Magnus Carlsen can rest easy as world no. 1 after Vladimir Kramnik’s swashbuckling attempt to beat Vladimir Fedoseev in Round 1 of the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting backfired spectacularly. Big Vlad was down two minor pieces by the time he resigned and dropped two places to world no. 4 on the live rating list. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was almost another Top 10 casualty, but he managed to save a bad position against Radek Wojtaszek. The remaining two games were also drawn, but not without adventures.
Dortmund is a 7-round sprint, so the opening day has already put a big dent in Vladimir Kramnik’s hopes of winning an 11th title. You can replay all the games with computer analysis using the selector below (click on a result to open that game):
The 2017 and 45th edition of the Sparkassen Chess Meeting got underway in the NRW Orchester Centre on Saturday, with some youngsters getting the chance to partner one of the world’s top players:
As always in Dortmund, all eyes were on Vladimir Kramnik, and, for better or worse, he justified the attention!
As we noted in our preview, it’s now six years since Vladimir Kramnik last won the Dortmund title, and in that time things have often failed to go to plan. In 2014 Vladimir started with a loss with the white pieces to Georg Meier that our annotator christened “Kramnik’s worst game in the last 25 years”. He proved it was no fluke by also losing with the white pieces in Round 1 a year later, to Arkadij Naiditsch. Luckily in 2016 Kramnik started with Black, though his six draws in his first six games didn’t set the world on fire.
If there was another bad omen for Kramnik it was an answer from Vladimir Fedoseev’s interview with Dorsa Derakhshani that we carelessly left out of our preview:
Now that it’s out there, which was your favourite game of another player in 2017?
The game when Mamedyarov beat Kramnik with Black in Shamkir. Many interesting moves and ideas - also it’s not easy to beat Kramnik with Black. That game is the one for me!
The opening of their encounter in Dortmund on Saturday saw Fedoseev play the Caro-Kann, with Kramnik responding by exchanging on d5 and playing an early c3, a fashionable setup used, for instance, by Anish Giri against Alexander Riazantsev only days ago in Geneva, and by Jaime Santos to achieve a big edge against Vishy Anand in their recent match in León. It was also employed in a blitz game by Magnus Carlsen against Alexander Grischuk, and Fedoseev was by no means caught off-guard. He explained afterwards (all player quotes are from the article by Georgios Souleidis on the tournament website) that he’d analysed the line in detail with his coach Alexander Khalifman – someone who wrote a series of books entitled “Opening for White according to Kramnik” and who himself specialised in selecting the most awkward openings for specific opponents.
The first critical turning point came after 12.Bg5:
Black can either allow his structure to be spoiled by a capture on f6, switch to passive defence with 12…Be7, or do as he did and play the pawn sacrifice 12…Ne4! If White captures twice on e4 Black will have serious compensation in the form of his raking bishops and a tempo gained by attacking the rook on e4, but given what happened in the game that looks like the lesser evil!
Kramnik instead sacrificed a pawn himself, since after 13.a4 bxa4 he didn’t recapture but poured oil on the flames with 14.c4 Nxg5 15.Nxg5 dxc4 16.Bxc4 Nd8 17.Ne3 Bf4:
You might say that by this stage both players have got what they wanted. Fedoseev is absolutely at home in complex tactical positions, while late in his career Kramnik has also switched back to playing all-out for attacks rather than simply trying to nurse tiny edges to victory. The position is finely balanced, and full of wild tactics. For instance, play might continue 18.Qxa4+ Bc6 19.Nd5! (a beautiful, if only equalising shot):
If White wants to sacrifice a piece he has 18.Rc1 Bxg5 19.Bxe6!, when the computer again tells us it’s equal, or the less sound but perhaps playable 18.Nxf7!? Instead though, Kramnik went for 18.Qh5?, and with 18…Bxe3 19.Rxe3 Qxc4 Fedoseev called his bluff:
What does White have in return for the piece? Alas, the omniscient engines tell us “next to nothing”, meaning the question switches to, “what did Kramnik miss”? He followed through with 20.Rxe6+ and had perhaps only looked at 20…Nxe6 21.Qxf7+, though even there it seems Black has little to fear. Instead Fedoseev played the more incisive 20…Kf8! and Kramnik had nothing better than the 21.Re5 retreat. If he got to that position before going for the sacrifice he might easily have been dazzled by all his mating threats and missed that the prosaic 21…h6! puts an end to it all, with 22.Rae1 g6! 23.Qh4 Kg7! leaving White without even a glimmer of an attack.
What followed was mainly explained by inertia and the lack of time on Kramnik’s clock, since by the time Vladimir Fedoseev played 29…Rac8 and Kramnik finally resigned he had one of the most lost positions you’ll ever witness in a game featuring the world no. 2:
We say world no. 2, but the defeat saw Kramnik drop two places to world no. 4 and essentially brought an end to the storyline of his potentially becoming world no. 1 in Dortmund:
That would now take five wins in the remaining six games, and although Kramnik bounced back from losing the first game in 2015 with three wins in a row, that’s a lot to ask. Instead the rise and rise of Fedoseev continues. The 22-year-old who started the year rated 2658 and world no. 96 is now up to no. 29 and 2732.2 on the live rating list, with the world’s Top 20 within reach during Dortmund.
As you might have noticed, in 2015 it wasn’t just Vladimir Kramnik who lost on the first day, since fellow Top 10 star Wesley So also crashed to defeat against Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. We could have had a repeat scenario in 2017, with co-favourite and defending champion MVL coming close to joining Kramnik in a first-round loss.
He played the Anti-Marshall, but Polish no. 1 Radek Wojtaszek had done his homework and prepared an improvement over his final round game against Mickey Adams in Shamkir Chess this year:
In Shamkir Radek played 13…Rb5 immediately, but after 14.c4 the position was closed and remained that way until a draw was agreed on move 44. This time, though, he played 13…bxc3 14.bxc3 and only then 14…Rb5. Soon the a5-pawn fell, and although Maxime seemed to have sufficient compensation, at least at first, he gradually lost his way and later admitted, “I completely overlooked his bishop manoeuvre, which left me much worse off”. He was referring to the position after 24.Qc2:
There followed 24…Bb4 25.Rd1 Ba5 26.Ne3 Bb6 and soon Black simply had a healthy extra pawn, that sooner or later could hope to advance down the board and queen. Wojtaszek would later lament, “it's obviously annoying to see afterwards how big the advantage actually was”, and while it’s not easy to pinpoint exactly where he went wrong it seems he allowed his a-pawn to be blockaded too easily and then wrongly exchanged minor pieces to enter a queen ending that Maxime held with ease.
The remaining two draws lasted a combined total of 126 moves, though it never felt as though either of them was likely to end in a decisive result.
The all-German Nisipeanu-Bluebaum battle started in the Veresov system promoted by such firebrands as Baadur Jobava, Richard Rapport and Hikaru Nakamura and recently given the stamp of approval by World Champion Magnus Carlsen – 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Bf4. It was dealt with by our commentator Jan Gustafsson in the “Sidelines” Part 4 of his repertoire against 1.d4 (though he commented that this option now has “almost mainline status”):
Jan’s recommendation in the line played in the game was 7…Bd7, rather than Bluebaum’s 7…e6 8.Nxc6 bxc6 9.Na4, which he described as, “probably fine for Black, but I'd rather not deal with this structure”. The game did nothing to refute that verdict, since wily old campaigner Nisipeanu subjected his young opponent to a long and tricky defence. Bluebaum later commented, “I had to find some only moves in the rook endgame, but luckily everything came together”.
Matthias correctly saw that 56…Rxg7! secured the draw, since after 57.Kxg7 the white king is too far away to stop the black pawn and king. The game ended in stalemate on move 68.
Wang Yue-Andreikin saw Dmitry surprise his Chinese opponent in the opening, but although he went on to gain a structural advantage Wang Yue showed he’d lost none of his solidity by holding a 58-move draw. Afterwards he gave the impression the outcome was never in doubt:
Yes, I'm somewhat worse in the ending, but it's always a draw.
So after the first round in Dortmund everyone has 0.5/1 except for Vladimir Fedoseev on 1/1 and that other Vladimir on 0/1. Neither of the Vladimirs will have it easy in Round 2, since Fedoseev is Black against Bluebaum, while Kramnik is Black against Andreikin. That match-up has been interesting in the past, with Andreikin boasting a 3:1 classical score against the Russian no. 1 and having knocked Kramnik out of the 2015 World Cup. On the other hand, Kramnik won the most important encounter between the two in the 2013 World Cup final.
Once again Jan Gustafsson will be providing commentary on the action, and this time he won’t have to leave early for any birthday parties!
Remember that from Round 3 on Tuesday, when Lawrence Trent and Peter Svidler will be joining, the video commentary will be exclusively for chess24 Premium Members. If you take the chance to go Premium for a year or more before then you’ll get a signed chess24 mug sent to your door:
Tune in for Round 2 from around 15:30 on Sunday here on chess24! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps: