Last week in Paris, at the first leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour, it was Hikaru Nakamura who took the plaudits and the early bragging rights in a two-horse battle with his speed rival Magnus Carlsen, as the former US champion pipped the World Champion to the title. But that was then, this is now - and at the second Your Next Move GCT in Leuven, Belgium, it was Carlsen who was in cruise control throughout as he stormed back to win the title and claim maximum tour points.
Carlsen comeback victory was set-up with his near majestic performance in day two of the rapid, where he went a perfect 4/4 to dramatically snatch the lead. This was the World Champion at his very best, and when Magnus plays like this then there is no greater sight in chess today than this.
And buoyed up by this, Carlsen started the first day of the blitz tournament much as he finished the rapid the previous day, as he got off to a good start to increase his lead. His unbeaten run though came to an end, but the damage had already been done with Carlsen establishing a healthy lead over his rivals. And although Carlsen wasn’t quite as devastating as he had been on day two of the rapid, his crush over Caruana in today’s game in day two of the blitz sealed the deal for outright victory, as it gave him a 3.5-point lead over the field with three rounds to play, netting him in the process a maximum 13 tour points and the first prize of $37,500.
And after the exciting new editions to the tour of rapid and blitz in the spectacular locations of Paris & Leuven, Carlsen has a 5-point lead in the tour standings over the US pair of Nakamura (who finished badly in Leuven) and Wesley So. Now it's back to classical chess with the next stop on the tour being the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis in early August. Carlsen won’t be playing there, and he isn’t in the official line-up for the final tour date in December of the London Chess Classic - but the wild card spot for London is still to be announced, with the speculation being that Carlsen may well decided during his upcoming World Championship match with Sergey Karjakin whether to accept to play or not.
Photo © | Your Next Move GCT
1. Carlsen 11/18; 2. Aronian 10; 3-5. Anand, Nakamura, So 9.5; 6-7. Kramnik, Vachier-Lagrave 9; 8. Caruana 8.5; 9. Giri 8; 10. Topalov 6.
Overall final standings
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 23/36; 2. Wesley So (USA) 20.5; 3. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 20; 4. Vishy Anand (India) 19.5; 5. Fabiano Caruana (USA) 17.5; 6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 17; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 16.5; 8-9. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 16; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 14.
Grand Chess Tour standings
1. Magnus Carlsen ($67,500) 23pts; 2-3. Hikaru Nakamura ($45,000), Wesley So ($45,000) 17pts; 4. Levon Aronian ($30,000) 14pts; 5. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ($22,000) 13pts; 6. Fabiano Caruana ($22,500) 9pts; 7. Anish Giri ($15,000) 7pts; 8. Vishy Anand ($15,000) 7pts; 9. Vladimir Kramnik ($15,000) 6.5pts; 10. Veselin Topalov ($15,000) 3pts.
GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Magnus Carlsen
GCT Blitz YourNextMove Leuven, (15)
1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Qb3 Nf6 4.g3 g6 5.Bg2 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0 7.d3 Re8 8.Bf4 Nbd7 9.cxd5 Nxd5 The battle in the Reti is all about White chipping away at Black's centre for active counter-play. 10.Bd2 e5 11.Nc3 Nc7 12.Ne4 Also an option was 12.Ng5 Qe7 13.Nce4 (threatening Nd6!) - but after 13...Nd5! Black has all the bases covered and now threatens ...h6, which will nullify the potential of those White knights. 12...Nb6 13.Bg5 Qd5 14.Nf6+?! Caruana picks a bad option and now pays the penalty. Instead, he had two good continuations here: 14.Qxd5 cxd5 15.Nd6 Re6 16.Nxc8 Rxc8 17.Bh3 e4!? (17...f5? 18.e4!) 18.Nh4 f5 with a complex game with opportunities for both sides. Or 14.Qc2 Nd7 with White emerging with a little advantage with no risks. Instead, Caruana looks as if he's just plain and simply miscalculated the position. 14...Bxf6 15.Bxf6 Qxb3 16.axb3 Bg4! It now becomes clear Caruana has nothing, and his doubled b-pawns are going to be a big headache heading into the endgame. 17.Rfe1 Caruana had probably miscalculated that after 17.Nxe5 Bxe2 18.Rfe1 Nbd5! hitting the bishop on f6 leaves Black with wonderful endgame to look forward to, especially with the trifecta of weak pawns on b2, b3 and d3 to target. 17...Bxf3 18.Bxf3 Caruana has the two bishops, but Carlsen has no pawn weaknesses and, long-term, those doubled b-pawns are too much of a liability. 18...h6! Threatening the immediate ...Re6 winning the bishop, which forces Caruana into desperate measures. 19.d4 e4 20.Bg4 Nbd5 Carlsen's knights now take up excellent outposts and dominate Caruana's bishops to force home the win. 21.Be5 Nb5 22.Bf4 f5 23.Bh3 See how quickly Caruana's bishops have been locked out of the game, as he's forced now to also lose a pawn and the position. 23...Nxf4 24.gxf4 Nxd4 25.Ra4 Red8 26.Bf1 It's not just the pawn that Caruana has lost that makes the difference; now he has the additional worry of how to stop Carlsen setting up mating nets with his knight jumping into f3. 26...a5 27.Rc1 Nxb3 28.Rc3 Nd4 29.e3 Nf3+ 30.Kg2 Rd1! (See Diagram) The die is cast - Carlsen's rook and knight now combine with lethal intent. 31.Rc5 Rad8! There's no way of preventing the inevitable now for Caruana. 32.Rcxa5 If 32.Be2 Ne1+ 33.Kg3 (Not 33.Kf1 Rb1!) 33...R1d2 34.Bc4+ Kf8 35.Ra1 Nd3 36.Bxd3 exd3 and the d-pawn quickly passes. 32...Rxf1! Setting up a picturesque mate. 33.Kxf1 Rd1+ 34.Kg2 If 34.Ke2 Re1# 34...Rg1+ 35.Kh3 g5! There's no way to prevent ...g4 mate. 36.fxg5 hxg5 0-1