Stavanger 2014 – Round 5

A change of leader and 3 decisive games, all won by white.

Kramnik again showed excellent preparation. As white in the English Opening against Caruana he went for a somewhat rare line, 8 Qd3, seen in Bocharov-Shomoev, 2009, followed by the novelty 12 Nd5. Caruana went for the complicated 11…Ne4 – while it is commendable that he went for probably the best move, it is also impractical to go for the complicated line that your opponent had analysed deeply. But this decision also showed the self-confidence Caruana has in his own calculations, not being put off even by Kramnik’s famous preparation. As expected, they followed Kramnik’s preparation well until move 17-20 (my estimate.) In a sense, Caruana was right in choosing 11…Ne4 – it gave him acceptable play, but on the other hand it wasn’t completely equal and he spent masses of time and energy to get there. Typical modern preparation – nothing much is obtained on the board, but time advantage, psychological pressure and energy investment are all in favour of the better prepared player. Kramnik continued to press for a very long time but Caruana defended well and when it seemed that a draw would be agreed he decided to try one last chance, and as it usually happens, it worked! Instead of the drawing with 43…Kf8 Caruana chose the losing 43…Ke8, quite an unexpected oversight for him. Again we see a game decided by a big blunder, this time after a long and successful defence, only succumbing at the last hurdle. Chess is a merciless sport.

Carlsen finally won. Yesterday I said I didn’t expect too much of his game with Aronian, but how wrong I was! It was a fantastic game – it started with the anti-positional novelty 11 fg3 in the Ragozin. Everybody analyses the first line of the engine, so novelties nowadays are the second, third, forth, nth line of the engine, or, if someone gets lucky, a purely human idea that doesn’t fail tactically. Carlsen’s 11 fg3 is the only other possible recapture, but I’m sure nobody analysed it! It has the advantage of discouraging short castling by black and this led to a very unbalanced position. I was impressed by Aronian’s idea of domination on the queenside, starting with 16…Bd7 and 17…Na4 and then 20…Nc3 and 21…Qb4 – a very successful concept of defence, simply by dominating white’s queenside he defended against possible attack! This was followed by domination in the centre by 23…f5 and the doubling on the f-file. I would feel uncomfortable with white there as there’s nothing constructive to do! Worth mentioning is Carlsen’s idea to activate his rook on a1 by 24 Ra5 and 25 Rc5 and then his plan to get rid of the annoying knight on c3 by 27 Nh2, liberating the f1-square for the queen, 28 Qf1 with the idea of Rc1. Very good defensive play! The comp points out that his 29 Re2 was a mistake, but it was also part of the plan – to liberate e1 for the queen after the f-file is opened. But Aronian kept the dominating position and could have maintained the grip by 32…h5, shutting the knight on h2. Instead his decision to exchange queens turned the tables completely! Without the queens it was white who overtook the queenside and black’s bishop, with all the pawns on white squares from the dominating force it was turned into the typical bad bishop. From then onwards it was one way street, in spite of Aronian’s heroic defence. An impressive game!

Svidler and Karjakin played an English Opening (pretty popular in Norway) and Svidler was the better prepared of the two – it showed on move 15 when the right move was 15…Nd5, as played in one correspondence game, instead of Karjakin’s 15…Na6. This gave white an advantage that he increased with straight-forward play. The key moment was on move 23 when Svidler didn’t find a way how to improve his position even further – with hindsight (or, rather, computer help) it is easy to logically explain the correct move: you should improve the piece that doesn’t perform optimally, in the position from the game it’s the bishop on g2 – hence the solution 23 Nh4 (which at the same time improves the scope of the knight, threatening to come to f5.) After the meek 23 h3 was followed by 23…h6, the same idea again was the best chance, but he didn’t take it. It’s curious to know what he missed. Soon after the game liquidated in a drawn queen endgame and ended with perpetual check.

Grischuk repeated the same line in the French Karjakin used against Agdestein. This time however the Norwegian was the first to deviate with the novelty 16…Rb8, Houdini’s first choice. Agdestein’s way to combat the elite with black is worth noting – against 1 d4 he chose the solid Queen’s Indian, thus avoiding forced surprises, while against 1 e4 he himself choses deeply analysed lines. Against Karjakin it could have led him in trouble, as Karjakin introduced a good novelty, but this time it was him to introduce a novelty and he didn’t have any problems in the opening. It was apparent that Grischuk, just like Karjakin before him, was trying to win at all costs – some of his decisions cannot be explained otherwise. 23 a3 was interesting, sacrificing a pawn to enter a position with opposite coloured bishops. These can be very dangerous in the French, they usually favour the side with the better king and in this case it seemed it was the white one. But white couldn’t get his pieces to cooperate optimally and black was successful to parry the threats. 32 c4 was a reckless move, it reminds me of a man who cannot break down a wall and eventually uses his head to do it. Probably white could still have drawn after it (35 Rd8), but he wasn’t playing for a draw and it should have cost him dearly had black found 39…Rg2 winning on the spot. After 41…Be6, another imprecision, Grischuk played the best moves to escape with a draw. A game with almost identical pattern with the Karjakin-Agdestein game: the favourites try too hard to win, end up lost, but eventually escape unpunished. Had Agdestein won those two games he would have been leading this tournament…

Some people are not born to play the Open Sicilian and one of those people is Giri. He probably tried to catch Topalov in some prepared line in the Najdorf, but when Topalov unexpectedly chose the Rauzer Giri was like lost at sea. 14 h4 on paper seems like a good, Sicilian, attacking move, but in Giri’s case it was connected with the idea of Rh3-d3 (and later to d2) to defend his queenside! The typical move for these structures, f5, without which white cannot achieve anything, was played on move 30! This cautious play may be good for the Catalan, but it’s the most inappropriate thing white can do in the Sicilian. It should have been a scholarly game for Topalov, he outplayed Giri very easily (I’d even say typically, as it usually happens when white is passive in the Sicilian) and it would have been a great example had Topalov found 25…Qa6 with the idea of Qa8 – curiously enough white cannot defend the e4-pawn. He got a second chance when the typical Sicilian break in the centre 31…d5 would have given him a winning position. Instead of winning Topalov blundered in 1 move by 31…Kh8 as after 32 Nf3 his rook on e5 and pawn on d6 are both under attack. Giri mopped things up after that. I’m afraid that what I said about Topalov is becoming true and the blunders definitely do not help his cause. Giri was lucky this time, but maybe this game marks a change of generations in the top echelons of the elite.

There is one thing that will be intriguing tomorrow and that is the clash between the leader and the tail-ender. Something similar happened in the Candidates – before round 6 in Khanty Kramnik was on +1, trailing Anand by half a point and playing good chess. But then he played Topalov with black (who at that time was on -1) and he famously lost that game. From then on his play was never the same and he dropped out of contention. Tomorrow Topalov is again white and it will be very interesting to see what they prepare this time, especially in view of Kramnik’s lost theoretical battle in Khanty. A lot of unknowns, but one thing is certain – they won’t shake hands.
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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