In the meantime the Bilbao Masters finished with the expected victory of the World Champion. It always amazes me how the other players fade away in his presence and limit themselves to the roles of bystanders.
In the last post I criticised the players for their cynical play but things continued unchanged. Except for Carlsen, who was trying and playing his games, the other players were just happy to make draws. The only exception was Giri, who, in his own words, was in a bad shape – he also wanted to make draws, but due to his bad shape his level was dropping when the tension was rising. Here’s what he managed to lose to So in Round 8:
In Round 8 we had the second game of the mini-match Carlsen-Karjakin. One would think that in view of the resounding loss in the first game Karjakin would at least try to pose some problems playing white. But one would think that only if one doesn’t know Karjakin. No, he was just happy to make a draw with white, yet even that turned out to be problematic, had Carlsen been more vigilant! There are easier ways to make a draw with white – my guess is that Karjakin went to the game with the intention to play, but once the game got under way he changed his mind and started to look for ways to draw. Both players miscalculated, admittedly the lines when black traps white’s queen weren’t that simple:
So what can this mini-match tell us about the upcoming match later this year? Not much I’m afraid. While Carlsen is his usual self Karjakin is hopelessly lost in his own idea of
“the challenger” and thinks only about the match, the preparation, which lines to hide etc. while at the same time forgetting that the game of chess is won by playing. If you don’t play and only want to draw you cannot win. In older times, after the results of the Bilbao Masters the public would have lost interest in the upcoming match (think Alekhine finishing on a minus score in New York 1927 while Capablanca winning in dominant fashion – even though he had already secured the match Alekhine knew he had to come at least second in order the match to take place! And so he did.). I still expect Karjakin to put up a good fight in the match, yet his play and behaviour after the Candidates has been disappointing.
There was another “first” in Bilbao, the first one being Nakamura’s maiden victory against Carlsen. The second “first” was Carlsen’s maiden victory against Giri. It secured his victory in the tournament with a round to spare and spared us of the unending Twitter feeds of Giri’s “dominance” over the World Champion. The game itself was a determined Carlsen performance against an out-of-form Giri – he again faltered under pressure in time trouble.
Carlsen won all his matches 1.5-0.5 and lost one with the same score to Nakamura. Nakamura seemed content to cruise after his first round win over Carlsen and that’s what he did. He finished second without a worry in the world. He was the only other player, together with Carlsen, on a plus score.
So and Wei Yi finished on 50%. Both beat Giri to compensate for their losses to Carlsen. So is already well-established in the elite, while this is an encouraging result for the young Chinese who showed no inferiority in any of his games.
Karjakin and Giri finished on a minus score. I already said what I think of Karjakin’s play and attitude, but I think he will not change it any time soon. He has the Olympiad to play for the Russian team and there I also expect him to be extremely solid. Giri finished last. A rare occurrence, but when in bad form anything you do will only come back to hurt you (I should know!). He will be back, just how and when it remains to be seen.
The Olympiad is a month away and I will use the month of August to prepare and get ready for this difficult yet exciting event. Some repertoire work and new ideas are needed for both white and black. Time to work!
In both games what was telling was the sheer force that Carlsen displayed. Power and strength were emanating from his moves. Against Wei Yi he went for the Modern Defence, not something he employs when playing Kramnik or Anand – this was a clear statement of his ambition and will to win even with black. In his own words, he was forced to play more sharply because of his loss the previous day. He outplayed Wei Yi in a very tactical endgame, in spite of the Chinese’s admirable resistance.
Of course, the games that will receive the most attention in Bilbao will be the games between Carlsen and Karjakin. In the first one Karjakin lost in a way that people usually lose to Carlsen – he just outplays them from positions that offer next to nothing. It never ceases to amaze me how he does it.
Perhaps it is not so bad for Karjakin to lose like this before the match – now he will know what to avoid and not to do. On the other hand, this gives Carlsen a big boost of confidence for the match. And of course they have the second game coming when Karjakin will be white.
The other two games somehow seem to fade away compared to Carlsen’s games. Nakamura made no progress against Wei Yi’s Semi-Tarrasch and Giri had little success against So’s Giuoco Piano, although he did make an interesting long-term pawn sacrifice, but then had to fight for a draw (no problem for him there). A note on Nakamura – after his win against Carlsen he seems to have withdrawn in solid lack of ambition. A theoretical draw against So with black and achieving nothing with white against Wei Yi. I am curious to see if this continues for the rest of the tournament.
In Dortmund Kramnik continues to use 1 e4. And this time against Caruana, who can play pretty much anything against it. Perhaps this means that Kramnik has done more profound work on 1 e4 and will play it against everybody and not only against people who play 1…e5. Caruana chose the Paulsen, but Kramnik still got a nice positional pull out of the opening. This transposed to a favourable endgame and it seems he missed his best chance on move 40.
|White to move|
Here Kramnik played 40 b4, allowing 40…Rc8 with counterplay. It was better to prevent this by 40 Rc3! and only then take on a6.
But the main story in Dortmind is The Frenchman, who keeps marching and leads by a full point with 4/5. He beat Najer in a game where the only thing he did was to remember his theory better. The game is an excellent demonstration how games can be won and lost when you enter heavily analysed lines.
The moral of the story: memorise everything or avoid such lines, there is no middle ground here.
In Salobrena my student Angel Luis entered a rocky patch – he lost in Round 6, bounced back strongly in Round 7, grinding a win from an equal endgame, but then he lost again in Round 8. This was very unfortunate, but it was a psychologically difficult situation. It was the second round of the day (his endgame grind took him almost 80 moves and 4 hours) and he played his best friend, whom he has always beaten in the past. The over-confidence mixed with lack of control and prophylactic thinking (he threw himself forward in a position where he had to be more careful) led to disaster. Still, if he wins in the last round he will probably finish shared 5th, not bad at all.
My next destination is Paleochora, the open I play every summer. It starts on the 20th, so I basically go home, change suitcases and go to Crete. Summertime!
The game was a somewhat typical of a first round game for Carlsen – he couldn’t get going and even though he got a nice advantage he still managed to spoil it very quickly.
The other two games Karjakin-So and Giri-Wei Yi weren’t as interesting, at least from a sporting point of view. Again I expect Karjakin to be extra-cautious and draw everything, while it will be curious to see Wei Yi’s debut in such a company. There is much talk of Carlsen and Karjakin hiding their best opening ideas and keeping them for the match and this is true. It is also true that they might play in somewhat different style or play some openings just to lead the opponent on a wrong track. It is worth having all this in mind as the tournament progresses.
In Dortmund things go at slow pace, Vachier (who crossed 2800 on the live rating list) leads with 3/4, followed by Dominguez on 2.5/4 and a bunch of players including Kramnik and Caruana on 50%. The gem was Kramnik’s first white game against Buhmann. Play through the game and enjoy.
By far the most amazingly unbelievable game I have seen in ages!
Meanwhile in Salobrena, my student Angel Luis is doing quite well. With 4.5/5 he’s in shared second and today in Round 6 he plays on board 2 against one of the highest rated players in the field.
Here’s his nice win in Round 5. Apart from a blip in the opening, when he forgot the exact move order, it was smooth sailing.
|A view from the terrace of the hotel to the left|
|A view from the terrace to the right|
|A view directly below|
|A medieval tower in the middle of the hotel!|
All the nice scenery aside, I am here to help my student Angel Luis Cubas Cabrera from the Canary Islands. He’s ranked 18th on the initial ranking list (you can see the full list here) but he’s much better than what his rating shows. I hope this tournament propels him upwards! Here’s a photo of us in front of the tower:
The tournament started today and in the first round he won easily. It’s a difficult schedule to play actually, with two rounds today, followed by a single round tomorrow and then again a double-round day the day after tomorrow. This schedule of 2-1-2-1-2-1 is exhausting especially as the tournament advances and fatigue accumulates. I will keep you updated how things develop.
On the world scene there are quite a few things going on. Dortmund, Danzhou, Chengdu, where the Women’s Grand Prix is staged. The Dortmund tournament started with yet another loss for Caruana with white in the Najdorf. Caruana is the defending champion, but in Round 1 he lost the plot against Vachier. The Frenchman has firmly established himself as one of the best Najdorf practitioners in modern times.
A free day in Dortmund today, with Vachier and Ponomariov leading with 1.5/2. Kramnik drew two blacks and is white against outsider Buhmann in Round 3.
This year is somewhat different because of the Chess Olympiad. I am always very serious when it comes to events of this scale as I like to be prepared. This means good planning of rest, work and play. So now for me is rest time. This will be followed by playing, again one of my most favourite tournaments, the Paleochora tournament in Crete (you can see the starting list here) and then the whole August will be devoted to preparation for the Olympiad. Hope it all works out well!
|Room with a view (click to enlarge)|