Baden-Baden brought in Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian for the three rounds of the German Chess League in Berlin over the weekend, but only Levon escaped defeat as the title winners for 12 of the last 13 years were held to two draws and caught by last year’s runners-up Solingen. Fabiano found time to win the Emanuel Lasker Blitz Tournament, while the Women’s Bundesliga ended with victory for underdogs Bad Königshofen.
The Chess Bundesliga is one of the world’s strongest team events and for six normal weekends in the year is played at four separate venues around Germany. Once again, however, all the players congregated in Berlin for a special 3-day weekend, and although this year it wasn’t the finale of the open tournament – there are still four rounds to go – we once again got to see the top stars in action.
You can replay all the games using the selector below:
Going into the weekend Baden-Baden had a perfect 14/14 match points after winning their first 7 matches, and when they gave season debuts to Caruana, MVL, Anand and Aronian it was hard to imagine much could go wrong. Chess, however, has a way of surprising you! Let’s take each round in turn:
On paper, Baden-Baden looked untouchable against what is almost their B Team (they share the same sponsor - GRENKE) Schachfreunde Deizisau. Every player in the Baden-Baden team had won their national championship and all but one had a more than 100-point rating advantage, but as you can see, it ended up being an astonishingly tight match!
Initially things had gone well for Baden-Baden, with Georg Meier finding his beloved French busted against Levon Aronian in just 17 moves.
Levon’s compatriot Sergei Movsesian looks at what went wrong:
Radek Wojtaszek soon followed up with a devastating king hunt against 14-year-old Vincent Keymer, who was to have a very tough weekend, but then things began to fall apart for the favourites. Fabiano Caruana was playing his first classical game of 2019, and it would end up being his first classical loss since May 28th 2018, when he was beaten by Magnus Carlsen in Round 1 of Altibox Norway Chess. Perhaps it was partly the curse of the Bundesliga, since just four days before that Caruana had lost to Anish Giri in his first and only game of the event last season.
Caruana’s conqueror was Peter Leko, who like Fabiano had managed to hold the champion to a tie in classical chess in a World Championship match. Peter, still just 39 despite having dropped out of the chess elite, opted for 1.d4 to avoid his opponent’s Petroff Defence, and then cited the fact that there were a lot of spectators for his decision not to take a draw by repetition. Initially he had some regrets about that decision, but by the time he found the move 31.Nf3! he was very happy with his position. After 31…Bxf4?! (31…Bb4!, “giving up the harmony of Black’s position” (Leko), was a hard move to play, but would have given the best chances) 32.exf4 Kc8 33.Re1 Qf5 White was suddenly on the verge of victory:
The temptation to put the knight on d4 was strong, but Leko found the forcing 34.Qd4! Rd8 35.Qa7!, when after 35…d4 he could have won almost on the spot with 36.Ne5!! The threat is simply Qa8#, but in time trouble Peter had missed that after 36…Rc2 he has the winning 37.g4!! on the other side of the board. In the game after 36.Nxd4?! Fabiano was right back in business, but he was unlucky that a crucial decision came on move 40, and after his choice the position was objectively lost.
Peter explains that he'd already played 40.Qf2! with the plan of 41.Qf1! and targetting the crucial h3-pawn, so he had no trouble finding the winning move. Don't miss his full analysis of the game:
That result, and two draws for Fabi to follow, meant that after coming within a draw or two of losing the world no. 1 spot in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year Magnus Carlsen now finds himself 26 points clear at the top again.
That wasn’t all, as another Top 10 star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was taken down, this time by Gata Kamsky. Maxime overpressed on the white side of a Sicilian, and especially after one misjudged move (25.Bd2?) was in deep trouble. Gata played to simplify the position even at the cost of some of his advantage, but the end, when it came, was beautiful!
Gata's still got it!
By the time those two games were over, however, Vishy Anand had already saved the day for Baden-Baden, showing impressive calculation to convert an extra pawn in a tricky position against Matthias Bluebaum.
Elsewhere there were easy wins for Baden-Baden’s title rivals Solingen and Hockenheim, but the most notable game was a loss for Hockenheim’s Sam Shankland against Viernheim’s Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
That game was similar to their clash in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year, except that there it was Shankland who had an endgame advantage with the white pieces but failed to convert. Here Mamedyarov made no mistake, thereby scoring his first win of 2019 after going 13 games without a victory in the Tata Steel Masters.
This was the quiet after the storm, as the key Hockenheim-Baden-Baden match ended with all 8 games drawn:
It wasn’t without drama, though, as Caruana looked to have a great chance to bounce straight back from defeat when he sacrificed on h6 against Shankland:
After 29…gxh6 Fabiano’s 30.Nb6! was a correct follow-up (30.Qg1+ is only enough for a draw), but after 30…Rxb6 it seems he should have played 31.Rxb6! and kept control of the position. 31.Bxb6?! allowed the black queen to infiltrate the position with 31…Qc3!, after which Sam managed to calculate his way to safety.
The match only ended in a draw after 7 hours and 136 moves of heroic defence from David Howell, who eventually had to defend the Rook vs. Rook + Bishop endgame against Arkadij Naiditsch.
When it became clear that Baden-Baden had dropped their first match point of the season they could regret that Vishy Anand didn’t play on at the end of his game against Ivan Cheparinov:
After a long think Vishy played 41.Bxg5+?! with a draw offer, which was accepted, while he could instead have gone for 41.Qg2!, when 41…Kf6 can be challenged with 42.d4! – the main idea is that 42…exd4? runs into 43.e5+!, winning a piece. The game could easily still have ended in a draw, but there would have been a battle ahead.
Solingen didn’t play on Saturday, since after a late withdrawal before the start of the league one team sits out each round.
As if trying to exorcise the demons of losing 3:0 to Magnus at rapid chess in London, Fabiano has been in blistering form recently in rapid and blitz. He crushed Harikrishna in the Champions Showdown in Saint Louis and then decided to play the Emanuel Lasker Blitz Tournament on Saturday in Berlin. Although some well-known players such as Igor Kovalenko and Loek van Wely were among the almost 300 participants Fabiano was the clear favourite, and he went on to justify that billing to take first place with 14/16. Here’s the final game against Falko Bindrich:
Hockenheim beat Viernheim 5.5:2.5 the day before, but on the final day in Berlin Viernheim managed to hold Baden-Baden and keep the title race wide open with four rounds to go:
Things went from bad to worse for Vishy Anand, who was hit by what seems to be the novelty 10.b4 from Anton Korobov:
Perhaps the computer suggestion of 10…c5!? was essential, since Vishy was immediately in positional trouble after 10…Nd7, although given the speed with which that move was played it might still have been preparation. By move 21 it was just a question of delivering the final blows:
22.Bf1! prepared the vicious Bh3, and after an anguished 13 minutes of thought Vishy went for 22…Rxf6, allowing White to win the exchange with 23.Nd7. There wasn’t even a pawn for the exchange as c7 soon fell, and Vishy’s resignation after 27.a4 (emphasising White’s total positional domination) wasn’t premature, even in a team event:
Arkadij Naiditsch was another victim of Igor Kovalenko, who’s now scored 7.5/8 in the Bundesliga this season, but Paco Vallejo and Etienne Bacrot rescued a draw with wins on the bottom boards.
We were guaranteed an entertaining end to the Bundesliga season as Baden-Baden’s rivals both squeezed out 4.5:3.5 wins despite Vladimir Fedoseev losing to Georg Meier and Solingen’s top board Markus Ragger losing to Andrei Volokitin. Solingen are now level with Baden-Baden with their individual clash still to come on the last weekend of the league, while Hockenheim are just a point behind.
While the 15-round open tournament continues the Women’s Bundesliga wrapped up after 11 rounds, with Bad Königshofen showing few nerves as they won their final three matches to claim the title with 20/22 points, two clear of Schwäbisch Hall and Hamburger SK and four clear of Baden-Baden. Bad Königshofen's highest rated player over the season was 2462-rated Olga Girya, while Baden-Baden had four 2500-players, but Bad Königshofen went through the season unbeaten. Top performers included Tatjana Melamed (8.5/11), Alexandra Obolentseva (7/8) and Dina Belenkaya, who scored 3/3 in Berlin for 8.5/9 overall.
The Bundesliga weekend was a warm-up for many of the players. The US Championship is coming later this month, but for Sam Shankland there’s action sooner as he plays in the new Prague Masters supertournament from Wednesday. David Navara, Richard Rapport, Radek Wojtaszek, Nikita Vitiugov and Viktor Laznicka are also heading there from Berlin. A day before that the World Team Championship starts in Astana, Kazakhstan, with Arkadij Naiditsch, Bassem Amin, Nils Grandelius, Luke McShane and David Howell among the players travelling there from Berlin. The 10-team event is likely to be dominated by powerful Russian and Chinese teams.
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