We have just arrived in Baden-Baden for the second part of Grenke Chess Classics after playing round 1-5 in the Kongresszentrum in Karlsruhe. The opening ceremony took place April 18 before the 1st round of the Grenke Open. Due to the great efforts of the organizers and support of main sponsor Mr.Grenke, the Open had two thousand participants (!) making it the biggest tournament in Europe. 

In the Classics, my nine opponents are Caruana, Anand, Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Svidler, Vallejo Pons, Naiditsch, Meier and the young winner of Grenke Open 2018 V.Keymer.

The drawing of lots determines the number of games with the white and black pieces for each player. Starting number 1-5 begin with white and has 5 white and 4 black, 6-10 vice versa.

I drew number 6 and started with black as I have done fairly consistently for more than a year. (Maybe Caissa still remember all my consecutive white starts a decade ago.)

The number drawn by the other participants determined the line-up for each round. A must-win start with the black pieces against a V.Keymer in round 1 was probably the only alternative I hoped to avoid.  Well, I did win in the end after a long and tense fight. I knew the counterintuitive 13…. Bxc3 in this particular Kings Indian line is fine for black. The challenge was to get winning chances. Keymer played well positionally until just before the first time control when he missed the strong 36…. Qf6. After the time control black should be winning although I struggled to find a simple plan. In the 6th playing hour I made an inexplicable mistake (Rg7) after which white had excellent drawing chances. Fortunately I managed to complicate further and short on time he missed the critical line starting with 67.Kb3(!)

I had the black pieces also in round 2 against Vallejo Pons, the strongest Spanish player. The Ruy Lopez line led to a fairly balanced position. I played g5 and accepted an isolated pawn in the d-file for the bishop pair. He defended well and was maybe even better late in the middle game, but just before the time control I seized the initiative and didn’t let go. He might have got a rook against rook and bishop endgame that is theoretically drawn while practically hard to hold, but opted for a line resulting in the unusual knight and bishop against rook and bishop (with opposite colored bishops). I knew it should be winning and that the 50-move rule may be a challenge. Initially I probably chose the wrong plan. My second attempt seemed better, and when he didn’t manage to put up the best defense, my king helped force his king to the corner, and he resigned just 23 moves after the last capture.

Having won my last three games in Shamkir and round 1 and 2 in Grenke, the tide turned in the 6th hour against Anand. 

I played the same 4.e4 line in the English as in the first World Championship match rapid play-off game against Caruana in London. Black is not worse but the position is quite tricky. Anand made a positional blunder with 9… c6 after which only white had winning chances. I had a considerable advantage for most of the game without making decisive progress against his excellent defense until 52… Nc7 allowing Bf2! and Bg3. I was convinced it was winning (and it was). Too tired to calculate well I was unable to verify how for instance 56.Kg2 would be winning and blundered with Qe2 instead having missed the obvious response Ne6 resulting in a draw. 

Arguably I got some winning chances also against Caruana in round 4 and Naiditsch yesterday without ever having anything decisive. Both defended well at the critical moments, and before the Baden-Baden stretch I’m in shared lead with Anand at 3.5/5 with Caruana, Lagrave, Aronian and Svidler all just half a point behind.

I felt I played poorly in the game against Naiditsch. The computer doesn’t fully agree, but to me it is more significant that I missed far too many nuances and relevant variations. Despite spending all my time by the board I just didn’t calculate well on a day when my intuition didn’t function properly. Having had five quite long games in a row, the rest day today (to move to Baden-Baden) was most welcome, and by now I look forward to round 6 as black against Georg Meier Friday!

Magnus Carlsen, Baden-Baden, April 25th 2019