The central matches of rounds 7 and 8 of the German Bundesliga were held in Bremen. Host Werder Bremen, in third place before the weekend, met SG Solingen in second and DJK Aufwärts met Aachen in fourth place. The fight against Solingen was dramatic and ended 4-4, the next day Bremen crushed Aachen 6.5-1.5. Baden-Baden (this weekend with Jan Gustafsson and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but without e.g. Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Svidler) won on Saturday 7-1 against relegation candidate Norderstedt, still on zero match points, but Mickey Adams escaped with a draw against Lawrence Trent. Then Sunday it was surprisingly only 4-4 against Hamburger SK. In the relegation zone Speyer-Schwegenheim, MSA (Munich Chess Academy) Zugzwang and Hofheim upset nominally stronger teams.
There's always Bundesliga suspense even before the round: who will play? Team lineups are obviously kept secret, however since this season they are announced two hours before the start of the round there's some time left for last-minute preparation. In their preview Werder Bremen speculated on whether their opponents would feature Giri and Ivanchuk, repectively - only revealing that they would face "Daniil Dubov, Alexander Areshchenko or Laurent Fressinet". Eventually Bremen had almost their strongest lineup (these three GMs and three more with Elo 2600+), but Solingen lacked Giri and Rapport, and Aachen played without Ivanchuk and Granda Zuniga.
Solingen (with Harikrishna on board 1) was still slight favorite and already led 3.5-0.5. Bremen thus had to win three games - but first the wins for Solingen:
Board 1 Harikrishna-Areshchenko 1-0: White won an endgame that appeared straight out of an unusual opening - both players had only a bishop and knight after 18 moves. As often in such cases (not only in the games of Magnus Carlsen) it isn't very obvious where Black made the decisive mistake. Engines criticize 20...b5 - undoubling the black queenside pawns, but allowing White to mobilize his own kingside pawn majority and neutralize the black one on the other flank. With a pawn sacrifice Areshchenko created a passed pawn that then wasn't dangerous. The decision essentially came on both flanks:
Black resigned after 42.h5! as he cannot control both passed pawns, the one on the c-file and the potential one on the h-file after the breakthrough g4-g5.
Board 3 Van Wely - Fressinet 1-0:
After an interesting and always roughly equal earlier game White penetrated with a rook onto the seventh rank:
Black had to tolerate this rook and in any case prevent 25.d5! (24...Rad8 or 24...Qf5), even though this allows 25.Rxb7. Fressinet played 24...Rf7? 25.Rxf7 Kxf7 26.d5! cxd5 27.Qb5! etc. - White regained the pawn with interest and then won with a direct attack on the black king, 1-0 after 31 moves. "Better to lose a pawn (at least temporarily) than directly the game" later also applied with team roles reversed.
Board 7 Andersen-Markgraf 1-0 was decided in a rook endgame.
It was probably lost anyway for the German IM, but after 45.Rxb7 g4 46.b5! he could resign immediately.
After draws on boards 3 and 6 Bremen had to win all remaining games, and only the win on the "German" board 8 IM Zumsande - GM Naumann was likely well in advance: White had more than sufficient compensation for an exchange sacrificed on move 22 and eventually won a queen endgame after 66 moves.
Board 2 Dubov-Ragger 1-0:
The game had long been equal, then Dubov had obtained some advantage (a vulnerable black king, a stranded black knight). After 45...Qd7? it was suddenly over: 46.Qh6+! Kg8 47.Nxf6+! 1-0. Black had to play 45...Nc3, even though this loses the pawn on e6.
Board 5 Smeets-Efimenko 0-1 was the unexpected match equalizer for Bremen:
The position after 83...Qf5. This approximate material (im)balance was on the board since move 37, while White for a long time had two pawns for the exchange. It was unclear who was playing for a win, though based on the match situation Efimenko had to win. According to Bremen Bundesliga Manager Olaf Steffens he had already accepted a draw and offered - both had about one minute left on their clocks - a move repetition with 67-71...Qe2-b2-e2-b2, but Smeets deviated with 72.Ng1?! (72.Ne5=)! Steffens: "Zahar stated that he [Smeets] was sitting at the board the whole time and maybe didn't know that a draw was enough - but we don't know."
Then Black won (not forced) the white pawn on h4. In the diagram position it was again equal after the computer move 84.f4!! (locking out the black rook on g4) - but the game finished 84.Qa7? Rxe4! 0-1.
On Sunday Werder Bremen beat DJK Aufwärts Aachen surprisingly clearly 6.5-1.5, with Dubov this time first to shine:
After 25...Rxd4! 26.Qxd4 Qc6! his opponent Jorden van Foreest had to return a whole rook with 27.Re4 Qxe4 28.Qxe4 Bxe4 and the rest was black technique.
Unexpectedly close, however, was another Sunday match at Seminarhaus Norderstedt (near Hamburg). The score in OSG Baden-Baden - Hamburger SK was quickly 1-1 - not two quick draws, but these final positions:
Naiditsch-Hansen 31.Qh3 1-0, Advantage Baden-Baden
Kollars-Movsesian 26.Qc3 1-0, Equality for Hamburg
Meanwhile the Baden-Baden top board Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had a difficult position with Black against Nils Grandelius:
In this known position, Niclas Huschenbeth recommends in his video series Play against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3: A repertoire for Black the common 9....Rb8 and considers 9.Qa4 as harmless. But after 21 minutes MVL improvised with 9...Neg4?!, then came 10.0-0 Rb8 11.b4! - Grandelius needed almost 27 minutes for this piece sacrifice. Both probably weren't aware that they followed an old rapid game Kramnik-Anand (Amber 1994). Kramnik won quickly and beautifully, while MVL returned the piece on move 16 to reach an inferior endgame.
If Grandelius had spotted 19...Be7? (19...Kd7±) 20.Bxb7! it would have probably been hopeless for Black - after 20.Rfd1 he was still "only" better. MVL could save a draw, which became obvious after Grandelius simplified into a pure rook endgame on move 42.
Baden-Baden (Elo advantage at least 100 points on all eight boards) obviously wanted to win the match. They had to take a possible loss on the top board into account, so where could they win games? Often their matches are decided on the lower boards, where Baden-Baden has even bigger Elo advantages. However, this happened on board 6 GM Kasimdzhanov (2676) - IM Heinemann (2484):
Kasimdzhanov didn't get an advantage out of the opening (Nimzo-Indian), but now he missed his chance after 24...Qe6?! 25.Re1! dxc4? - obviously a bishop move attacking the black queen, but which one? Winning was 26.Bc3! - if the white bishop stays on this diagonal, white has ideas with Nxg7 and Black doesn't have an adequate defense. He played 26.Bg3, winning an exchange after 26...Qd7 27.Rbd1 Qb5 28.Ne7+, but Black had full compensation with his queenside pawns.
It's unclear whether Kasimdzhanov underestimated the black pawns or simply didn't find the right moves. In any case, the game turned around completely:
Here e.g. 36.Qb2 b4 was probably also hopeless in the long term, but after 36.Ree1? Qxe1+! Kasimdzhanov resigned immediately.
Thies Heinemann obtained his GM norms in the Bundesliga (seasons 1997/98 und 2006/07) and at the 2004 German championships. While e.g. Caruana received the GM title immediately back in 2007, Heinemann lacked a 2500 rating - which he reached live only now after beating Kasimdzhanov.
On board 8 Peter Heine Nielsen (besides his role as Carlsen's coach playing only team events in Germany and Sweden in recent years) submitted his opponent IM Carlstedt to "Spanish torture" (the game started 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.Bf4 c5 4.e3, but after 11...e5 and 14.e4 became reminiscent of Ruy Lopez structures). White (Nielsen) was intermittently better, but then things simplified to a draw.
In the last game, Jan Gustafsson secured Baden-Baden one match point against his former club from Hamburg:
His opponent Dorian Rogozenco had neglected to re-activate the white bishop on a6, and with a small bishop dance Jan drove the white rook from c1 to e2 and now had 31...Qxe5!. After 32.f3 (32.Bb7 with similar ideas may have given White better drawing chances) 32...Rxd4 33.Rxe4 Rd1+ 34.Kg2 Qb2+ he won only a pawn, but had additional trumps: the vulnerable white king, black heavy pieces penetrating and the bishops being 'opposite' not only in color. Jan missed the first chance to decide the game in a direct attack and used his second one.
In matches that were overall expectedly one-sided, 20.Bxh6! and 18.Bxh6!? led in different ways to individual successes for IMs against GMs with Elos almost or higher than 2700. One of the IMs involved had mixed feelings after the game finished in a draw.
IM Trent - GM Adams: After 20.Bxh6! there followed 20...gxh6 (probably better to accept losing a pawn - 20...Ne7 or 20...Nf4, exchanging queens) 21.Ng4 d5 22.Qxh6+ Kg8 23.d4!
A Twitter exchange took place between fellow countrymen:
Trent could probably win twice, Gormally refers to the second moment:
33.Qxg6+ triggered the family-unfriendly comment - 33.Qg4 (Black won't survive 33...Bc8 34.Bxg6! Qxg6? - but otherwise the endgame is hopeless for Black - 35.Qxf4). Shortly after the time control the game ended with a draw. Trent had invested a reasonable 7 minutes for 20.Bxh6; he may have rather regretted spending time already from move 7 onwards.
IM Dragnev - GM Rodshtein saw the character of the position change within about 50 minutes:
18.Bxh6!? (20 minutes) 18...gxh6 (32 minutes) and now the forced continuation 19.Qd2 Kg7 20.Rh4 Rh8 21.Qf4 Bd8 22.Qf6+ Kg8 23.Rxh6 Rxh6 24.Qxh6 - three pawns for the piece, engines say 0.00.
Later White still had three pawns for the piece, and both kings had to take flight - though the black one, unlike the white one, was safe. The young Austrian missed his first chance against an opponent with currently Elo 2689 (slightly more than 2700 in the recent past) - 38...Rh6! rather than 38...Rg6. He then exploited his second chance:
From here 47.b3?! (speeds up the end) 47...Qf3 48.Rd2 Qe4+ 49.Kd1 Rxd2+ 50.Kxd2 Bh6+ 0-1
Two games from Saturday with somewhat different stories:
Buhmann-Bartel from the match Hockenheim-Dresden: White has a material advantage, but that's all - an unimpressive b1-bishop, the passed pawn on h6 isn't dangerous, and the king is trapped in a mating net closed by 46...b4. The final moves were 47.Qd1 Nxg5 48.a3 Ne4 0-1. Earlier Bartel had correctly accepted the invitation 35.Re1? Qxe1+! 36.Bxe1 Rxe1+.
Edouard-l'Ami, again from the match Bremen-Solingen, earlier saw a defensive black queen sacrifice. White initially even had an extra pawn but couldn't make progress (Edouard had to play many moves on the 30-second increment). Now after 34.Kf2? Rf5! Black is at least safe - his pieces are well-coordinated, the white ones aren't at the moment and the white king is somewhat naked. White has to pay some attention, e.g. here 35.Qc1 was the only move. Later Black could even possibly play for a win, but the game ended with perpetual check on move 48.
Close matches with surprising results were often decided by games turning around in time trouble. Two examples:
GM Graf - IM Zysk 0-1 - Black was rewarded for risky and objectively incorrect winning attempts! The final moves were 36.g7? Qb6+ 37.Ka1? (after 37.Qb3 Rb4 White can still put up a fight with the strong passed pawn on g7) 37...Rc1+ 38.Qb1 Qxb1#. White first had to secure his king with 36.Ka1 and should then win in the long run.
MSA Zugzwang was rather pessimistic before the round but this game was part of their surprising 4.5-3.5 victory against Schachfreunde Deizisau. On almost every board - also this one - Deizisau had an Elo advantage of 150-200 points. Only GM Dautov won, however, while on board 8 GM Zilka also lost against Munich team captain IM Lammers.
Hamburger SK was slight favorite against Speyer-Schwegenheim, but also here one game turned around completely in time trouble:
In GM Hansen - IM Meskovs there followed 38.Qg6? Bxf6 39.Qxf6+ Rg7+ 40.Kf1? (40.Kh2 d3 41.Rg1=) 40...d3 and after the time control White rather than Black had to resign. After 38.f3!, with the idea Rg2, Black could prolong the game only with 38...d3 39.Rg2 Qd4+!?! 40.Bxd4 Bxd4+ 41.Kf1 Rxh7 - White has to return the queen but keeps an extra exchange in the endgame.
Speyer-Schwegenheim eventually won 4.5-3.5, despite a dream start to the match for Hamburg:
WGM Hoolt - IM Carlstedt continued 14.Nf5? (14.Nxg6+, with an acceptable disadvantage) 14...Nf4 15.g3? Bxf5 16.exf5 Qc6! 0-1. In the end Hamburg scored 2.5/3 on the "German" boards 6-8, but only 0.5/4 on the first four boards. Despite the draw the next day against Baden-Baden Bundesliga regular Hamburger SK still has to worry about relegation.
Part of the reason for the surprising 4-4 between underdogs Hofheim and Dresden was this game:
Earlier rook and pawn against a bishop pair had been roughly equal in IM Lobzhanidze - GM Gajewski, but after 38.g5 the f6-bishop had no safe square on the entire diagonal (e7 obviously isn't safe either) - piece and game were simply lost. Gajewski had been able to spend four minutes on the decisive mistake 35...Rc8?.
Speyer-Schwegenheim and Hofheim improved their chances in the fight against relegation. They have already played against most other relegation candidates, however, which isn't the case for some of the five teams behind them (four teams are relegated after the season). At the top end of the table, the championship may be (pre-)decided during the next Bundesliga weekend: Solingen and Baden-Baden face each other on the 25th February (and will probably have lineups with several 2700+ players on both teams).