PRESS RELEASE: Anand wins the GRENKE Chess Classic
The World Champion has won his first classical tournament in almost five years after an enthralling final day’s play in Baden-Baden. It started fast with Anand and Naiditsch blitzing out a rook ending that might have been drawn but ended in the German’s resignation on move 49. That left Caruana needing to beat Fridman to force a play-off, but he missed a gilt-edged chance in what fittingly became the longest game of the tournament.
Final rounds are sometimes dull, but there was every reason to hope for action at the GRENKE Chess Classic. No round had yet finished in three draws, and that was largely due to Arkadij Naiditsch’s seven decisive games in only nine rounds. He had the white pieces against Anand, and the players didn’t disappoint. Anand went for the Sicilian and followed the remarkable 1999 Kasparov vs. the World internet game, where "the world" played the Sicilian novelty 10…Qe6. Anand said he’d looked at the line and that particular game just before this tournament. Naiditsch deviated from Kasparov's play with 14.Nc3, and after 14…Rxa8 15.Bg5 e6 16.Re1 he played 16…Nd5:
The winner: Vishy Anand
Anand: “Nd5 is a pretty ugly move to make, but I simply didn’t want to keep calculating with the queens on the board”. After 17.Nxd5 Qxd5 18.Qxd5 exd5 19.Rad1 h6 20.Bc1 d4 Black had doubled pawns, but they controlled the position, with the d4-pawn taking the c3- and e3-squares away from white rook and preventing the bishop dropping back to e3. Vishy thought his position was very good, but heaped condemnation on 24…a5?!, calling it a “terrible”, “horrible”, “embarrassing” and even “insane” move. He preferred simply 24…Rc7. Although the move in the game is actually Houdini’s first choice it allowed Naiditsch to bail out into a rook ending with 25.b4! Rc2 26.bxa5 bxa5 27.Rxa5 Nd3 28.Ra7+ Kc6 29.Rxf7 Nxe1 30.Kxe1 Rxc1+ 31.Kd2 Rg1 32.Rxg7 Rxg2.
It seemed, at least from the speed with which Naiditsch was playing, that he had a draw worked out, but Anand thought his opponent, “really underestimated the position”, later commenting that “these rook endings are very, very tricky. You have to play them incredibly precisely”. Here Naiditsch quickly played 33. Ke1? and once again Anand didn’t mince his words, describing it as “a lemon” and “wrong on so many levels”. He thought his opponent had panicked about d3+ after the correct 33.Ke2!, but saw nothing to worry White in that line. In contrast to the game Naiditsch might have managed to queen his a-pawn.
33.Ke1? instead allowed Vishy to gain tempi for the pawn race by giving check – 33…Rxh2 34. Rxg6 Rh1+ 35. Kd2 – and he said he had the winning plan worked out around here. The moves continued to come at almost blitz pace until a shell-shocked Naiditsch resigned: 35…h5 36. Rh6 h4 37. a4 h3 38. a5 h2 39. a6 Kc7 40. Rh7+ Kb8 41. Ke2 d3+ 42. Kd2 Ka8 43. Rh5 Ka7 44. Rh6 d5 45. Rh8 Kxa6 46.Rh6+ Kb5 47. Rh8 Kc4 48. Rc8+ Kd4 49. Rh8 Ke4 0-1
Afterwards Anand reflected on his improved form this year, remarking that his last reasonably successful tournament before 2013 was Wijk aan Zee 2011, where he finished clear second behind Nakamura on +4. “After that basically I went over a cliff and the next five tournaments were pretty awful”. Wijk aan Zee this year also went well until the last round, with the champion commenting, “I was hoping I wouldn’t do a Wang Hao today!”
Anand added later in the press centre: “After Bilbao 2011 my big problem was getting interesting positions where I had chances. This year the new problem has been exploiting those chances – against Fridman here, Hou Yifan in Wijk aan Zee or last year against Nakamura and Adams at the London Chess Classic I’ve been gifting people half points. If it wasn’t for that my results would be much better. Still, it’s a hundred times better to have the second problem! I need to work on my technique.”
The second game of the day to finish was Adams-Meier. The players came into the final round level and with mathematical chances of winning the GRENKE Chess Classic, but they ended up playing a somewhat disjointed game. Meier’s openings have been impressive here in Baden-Baden, and although Adams noted “it’s not easy to play creatively in the final round” he tried to sidestep any preparation with 1.e4 e6 2.d3!?. Instead Meier relished the chance to sharpen play, with Adams summing things up: “I just wanted to get a kind of position where we both needed to think, but it didn’t really work as I was the only one thinking!”
After a confusing middlegame where Adams chose 13.Ne4?! instead of the natural 13.Nd5! and Meier then spent 40 minutes convincing himself not to play the obvious 13…Bf5!? the crisis came on move 19, when Adams blundered an exchange with 19.Nd2? His pieces apparently had plenty of room, and he half-joked afterwards, “how could my rooks possibly get trapped?”
Georg Meier was so happy that his opponent had blundered that he overlooked he could play 19…Nc2! and only then 20…Bd3. Instead his 19…Bd3?! allowed 20.Be4!, which discouraged his opponent to the extent that Meier didn’t take the exchange and played 20…Bxe4, after which the game soon fizzled out to a draw. Meier explained his thought processes: “I thought Mickey blundered and instead of winning I blundered straight back. I realised immediately what I’d just done so I tried to be solid.”
Adams described today’s game as his worst of the tournament, but ultimately didn’t feel he’d played badly in Baden-Baden: “I had very few opportunities when I had the advantage. When you play good players and they play well it’s not easy to win.” Meier joked that the spectators probably thought a new player had entered the tournament for the second half, in which he said he could have scored 4.5/5. He noted he’d perhaps made three mistakes in five games in the latter stages, while he was averaging 10 a game at the beginning.
That left only Fridman-Caruana, which kept the audience on tenterhooks for over seven hours. Fridman played the Exchange Slav, which doesn’t have the most combative of reputations, even if Jan Gustafsson in the commentary box noted that its “street cred” has improved since Alexander Morozevich and Vladimir Kramnik adopted the “weapon”, with the latter using it to beat Levon Aronian in one of the games of the 2012 Olympiad. On this occasion, however, the opening lived up to its reputation, with Fridman nursing a small edge deep into the middlegame. It was only in the run-up to the time control that the ice began to shift.
Caruana now knew he needed a win, and his 32…Bg5 provoked his opponent into pushing his pawn to h4. Under normal circumstances that would have changed little, but Fridman was coming off a run of three losses in four games, and short of time he overlooked a simple pawn-winning tactic: 36.Bxd6? Qxd6+ 37.f4 Bxh4 An ending soon arose where Black was the clear favourite, but with both players exhausted and a play-off place up for grabs anything could still happen. Fridman had had a disappointing tournament overall, but he at least managed to demonstrate some endgame wizardry at the close with 54.f5+!.
After 54…exf5 (54…Kf7!? was another try) 55.Ne2 Kf7 56.Nf4 g5 57.Nxd5 Ke6 58.Nc7+ Kf7 59.Nd5 Bb4 60.Nxb6 pawns were suddenly level, although the Italian still had chances of disturbing Vishy Anand’s evening. The final chance came after 65.Ke2.
The 65…f4! break (or 65…g2 and then 66…f4) would have allowed the black king to rush towards the white pawns on b3 and a4. Caruana still had almost twenty minutes to think at this point, but his slow 65…Ke4? allowed 66.d5!. He still had a long time to contemplate the ruins of his position, but there was no longer any way to avoid an inevitable draw.
Caruana cut a disconsolate figure after the game, but retained his objectivity. Although his result couldn’t be called bad – he actually gained rating points – he was unhappy with his overall play and felt that his form had finally come back to haunt him in the last two games.
So World Champion Viswanathan Anand remained undefeated and took clear first place at the 2013 GRENKE Chess Classic.
Report: Colin McGourty Photos: Georgios Souleidis