If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium…so goes the title of the 1969 movie. And likewise, on Tuesday the Grand Chess Tour circus moved from Paris to Leuven, Belgium for the Your Next Move rapid and blitz leg, only with more than half the field replaced, and Word Champion Magnus Carlsen looking to capitalize on his dramatic last gasp Paris victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to build on his GCT lead.
Leaving the fray was Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Grischuk, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov and Etienne Bacrot, but the Leuven field was no less the worse for it, because they were replaced by ex-world champions Vladimir Kramnik and Vishy Anand; the red-hot Levon Aronian; not to mention Anish Giri, Vassily Ivanchuk, Ian Nepomniachtachi, and the unpredictable Baadur Jobava.
And just before Tuesday’s opening ceremony, all top 10 players were soon in action inside the historic 15th century Leuven Town Hall by taking part in a giant kids' simultaneous display for sponsors and organisers Your Next Move, a non-profit that promotes chess as an educational tool for children and youngsters in Belgium.
And when play officially got underway earlier today, in the opening round Magnus Carlsen certainly looked buoyed by his Paris victory as he turned in an impressive sacrificial display to outplay Aronian. But after drawing with Ivanchuk, Carlsen again had an uncharacteristic stumble as he blundered away a totally drawn position to US champion Wesley So, who thanks to that unexpected gift from the world champion, takes the sole lead at the end of day 1.
Carlsen’s win over Aronian was impressive - but even more impressive was Giri’s 23rd birthday gift to himself, as he uncorked a massive opening novelty to produce a near modern-day brilliancy that totally bamboozled the hapless Aronian. “Thanks everyone for your birthday wishes and gifts!” soon followed the social media message from the birthday boy. “They were all special, but the one of @LevAronian moved me the most.”
Rapid standings (Day 1)
1. Wesley So (USA) 5/6; 2-3. Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4; 4-8. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Viswanathan Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) 3; 9. Levon Aronian (Armenia) 2; 10. Baadur Jobava (Georgia) 0.
(Note: in the rapid, it's 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw)
GM Anish Giri - GM Levon Aronian
Your Next Move Grand Chess Tour, (3)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Nd5 e4 6.Nh4 0-0 7.Bg2 d6 8.b3!? A new novelty here from Giri - and it is remarkable how effective it becomes, as Aronian rapidly crumbles under the pressure of trying to fathom out all the complications in a speed game. Remarkably, this complicated line is a big favorite of Aronian, so Giri most likely had it well-prepared for the Armenian for a past tournament, and now he finally gets the chance to uncork it - and how! Previously, almost universally played here is 8.a3 or 8.Nxb4. 8...g5?! Directly asking the question of the knight is very hard to resist - but now with the benefit of hindsight, the slightly unusual voluntary bishop retreat with 8...Bc5 might well be best here, with the idea being 9.Bb2 Bd4!? However, to be fair to Aronian, it is not natural to want to retreat your bishop in such a fashion when it is not attacked. 9.Bb2 Nxd5 10.cxd5 Nb8?! A somewhat bizarre retreat from Aronian, who seems intent on winning the knight whatever - and this 'whatever' factor proves to be his downfall. The logical choice was 10...Ne5 11.f4! Ng4 (If 11...gxf4 12.Bxe4! is back into the realms of danger as in the game, but Black at least here has a better position to play than in the game, even when it all gets a bit random again after 12...f5! 13.Bf3 Qg5 14.Qc2! fxg3 15.hxg3 Qxg3+ 16.Kd1 with a double-edged position.) 12.fxg5 Qxg5 13.Bxe4 Re8 14.Bf3 Nxh2! 15.Rxh2 Qxg3+ 16.Rf2 Qg1+ 17.Rf1 Qg3+ 18.Rf2 Qg1+ with a repetition - but such tricky variations are always much easier when you are sitting back annotating this game with a very reliable playing engine such as moi, rather than having to see it all over the board in a speed game with your clock ticking away. 11.Qc2! gxh4 Amazingly, after less than a dozen moves, Aronian is busted. Black can’t even play here 11...f5 to limit the danger of the bishop getting onto the e4-h7 diagonal, as White now has 12.g4! threatening to rip wide open Black's kingside. 12.Bxe4 It may be a modern opening played be two modern-day elite players, but Giri's position, with the two bishops threatening to construct a mate, looks like it is some sort of Adolf Anderssen ‘Immortal’ or ‘Evergreen’ throwback to a bygone romantic era in chess! 12...Re8 13.Bxh7+ Kf8 14.Qc4! Na6 At least Aronian's knight comes back into the game. There's no time for 14...Bc5 as White swiftly moves in for the kill with 15.Qf4 (threatening Qh6+) 15...Re5 16.b4 Bb6 17.Bg6 Qe7 18.Bxe5 dxe5 19.Qh6+ Ke8 20.Qh8+ Qf8 21.Qxe5+ Qe7 22.Qh8+ Qf8 23.Qxf8+ Kxf8 24.Be4 and White is winning with the three extra pawns and the rook for two minor pieces. 15.gxh4 Now there's another thing for Aronian to worry about here, with White also now threatening Rg1-g8+ etc - and that's exactly what now happens. 15...Re5 16.Qf4 Qe7 17.Rg1! Rxe2+ It's effectively game over here. Aronian has two spite checks, but no answer to Giri's haunting threat of Rg1+. 18.Kd1 Rxd2+ 19.Qxd2 The simplest win, but it's a pity Giri didn't have the chutzpah to play here 19.Kc1! Rc2+ 20.Kxc2 Qe2+ 21.Kb1 Bg4 22.Bf6! and the Black king is soon caught in a mating net. 19...Qxh4 20.Rg8+ Ke7 21.Qe3+ Be6 22.dxe6 The rest needs no further explaining. As the dust now settles, Giri is going to emerge with an extra rook. 22...Qh5+ 23.Kc1 Rxg8 24.exf7+ Kxf7 25.Qf4+ Ke8 26.Bxg8 Nc5 27.Bc4 d5 28.Bb5+ c6 29.Qxb4 Qg5+ 30.Qd2 1-0