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.
In the central game of Round 1, Fabiano Caruana played with Levon Aronian. Having White pieces, World #2 went for an ambitious piece sacrifice right after the opening & seemed to have sufficient compensation. Aronian defended really well and then sacrificed an exchange to grab the initiative. After Fabiano let the black knight occupy e3 square White seemed doomed. Aronian converted his advantage in mutual time trouble and scored a very important victory.
Vlad Artemiev from Russia started the year 2019 really well but it looks like he has been out of form for the last few months. In the first round, he had White against Vishy Anand. Anand sacrificed an exchange but he had two bishops and a dangerous pawn center. Objectively Artemiev was still holding his own but he carelessly let the ex-World Champion from India break his pawn structure on the kingside and launch a murderous attack.
Anish Giri proved his impeccable technique once again. Many amateur players have problems with Black in these seemingly equal Catalan endgames, and even Fischer Random World Champion Wesley So repeated their fate in his Round 1 game against the Dutch GM. Move after move Giri was increasing his advantage and by the move 39 So found himself in a complete zugzwang. He blundered there but his position was lost anyway.
Two other games were drawn. Sergey Karjakin couldn't convert his extra passed pawn versus Anton Korobov, whereas Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played to bare kings against Le Quang Liem, but never had a real chance to score a full point.
Round 2 of the Superbet Rapid & Blitz was as close to classical chess as a rapid event can be. Players with White pieces were pressing in all five games, had some chances here and there, but Black defended successfully. As a result, all five games were drawn.
Aronian got absolutely nothing from the opening against Karjakin, and though later in the game he was pushing for a win, opposite-colored bishops were a key factor.
So chose a very interesting line in Reti Opening against Anand and had some initiative on the kingside but the Indian GM responded with a pawn sacrifice to create some threats on the long diagonal. So found nothing better than to force further exchanges which resulted in a drawn endgame.
Giri was trying his best to outplay Caruana and grab a sole lead. Since a weakness on b6 was a constant headache for the American, he finally had to give it up a pawn on the move 36. In the endgame, Caruana resourcefully created a very serious counterplay against the white king, and Giri had to give up an exchange. He never was in danger of losing though as his passed pawn on the a-file was too strong. The central game of the round ended in a perpetual.
Mamedyarov - Artemiev & Korobov - Le Quang Liem were pretty comfortable draws for Black.
Aronian, Anand & Giri were in the lead with 3 points out of 4 each.
Anish Giri seems to be on fire in Bucharest. He won a second game in three rounds and moved to a sole lead. Karjakin was too slow in a calm line of Najdorf and Giri came up with a brilliant maneuver Be7-d8-a5 getting a clear advantage. Classical Sicilian pressure on the "c" file was too much for Karjakin to endure and he quickly lost several pawns and the game.
Anand was also very close to winning his second game of the day. He got a better position after the opening against Mamedyarov and could have gone for the checkmate but preferred to exchange queens to reach much better endgame where Black bishops didn't compensate for multiple weak pawns. Anand was at his best until he hastily grabbed an a5-pawn – the white rook got trapped on this square and disappointed Anand had to accept a draw.
Fabiano Caruana had his first win in the tournament in the encounter with Wesley So. He sacrificed a pawn in the Gioco Piano, but So defended really well and timely returned his extra material to almost achieve equality. Unfortunately, you can never be safe playing against such a player as Caruana. Somehow Fabiano engineered a menacing attack even without queens on board. In a difficult position So blundered a piece and resigned immediately.
Artemiev's troubles continued as he lost an equal endgame playing White versus Korobov. Le Quang Liem – Aronian was a very solid draw.
Standings after Round 3:
1. Giri, Anish 5/6
2-4. Aronian, Levon 4/6
2-4. Anand, Viswanathan 4/6
2-4. Korobov, Anton 4/6
5-7. Caruana, Fabiano 3/6
5-7. Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar 3/6
5-7. Le, Quang Liem 3/6
8. Karjakin, Sergey 2/6
9-10. So, Wesley 1/6
9-10. Artemiev, Vladislav 1/6