Stavanger 2017 – Round 7
After the free day the players decided to become mafiosi. Three Italian games (all Giuoco Piano) and one Sicilian. Only the Americans (one of them with Italian origin!) went for the closed games and the QGA.
It is curious that Caruana prepared the Petroff and the QGA for this event, openings famed for being among the most solid and safe ones and yet in spite of all his excellent preparation he ends up in trouble with them. He was in trouble in the QGA against Aronian in Round 1, he probably forgot his preparation and was struggling against Karjakin in the Petroff in Round 5. Today he was suffering in the QGA endgame against So. He had a perfectly equal position after 15 moves, but then he embarked on a very dubious operation that led him to a position where he had hanging pawns and So had the pair of bishops. Soon enough he lost one of the hanging pawns but at least forced a position with opposite-coloured bishops. He suffered, but survived.
Speaking of messed-up preparation, that is what the Frenchman did in his game against Giri. An Accelerated Dragon (a daring choice by Giri) transposed to a Dragon and Vachier forgot the theory on move 19. This is considered early in the Dragon! He was left a pawn down, with some compensation, but he was probably so disgusted with himself that it all went downhill from there, and rapidly too. He resigned on move 33. Quite surprisingly Giri moves to a plus score with an incredibly easy win.
The Italian games started slow, as they usually do. Anand didn’t achieve much against Nakamura and the game was calm throughout. The excitement arrived when they entered a rook endgame with White’s a and b-pawns running and Black’s h and g-pawns running. But they quickly found a repetition to avoid unnecessary risks and possible miscalculations.
Karjakin faced another novelty by Aronian, who improved on his games against Caruana from the Grenke Classic and from the opening blitz. The improvement was the more aggressive 10…Kh8 with the idea of Nh7 and f5. Aronian got excellent game after it, even with the less forcing move 13…Bf6 (the engine suggests 13…Bf5, which at first sight does seem to be better, but I am sure Aronian analysed these moves at great depth). The game entered a dynamically balanced middlegame and surprisingly Karjakin cracked – he allowed the obvious …f3, destroying the pawn shelter of the White king. The execution was flawless. Aronian moves to +3 and is almost guaranteed to win the tournament – together with his last win in Grenke, these two tournaments are perhaps his greatest achievements so far!
The third Italian was the slugfest between Kramnik and Carlsen. Who would have thought that Kramnik playing 1 e4 would develop an irresistible attack against Carlsen’s king? Yet that is what happened. Both players were aiming for a fight, so they avoided the less complex and equalising lines. The structure that arose resembled the one from the Keres Variation in the Spanish (the difference being the bishop on a7 instead of e7) and promised very rich play. Very soon complications began where both kings were under attack. And Carlsen erred! This time Kramnik’s nerves were better I suppose, after all he’s been losing to Carlsen left and right lately (in 2016 he managed to lose 7 (!!!) games in a row against Carlsen, 1 in classical and the rest in rapid and blitz). Kramnik found all the best moves and won the game, making Carlsen’s home tournament a nightmare he won’t forget, while at the same time he improved his own by coming back to +1.
All the talk will be about Carlsen now. He risks finishing a tournament without a win, something that hasn’t happened since 2007. Plus he’s losing so much rating and may even no longer be number 1 very soon (in fact, it can happen already tomorrow – the difference between him and Kramnik is now only 6 points!). Serious crisis for the World Champion and a very exciting situation for the chess world!