Stavanger 2014 – Round 4

Something happens when Karjakin plays. Today he went for 1 d4 against Grischuk and against the expected Grunfeld he chose the Be3, Qd2 set-up. Grischuk deviated a bit from the mainstream theory and Karjakin seemed to be caught unprepared. Incidentally, I have played this line before with black (in 2001 and 2002) and after having analysed it I came to the conclusion that the only way for white is to play 11 d5. After Karjakin’s 11 Ng5 black has good play. Soon enough, strange things started to happen – first instead of 16 0-0 Karjakin played 16 Bd4, which allowed 16…Bh6, but even after Grischuk’s 16…Bd4 black seems to be taking over the initiative. Now how is this possible for a player who has a whole brigade of coaches working for him (I read somewhere that there were 9 of them), to be worse with white after 16 moves in an opening he was expecting? And it’s not even his first time, just remember the most recent examples Karjakin-Nakamura, Shamkir (the 14 f3?? in the King’s Indian) and Karjakin-Carlsen, Shamkir, both games in openings he was expecting and yet coming out of the opening with a worse position. Back to the game, after the expected 17 Qd4 when black can play 17…Nd3 immediately or prepare it with 17…Bb5, black is already a bit better, but instead of this Karjakin decided just to give the exchange by taking 17 cd4. I don’t know what he missed, but after the forced sequence on move 21 he was in a technically lost position. It’s not easily winning, far from it, but for players of this caliber it should be a technical win. And then Karjakin started to find the best possible chances while Grischuk seemed to relax prematurely. 22…b6 (instead of his 22…b5) not weakening c5 is one suggestion, 24…a5 is another weakening move, probably missing 25 Rc3 with the idea of Rc5. Grischuk continued to push his queenside pawns, but without the proper support they were harmless – after taking on e7 and establishing strong passed pawns in the centre Karjakin was out of danger. And as it usually goes in such situations, the player with the advantage cannot readjust and eventually loses. Amazing win for Karjakin – you cannot say it’s undeserved, but also on the other hand what kind of play is that for an alleged challenger for the world title? And a pity for Grischuk who seemed to be on his way to 3/4 and a hattrick of wins, but alas, he only has himself to blame.

Nothing much to comment about Aronian-Svidler. They played a long theoretical line in the Grunfeld that ends in an equal endgame. They drew just after the control. Strange choice by Aronian, to say the least.

Topalov introduced a novelty on move 10 against Carlsen’s Ragozin and it seemed that white had a slight edge. Carlsen was obviously eager to complicate things as he went for the a2-pawn, but this gave white ample play with his pair of bishops. White had full compensation for the pawn when he decided to repeat the moves – Topalov has a horrible score against Carlsen, so maybe it’s understandable why the usually pugnacious Bulgarian decided to end the game so soon. I wonder whether Carlsen is getting impatient because he cannot win a game.

Kramnik played the very rare 11…h6 against Agdestein in a very topical line of the Nimzo Indian. Agdestein is very solid in this tournament and he continued to be so – as soon as he got the chance, he pushed 13 d5 and liquidated into a symmetrical position where he had a slight press but where the draw was the likely result after the expected mass exchanges down the d-file. That is what happened and I thought Agdestein would play the simplest 27 b3, just taking away the pawns from the dark squares. He went for the more active 27 Qd8 and after the exchanges of pawns black had a passed a-pawn, but white’s activity allowed him to control it. They drew after the bishops were exchanged and black held a perpetual check.

Caruana-Giri was the round’s most complicated game. The opening reminded me of Botvinnik-Portisch, Monaco 1968, one of Botvinnik’s most beautiful games, only there black didn’t allow b4 by playing 10…a5 (after a slight transposition of moves), while Giri decided to allow it. So just like in Svidler-Kramnik from round 1, the Reversed Sicilian a tempo up (also known as the English Opening) didn’t give white anything. But they don’t play that to get an advantage, they play it to get a position. And they did get a position, a complex maneuvering position with a lot of ideas to think about – white could push e4 or d4, he could try to play along the b-file; black could try to push f4 himself or just stay solid and react to white’s ideas. I was surprised by Giri’s 19…g5, not a move you’d expect from a cautious player like him. He could have gone 19…Nde7, something he did on the next move. Maybe he was worried about 20 f4 then as after the exchange of queens white retakes with the g-pawn and establishes a pawn mass in the centre. It’s difficult to move it though, but perhaps Giri was just worried and wanted to avoid it. In the subsequent maneuvering Caruana outplayed Giri, I have the impression that he was psychologically uneasy because of his weakened king. But Caruana missed his chance after the time-control and they transposed to a heavy-piece endgame, which was equal.

A very tight tournament and +2 might as well win it. Wins are very hard to come by and as we have seen so far they happen only when a big mistake occurs, otherwise the players’ defensive skills, technique and opening preparation do not allow for winning chances.

Tomorrow the world number 1 plays the world number 2, but somehow I don’t expect much from that game. I hope I’m wrong though.
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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