Caruana came into the Baku Grand Prix with the “first world problem” of how to
defend his sky-high new 2844 rating, but if he was feeling the pressure he didn’t
let it show. The Italian beat world no. 8 Sergey Karjakin to move within just
15 points of Magnus Carlsen, while 46-year-old veteran Boris Gelfand scored the
day’s only other win, pummeling Dmitry Andreikin in a 22-move miniature.
Baku Grand Prix Round 1 results
For the new FIDE Grand Prix series the old rule banning draw offers completely has been replaced with a requirement to play at least 30 moves first. Four games ending drawn at, or around, that mark can hardly have been a coincidence, though not all 30-move draws are created equal! Let's take them in turn:
The pairing of the local Azeri players against each other in Round 1 of the Baku Open was apparently met with a round of applause during the Opening Ceremony, but you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to predict the result. The first game to finish saw Shakhriyar and Teimour trade down into a drawn rook ending on which the curtain fell the moment the required number of moves had been made.
There were three more draws that looked similar on paper, but only the all-Russian encounter between Evgeny Tomashevsky and Alexander Grischuk could count as a relative non-event. Grischuk found a precise path to defuse all the tension in the position.
This encounter turned on a moment of high drama, when Rustam played the unfortunate 25…Rc8??
26.Ne7+! simply wins the exchange, but the Cuban no. 1 missed his chance with 26.a4?
Anastasiya Karlovich asked Dominguez when he spotted his mistake:
It was immediately after I played a4. I saw I had Ne7 and of course I realised I could have played it one move earlier. It happens…
How did he handle that blow?
I didn’t have time to really get upset or anything. I had to make my next move. It was also the reason why I didn’t play on [at the end]. I was in a bit of time trouble and under pressure.
The time control with no increment – still in the Grand Prix regulations despite the majority of players being opposed to it – may have let Kasimdzhanov off the hook at the end, though you should take it with a pinch of salt when the chess24 contributor, former FIDE World Champion and conqueror of Naiditsch, Ivanchuk and Kramnik in consecutive rounds at the recent Olympiad talked about his ambitions for the Grand Prix:
Objectively my opponents are a bit stronger than me, a bit more experienced than me... I don’t have some goals I could share with you, really.
Playing the Grünfeld with Black these days there’s an additional level of danger because people might know even more about it than they do normally.
That might have seemed like a mere plug for our products (incidentally, you can watch the whole series and much more for a 9.99 Euro monthly membership ), but he was deadly serious, as the following exchange in today’s post-game press conference made clear:
Hikaru Nakamura: I played d3 on move 6, which is not what I normally play. I had a certain idea in mind before the game, not with e4, and then a friend of mine told me Peter had done some videos on the Grünfeld on chess24, so basically I wasted 2 hours this morning watching videos instead of preparing…
Peter Svidler: My audience is getting scarier and scarier!
Nakamura: I did this and then decided to change and do something different where I’d get a game, but ok, I don’t think the result was very good, to say the least!
Svidler: The funny thing about this is I actually spent a week three weeks before this tournament recording videos on this position, so in order to dodge the videos this was probably not the best pick! It’s a very playable line, but I wasn’t as unprepared as I normally am.
Although Svidler had been filming a repertoire for White he’d lamented the fact Black was doing so well everywhere, and sure enough he soon came out on top. In the end, though, the complex struggle ended with a draw agreed in 32 moves.
Svidler was asked afterwards if he thought allowing draws after move 30 was a problem, but he felt the “new crop of players” had no issues with a lack of fighting spirit:
You don’t need to make them more bloodthirsty - they’re naturally bloodthirsty!
Nakamura, meanwhile, was clearly happy simply to have escaped. Asked about his Grand Prix ambitions he admitted he wasn’t looking too far ahead for now:
I don’t think I’ve played a good game of chess in maybe 30 games...
So that brings us to the day’s two decisive games, which went badly for the class of 1990.
Boris Gelfand, a deep theoretician and still a workaholic despite being the field’s veteran at 46, was the last person Andreikin needed sitting opposite. Gelfand explained he’d found 7.cxd5! after a game he played against Vugar Gashimov, but he'd been disappointed others played it first:
I was waiting and then some games appeared, so I never expected to have the chance to play it.
19-year-old Spanish GM David Anton looks at how Gelfand flawlessly converted his opening edge:
1. d4 e6 2. c4 ♘f6 3. ♘f3 b6 4. g3 ♗b7 5. ♗g2 c5 6. d5 exd5 7. cxd5⁉ This clearly came as a surprise to Andreikin. The main line is Nh4, which Gelfand himself had played, while Ng5 has also been fashionable of late.
7. ♘h4 g6 8. ♘c3 ♗g7 9. ♗g5 (9. O-O O-O 10. cxd5 d6 is the other option, and there's still a lot to play for.) 9... O-O 10. ♕d2 ♕e8 11. ♗xf6 ♗xf6 12. ♘xd5 ♗xd5 13. ♗xd5 ♘c6 14. ♘f3 ♖b8 15. ♖c1 ♘b4 16. b3 ♘xd5 17. ♕xd5 ♕e6 18. ♖d1 b5 19. cxb5 ♖xb5 20. O-O ♕xe2 21. ♖d2 ♕e6 22. ♕xd7 ♕xd7 23. ♖xd7 ♖a5 24. ♖d2 c4 25. bxc4 1/2-1/ 2 (25) Gelfand,B (2739)-Gashimov,V (2761) Wijk aan Zee 2012
9... ♘xe4⁈ 10. ♘xe4 ♗xe4 11. ♕e2 ♕e7 12. O-O ♘c6 13. ♗f4 White has a lot of compensation for the two pawns, making this position very dangerous for Black to play. 13... f5 14. ♖fe1 g6 15. ♘g5 ♗xg2 16. ♕c4 ♗e4 17. ♘xe4 fxe4 18. ♖xe4+− 1-0 (43) Krasenkow,M (2633)-Socko,M (2440) Stockholm 2013
16... ♕c8 17. ♘d5 ♖f8 18. e5! dxe5 19. f5 ♕d8 20. f6+ ♘xf6 21. ♘f5+ ♔h8 22. ♕h6 ♖g8 23. ♘xf6 A great game by Gelfand. He achieved an opening advantage with the very interesting and little-used idea 7. cxd5 and then crushed his opponent with some fine dynamic play.
And so we come to the day’s crucial game. The players had drawn in their last encounter – and the last game for both players – in the final round of the European Club Cup in Bilbao. In Baku, meanwhile, there was a winner, though not the one you might have predicted from the way the opening went. It wasn’t Fabiano’s finest hour, even if there was an amusing moment when commentator Emil Sutovsky wondered about Caruana's familiarity with his predecessors:
In the end, though, the clock and the lack of an increment would
prove the crucial factors, with Sergey Karjakin putting too much trust in the
somewhat erratic transmission of moves from the playing hall:
I can just explain a very unpleasant thing that happened to me. I went to the players' room and I was sitting, drinking, eating and I was looking at the translation [broadcast]. Fabiano was thinking, thinking, thinking, and he already had 11 minutes left. Then I decided to go to the playing room and I saw that Fabiano had already made a move and he had 25 minutes or something. I just lost 15 minutes because of this stupidity, and then I needed those minutes very much.
David Anton takes a look at the game:
1. ♘f3 d5 2. d4 ♘f6 3. c4 e6 4. ♘c3 ♗e7 5. ♗f4 O-O 6. ♖c1 ♘bd7 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 c6 9. h3 In theory this position is considerd better for White, who's managed to plant his bishop on f4 and has easier piece play.
9... ♘e4 The best way to arrange the pieces. The typical approach with Re8, Nf8 and Ne6 is very slow since the bishop can simply drop back to h2 and White has a more harmonious position.
12... ♘d7 Since the white knight has left the firing line Black retreats his own knight to d7 in order to prevent the annoying Ne5 followed by f3.
12... ♘d6 In the post-game press conference Karjakin pointed out the following amusing line: 13. ♗xd6 ♗xd3 14. ♗xe7 ♗xe2 15. ♗xd8 ♗xd1 16. ♗xf6 ♗xf3 17. ♗xg7 (17. gxf3 was given by Caruana as a better ending for him) 17... ♗xg2 18. ♗xf8 ♗xf1 19. ♔xf1 ♔xf8 and the bishops have totally cleared the board finally perishing!
13. ♕b3 Caruana said he'd missed this move.
22... a5 Remaining passive with a6 wouldn't be in Caruana's style.
27... g6! The idea is to prepare f6, for which the king first needs to be on g7.
29. ♖hc1⁈ The rook was better on d1, but Karjakin already had the idea of sacrificing on c5.
33. ♖e5⁈ Allowing Black to exchange a pair of rooks.
It was only after Rc2 I realised I was winning. I was happy about the exchange sacrifice as I felt I couldn’t be worse afterwards, but before that I was very worried.
It wasn’t a beautiful game, but as Fabiano Caruana told La Gazzetta dello Sport in a recent interview when asked the old question about whether chess is a sport, art or science:
I’m certainly not an artist. Chess is a sport – a competition between two people. You have to win, not create art. If you win no-one looks at how, and if you lose no-one considers you an artist. The great players nowadays are very pragmatic.
Asked about his recent success in the post-game press conference, he commented:
I really have no idea, actually. Everything has just been going well. These things happen and you sometimes don’t know why.
So Caruana is off to yet another flying start, but funnily enough we already have a “top-of-the-table” clash in Round 2: Caruana-Gelfand.
Don’t miss that and all the other games live here on chess24
starting at 15:00 local time (11:00 London, 12:00 Paris, 06:00 New York).
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