Stavanger 2017 – Round 9

To verify my own prediction from the last post, I scored 50%.

Carlsen didn’t try to beat Anand with Black and understandably so. In a way it reminds me of his last game of the match with Karjakin – he achieved what he needed to – here to score a win, there to equalise the score – and then just played the last game in an unassuming manner. It is notable that in the opening he used Giri’s 10…Be6, which was used against him in Round 5. Anand deviated immediately, with the most popular move in the position, and then they followed theory until move 15. White maintained a small and safe pull, perhaps his best chance was on move 23 when he could have pushed e5.

 


 

So and Aronian was a QGD with 5 Bf4 and until move 15 they followed the game So-Topalov from the rapid in Paris last year when Aronian introduced an improvement. He didn’t have any problems and drew easily, basically securing a clear first (since by that time it was clear that Nakamura won’t win his game).

Karjakin messed up the opening against Vachier’s Najdorf and instead of a slightly better endgame ended up in a much worse endgame. He was lucky that Vachier went for the repetition instead of trying for a win.

Kramnik finished on a high as in Shamkir, only this time instead of a titanic battle he preferred the blitzkrieg. He demolished Giri in 20 (!) moves. I was appalled at seeing Giri’s 5th move.

 

 


 

The duel of the Americans spoiled Nakamura’s tournament and improved Caruana’s. The first surprise was Nakamura’s choice of the Najdorf. Was he playing for a win and trying to catch Aronian? From the way the tournament went for him he didn’t have any “moral” rights for that – in way too many games he was playing openly for a draw, so just to change all that in the last game and pull it off with a Black win? Unlikely. The second surprise is that he keeps going into these deeply analysed Najdorf lines in spite of the occassional loss – the most painful was undoubtedly against the same Caruana in London when he was caught in a fine preparation involving a queen sacrifice. He also lost a game in the Najdorf to Caruana in last year’s US Championship. Today’s game followed similar course – Nakamura was caught in preparation and he had to find the way out by calculating some very complex lines. He managed to a point, but then he cracked.

 


 

The tournament was a great triumph for Aronian. His last two victories, in Grenke and here, show him at the height of his powers and he is definitely the best player in the world at this moment. He is now convincingly over 2800 on the rating list, but this still doesn’t mean anything in regards to his chances to qualify for the Candidates. His only chance is to get to the final of the World Cup, but a knock-out has its own laws.

On the other side of the spectre we have the faltering World Champion. He admitted that he lacked confidence in his ability to win games and that is the worst possible lack of confidence to have. If you don’t believe you can win, you won’t. When they say that chess is 90% psychology at this level this is what they mean. Carlsen will work on it, I am sure, but how long it will take is uncertain – he hasn’t won a tournament this year (the last tournament he won was in July 2016, the Bilbao Masters) and the crisis lasts for a very long time now.

And the so-called “Minister of Defence” ended last. Karjakin is maximising his profits (financial, personal and political) from his status of vice-Champion, but that won’t last for long. He is politically active in Russia, he has a strong self-promoting campaign going and he reaps the benefits of “not having lost the match with the World Champion.” But all these excuses of not having to qualify for the Candidates (now) and the results don’t matter, I have a match to play (before the match) are just that – excuses. They cannot hide the fact that he is not playing well and his results have deteriorated dramatically. He is not a regular in the the Top 10 anymore and I don’t see him become one any time soon. The core of the problem is that he doesn’t even seem concerned about it and he doesn’t seem to care. It must be difficult to put in the hours and have the will to win when you’re a millionaire and life is so good and easy. To do it one must have that type of character and from what we’ve seen so far Karjakin doesn’t have it. Will he change? I don’t think so, but I may be wrong – only time will tell.

A few words about the others. Kramnik impressed, but that is only thanks to the fact that he won the last game. He had two bad days and that is two too many if you want to fight for victory. He still has the problems with stamina after playing long games and it doesn’t seem that he is adjusting to tackle it. Unless he does it soon he won’t win in the last rounds and the tournaments will start to become mediocre. I think he’s still very much hopeful to qualify for the Candidates and give it all there, so at least this year we will see Kramnik fighting with all his might.

Nakamura should have finished sole second and I think his ambition in the last round did him a bad service. His newly-acquired solidity is good and brought him stability, but he probably needs to mix it up better with his previous aggression. A better mix will see him fight for first place more often.

Giri looked silly in that last round loss. Undoubtedly a huge disappointment for him after he dug himself out of the hole of 7 losses in a row (6 in the blitz and 1 in the first round to Nakamura). Now, at least for a while, people will stop talking about his draws.

It was So who made all the draws and it was inevitable that it happens. With his super-solid style and openings he managed to win several tournaments and rise in the rankings. But people got used to it and now he’s not making progress with it. He should have beaten Karjakin, but was lost against Giri, so his result equals out. To achieve success at this level, against this opposition, one needs more edge. But I am not sure So has it. I think he will continue in the same manner and see where that takes him. For now he is the prime candidate to qualify for the Candidates by rating and it will definitely be great to see him there.

Vachier is probably disappointed, but I wonder what he expected from this tournament. For me he is not on the same level as Aronian, Caruana or Nakamura, in spite of having more rating than them in the last period. He had an amazing run but now that ended and he is slowly slipping. He needs to rediscover what made it tick for him, but it usually never happens – you have to discover something new that makes it tick, the old trick won’t work again.

Anand was probably happy to come back with at least one win after those two bad losses. I expected to see another Caro-Kann from him (after Round 1) but against Karjakin he still went for the Berlin. His preparation is of the highest level, as always, but the bad days can ruin any tournament. If only he could limit those he will be there for 10 more years!

One of the strongest tournaments in history finished and it was a great pleasure to watch and analyse these games. Great fighters always produce great games.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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