Monthly Archives: Apr 2016

Stavanger 2016 – Rounds 7-9 – Carlsen Wins!

Strange things happened in the last 3 rounds. And in every round Carlsen’s game was the highlight of the round.

It started with the smoothest win over Kramnik he will ever achieve. It was one of those rarest cases when Kramnik was caught in the opening (and in an endgame at that!) and didn’t react correctly. The game was practically over very quickly even though it lasted 50 moves.

In the next round Carlsen was in Kramnik’s shoes. He lost very easily to Aronian, even not taking his best chance when it was offered.

This win put Aronian equal first with Carlsen with one round to go (and the tie-breaks were in his favour!) But then Carlsen got himself our of the hole he put himself in by nicely beating his former second Eljanov.

Coupled with Aronian’s draw against Harikrishna this win secured Carlsen’s first win in the Norwegian supertournaments. Probably a weight off his chest as well, as failing to win at home 3 years in a row must have been a burden. Except for his off day against Aronian Carlsen played really well and maybe this will be an extra motivation for him to get back the rating he lost last year.

Aronian’s second place wasn’t impressive – he got there by winning his two whites in a row, beating Eljanov after blundering first and then being the right man in the right place at the right time for the Carlsen’s off day. But after the disappointment in the Candidates this must come as some sort of a sweetener.

Vachier, Topalov and Kramnik shared 3rd with +1. The Frenchman continues his constant good form when playing the elite tournaments while for Topalov this result after the Candidates is even sweeter than for Aronian. He was probably so happy to finish on a positive score that he even played 1 e4 against Kramnik in the last round! The last time that happened in a classical game was in 2005, at the Sofia MTel Masters, when they were still on speaking terms! Of course he played 1 e4 expecting Kramnik’s Berlin, which he avoided by 4 d3, but all this made sure that he wasn’t risking and played safely throughout. Kramnik, like Carlsen, had one off day, otherwise he was in good shape as his win against Harikrishna showed.

The rest were on 50% or below. Worth noting is Giri’s minus score. Probably a variant of the famous rule that a long series of draws ends in a loss, in this case a long series of solid tournaments ends in a bad tournament. But it’s Giri, so I expect him to be back with more social media trash-talking and Najdorfs.

A few words about the blitz show in St. Louis. All eyes (mine included) were on Kasparov and he didn’t disappoint. He was outplaying his younger opponents, but when you blunder nothing can save you. What is worrying for the current state of chess is that a player who retired 11 years ago is still by far the biggest crowd puller, I’d say even bigger than Carlsen. The world is begging him to play more, but that won’t happen. The show is over and it’s time to switch our attention to Carlsen again.


Stavanger 2016 – Rounds 5-6

Only two rounds after the first free day before the next one came. Things got packed in the upper half of the standings, with Carlsen still leading with 4/6, but there are four (!) players half a point behind – Vachier, Topalov, Kramnik and Harikrishna.

As expected, the derby Carlsen-Giri was as dull as always. Giri was solid and Carlsen didn’t get anything in the opening. Even for him sometimes it’s impossible to outplay people when getting nothing in the beginning. The random chance he got (and missed) on move 40 shows that he was already reconciled with the draw.

There were three surprises in these two rounds – Kramnik playing 1 e4 twice (I don’t recall that happening in the last 10+ years), Giri losing once and going down to -1 and Harikrishna’s two wins.

Kramnik’s 1 e4 is the easiest to explain – he played it against Eljanov and Aronian, players he was 100% sure would play 1…e5, a move he always plays with black. So he could focus his preparation on the Italian Giuoco Piano while his opponents had to prepare for various 1 Nf3 stuff or 1 d4 followed by Nf3, Bf4, Bg5, e3 in all possible orders, or all the main lines that Kramnik can still play. A good practical choice and he did manage to pose problems in the openings of both games, it’s just that his opponents defended well and he couldn’t get more than two draws.

But Giri’s second loss is something out of the ordinary. I attribute it to the over-confidence after the Candidates. First I thought he got “only” confidence after seeing that he can play well and almost win against the best in the world, but it seems that he got a bit too much of the dose. Against Harikrishna he got nothing in the opening and then was diposed of without much trouble.

This leads us to Harikrishna’s two wins. After losing to Carlsen in the first round he seems to have got used to the surroundings and playing the big guys. He beat Li Chao with white in Round 5 and the way he beat Giri is actually how the big guys beat 2500-rated players: no problems in the opening and then simply outplaying the other guy. Quite impressive! He has Vachier, Kramnik and Aronian to play, so let’s see if he manages to keep it up.

The 7th round sees the big game Carlsen-Kramnik. After working with Kasparov it appears that Carlsen inherited the Kramnik-induced drive to beat his teacher’s successor. He even stated it in the pre-event press conference that it is Kramnik he would most like to beat. I’m curious to see what comes out of it, but Carlsen will surely have to do much better in the opening than in the game with Giri. And the last round sees the modern classic Topalov-Kramnik.  Should be exciting!


Stavanger 2016 – Rounds 1-4

I was travelling in the last few days so I couldn’t follow the tournament as closely as I would have liked. My first impression is that this time Carlsen took his task seriously, before not winning on home turf develops into a complex.

The issue of Karjakin’s last-minute withdrawal attracted a lot of attention, but this was to be expected, both the withdrawal and the attention. Apart from the official version of exhaustion after the Candidates, which is probably true, there is also the more crucial reason of avoiding Carlsen before their match later on this year. Losing a game before a match can have negative impact on everything, from preparation to psychology. People have done it in the past (the first time I noticed such evasions was Karpov’s behaviour in the late 80s when he was playing Kasparov – he was cancelling tournaments in the last moment just to avoid playing his nemesis, much to the chagrin of the organisers. Nothing new under the sun, as you can see. All this was documented in Kasparov’s books). I was surprised that nobody noticed the repetition of the tactic as to me it’s quite obvious that Karjakin is simply copying Karpov.

The games in Stavanger were lively. For me it is always a pleasure to watch Kramnik, first he outplayed the outsider Grandelius from an equal position and then he showed a glimpse of his neverending opening work against Li Chao. In a Vienna, an opening he couldn’t even dream of seeing on the board he still had an improvement ready:

Another surprise to me was Giri’s loss with white against Vachier. I have the impression the Candidates gave Giri a boost of extra confidence so he now goes for sharp main lines in all the openings (except when he plays the Berlin with black). Against the Frenchman he went for the Najdorf with 6 Bg5, but then something strange (but all too familiar to me!) happened – the moment he got out of preparation he started to play badly!

Carlsen nicely dispatched of both outsiders in the event, Grandelius and Harikrishna, effectively using his white pieces. The game with Grandelius showed his infinite self-confidence and the risks he is willing to take when playing lesser opponents. This reminds me of Fischer, who undertook great risks when playing mere masters. The impressive in this game is how deeply Carlsen evaluated the position when going in for the sacrifice.

The next round (after today’s free day) sees the great showdown Carlsen-Giri. I am curious whether the Dutchman will go for something solid or will continue in his newly-acquired courageous style. I’d bet on the former. Fear is great in the eye of the beholder.


Refutation of the Budapest Gambit

Some openings are easier to refute than others. I never had a high opinion of the Budapest Gambit – black sacrifices a pawn and then spends time to take it back, all in order to achieve a worse pawn structure. The compensation he is theoretically promised, smooth development and some chances of an attack may have been valid in the past, but today there is no attack and the pawn structure turned out to be more important than the development.

It is important to define here what I mean by “refutation.” It is not a forced win, that is for sure! If white obtains a stable and safe advantage out of the opening in all the lines and at the same time black’s position lacks perspective and has no way to evolve then I consider an opening, or a variation, to have been refuted. I hope to show in the analysis below that this is valid for the Budapest Gambit.

The following analysis is based on a lot of my own work and games and two great books – Squeezing the Gambits by Kiril Georgiev (2010) and Grandmaster Repertoire 2 – 1 d4 Volume Two by Boris Avrukh (2010).

White’s key move in several lines is Nd2, followed by Nde4. This has a poweful effect – it prevents exchange of one pair of knights, which would help black if allowed (he has less space and it also opens the 6th rank for the rook maneuver Ra6-g6 or Ra6-h6), it attacks the Bc5, another important black piece, and it liberates the way for the f-pawn. Hence I have taken as a main line the move 7…Nge5, the only way black can prevent the Nd2-e4 maneuver. But life is not easy for black there either.
Here is the full analysis:

Here is also a .cbv version for download and viewing in Chessbase.