Dortmund 2014 – Rounds 3&4

I couldn’t write in the previous days due to my own (long) games in the Macedonian league. But today I finally won (and quickly at that) so I can take a look at what happened in Dortmund.

In my last post I wrote “Tomorrow Kramnik plays Baramidze…” without realising that the relaxed people of Dortmund gave the players a free day after only 2 rounds! And it’s a 7-round event! And they have another free day after the 4th round! Some people really have it easy… but at least they will play 3 games in a row in the last 3 rounds. That should tire them and push them to the limit!

So Kramnik eventually did play Baramidze a day after my prediction and again failed to win from a winning position. He outplayed a 2600-rated player in a nice fashion, but didn’t win. A lot of things happening to Kramnik which I cannot recall happening to him before – not winning with two pawns up, not winning against a 2600-rated player, losing (with white!) after being utterly outplayed by a 2630-rated player. It’s obvious this is something psychological and only the man himself knows what exactly it is. What’s more worrying is that at the live ratings he’s at number 10, probably his lowest ever since he entered the elite in the mid-90s. This puts him at risk of missing qualification to the next Candidates based on rating, but maybe he doesn’t care about the Candidates any longer?!

The other 3 games of Round 3 were all tranquil affairs. Two Berlins, Naiditsch-Caruana and Leko-Adams were typical of the opening, white trying, not achieving anything and agreeing to a draw. In Ponomariov-Meier white didn’t even try to test the Rubinstein French and after mutually correct play it was drawn in a rook endgame.

Round 4 saw Caruana continue his stomping. His game with Meier was what in my mind constitutes a difference in preparation of an elite player and a solid professional of 2630 who knows his openings very well. Meier is very predictable when playing with black, against 1 e4 it’s always the French and Caruana could prepare very deeply. They followed the recent Karjakin-Goganov game from 2013 when Meier introduced a novelty on move 21, a move that didn’t change the position as it was rather static – bishops of opposite colours and heavy pieces without immediate break-throughs for either side. Both players prepared this far and at first sight it was black who had the initiative on the queenside as white was forced to put his rooks on d1 and d2 to cover all the entry points. But once they were covered, it was white who started to advance on the kingside, but without the help of the rooks it was difficult to see how to achieve anything. This was all seen in the Karjakin game and here comes the difference – in order white to try something he has to push f6 and then black has to decide how to react. When preparing you analyse this type of typical moves and reactions to them. It seems that Caruana did analyse them while Meier didn’t. Or perhaps there’s another reason – in the Karjakin-Goganov game, when white pushed f6 black took on f6 and created counterplay after subsequent Qe2 because he managed to exchange one rook before that. Caruana was more precise (by putting the rooks on d2 and d1) as he didn’t allow that exchange. So maybe Meier remembered that Goganov took on f6 and was OK and he did the same without noting the difference? As it was, he took on f6 in a different position and this led him to difficulties and he lost in further 4 moves. A very instructive game from the point of view of deep opening preparation!

Adams missed several wins against Ponomariov and they eventually drew. What puzzles me is Ponomariov’s play – he’s far from his usual standard. It went unnoticed, but for quite some time Ponomariov is no longer part of the elite players who travel from one supertournament to another and this lack of practice with opponents of the highest caliber makes it difficult for him to adjust when he gets the rare chance like now in Dortmund. In the last 2 years (classical chess only) he played the FIDE Grand Prix events, the Ukranian championship, the World Cup, the King’s tournament and the recent Chinese closed tournament – all these events field players of a lower level than the various Wijks, Dortmunds, Bilbaos and Stavangers and even his results in those were +1 in two of the Grand Prix, +4 in the Ukranian championships, -1 in the Paris Grand Prix, -2 at the King’s and +2 in China – not the kind of results I’d expect from him. Constant practice at the highest level is an essential prerequisite for elite chess – just take a look at Caruana, but in order to get it you either need to be a young and exciting new prospect or to have good ties with the organisers. Ponomariov used to be the former some 10 years ago, but as things stand now his time seems to have passed.

Baramidze tested Leko in a Catalan, introducing the new 16 Ne4 instead of the 16 Rac1 from Carlsen-Aronian, Candidates 2013. The new move is the comp’s choice (aren’t they all?) in an equal position and Leko professionally held the draw without many problems.

Naiditsch went into the Berlin against Kramnik, something not many people try these days. Naiditsch’s 13 g3 was new (the comp’s suggestion, again) but as usual in these positions when black’s king is undisturbed on e7 (and later e6) black never had any problems – in fact sometimes he can even try to play for more. White was careful though and they drew on move 47.

My prediction of Caruana winning it are becoming more substantial now that he has a whole point advantage over second-placed Naiditsch. Tomorrow (this time I’m right, it is indeed tomorrow) will be the stiffest test when he’s black against Kramnik. Kramnik won their last two classical encounters, both with white, but which Kramnik will we see tomorrow? The world-beater or the Kramnik from Round 1?
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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