The Openings at the Grand Chess Tour 2016

The first two tournaments of this year’s edition of the Grand Chess Tour were mixed events – half rapid (9 games) and half blitz (18 games) with the rapid results counting the double. These “inventions” are never to my liking, so normally I choose to ignore them and just follow the games.

One of the most wise sayings in chess is “rapid is rapid and blitz is blitz.” This very profound adage once again proved true both in Paris and Leuven. The quality of the games was rather low with blunders galore and inexplicable phenomena. I’ll mention only one – what to make of Kramnik’s 1/9 (yep, that’s 2 draws and 7 losses, 6 of them in a row) on the second day of the Paris blitz? I’ll save the most incredulous of these losses (his last one) for the end of the article.

The lack of quality was amply compensated with excitement and, for the professional, the surprising opening choices of the players. The surprise was actually that the players chose their normal openings and both tournaments were a testing ground of more or less one opening – the Spanish with d3.

Let’s start with the Paris rapid (won by Nakamura with 7/9, half a point ahead of Carlsen) where out of 45 games there was 1 (!!!) Sicilian (with the ever-popular 3 Bb5+) and 17 games that opened with 1 e4 e5 with an incredible score for black – 3 losses, 8 (!!) wins and 6 draws. Out of these 17 games there was 1 Giuoco Piano (but take a look how the trend changed first at the blitz and then in Leuven) and 7 games with the usual 4 d3, avoiding the Berlin. Here the statistics was shocking – black won 4, lost 1 and drew 2 games!

Throughout all the events the move 1 Nf3 was very prominent. If with black the players wanted to kill it off with the Berlin, with white when they wanted to avoid the Berlin they usually played 1 Nf3 and different variations of the Reti and the English Opening occurred. As expected, black didn’t have any problems there.

In the Paris blitz (won jointly by Carlsen and Nakamura with 11.5/18) the Berlin battlefield widened. There were already 4 Giuoco Pianos, 3 with the recently very popular plan with a2-a4. We also had one brave soul, in the guise of the valiant Vachier, who boldly went where no one else dared to go – into the endgame. It all ended as expected, though, with a draw (that he saved). The vast majority of games were again with 4 d3, but this time the statistics favoured white – 6 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw. This shouldn’t fool you though – of these 6 wins, 3 were Carlsen’s and we already know that he can easily improve the statistics of even the worst opening simply because he will win in the end.

After a few days’ break the players moved to Leuven. Here we had Anand instead of Fressinet and it was him who led the first half of the rapid, but eventually the tournament was won by Carlsen with 6/9. From the total number of 45 games there were 15 that started with 1 e4 e5, 2 less than in the Paris rapid. The number of Sicilians increased by 300% – there were 3 of them, 2 Najdorfs and one 3 Bb5+. All of them were drawn. There were also 5 Giuoco Pianos, with excellent results for white, 3 wins and 2 draws. Still the players couldn’t end the love affair with the 4 d3 in the Spanish – 8 games this time, but with a better statistics for white – 3 wins (2 of those against Kramnik), 2 losses and 3 draws.

The blitz was also won by Carlsen, this time alone with 11/18. Except for the Paris rapid, when he came second, Carlsen won everything else, once again demonstrating that he is the most consistent player not only in classical chess. Sometimes I think that had Fischer continued to play perhaps he would have established such domination – he would have had fierce competition in Karpov, but this would have pushed him even more. Of course, this is just (exciting) wishful thinking on my part.

There were whole 9 Sicilians in the blitz – perhaps they remembered that it was possible to move another pawn on move 1? The results were encouraging for black, 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. The Najdorf also scored well, 3 wins and 2 losses. The Giuoco Piano finally wrestled the domination from the Spanish with 4 d3 – there were 12 games with it, but amazingly white didn’t win a single game while losing 2! The Spanish with 4 d3 was played only 6 times, the players probably getting enough of it.

Worth noting is that in the Leuven blitz one third of the games (34 out of 90) were some sort of an English Opening, Reti or anything in between, white starting with 1 Nf3 or 1 c4. Whether this was result of the fatigue with the Spanish and various solid options black has after 1 d4 or a desire to obtain something more fresh and keep the main weapons for the classical controls remains to be seen.

As promised I saved the best (or worst!) for last. Here’s Kramnik’s last round loss from the Paris blitz. It’s a dead draw, of course, but…

45…f5?? 46 Nc5 g4 47 Ne6#
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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1 Comment
  • Jun 22,2016 at 4:13 am

    Can you please provide a statistic about Rook endings and how many points Kramnik earned from those ?

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