Stavanger 2014 – Round 9

I have said it several times before, but this tournament not only reminded me of the famous St. Petersburg tournament 100 years ago, but it also ended like that one. Apart from being the strongest tournaments of their times, the comparison primarily concerns their winners.

Lasker had his fair share of dubious positions in 1914 but once he got going, there was no stopping him. Karjakin won 4 games in Stavanger, but only the last game was more or less decent, even though even there he had a dubious position at some point. But just like Lasker, he kept fighting, posing difficult problems for his opponents and taking even the slightest chance offered to him. The difference lies in the fact that Karjakin, unlike Lasker, didn’t have a single convincing win throughout the tournament and that is why I am still suspicious of his future prospects.

The situation was clear for Caruana – he had to beat Karjakin in the last round in order to win the tournament (or play a play off in case Carlsen also won). So he went for the all-popular (at this tournament) English Opening to obtain a position where he could try and outplay his opponent. Black had a good position after the opening and early middlegame, but after the tempting 25…a5 he gave Caruana a weakness on b6 to latch onto. The Italian played very well after that and obtained an advantage and after Karjakin’s imprecision 31…Qd6 he could have taken full advantage of it by changing his plan and playing 32 Ne4 Qe7 33 Bd7 and Rc6 with total domination. He followed with his plan instead and after the mistaken 32 Na4 the tables were turned in an incredible way that suddenly there was no saving for white (after missing his last chance with 34 Nc3)! In yet another twist of fate Karjakin won again and this victory led to him winning the tournament for a second year in a row. An incredible feat!

Carlsen beat Agdestein, something which was expected. But it wasn’t easy at all. Agdestein was a tough nut to crack until the end and fought valiantly against Carlsen. The game should have been drawn, but Carlsen did what he does best – he won from a drawn position after maneuvering better than his opponent. It was yesterday’s game against Svidler that prevented Carlsen from winning the tournament, but it was entirely his fault and it should give him something to think about. It just shows how good Carlsen is and what the expectations are when a second place is considered a disappointment.

Topalov and Aronian played an interesting Ruy Lopez. Topalov’s plan of a4-a5 put black under pressure but he spoilt his advantage on move 24 when he should have taken on b5. His 24 h4 let Aronian simplify the position and draw. A bad tournament for Aronian, while Topalov’s tournament was saved with his win against Kramnik – after that he beat Agdestein and came to 50%.

Giri and Svidler found a way to repeat in a complex hedgehog when the game should have started instead of ended. Both finished on -1 and probably Giri has more to be happy about, only because he seems to be a happy character.

The game Kramnik-Grischuk marked another important event. For the first time in his career Kramnik lost in the Be3, Qd2 system against the Grunfeld, blitz and rapid included. Grischuk repeated the side-line he used against Karjakin and obtained a dynamically balanced position, but white’s powerful centre and centralised queen and rooks made it easier to play with white. Kramnik launched an all-out attack in the centre and the kingside and put Grischuk under severe pressure. Just like against Karjakin, Kramnik refused to repeat moves and played for more. And just like against Karjakin, it backfired on him. He missed his best chance on move 31, when he should have taken on g6 first – it wasn’t easy, but he should have found it. And to make things worse, on his next move Kramnik missed the draw too. After the loss to Topalov, Kramnik scored 0.5/3, losing his last two games. A very disappointing tournament for Kramnik, one that started so well and promised to be one of his best ones. 

But there’s another question that I’m curious about – does this event perhaps mark the change of guard, the old generation of Topalov and Kramnik making way for the next generation of Karjakin and Caruana as Carlsen’s main contenders (with Aronian somewhere in the middle)?
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • Jul 4,2014 at 6:33 am

    It's really an informative and well described post. I appreciate your topic for blogging. Thanks for sharing such a useful post.

  • Anonymous
    Jun 14,2014 at 12:37 am

    I have a feeling that Topalov is definitely out, as for Kramnik I don't know. I think he still has what it takes to play and win, to be one of true contenders for the crown. But in order to do that he needs to change a few things, including carefully selecting what tournaments he plays. In all of his losses in Norway he wasn't outplayed, the zeros came due to his own mistakes. When you add to this missed opportunities in his other games, primarily thinking of his game with Aronian, the tournament could have been quite different if he had:
    – some reserves of energy to use at the beginning of the 5th hour of play,
    – rid himself of the desire (perhaps it is a complex) to win all of his games so he can place higher than Magnus ,
    – overcome psychological issues that have plagued him since Elista.
    I think he needs a different coach, someone who is going to take from him the burden of the day to day strategical planning, a Danailov sort of figure but with actual knowledge of the game.

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