All of the games were drawn, but it was only because there were several missed wins. Aronian finished 1.5 points ahead of his nearest rival to win easily.

The final day of the Grenke Chess Classic was hard fought even though Levon Aronian had already clinched first place. Though all four games were drawn, several were very interesting.

In one of them, Arkadij Naiditsch, who plays for Azerbaijan, looked like he had walked into a rather basic tactic against Hou Yifan of China, but it turned out not to be enough to change the balance of the game:

Yifan Hou vs. Arkadij Naiditsch
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 7 | 22 Apr 2017 | ECO: C11 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 a6 7. Be3 Qb6 8. Rb1 Nc6 9. Qd2 Qc7 10. Be2 cxd4 11. Nxd4 Bc5 12. O-O Nxd4 13. Bxd4 Bxd4+ 14. Qxd4 Qc5 15. Qxc5 Nxc5 16. Kf2 Bd7 17. Bd3 Ke7 18. Ke3 Bb5 19. Bxb5 axb5 20. a3 Ra5 21. Rf3 Rc8?! I'm not sure if this was a sacrifice or a blunder. Even though Black's position is almost certainly survivable after b4, there was no need to walk into this.
21... Nd7  )
22. b4! Rxa3 23. Kd4! And Black must lose material as both bxc5 and Nxd5+ are serious threats
23... Ra4!
23... Nd7 24. Nxd5+  )
24. Nxa4 Nxa4 The dust has cleared and Black is down an exchange for a pawn, but he has a very solid position and more active pieces. Hou never really managed to create winning chances.
25. Kd3 g6 26. Kd2 h5 27. g3 Rc4 28. h3
28. c3 It was better not to allow Rd4+, but it still would have been very hard for White to find a plan.  )
28... Kd7 29. g4
29. c3 Again, Rd4+ should not be allowed.  )
29... Rd4+ 30. Kc1 hxg4 31. hxg4 Kc6 32. Rbb3 Re4 33. Rf1 g5! The simplest solution; Black starts liquidating pawns.
34. fxg5 Rxg4 35. Rxf7 Rxg5 36. Rh3 Rxe5 37. Rhh7 Re4 38. c3 Kd6 The rest was not too interesting. White does not have enough pawns left to play for a win as Black will easily exchange off the last two.
39. Rd7+ Ke5 40. Rh5+ Kf6 41. Rh6+ Kf5 42. Rh3 b6 43. Rf7+ Ke5 44. Rf2 Rc4 45. Re2+ Kd6 46. Kd2 d4 47. cxd4 Rxb4 48. Rh4 Rb2+ 49. Kd3 Rb3+ 50. Kc2 Rc3+ 51. Kd2 Rc6 52. Rh6 Kd5 53. Re5+ Kxd4 54. Rhxe6 Rxe6 55. Rxe6

Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World Champion, would have salvaged a decent, although still disappointing result (by his standards) if he had managed to beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Carlsen achieved a pleasant position out of the opening, but then made a decision I did not really understand:

Magnus Carlsen vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
GRENKE Chess Classic | 0:49:33-0:43:33 | Round 7 | 22 Apr 2017 | ECO: A00 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Be3 Be6 9. Qd3 Nbd7 10. Nd5 O-O 11. O-O Bxd5 12. exd5 Ne8 13. a4 Bg5 14. a5 Bxe3 15. Qxe3 Nef6 16. c4 Rb8 17. Rfb1 Qc7 18. Nd2 b6 19. Nb3 Nc5 20. axb6 Rxb6 21. Nxc5?! I don't understand this move at all. It leaves White with a bad bishop and Black has the potential to blockade the pawn on d6 with his knight.
21. Na5 This move looked thematic and strong. White could follow with b4 and eventually White would be able to play c5. It looks to me as if White would have an advantage.  )
21... dxc5 22. b4 Rfb8 23. Rd1 Rxb4 24. Rxa6 The computer evaluate this position as better for White, but I have a hard time believing it. The pawn on d5 can be blockaded and White's light-squared bishop will be very poor compared to the Black knight.
24... Rb3! 25. Qg5
25. Rd3 Rb1+  )
25... h6
25... Ne4 This should also hold pretty easily.  )
26. Qf5 Qc8 The simplest solution.
26... R3b6 Is the computer's suggestion, but I prefer Vachier-Lagrave's choice.  )
27. Qxc8+ Rxc8 28. Rc6 Rbb8!
28... Rxc6? 29. dxc6 And the pawn will promote.  )
29. Bd3 e4 30. Bc2 Rxc6 31. dxc6 Rc8 32. Ba4 Kf8 Black is absolutely fine as White has no points of entry.
33. Bb5 Ke7 34. Ra1 Ng4! Another good move. Black will soon play Ne5 and it will be hard for White to hold onto the pawn on c6.
35. Ra7+ Ke6 36. f3 exf3 37. gxf3 Ne5 38. f4 Nf3+
38... Nxc6 This move was also possible.
39. Ra6 Kd7 40. f5 g5 41. fxg6 fxg6 42. Kg2 Kd6  )
39. Kf2 Nd4 40. Ke3 g6! A final accurate move. Black will shut down the kingside and center and only then take the pawn on c6.
41. Ke4 Nxc6! 42. Ra6 f5+ 43. Kf3 Kd6 44. h4 h5 Neither player can make progress. The rest of the game was unnecessary.
45. Ke3 Rc7 46. Kd2 Rc8 47. Kc3 Rc7 48. Kb3 Rc8 49. Ka4 Rc7 50. Rb6 Rc8 51. Ba6 Rb8 52. Bb7 Ke7 53. Rxc6 Rxb7 54. Rxc5 Rb1 55. Rd5 Rh1 56. c5 Rxh4 57. c6 Rxf4+ 58. Kb3 Rf1 59. Kb2 Rf2+

Aronian had Black against Fabiano Caruana of the United States. That game seemed to be heading toward a peaceful resolution, when Caruana blundered a piece. But then Aronian began making mistakes and finally let Caruana off the hook.

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Aronian, Levon
GRENKE Chess Classic | Karlsruhe GER | Round 7 | 22 Apr 2017 | 1/2-1/2
Rd5 22. Nxe6? A bad miscalculation. The knight will be trapped.
22. Nd3 This move was better after which anything other than a draw would be shocking.  )
22... Rc8! The knight cannot escape to c5.
23. b3 White prepares c4 to win back control of the c5 square, but after
23. Rad1 This saves the knight but after
23... Rxd1 24. Rxd1 Nxa4 Black is up a pawn and White has no compensation.  )
23... c5! The knight now is simply trapped.
23... Kf7? 24. c4 And the knight will escape.  )
24. c4
24. f4 This does not work either
24... exf4 25. Nxf4 Bxa1 26. Nxd5 Bd4+ 27. Ne3 Re8 28. Bf2 Nd5!  )
24... Rd6 25. Nxg7 Kxg7 26. Bxe5 Rd3 Black is up a piece and absolutely winning, but he has to be at least somewhat careful. If the clocks are correct, Aronian started playing extremely at this point.
27. Bxf6+ Kxf6 28. Re4 Rc7
28... Rxb3 There was nothing wrong with grabbing this pawn.  )
29. Rae1 Rxb3 30. Rf4+ Kg7 31. Re6 Nxa4 32. Rg4+ Kf8 33. Rxh6 Rf7
33... Rg7! This move was better.  )
34. Rh8+ Ke7 35. h4 Now the h-pawn gives White some counterplay. He is still losing but it's not as simple as it was before.
35... Nc3?!
35... Nb6 This would be my choice, bringing the knight back to the defense as soon as possible. After:
36. h5 Nd7 37. h6 Nf6 Black should win easily.  )
36. h5 a4 37. h6 a3 38. h7 Aronian spent some time on Nc3 and likely realized that after:
38... a2 39. Re8+ Kxe8 40. h8=Q+ Kd7 White has no checks and cannot stop a1/Q. However, after the quiet:
41. Kh2 a1=Q 42. Rg8! Things are far from simple. Black has no checks and his king is about to be harassed. He is still winning but accuracy is needed, and even after a 50-minute think, Aronian did not find the right path.
42... Qa5?
42... Qe1! This was the easiest win. The point is that
43. Rd8+ Kc7 44. Rc8+ Kd6 45. Qd8+ Rd7 46. Qf6+ Can be met with:
46... Qe6 47. Qf4+ Qe5  )
43. Qh3+! Kc7 44. Qg3+ Kd7 45. Qd3+ Caruana actually declines a repetition of position. Aronian now has to find the best moves in order to not lose, but he managed to do that.
45... Ke7!
45... Ke6? 46. Re8+ Re7 47. Qe3+  )
45... Kc7 46. Qd8+  )
45... Kc6 46. Rg6+ Kc7 47. Qd6+ Kc8 48. Rg8+  )
46. Qe3+ Kd6!
46... Kd7? 47. Qe8+ Kd6 48. Qxf7 And White wins.  )
47. Rg6+ Kc7! 48. Qe5+ Kc8!
48... Kd8 49. Qd6+ Kc8 50. Rg8+  )
49. Rg8+
49. Qe8+? Qd8 50. Qxf7 Qh4+  )
49... Qd8!
49... Kd7 50. Qe8+  )
50. Qxc5+ Rc7 51. Rxd8+ Kxd8 52. Qf8+ Kd7 Black's king has finally escaped, but he has lost his material advantage. The White kingside pawns are very dangerous and it is now White who is playing for a win, though against the best defense he should not succeed.
53. g4 Rb2 54. Qf3 Ke8 55. Qxc3 Rxf2+ 56. Kg3 Rff7 Black has a fortress. The rooks will remain on the 7th rank for the rest of the game, meaning the White g-pawn will never advance and the White king also cannot do much to strengthen White' position.
57. g5 Rg7 58. Kg4 Kf8 59. Qf6+ Kg8 60. g6 Rxg6+ Unnecessary but the easiest way to draw.
61. Qxg6+

Missing a sure win was likely a hard pill for Aronian to swallow, but in some ways he received the score he deserved as he really should have lost to Carlsen in Round 2. In the end, Aronian finished with 5.5 points, 1.5 points ahead of Carlsen and Caruana.


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.