Stavanger 2014 – Round 3

Today we found out that Carlsen knows how to prepare topical lines. I read it somewhere that he’s consciously going for complex positions, on one hand to enrich his playing style, and on the other, and this is my opinion, to prepare for the match with Anand – after all, he can’t expect Anand to do the same and play the boring chess he played in Chennai; surely Anand should try to play more active and dynamic chess and this is exactly what Carlsen has been doing in the tournaments this year (the games Nakamura-Carlsen, Zurich, Karjakin-Carlsen, Shamkir, Carlsen-Radjabov, Shamkir, Nakamura-Carlsen, Shamkir are all good examples.) Curiously enough, a week ago I was browsing through Kaufman’s book “Sabotaging the Grunfeld” where the line with 3 f3 is recommended for white. And quite unexpectedly, Carlsen goes for it! In the book Kaufman suggested the novelty 15 Bh6 and up to move 17 they followed his analysis when Caruana played 17…Qe7 instead of Kaufman’s 17…Qf8. Probably Caruana’s move is worse than Kaufman’s, who used a very powerful hardware for the book, as Carlsen managed to get an edge – after black’s 18…e5 white is better on both wings. But then it seems to me that Carlsen miscalculated something. It’s obvious that black’s counterplay is based on the move …c6 and on move 26 he could have prevented it with 26 Qe3 and if Rb8 renewing the threat, then 27 Qc5 with domination. Instead, he allowed it and suddenly it was white who had to be careful – a clear indication that he missed something in his calculations. Realising this, he made another debatable decision – instead of keeping equal material and defending against black’s initiative (30 Nd5 Nd5 31 ed and now black can choose between 31…a4 and 31…b4), he went for an endgame – a piece down. This decision clearly shows his preferences! True, he got two pawns for the piece, and they should have stayed only two, if it wasn’t for Caruana’s miscalculation on move 34 – he should have inserted the zwischenzug 34…gf4, the idea is that white cannot take on d7 in view of 35…f3 and black wins! Good technique often relies on such “details.” Instead he allowed Carlsen to get a third pawn for the piece and increase his drawing chances. The position was difficult to play for both – Carlsen had to be careful not to lose the pawns for nothing, and Caruana wanted to avoid too much simplification. Probably both players missed better ways of handling the position (as the comp suggests) but this only shows the level of complexity. Eventually Carlsen managed to save the draw. It’s not the first time that Carlsen gets into trouble with Caruana with white (see for example their games from Wijk aan Zee in 2010 and the Tal Memorial in 2013 – the latter particularly typical as he blundered in an equal position) but what is surprising is that he got into trouble after achieving an advantage from the opening – usually at this level it’s a rare sight to see an advantage turn into a fight for a draw. When it happens though, it’s always as a result of a miscalulation. Both players can be equally unhappy with the result, but Caruana still leads with 2.5/3 while Carlsen is yet to win a game.

It’s always a pleasure to see Kramnik go on the offensive, especially with black. This is such a rare sight and the examples I recall have mostly tended to backfire on him – against Naiditsch in Dortmund 2010, against Shirov in Shanghai in 2010, against Svidler at the Russian Championship in 2011 and most famously against Ivanchuk in the last round of last year’s Candidates. But today it went well for him, probably because they had a classical position on the board as Giri chose to play the Catalan against him. I very much liked 13…Qe8, the move that set the tone for the whole game. The idea is obvious: he wants to put the knight in the centre and play …f5. Giri seemed to play with fear, as if he didn’t expect such an open aggression from Kramnik. Kramnik’s 22nd continued his aggressive intent, he could have taken on b5 and played …b6, establishing something of a fortress, but he wasn’t interested in that – he sacrificed the pawn on a5 instead in order to plonk the knight on f3! When you’re under this sort of pressure, both psychological and chess-wise, it feels very uncomfortable and this makes it difficult to find the right moves – Giri chose to sit and wait while he could have tried to disturb Kramnik’s maneuvering by Ba5 at some point (on moves 34 and 35 for example.) Both players committed inaccuracies on move 40, as Giri’s 40 Qf1 allowed 40…Qf7 with the idea of Bb3, but they were both probably in time-trouble. But some mistakes are made on move 41 and that’s what Giri did – it seems that he completely missed that he had a weak back rank, after his 41 Rc2? Qe6 black threatens to take on h3 and mate with Rd1. It seems Giri just collapsed, but coupled with his missed 16…Rh4 yesterday, it doesn’t bode well for him at this tournament – missing tactics is the worst sin you can have in chess! On the other hand, a great game by Kramnik, it’s good to see him play liberated and aggressive chess, something he used to do in the late 1990s!

I admired Karjakin’s spirit today. Losing a game after 17 draws in a row must have pissed him off and he went out guns blazing against the rating outsider Agdestein. He was white and introduced a novelty on move 17 – it’s remarkable that Houdini doesn’t think much of it, while the move (17 g3) is actually recommended by the latest version of Stockfish! It’s obvious Karjakin (or his coaches) have used Stockfish to find this novelty – they followed Stockfish’s line until move 23 and here it seems Karjakin either forgot his preparation or didn’t leave Stockfish long enough to think. After 23 Bb4 white is almost winning! It takes Houdini quite a while to understand this – what an amazing discrepancy between the engines in this position (sometimes to crack a position you need to switch between the engines, usually one will suggest a way forward.) After his sacrifice 23 Nd5 he could maximum hope for a draw, but he kept pushing (he could have drawn with 26 ef6+ for example)! He didn’t risk losing, but to my eyes it seemed risking too much to play on in a position when the only side that had winning chances was black! As it usually happens, when you try too hard to win (and I suppose he was trying to win, even though there weren’t really any chances) the hunt becomes the hunter. 42 fg5 was the final drawing possibility as after 42 Qd3 black was already winning. Agdestein’s cleanest chance was on move 48, when the calm 48…Kf7 would collect the g7-pawn with the king, while after the game move it became messy again. Black’s last mistake was 55…f3 and after that white saved the draw. A hugely disappointing game and result for Karjakin – he blew a great novelty and then he spent most of the game trying to invent chances when there weren’t any, in defiance to the inevitable draw that should have happened. The only positive for him is that he didn’t lose, but I’m sure he was expecting to win against the lowest rated player in the tournament. But all sharks, big or small, have sharp teeth and Agdestein has definitely proven that he is one! It will be interesting to see if he manages to keep it up, even though I suspect that he will let his guard down when he tires, simply because he’s not used to this level of chess on a daily basis.

Svidler-Topalov started as a Najdorf, then transposed to a Scheveningen and after Topalov’s very rare 8…d5 (I must quote the only other game in the database: Gietl-Wuensch, Mittelfranken 1996) it transposed to a French with the superfluous a4 for white.This weakening gave black enough counterplay on the queenside. Topalov’s decision on move 17 (17…Qa5) is typical of the player’s character. A player with a calmer disposition and a liking for endgames would have taken on f2 and would have entered a well-known endgame that is slightly better for white, but drawable for black. Topalov chose to keep the queens on board in order to have more counter-attacking chances. In view of white’s weakening a4, I would tend to agree with him. But even with the queens on he was forced to patiently destroy white’s pawn centre, first with 22…f6 and then with 27…e5. This eventually allowed him to equalise. All in all a game that shows the kind of patience one must have when defending slightly worse positions.

Grischuk-Aronian was a strange game because it lasted only 12 moves. Something went awfully wrong with Aronian’s preparation, but usually that is not the end of the world in non-forced variations. To make things irreparable, he blundered badly with 12…e4 (losing a pawn, but he played this with his next in mind) and 13…Qf5, losing the queen. This reminds me of Mamedyarov’s blunder against Aronian at the Candidates, when he also lost the queen in the opening – what goes around, comes around you could say! The rest was not too difficult and Grischuk mopped things up. A nice comeback by Grischuk, who after the initial loss scored 2/2 and is now in shared second with Kramnik, half a point behind Caruana.

So blunders still lose games, let’s stick with yesterday’s motto!
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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