The final day of the Grenke Chess Classic was exciting and very, very strange. Entering the final round, Magnus Carlsen and Arkadij Naiditsch were tied for first, with Fabiano Caruana half a point behind. Carlsen had White against Etienne Bacrot, Naiditsch had White against Levon Aronian, and Fabiano Caruana had Black against David Baramidze. On paper Naiditsch had the fewest winning chances, Carlsen the next move and Caruana the best opportunity to come out with a victory; after all, Baramidze was the lowest-rated player in the tournament, and was firmly ensconced in last place while on a four-game losing streak.
As it turned out, all three games were drawn, but only after many adventures. Bacrot achieved a lost position in two stages. First, he would have been absolutely fine after the obvious 22...Ne4, but misassessed something and played 22...Nd5, allowing 23.e4. That got him in trouble, but if he had taken the somewhat lucky chance that 27...Nhf4 afforded him he would have been fine. After 27...Re2 he began to slide, and Carlsen was soon winning. He had his choice of wins, and he saw some of them too. Unfortunately, the way he chose allowed Bacrot some serious counterplay against White's king, and Carlsen had to allow a repetition to avoid losing.
Naiditsch was also better against Aronian, significantly and persistently better, too. Aronian defended well, however, and it doesn't appear that Naiditsch ever enjoyed a decisive advantage.
Caruana tried for a very long time against Baramidze, and after around six and a half hours, on move 71, he got his one and only chance to win the game. Unfortunately, 71...Kd4 was not an easy move to play, and Baramidze finally escaped with a draw after 85 moves.
Before turning to the playoff, let's make mention of the one remaining game. Michael Adams initially had nothing against Viswanathan Anand when they reached a single rook ending after White's (Adams's) 30th move. Had Anand played 30...Ra4 it would have been almost dead even, but Anand's 30...Rd7 gave Adams a nibble. From there, nothing much happened until move 55, when Anand chose to play 55...Rd5. As Adams hadn't made any progress with the previous sort of position, this concessive approach seemed wholly unnecessary, even if the position was still drawn after the pawn sac. From there, absolutely nothing happened until move 84, when Anand played 84...Ke5?? and essentially lost the game in one move. Any move that maintained the status quo would have drawn, but Anand's move allowed White to push his pawn to h7 rather than just h6, which in turn allows White's king to achieve a decisive penetration into Black's camp.
On to the playoff. Carlsen and Naiditisch were to play a couple of 10-minute games. If they remained tied after that, then a couple of five-minute games, and if that didn't settle the issue it would be time for an Armageddon game (White gets six minutes for the whole game; Black gets five minutes plus draw odds.) Carlsen won the first 10-minute game with the white pieces and was in excellent shape in the second game until he goofed with 25...h4 26.g4 Nxf4+ 27.Kh2 Rg5. White was winning after 28.Nxf4, and while Carlsen had the occasional chance in the players' mutual time trouble the trend was almost always in White's favor, and Naiditsch finally won.
Carlsen began the five-minute games with the white pieces, but this time Naiditsch held the first game comfortably. In the second game, Naiditsch outplayed Carlsen in the early going and enjoyed a pleasant edge. The big upset didn't materialize though. Carlsen held and then took over, and Naiditsch ultimately did very well to save the game.
So it came down to an Armageddon game, and Carlsen had White this time too. The game got interesting in a hurry after Naiditsch's 13...Be6. It seemed to drop a pawn, but after 14.Qxa6 Qc7 it looked like Carlsen had dropped an exchange. Maybe, but he had compensation for it just as Naiditsch did for the pawn. Ultimately, White had the same micro-edge he had before Naiditsch's pawn sac. Soon the game was trending in Carlsen's favor, and Naiditsch had one last chance to stop the train. Had he played 22...g6 it would have been anybody's game. Instead, he played 22...Qb4, which was a mistake, and followed this up with an outright blunder on move 23. After that there was no saving the game, and under other circumstances Naiditsch would have resigned earlier than he did, on move 32.
It was a great tournament for Naiditsch, and hopefully he will get another top class invitation or two thanks to this performance from an event outside of Germany. For Carlsen, this was his 23rd super-tournament victory, which puts him in a tie with Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. Good company, and he achieved this a lot more quickly than they did.
Games here, sans notes.
- 1-2. Carlsen, Naiditsch 4.5 (out of 7)
- 3-4. Caruana, Adams 4
- 5-6. Bacrot, Aronian 3.5
- 7. Anand 2.5
- 8. Baramidze 1.5