Stavanger 2014 – Round 8

Karjakin continues to amaze me. Not in a positive way though. Against Kramnik, after being caught once again in the opening by Kramnik’s rare line in the QGD Exchange, he quickly retorted to his Candidates plan and went for mass exchanges and a draw. And if Kramnik didn’t become ambitious himself, they would have repeated moves around move 28 when Karjakin made it clear he wanted to draw, by playing Rg4-f4. But Kramnik did get ambitious and thought he could outplay his opponent from an equal and safe position – after all that’s his forte. But slowly things started to change and the position became easier to play for white, probably quite unexpected for Kramnik. This led to some inaccuracies before the time control and Kramnik found himself in difficulties and couldn’t cope with them. So Karjakin won inexplicably again (this does amaze me in a positive way), thus finding himself in sole lead before the last round. The question I posed some posts ago, whether Lasker (Karjakin) will win again by coming from behind or whether Capablanca (Carlsen) will snatch it with a last round win is now very much to the point!

Carlsen should have won quickly. But he didn’t and this was another amazing thing in round 8. Svidler played the English Opening atrociously and on move 10 was probably worse. Then things followed just like in the Grand Prix Attack in the Sicilian and black should have wrapped things up by move 25. But strangely enough, Carlsen failed to pounce, his 24…Rff4 letting the win slip, in a position where a lot of moves were winning. A curious miscalculation by Carlsen, something that doesn’t happen to him. Svidler didn’t miss his chance, once presented to him, and found the best moves, leading to a very complicated position when anything could happen. In the midst of the chaos the players found a way to a perpetual check. A very disappointing result for Carlsen who should have been leading with Karjakin before the last round.

Grischuk found a way to avoid Giri’s Grunfeld by transposing to a Benoni with a pawn on e3 and his bishop stuck on c1. I don’t know if that’s a good price to pay for avoiding the Grunfeld, but it turned out Giri overestimated his position when he sacrificed a pawn on move 15. But by then he probably didn’t like his position very much as 15…Nfh6 16 Nc4 Ne5 17 b3 didn’t give much counterplay either. This means that black’s plan to play automatically with Nbd7 probably wasn’t best – personally, as a life-long Benoni player, I would have preferred Na6-c7 and Rb8 on move 10, as this also wins a tempo against the pawn on d5, not being defended by e4. Giri did have some compensation after the pawn sac, but white’s position was solid and he managed to regroup. I’m not sure about his decision to double his pawns on the d-file though – this left him with an ineffective bishop on c1 (24 Bb2 was a natural alternative). Even that should have won for white, but the endgame was a bit tricky and Giri’s counterplay confused Grischuk who missed a win on move 36, when 36 Re8 would have been strong, the idea is to give check on g8 when the king defends the pawn on f5 and then go to b8, thus attacking both pawns on f5 and b4. Pretty depressing for Grischuk I suppose, who played interesting chess throughout the tournament, spoilt by unexpected turbulences in his play.

Aronian contined to show that he’s in poor form here. A nice opening idea (8 e4) followed by good play led him to win a pawn against Caruana, only to fail in the technical phase. Caruana did what he had to do to save the game, but it all depended on Aronian and he botched it. Thanks to this Caruana is still in the hunt for first place, but he will need to beat Karjakin with white in order to make it.

Agdestein lost to Topalov making my prediction that he will tire by the end of the tournament true. They followed a game by his second, Romanov, when Topalov introduced a novelty on move 14. White had the pair of bishops but black had good central control and blockade on e4. 18 d3 seems over-ambitious as it weakens e3, brings black’s Ba7 to life and gives the knight a wonderful square on e4. Then probably Agdestein miscalculated something as when he pushed 23 e4 both that pawn and the rook on g1 were hanging and white’s compensation in view of the strong black-squared bishop didn’t seem enough. Topalov was precise in the technical phase – quite a decent game from Topalov, who appears to have sprung back to life after the win against Kramnik. And whether Agdestein’s fatigue is too much to handle we will see in the last round when he will have to withstand Carlsen’s assault with the black pieces.

A very exciting finish of the tournament is ahead, Caruana-Karjakin and Carlsen-Agdestein the decisive games for the tournament victory. I’d say that Carlsen will win and Karjakin will draw and there’ll be a blitz play-off for the title! Always rooting for more top level chess, even if it’s blitz!
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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