The second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, Superbet Rapid and Blitz in Poland, kicked off yesterday, May 18th in the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland. The opening ceremony was kicked-off with a solo violin performance followed by a drawing of lots, where each player picked up his starting numbers ( one for Rapid and the other for Blitz) by choosing two large demo pawns with either color. The day ended with an enthusiastic simultaneous exhibition in a relaxing environment where each player played the moves in tandem.
The event commenced with Round 1 at 14:00 CEST, with three rounds on the schedule. Vishy Anand scored perfect 6 points defeating five-time Polish Chess Champion Radoslaw Wojtaszek, three-time US Chess Champion Wesley So, and four-time Ukrainian Champion Anton Korobov.
The players at the Opening Ceremony of the Superbet Rapid and Blitz Poland | Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The day couldn’t begin any better with four out of five games ending decisively. The first two decisive games came shortly one after the other with GM Levon Aronian beating GM Fabiano Caruana in a heavyweight fight where Caruana’s opening plan went awry after he didn’t manage to put a dent into White’s well-structured center. Although the engines gave Black good enough chances the game was practically too hard to play and Caruana soon stumbled into a tactical error. The Romanian wildcard GM David Gavrilescu seemed to be off to a good start against the local hero GM Jan-Krzystof Duda. In a relatively uncommon line in the French defense, the Romanian underdog achieved a good position but the position was difficult from a practical standpoint and its complexity proved too much to handle after Gavrilescu blundered an exchange a few moves after the existing theory of this line ended. The game quickly came to an end with Duda’s accurate play. French defense proved to work well for Candidate-participant GM Richard Rapport. After a risky line in advanced French the Ukrainian young talent, GM Kirill Shevchenko, essayed a sound piece sacrifice for the initiative. However, somewhere along the line Shevchenko overestimated his chances and did not redeem the sacrificed material, after which Rapport had no problem converting his advantage. Replay all the games here
It was a great treat for the chess fans to see GM Vishy Anand back at the Grand Chess Tour. The legendary five-time World Champion outplayed and got better of GM Radek Wojtaszek, a long-time member of Anand’s World Championship preparation team, in a complex Ruy Lopez. After the players went down some well-known opening labyrinths, Anand controlled the e-file before his opponent. The Polish champion had his chances in the ensuing battle but the practical difficulty proved too much to handle in time pressure and Anand emerged victorious by winning a piece. Replay the game here
The round concluded with a draw between GM Wesley So and GM Anton Korobov where the latter showed great tenacity after ending up in a much worse position out of the opening. While low on time, Korobov found an intuitive exchange sacrifice that brought his a-pawn on the verge of promotion. Wesley So couldn’t improve his position despite material advantage and the game ended in a draw where White had to give perpetual checks. Replay the game here
Jan-Krzystof Duda feels the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. For now, the Polish man is in a tie for second place. Photo Courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
The game between So and Anand was the defining point of this round and the entire day. Wesley So once again employed the same aggressive setup he had used twice in the past two events against GM Sam Sevian in The American Cup and the Superbet Classic of Grand Chess Tour against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in Romania. Although Anand later said that he couldn’t exactly remember his preparation, he was prepared to face this setup. Wesley’s choice to castle queen-side proved dubious after Annad launched an attack immediately with simple sensible moves. After entering a much worse position, the current U.S. Chess Champion provided some resistance with a number of good defensive moves. However, the difficulty caused by having a weak king wasn’t going away and So finally succumbed to a blunder. The result moved Anand into a sole lead, as early as Round 2. Replay the games here
Shevchenko’s Benko Gambit may be dubious in the eyes of the chess engines or hardly recommendable for a classical game but proved good for his game against Wojtaszek. While neither side had a substantial advantage at any point Wojtaszek ended up defending a Rook vs Rook and knight ending.
The draw between GM’s Rapport and Aronian, however, had a completely different ending. Rapport responded with a non-theoretical slow play to Aronian’s Sicilian. The Hungarian’s pawn moves on the king-side were weakening but Aronian did not take advantage of them immediately. Once the center opened up, the game entered a topsy-turvy mode where Aronian blundered into a losing position. However, this turned out not to be the last blunder in the game as Rapport’s blunder a few moves later evened things out and players ended up exchanging their pieces into a position where neither side had sufficient material to play, and the game dully ended in a draw. Replay the game here
Korobov didn’t gain much out of his opening against Gavrilescu, however, in the ensuing endgame, Korobov managed to outplay his young opponent and eventually won the double-rook ending when his opponent didn’t use his chances due to the time pressure.
Caruana and Duda played an Exchange variation of Queen’s Gambit Declined, where Black gets the Bishop pair but concedes permanent damage to his pawn structure. Caruana’s positional play put Duda in a difficult spot and he subsequently sacrificed a piece for a couple of pawns and piece activity. Duda’s play was subpar and Caruana neutralized Black’s play but then it was Caruana’s turn to make inaccuracies under severe time pressure in the endgame. Once it began to feel that Duda had the worst behind him a couple of inaccuracies turned the table on Caruana’s table and this time the American did not let go of his advantage and converted comfortably.
Age is just a number! Five-time World Champion Vishy Anand is in the lead with three victories, Photo Courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Lennart Ootes
In a between-round interview, Korobov mentioned that ‘at times Anand tries to secure his points and may not play that aggressive’. This prophecy proved wrong instantly after Anand demonstrated his phenomenal technique against the very same Korobov to win against French Defense, Advanced Variation. Anand’s superb play with his knight created another classic in the history of good knight vs bad bishop positions, similar to his wins against Bareev in 1994 and 1995! After this delightful performance, Anand is the sole lead with two points ahead of second place.
If Harry Houdini were to come back to life, Levon Aronian could become his mentor! The American went astray right out of the opening and found himself in a completely losing position against Radek Wojtaszek. The Polish hero dominated the center and secured an extra pawn. However, spending too much time proved a decisive factor as Wojtaszek found it hard to respond to Aronian’s quick play with little time on his clock. The clock’s pressure made Wojtaszek let go of his advantage and Aronian’s resistance finally paid off and he managed to save another losing position to secure a tie for second place.
Caruana took a substantial risk against the out of luck Gavrilescu. The Romanian Youngster began soundly and addressed the weaknesses in Caruana’s Sicilian. However, once again, time proved to be a critical factor. Gavrilescu spent a lot of time and when the position became critical he did not have enough time to calculate in a complex position. Once in the driving seat, Caruana didn’t give much of a chance to his opponent and secured a second win in a row to tie for second place.
Rapport surprised Duda with his choice of King’s Indian defense. In the Orthodox variation of the Classical system, Rapport did not respond well to Duda’s 16.Kh1 , 17.g3 idea. White grabbed a lot of space on the queenside and Rapport’s attack on the kingside proved inefficient. Rapport tried for a long time and the position was long lost. Duda’s win secured a tie for second with Aronian and Caruana.
Wesley So employed his usual Berlin Defense but Shevchenko decided to sacrifice a pawn ( third consecutive sacrifice) in the opening in exchange for active play. However, this proved to be too ambitious and the young Ukrainian found himself in a losing position. Wesley So won the game with high accuracy and now is back to fifty percent of the points. Replay the game here
GM Aronian showed what it means to ‘pull a Houdini’ in chess. Photo courtesy of Grand Chess Tour, Brian Adams
Standings Day 1 Superbet Rapid and Blitz Poland