Bilbao Masters 2016 – Carlsen!

Lose or win, the World Champion always makes the headlines. There were only wins after his historic first round loss to Nakamura, he first dispatched of Chinese prodigy Wei Yi and then of his challenger Karjakin.

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 A note on Nakamura – after his win against Carlsen he seems to have withdrawn in solid lack of ambition.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!

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