Stavanger 2014 – Round 6
A deja-vu for Kramnik, he lost again to Topalov. Even though he didn’t lose the opening battle like in Khanty, soon enough he made a rash decision to sacrifice an exchange and play with a dominating knight on d4 as compensation. Whatever he may say, he doesn’t seem to be his usual composed self in the games with Topalov. He had decent, quiet alternatives on move 10 (10…ed5) and 12 (12…Bc3 13 Qc3 Bd7) but he went for the risky sacrifice 12…Rd4 instead. At first sight this looks like an understandable exchange sacrifice for obvious positional compensation, but it reminds me of Carlsen’s “obvious” exchange sacrifice against Radjabov in Shamkir: in both cases “the obvious” turned out to be a shallow evaluation. In my opinion with this decision Kramnik wanted to demostrate some sort of disrespect to Topalov, in a sense that he could play “even that” and still have no problems. But Topalov could play around the dominating knight and soon it transpired that black has tough time as white can create threats both along the c-file and on the kingside, threatening f4. Kramnik couldn’t cope with the growing problems and was lost after the strong 26 b3, but then he got a lucky chance he didn’t take – it was a well-concealed shot, 31…Nh3 (Topalov could have avoided this with practically any other move 30) and after 32 gh3 Be2 33 Qc6 Qd3 34 Bd5 Qd5 35 Qd5 Rd5 black should be able to draw! Usually you don’t get these kind of chances, maybe that’s why Kramnik didn’t expect there would be one! As it was he lost quickly afterwards. After Elista these two have played 5 games (including today’s game), in 4 of which Topalov was white, and the score stands at +3-1=1 for Topalov. Only the first game after Elista (in Wijk aan Zee in 2007) was a draw, after that the white player always won the game. I now hope that Russia plays Bulgaria at the Olympiad…
Aronian probably wanted to go home after yesterday’s loss – at least his play today suggests so. He achieved nothing from the Semi-Tarrasch (after a transposition, avoiding the Grunfeld) against Giri and by move 20 he was already worse. He lost a pawn but liquidated into an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops and a pair of rooks where he threatened to exchange the remaining rooks and transpose to a drawn endgame. Giri managed to avoid this only at the cost of a very awkward position of his bishop. After some maneuvering he saw that it was impossible to avoid the exchange of rooks and agreed to draw. Aronian is usually slow to recover after serious set-backs like the Candidates and yesterday’s loss was another difficult blow to take. I reckon he’ll be back to his usual self for the Olympiad, playing for his country has an envigorating effect on him. Before that though, there are still 3 rounds to go in Norway.
Another elite player tried too hard to win against Agdestein and another failed attempt it was. Caruana’s 1…d6 was a clear indication of his ambitions, but he never got to anything even remotely close to winning against Agdestein’s solid play. Even the exchange sacrifice to liven things up didn’t bring much as Agdestein was careful to keep things under control. Unlike Karjakin and Grischuk, Caruana didn’t push things too far so all in all was a well-played game that was dynamically balanced throughout.
The remaining two games were nothing to write home about. In both the players demonstrated their preparation from start to finish and the games ended in correct draws. Carlsen’s preparation in the Berlin was probably intended for Anand, as Karjakin decided to follow the 4th game of the match until move 11 and then his 11 g4 was played by Dominguez against Navara and Caruana against Grischuk, both games from 2013. They followed Dominguez-Navara until move 18 when Carlsen played 18…Be6 instead of Navara’s 18…Rf8. They reached a rook endgame that Carlsen drew comfortably, in all probability back in October last year.
Grischuk and Svidler played a rare line in the English Opening and they followed the computer recommendations from the moment they left theory on move 11 until the end on move 31. A high-quality game, undoubtedly, but alas, just a demonstration of the players’ good memory.
There is now a triumvirate at the top with +1, Carlsen, Kramnik and Caruana. Carlsen still needs to play Agdestein and in view of what I said that I expect Agdestein to tire and lower his level, I’d go with the World Champion to win the event. Not too original a prediction, admittedly, but a very probable one…