15 March 2018

Don’t Shoot the Pianist!

Vladimir Barsky reports from Berlin about round three of the Candidates Tournament 

The tradition of symbolic first moves, popular since recently, has turned into a sorr of lex non scripta. Usually a guest of honor would ask a grandmaster, whose lot he is called to "better" to a certain degree, which piece or pawn should be moved.  The maestro answers, sometimes showing the move outline with his index finger for more clarity.  However, if something goes wrong and the guest’s move is not the one, this is not such a big deal: a chess player restores the starting position and makes the first move himself.

On Monday, a special guest of Kühlhaus was the Luxembourgian pianist Francesco Tristano, and he was called to "help" Levon Aronian: Berlin has long since become a second home to the Armenian grandmaster, and the organizers obviously view him as a home player.  Francesco (quite a knowledgeable amateur who was serious about chess in his teens) asked Levon about the move to make.  Aronian only waved his hand, as if mentally uttering a phrase from a famous anecdote: "Dear! Do as you please!”  As Francesco moved the king pawn two squares forward, the photographers pictured this historical moment, and the ceremony was over.  Levon is known to start the game with e2-e4 quite infrequently, and Vladimir looked inquiringly at his opponent to make certain the game was not to be opened differently. Aronian nodded to confirm the status quo and suggested that Kramnik press the clock button.

According to Tristan, he did not have any preliminary agreement with the grandmaster and just made his own favorite move, being sure that Aronian can always take it back.  After the game Levon neither refuted nor confirmed that Francesco’s guess was right.  He said only that the idea of playing Ruy Lopez against Kramnik proved unsuccessful. The game opening was video-recorded by the Armenian journalist Aghasi Inants and kindly given to our website.

The Russian grandmaster, only the day before giving hard time to Sergey Karjakin in the Berlin endgame, demonstrated readiness to defend his trademark line as Black.  Levon sidestepped in favor of the continuation leaving all pieces and pawns on the board.  However, it was as early as move 7 that he was up against an impressive novelty.

– 1.e4 came as a complete surprise to me as I has not been preparing for it at all since Levon employs it very rarely, - the ex-world champion told your correspondent after the game. – I was confident that the game would, as usual, be handled into a closed opening.  My move 7... Rg8 looks kind of amateurish and is not the first to come to mind.  However, when it crossed my mind, it became clear that White's position was very dangerous because he had given me a "hook" by having placed the pawn on h3.  No, this novelty is not winning, but it is definitely a very strong one.  The modern chess has left us with not that many similar novelties.  And, of course, it's very fortunate for me that it fired exactly in the Candidates Tournament.  This said, I have never expected Aronian to walk into it, rather thinking about someone like Anand or Carlsen as they employ 1.e4 on a regular basis.

– How much of the home preparation have you managed to bring back to your memory?

– Nothing whatsoever. I only remembered that 8.Kh1 is the strongest because other continuations leave White in great danger. Now Black has some interesting follow-ups.  Frankly speaking, further game plays all by itself for Black:  g5, g4…

– Is there any other game of yours that comes close to today’s game?

- In terms of content, it has brought strong reminiscences of my game against Kasparov (Dos-Hermanas 1996), in which I also sacrificed a rook and went on to checkmate White.

Can you recall any novelty working so well for you? You enjoy it as White from time to time, but almost never as Black... I cannot tell you from the top of my head though.

– Have you or your seconds had time to look into yesterday's game against Karjakin yet?  Was White winning?

–  No, we have had no time for it yet.  When the game is over - we get ready for the next one.  Honestly, I was going to play into the tournament with solid calm games. To score 2.5 points out of 3 against such a strong field, including a victory as Black over Aronian, one of the tournament’s main challenger, and in such a style at that, is an unexpected and very pleasant turn of events.  Of course, it's nice to have won two games and be in the lead, but the entire event is still ahead.  This is a good cushion, but not more than that.  With three tense games behind, it's good that tomorrow gives an opportunity to catch a breath.  Just in time, frankly speaking!

Aronian – Kramnik

Ruy Lopez

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. 0-0 Qe7 7. h3 Rg8!

8. Kh1 Nh5 9. c3 g5 10. Nxe5 g4 11. d4

The pawn is not to be taken: 11. Nxg4 Bxg4 12. hxg4 Qh4+ 13. Kg1 Ng3!, with a checkmate next move.

11... Bd6 12. g3 Bxe5 13. dxe5 Qxe5 14. Qd4

Aronian counted on 14... Qxd4 15. cxd4 gxh3 16. Kh2 Be6 17. Be3, preparing himself to defend a worse endgame. However, Kramnik keeps the queens from trading and goes on playing as if being down a pawn matters not at all!

14…Qe7! 15. h4 c5 16. Qc4

According to Kramnik, more stubborn is 16. Qe3 b6 17. c4 Bb7 18. Nc3, intending to seal the long diagonal with Nd5.

16... Be6 17. Qb5+

Now and on next move it was preferable to retreat the queen to d3.

17... c6 18. Qa4 f5!

This breakthrough (Aronian admitted to having overlooked this idea) renders White’s position hopeless.

19. Bg5 Rxg5 20. hxg5 f4

Black’s offensive is self-rolling. Black is now able to win in more than one way, but Kramnik chooses the shortest and the most effective.

21. Qd1 Rd8 22. Qc1 fxg3 23. Na3 Rd3 24. Rd1

24… Bd5! 25. f3

If 25. exd5, then 25… Qe4+ 26. Kg1 gxf2+ 27. Kxf2 Rh3 28. Re1 g3+ 29. Kg1 Rh1#.

25... gxf3 26. exd5

Vladimir was pleased to show one of the possible finales: 26. Rxd3 Qxe4 27. Re3 f2+ 28. Rxe4+ Bxe4#!

26... Qe2 27. Re1 g2+

White resigns in view of 28.Kh2 g1Q+ 29. Kxg1 f2+ 30. Kh1 Rh3+ 31. Kg2 f1Q#. Summing up the above Kramnik noted that despite an effective appeal of the game, which may find its way into certain chess books and magazines to be published, there was nothing special from the professional point of view because White had a difficult position from early on in the opening.

As Vladimir was asked to share more about his victory with the audience of the English-language broadcast, he joined Judith Polgar and Lawrence Trent to do so. The history’s strongest female chess player, whom Vladimir has faced so many times over the board, asked the ex-world champion about the changes that the birth of children had introduced into his training process (Vladimir and his wife Marie-Laure have an eight-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy).  Kramnik replied, smiling:

- Not only the training process - your entire life changes completely, and you know it only too well yourself!  In my younger years I used to be constantly at the training camps, whereas now, in the face of the upcoming Candidates Tournament, I organized training for the first time in five years.  I understand that from the professional point of view the training sessions are necessary, but my family needs me, and I spend half a year travelling around and playing in competitions anyway.

I used to go to bed at 3 am and get up at 11.  Now, however, the children get up at 8 o’clock and get ready to go school; and your being still in bed does not matter much to them.  They are full of energy right from the morning - they start to playing, talking, and you can sleep no longer.  Therefore, my daily routine is quite different nowadays.  However, it is not such a big deal after all - children bring happiness!

Vladimir Kramnik in the company of commentators Judit Polgar and Lawrence Trent

Two games were pretty stale that day. Having suffered two losses at the start as Black, the American Wesley So was in charge of the white army, at last. He used it to catch his breath by playing extremely solid chess. His opponent, the Chinese Ding Liren, has come up with a minor but very substantial improvement as Black in one of the popular lines of the Marshall attack. It gave rise to an endgame with up a pawn for White, but Black’s bishop pair was a sufficient compensation to secure a draw.

An uneventful draw was also made between the Russians Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk. The latter even exclaimed during the press conference:

– Why discuss our game when we have such exciting battles as Aronian – Kramnik and Caruana – Mamedyarov! Kramnik has scored one of the greatest victories I have ever seen in my life!

FIDE regulations specify that compatriots are to face each other in the starting rounds of the event. Such battles are now over, and grandmasters were asked if it mattered to them to be faced off with their national teammates or players from other countries. Grischuk shrugged his shoulders in surprise:

– It matters not at all to me.

– As for me, it makes a significant difference! – exclaimed Karjakin. – It is much more difficult to prepare for your national teammates taking into account so much communication that we share. A “trade” of seconds is also known to take place. Thus, Vladimir Potkin used to work with me, whereas now he assists Alexander. On the other hand, my current second Alexander Riazantsev used to be assisting Grischuk in the past.

– Let us also not forget about Denis Khismatullin, who used to assist me and now assists you, added Grischuk.

Fabiano Caruana, Anastasiya Karlovich and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

The last to finish was the game between Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan). A double-edged fight saw the edge changing hands, but it all petered out into a drawn pawn ending. Fabiano and Shakh are in the share of 2-3 places at the moment.

Caruana – Mamedyarov

This is where Mamedyarov went wrong when allowing the white pieces infiltrate into his camp: He initially counted on 27... bxa4 28. Qe7 Qb5

The е8- and f8-squares are covered, and 29. Nf7+ runs into 29…Rxf7 30. Qxf7 a3 31. b3 Nxb3 with decisive threats. However, he was in time to see 29. Qxf6! gxf6 30. Nf7#.

Therefore, he had to fall back on “plan B”: 27…Nxe4 28. fxe4 Rf8 29. Nf7+ Rxf7 30. Qxf7 Rc8 31. Rc1 Qxe4, and a sequence of new adventures lead to a draw.

– What do you think about your start in this tournament? – your correspondent asked Shakhriyar.

– It is hard to say anything with only three rounds behind. It is more than OK now, but we have so many games in store for us yet. I think we have deserved a rest day, let’s enjoy it!

– Has today’s game been a roller-coaster ride?

– I have been playing very aggressively and thought I was almost winning. I have taken unjustified risks and allowed the white queen into c7. I could have gone down - this is not unusual when you play too aggressively. It was me who had winning chances at the end, but Caruana was defending extremely well. I am, of course, very happy to have played such an aggressive and enterprising game as Black.

– Do you rate the playing conditions as normal?

– It is the first time in my life that I play in the hall that gives no view of other pairs. This is somewhat unusual for me. It is interesting, but needs time to get used to.

Individual standings:

1st. V. Kramnik – with 2.5 out of 3; 2-3rd. F. Caruana, S. Mamedyarov – with 2; 4-5. A. Grischuk, Ding Liren – with 1.5; 6-7. L. Aronian, S. Karjakin – with 1; 8. W. So – 0,5.

Tuesday, March 13, is a rest day.

Round four is scheduled on Wednesday, March 14, and features the following pairings: Kramnik – Caruana, Grischuk – Ding Liren, Karjakin – Aronian, Mamedyarov – So.