Stavanger 2014 – Round 2
Before examining the games from round 2, I’d like to explain why yesterday I called Agdestein’s exchange sacrifice a-la Botvinnik and not Petrosian, as everybody else. It is because it reminded me of a very old game of Botvinnik as black, somewhere from the 1940s, way before Petrosian became famous for his exchange sacrifices. So today I checked and the game in question was Luiblinsky-Botvinnik, Moscow 1943. Long time ago I was a serious student of Botvinnik’s games, thoroughly digesting his 3 tomes of selected games and not surpsingly something stuck in my memory.
Today was an exciting round. The main match-up of the day, Kramnik-Carlsen was a bit of a let-down because they chose to play it safe. It was a repeat of the Catalan they played back in 2011 in Wijk aan Zee. Kramnik blundered badly in that game and lost, but here it was Carlsen to introduce a novelty on move 11. It was within the boundaries of equality throughout and what I found interesting was to observe Carlsen (again!) try to squeeze something out of nothing in the symmetrical position starting from move 31. And, as we’ve grown accustomed by now, he managed to squeeze something! It was not enough for win, but he definitely made Kramnik suffer – he even won two pawns at one moment. Of course, Kramnik was never in any danger, but in games like this one it is no less important to establish a psychological initiative: Kramnik was pressing from the beginning and Carlsen defended patiently and when it was finally equal Carlsen started to play for more! Why? Because the trend shifted in his favour and he tried to capitalise on it. He didn’t manage this time, but players like Lasker, Karpov and Carlsen himself (to name just the most typical ones) have won immeasurable number of games after defending for long periods and when they finally equalised they started to play for a win, very often quite successfully. It is difficult for the side that had an advantage to shift gears and steer to a draw, they either continue playing under the impression of the old (and gone) advantage, or they just relax thinking that the position is an “easy draw.” In both cases they start to make mistakes and end up in trouble. This is the psychology behind the incredible victories of the great fighters.
Caruana made it 2/2. Svidler’s Paulsen quickly became very sharp and Caruana sacrificing, first a pawn and then a piece. My feeling is that these types of attacks in the Sicilian are won by white, in the vast majority, simply because it’s easier to play when attacking. It was far from straight-forward, of course – to illustrate, the comp gives 19…Rb8 as the only way to hold a draw! The idea is to play …Rb5 at some moment, defending the pinned knight on e5. Not an easy move to find! After 19…Bf6 Svidler gave his queen for a lot of material, but he probably missed that white recaptures one of the pieces by force. But even then I thought he had enough counterplay based on the passed f-pawn. Caruana’s 30thmove (30 Qf2) was strange to me – I thought it was natural to block the pawn with the rook, leaving the queen free to roam around. But he thought otherwise, he thought that the rook should roam around and the queen can jump out at the opportune moment. After looking at the position for a while I realise that it is actually difficult for black – white has many motifs to play for a win – he can use the h-pawn as a deflection in order to win the f-pawn, he can start attacking black’s queenside pawns with a3 and he can create threats against black’s king, while all black can do is wait. In such situations, when one side has ideas while the other one has to wait, it’s almost certain that the side with the ideas wins, as it is next to impossible to be very precise against anything that they throw at you. It also happened here, on move 38 (possibly in time-trouble) Svidler blundered (38…Bd7 would have continued the fight) and allowed a mating attack.
Topalov-Grischuk was an exciting Najdorf. By a curious transposition they found themselves in the old game Shirov-Gelfand from Greece 1993. Ever since then it was considered that black is quite comfortable and the current game didn’t change that verdict. Topalov varied with 17 Kb1, instead of Shirov’s 17 h4 (due to the …Ng4, Bc1 repetition in the opening the numbering of the moves is different from the Shirov game, there it was 15 h4) but black just proceeded with natural development of his pieces and it was him who actually started to create threats first. Topalov lunged forward on move 23 with Nf5, when he had a more solid alternative in 23 Bg5 and only then Nf5. The game move allowed …d5, but he probably thought that the pawn sacrifice gave him an attack – a typical decision by an aggressive player, trying to wrestle the initiative from the opponent by violent means. However, his 26 h5 allowed 26…Qf2, a kind of defensive move you know it’s good once you see it. Looking at the position with a comp, it suggests the check on h6 first (26 Nh6 Kg7 27 Bc1) and then it gets crazy and simply takes on b2 for black and after 28 Kb2 continues calmly with 28…Qc6. An amazing idea – the threat is Na4+ and the Nh6 is out of play. White can bring it back by 29 Nf5 Kg8 30 Nd4 and it seems it just wins, only to be countered by 30…Na4 31 Ka1 h5!! The line goes on 32 Qf3 Bd4 33 cd Rac8 and it’s “just” a draw (i.e. 0.00.) Unbelievable stuff, I mean it’s relatively easy to make sense of the moves, once you look at them with the help of the comp, but actually finding them over the board is impossible. After 26…Qf2 black took over the initiative as he managed to defend his kingside. I suspect that Grischuk was in time-trouble again, but it was Topalov who succumbed to the pressure with a gross blunder on move 33. I have the impression that Topalov is on his way out of the elite – he did win some Grand Prix tournaments last year, but his play was far from convincing and the disappointing result at the Candidates must have left him pretty depressed. I think he lacks motivation and, more importantly, energy to be able to play his trademark chess.
A long series of draws almost always finishes with a loss and this was proven again by Karjakin. He had 17 draws in a row until today and it seemed the series would continue as in a tame line of the Queen’s Indian Aronian only got a small advantage. But the advantage wouldn’t disappear in spite of the exchanges, making it more difficult to play with black. This structure, of 2 vs 1 pawns on the queenside and 3 vs 4 pawns on the kingside (from white’s point of view) can arise from many openings, like the French, the Sicilian and here from the Queen’s Indian. Usually it is pretty safe for black, provided he puts his knight on d5 and controls white’s queenside pawns. Here it was exactly this that was Karjakin’s problem – he couldn’t put a knight on d5: just watch how Aronian skillfully prevented it, first with 25 Qf3 (f7 is hanging) then 28 Re3, with the idea of retaking on f3 with a rook, again not letting the knight jump to d5. Hence Karjakin’s 28…Rf8, but then 29 Rc4, again preventing it – if black takes on f3, 29…Qf3 30 Rf3 Nd5, there comes 31 Nf7! It’s very difficult to play against this type of moves, you can’t play what you want, they are not letting you! And since you can’t play what you want, you play something you don’t want – nevertheless I’m still surprised by Karjakin’s 29…a4. Why give white a passed pawn for nothing? He should have kept still with something like 29…Qd6 and suffer some more. After 29…a4 30 b4 white’s advantage rose to almost decisive. Aronian even let black finally establish a knight on d5 as white’s domination was too much for black to handle. I was a surprised though by Aronian’s decision to put the wonderfully centralised knight on e5 on a6 (34 Nd7, 35 Nc5, 36 Na6), it just doesn’t look like “good technique.” The comp then suggests 36…Ra7 and says that black should hold – the idea is to prevent the exchange of black’s pride, the knight on d5. Karjakin missed that and went down quickly after the knights were exchanged.
Giri varied from his usual Grunfeld and went for the Ragozin against Agdestein, a rare occurrence in his repertoire. Agdestein in turn decided to turn back the clock and chose Capablanca’s move 7 Qa4 from his famous win against Spielmann in New York 1927. Giri decided not to follow Spielmann and chose the modern treatment of 7…c5 (incidentally, Spielmann played this in 1936). Agdestein’s 14 Be2 was new, but it didn’t change much in the position – black had good play in a typical position from the Ragozin. Something strange happened on move 16. The comp points out an amazing resource for black, namely 16…Rh4!! The idea is to come to e4 with the knight from f6 and then take on f2 as this knight cannot be taken by the king in view of Ne4+ and the queen on a3 is undefended. But otherwise white’s pawn on e3 also falls and white is just lost! This means that white’s 16 Rfd1 was a big mistake and that the players didn’t notice this hidden idea. Two moves later it was white’s turn to miss a tactic. By 18 c4 he could have got rid of the weak pawn and opened the position for his bishops. After 18…dc 19 Bd6 and Bxc5 black would have a difficult time to defend the doubled pawns on the c-file and his kingside. The same move c4 was a possibility again on move 20, but Agdestein decided to straighten up his structure by moving this pawn to d4 (after the exchange of the rooks on that square.) But this actually gave black a good square for the knight on e4 and from there it went to c3, completely paralysing white’s queenside. All white could do was give one of his bishops for the dominating knight and reach a drawn opposite-coloured bishop endgame. Curious missed chances by both opponents, especially the more positional c4 ideas, as the sacrifice on h4 really isn’t something you expect to work (and consequently you don’t look at it too deeply.)
If yesterday’s motto was “you don’t blunder, you don’t lose” today’s can quite appropriately be “you blunder, you lose!” Let’s see what tomorrow brings.