In the flow - Grenke Chess 2019
In round 6 Meier chose his usual set-up with kingside fianchetto, short castle, d4 followed by 6.b3. I think I managed to surprise him with the interesting response b5! Later he played a4, Na3, Nb5 with such speed and determination that I had to suspect it was preparation. I couldn’t see what was wrong with my counterplay, and as he thought for more than 30 minutes after my natural response Rc6, he might simply have been lured by the apparent harmony of his queen side set-up, while it didn’t really jive with the rest of his position. It turned out his position is already quite tricky. I soon got an overwhelming position despite being a pawn down. I had plenty of time but couldn’t calculate anything properly, and we both made several mistakes in his time trouble. By move 40 I had squandered most of my advantage and was fortunate to have 40…. Qe1 maintaining excellent practical winning chances despite the lack of a clear plan. He defended well until his impatient and too ambitious king-march to capture the d2-pawn. This was an important victory both to create traction after three draws and also because co-leader Anand lost to Naiditsch giving me a one-point lead.
My games against Aronian and Svidler were both sheer pleasure. By achieving positions were I had a clear plan and harmonic piece placement, while my opponents lacked a clear plan, I could play natural moves fast and still continuously pose problems. Arguably none of them put up a great defense, and a staunch defense is generally a prerequisite for inclusion among my best games. I’m highly satisfied with my own decisions throughout both games, and that is the utmost I can achieve on my part. The level of opposition is not something I can control.
Caruana won in round 7 and 8 and could theoretically catch up with me in the last round. I played white against Vachier-Lagrave and in a symmetrical English Opening he chose 6…. Bf5 planning to control the c8-h3 diagonal. I prioritized 7.h3 to counter his plan, and out of the blue he sacrificed a pawn with 10… b5 Benko style. His problem was that while his structure resembled the Benko, my pawn structure was significantly more compact than in the Benko. Maybe he had a slight compensation for the pawn initially, with the pin on c3 and control of b4 and d4 but it only took a few precise move to cement my advantage. I think his decisive mistake was 17…. Nxf3 and that he maybe had missed 19.f4. The queen, rook-and-bishop-ending a pawn down is maybe not totally lost for him but in practice very difficult. He seemed to have mentally resigned when we entered the pawn-up queen ending, and after 35… h5 I had a quite comfortable win.
Caruana-Aronian drew and Caruana took clear 2nd with 6/9 ahead of Naiditsch and Lagrave at 5/9.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Gashimov Memorial and gained confidence, I was optimistic before Grenke Chess. Actually improving upon the +5 from Shamkir was not something I could reasonably expect or even hope for, and now I just need to try to continue to enjoy chess as much as possible in the quite busy months ahead.
My next event is the Grand Chess Tour 2019 opening event; the Ivory Coast Abidjan Rapid & Blitz starting next week!
In the second part of May I’ll attend an event and play a short rapid match in Copenhagen on May 22nd, and play rapid chess in Scotland May 25-26, before two more classical chess events in June (Norway Chess and Zagreb GCT).
Praising the tournament organizer is of course very simple when I’m in the flow and enjoying chess so much, but clearly Grenke Chess 2019 was indeed a well organized and popular event, and I’m truly grateful to organizers and sponsors for this great tradition!