon play Be3, f4, and possibly f5.  )
27. Rd1 Rxd1 28. Rxd1 Bg7 This is an attempt to prevent Bg5 by tying the bishop down to the defense of the pawn on e5, but it won't give White problems for too long.
29. Bd3! The threat of Be4 followed by Rd6 compels:
29... Rd8 But now White is able to play:
30. Bg5! Another good move. White can now play f4.
30... Rd7 31. f4 Bg4 32. Be2 Bf5+ 33. Kc1 Kc7 34. Bf3 Bf8? I don't understand this move.
34... Rxd1+ 35. Kxd1 Kd7 Black should bring the king over to the defense of the kingside as soon as possible. The position is definitely Unpleasant, but he still has good drawing chances.  )
35. e4! Bh3 36. f5! The pawns have been set in motion and there's no stopping them.
36... gxf5 37. Bxh5 The passed h-pawn will decide the game.
37... fxe4 38. Rxd7+ Kxd7 39. Bxf7 Bg7 40. e6+! The final finesse.
40... Bxe6 41. Bxe6+ Kxe6 42. Kd2 Black resigned as he cannot prevent both Ke3-xe4 and Bd8-xa5.

Naiditch beat Matthias Blübaum, another local player. Naiditsch’s rooks were absurdly passive for while as he defended an extra pawn. But once he was able to consolidate, the game ended quickly.

Matthias Blbaum vs. Arkadij Naiditsch
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 3.4 | 17 Apr 2017 | ECO: E04 | 0-1
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. Nf3 a6 6. O-O Nc6 7. Be3 Bd7 8. Qc1 b5 9. b3 cxb3 10. axb3 Bd6 11. Ne1 Nd5 12. Nc3 Ncb4 13. Nxd5 exd5 14. Bd2 c6 15. Bxb4 Bxb4 16. Nd3 Bd6 17. Nc5 O-O 18. Nb7 Qc7 19. Nxd6 Qxd6 20. Qd2 Ra7 21. Rfc1 h6 22. Rc5 Rfa8 23. Qa5 Be8 24. e3 g5 25. Rc2 Qg6 26. Rca2 Bd7 27. Bf1 Kg7 28. b4 Black's rooks look totally ridiculous, but White has to devote a lot of resources toward stopping a5. This leaves the kingside unattended:
28... h5! Black wants to open lines on the other side of the board.
29. Qb6 h4 30. Qc5 Bf5! 31. Rc1 A very sad move for White to make, but it's hard to suggest anything better.
31. Bg2 Just waiting might have been better, but Black has no shortage of strong continuations. For example:
31... hxg3 32. hxg3 Bd3! And the bishop will land on c4. Note that while Black's rooks are still passive for the moment, the threat of Rh8 and Qh5 can be played quickly and is very strong.  )
31... a5! Simple and strong. Black finally mobilizes his extra pawn and his previously passive rooks enter the game with devastating effect.
32. Qb6 Ra6 33. Qc7 axb4 The rest requires no comment.
34. Rxa6 Rxa6 35. Qb7 Ra2 36. Rxc6 Be6 37. Qe7 Qf6 38. Qxf6+ Kxf6 39. gxh4 b3 40. hxg5+ Kxg5 41. f4+ Kh4 42. Bd3 Rd2 43. f5 Rxd3 44. fxe6 b2

Hou played cautiously against Carlsen, choosing a low risk, but toothless line on the White side of a Najdorf Sicilian. This turned out to be an effective strategy as Carlsen eventually lashed out, trying to create winning chances in an equal position. That got him into some trouble, but Hou failed to put the game away.

Hou Yifan vs. Carlsen, Magnus
? | ? | Round 3 | 17 Apr 2017 | 1/2-1/2
22. g3 b5? This is a mistake, and one Carlsen played after a minute's thought. I can't imagine him playing such a move against one of his top rivals. Structurally, this only makes sense if White has already played c4.
22... Ne6 A simple move like this keeps the position balanced.  )
23. axb6 Rxb6 24. Rd5! Hou finds the problem in Black's position -- he cannot stop Nd2-c4. This is specifically because he has not yet forced White to play c4. Once the knight lands on c4, Black will have a lot of weak pawns and no counterplay
24... Rcc6
24... Nd7? 25. Nxe5!  )
25. Nd2 Nb7
25... Rb4!? This looks more natural to me as I despise passive defense.
26. Nc4 Rxc4 27. bxc4 a5 I think Black should be able to hold this. His knight is excellent, the a-pawn is secure, and White has some pawn weaknesses. Still, an exchange is an exchange and only White could play for a win.  )
26. Nc4 Rb5 27. Qa7 Qc7 28. Rxb5? This releases the tension far too early. White should not have rushed.
28. h4 What is Black's next move? There was no reason not to slowly improve White's position before opening the game.
28... h5 29. Ne3  )
28... axb5 29. Nxd6? Another mistake. Now Black can hold a draw rather easily.
29. Ne3 White has lost some of her advantage but can still press a bit. For example:
29... Nc5 30. Qxc7 Rxc7 31. Nd5 Ra7 32. Nf6+ Kg7 33. Ne8+ Kf8 34. Nxd6 Rd7 35. Rd2  )
29... Nxd6 30. Qxc7 Rxc7 31. Rxd6 Rxc2 32. Rd5 Re2! It's possible Hou missed this move when she took on b5. White it unable to keep her extra pawn.
33. Rxe5
33. Rxb5 Rxe4  )
33... b4! And Rb2 will win the b3 pawn. White tried to prevent it with
34. Rb5 But after
34... Rxe4 Black is fine.
35. Kg2 Rd4 36. Kf1 Re4 37. Kg2 Rd4 38. Kf1

Tuesday is a rest day; the tournament picks up again on Wednesday.


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.