Leuven Rapid & Blitz 2016

| Sjakkbloggen
| Leuven, Belgium

While we all seemed happy to play in Leuven, I think none of us had completely recovered from the Paris Rapid & Blitz event. The “new face” Anand (replacing Fressinet), came directly from Leon, having scored his 9th (or so) Rapid cup victory there. The atmosphere between games and at night playing Avalon, were unusually collegial. That may have reduced some of the tension. Still, in my view, two 4-day rapid and blitz events in succession is more strenuous than a regular classical event.

The event developed quite differently than in Paris. Nakamura started with three losses in the Rapid section and never showed anything resembling his great Paris form. For me, one excellent day of rapid chess and a four game winning streak today was sufficient to win outright with three rounds to go. I’m of course very satisfied with the results in Leuven. Winning both the rapid and the blitz stage (and overall) was very much what I could hoped for.

Chess is about continuous progress. I’m not really happy with my own play. On the first day I struggled a lot. In the first three rounds I fought as well as I could and managed to scrape out two points out of three. In round 4 I got a winning position as white against Caruana but managed to completely botch it by chosing the only setup providing him with counterplay, and later lost badly. In round 5 I simply blundered a piece in the opening against Nakamura. The second day of Rapid was a complete turn-around and by winning all four games (against Topalov, Giri, Anand and Kramnik), and I went from 8th place to 1st! It might have been my single day best rapid performance ever. I especially treasure the game against Anand. The slight asymmetry resulting from the Giucco Piano allowed me to tie up all his pieces, forcing a zugswang despite all the pieces left on the board.

It was frustrating to return to somewhat mediocre play the day after. Still, 5/9 on the first day of Blitz was enough to maintain my overall lead. Today I got winning positions in all the first six games albeit with some help from my opponents. In general the way I managed to create chances in most games throughout the event is confirming that I’m making progress. Missing a tactical shot against Aronian and allowing a drawing combination against Kramnik doesn’t change that, and the 5/6 start secured victory with three round to go. The complacent three round finish wasn’t anything I’m proud of, but maybe it was a natural consequence of the reduced adrenalin level after having clinched first.

Despite scoring 1,5 points less than in Paris, I was 2,5 points ahead of Wesley So in 2nd place. Aronian finished third with Anand in fourth. Overall I’m leading the Grand Chess tour after two events but will of course be overtaken by others eventually as I won’t play neither in St.Louis nor in London due to the World Championship match in November.

The playing venue and overall playing conditions in Leuven were commendable, and I think all of the players join me in thanking and congratulating the organizers for a splendid event!

I’m leaving for Bilbao in three weeks from now. Fortunately I don’t have much on my schedule in the coming weeks and look forward to relax at home and with friends.