Stavanger 2016 – Rounds 1-4
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.