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!

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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