The penultimate leg of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour kicked off yesterday in Bucharest, Romania with an exciting opening ceremony. The event featured special guest and former world number one tennis player, Boris Becker. Additionally, former Romanian basketball player and captain of the national team Virgil Stănescu made the ceremonial first move in Caruana-Aronian game of round 1. After an eventful first day, Anish Giri is leading the tournament by a full point ahead of the field.
Standings after round 3. In the rapid a win is worth 2 points, a draw is 1 point and a loss is 0
Right off the bat, the most exciting game of the round was between Caruana and Aronian. Both players were very well prepared in the opening, playing down a very sharp variation in the English Opening. It appeared that Caruana forgot his preparation along the way, while Aronian found impressive defensive resources to hold his position and ultimately convert his material advantage. He was joined on the leaderboard by Viswanathan Anand who defeated Vladislav Artemiev in a game that the commentators lauded as a masterpiece. The former World Champion sacrificed an exchange but his pair of bishops went on to devastate his opponent’s position. Anish Giri’s victory over Wesley So was a masterclass in a bishop vs a knight endgame. The Dutchman sealed the deal by sacrificing his bishop in order to create two passed pawns. The wildcard of the event, Anton Korobov, took quite a few liberties in the opening but managed to save the game after Sergey Karjakin failed to punish him. The game between Le Quang Liem and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was the quietest affair of the round which ended in 55 moves with only kings left on the board.
Fabiano Caruana vs Levon Aronian
Surprisingly, the second round of the first day produced all draws. Aronian blundered a pawn against Karjakin, but the Russian player did not spot the simple tactics. The players eventually entered an opposite colored bishops endgame where Aronian had two extra pawns but unfortunately he could not win due to his possession of the wrong color bishop. Giri won a pawn against Caruana in a double rook and knight endgame but had difficulties converting due to his weaker king. He eventually decided to give up a rook for a knight in order to push his passed “a” pawn. Caruana forced a perpetual after his opponent’s pawn had reached the seventh rank.
Anand’s game against So didn’t have the same fireworks as in the previous round and required more intricate piece maneuvering. The players agreed to a draw with a threefold repetition in bishop and knight endgame. Likewise, the game between Mamedyarov and Artemiev was a closed affair with a lot of piece maneuvering that ended in a draw in a similar endgame. In the battle between the two wildcards Korobov and Le, the Vietnamese players had the upper hand until he made the incorrect decision to trade queens and enter the endgame. Draw was agreed in an equal rook endgame.
Giri took the lead of the tournament with a decisive win over Karjakin. Although Giri has somewhat of a reputation for making too many draws, he has been playing more enterprising chess as of late. In his own words, just when he’s ready to quit the Najdorf, “they always pull him back in with games like this.” Giri took advantage of his opponent’s compromised pawn structure on both sides of the board with an exchange sacrifice which allowed him to collect his opponent’s weak pawns. Anand was very close to joining the leader as his masterfully demonstrated the strength of his knight against So’s bishop in the endgame. An unfortunate pawn grab forced the former World Champion settle for a draw with repetition as his rook got trapped on the edge of the board and couldn’t join the game. Aronian did not have any chances against Le Quang Liem, thus staying a point behind the leader. Korobov joined the duo in a tie for second place after winning an opposite colored bishops endgame against Artemiev. Caruana bounced back from his first round loss by defeating his countryman So when the latter blundered a full bishop and resigned.