Grand Chess Tour 2017 – Post Leuven reflections

| Chess
| Oslo, Norway

After two days of rapid in Leuven I was in a good mood, coming off two wins in a row. The third day however, turned out to be a difficult one.

First I had the black pieces against the notoriously solid Anish Giri, and I played the King’s Indian in search of a complicated struggle. I did not really get what I aimed for though, but after he missed the right moment to sac a pawn for a dangerous attack, which we both had seen and underestimated, mass exchanges and a draw quickly followed. In the next game against Vishy Anand, I decided to play the English opening, and perhaps still reeling from losing a winning position against MVL earlier that day, Vishy played rather carelessly and soon got a very difficult position. To his credit, he then realized what was happening, and forced me to play very concretely and sac a piece, rather than slowly increasing my advantage. I initially found the right way, but it took me massive amounts of time, and I soon landed in time trouble. After a few adventures I still kept some advantage, until I got my king trapped on the first rank, which made it very difficult, if at all possible, to make progress. Around that time he offered me a draw, which, with well under a minute on the clock I should absolutely have accepted. Through inertia I kept playing, sacked a pawn, then another for an attack that did not exist, and soon landed in a lost endgame. It still was not that easy though, and with his clock eventually ticking down as well, I managed to save the draw. In the last game of the day, against Ian Nepomniachtchi, I decided to play the same line of the Caro-Kann with Nf6 and exf6 that I had beaten him with at the World Rapids last year. (The opening this time was the Scotch, but think about it, it’s basically the same position!) This time there were far fewer adventures, and although he had a slight advantage, it was always very drawish. The leader Wesley So performed well on the last day, and with 14/18 he had a nice lead over MVL (12/18) and myself (11/18).

Starting the blitz the next day I had a lot of energy, and thus it surprised me a bit that my play in the first couple of games (an undeserved win against Anand and a draw in which I was worse against Kramnik) was so mediocre. Things picked up a bit when I beat MVL with black in a nerve-wracking game in which I was always better, but not winning before the very end. After that I proceeded to win three more games in a row in half-decent to good fashion, before losing deservedly to Giri. Thus, with two rounds to go on the day I was at 5.5/7 for the day, and still two points behind So. He had started the day well, then lost an overwhelming position against MVL, but still kept good pace at +2. Surprisingly though, the lead was all gone by the end of the day. I first beat Jobava in a topsy-turvy game while So got mated by an inspired Giri. Then I beat So in our individual game. Having got the initiative from the opening, I never let go and won a decent game.

Naturally, the tournament situation looked a lot better than the day before. I had used a lot of energy in the first day of blitz, and with the new role of leading I found it hard to sleep and relax before the last day. Thus, I was not in a great mood. It did not really improve by an uninspired draw against Anand, while So beat Jobava and regained the lead. Next, however, greatly helped by pep-talks by my father in between rounds, I started to play more freely. I pulled off four good wins in a row, including, by my standards, a very inspired creative effort against MVL. Suddenly, looking at the standings for the first time since round one, I saw that I had a practically insurmountable lead. At that time my energy level dropped sharply, but three draws and one win from the last four games was more than enough to win the tournament comfortably.

In retrospect I am obviously very happy about my score (14.5/18 in blitz) and my play, but I was so exhausted at the end that it took some time to start enjoying it. By now, with a bit of rest, I am already looking forward to my next tournament, the Sinquefield Cup starting in Saint Louis early August, and excited about the possibility of matching wits against the best in the world in classical chess again. Unfortunately I won’t be taking part in the rapid and blitz tournament starting immediately after, where the great Garry Kasparov will participate. I decided to play in Paris and Leuven (as a Grand Chess Tour participant I could choose two out of three) before learning that Garry would play. If I had the chance, of course I would be privileged to play him! On the other hand, he might not have wanted to play then 🙂