Reports Jul 13, 2014 | 9:25 AMby Colin McGourty

Dortmund Rd 1: Kramnik’s worst game in 25 years?

The 2014 Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund got off to a sensational start as 10-time winner Vladimir Kramnik lost with the white pieces to Georg Meier. It wasn’t even the result itself that was so shocking, but the manner of the defeat, with our annotator, Spanish IM David Martínez, describing it as Kramnik’s worst game in the last 25 years. Elsewhere there were two hard-fought draws and Fabiano Caruana scored an even more hard-fought victory over super-tournament rookie David Baramidze.

Dortmund mayor Birgit Jörder made Kramnik's first move - in hindsight it might have been better if she'd kept playing for a while longer! | photo: official website

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik suffered a terrible end to the recent Norway Chess tournament. After taking the sole lead with four rounds to go he went on to lose three and draw one of his remaining games to finish second last. Would he take that form into his game against Georg Meier, or would the fact he’d won all four previous encounters against the 2632-rated German player (all in Dortmund) help him to stage a recovery?

David Martínez takes a close look at a shocking game:

Up until today I thought that the only difference between the Kramnik of a few years ago and the current one was that lately he's been missing a lot of tactics and failing to finish things off. For instance, in the Candidates he was discouraged by failing to put away his opponents in good positions and let a lot of points slip. Ultimately those 2-3 tournament points a year added up to the 20-30 Elo points' gap that's opened up to the current absolute top players in the world - of course Carlsen counts as an extraterrestial... 

Today, however, I need an explanation, Mr. Kramnik! If I didn't know the names of the players I'd have thought that the player with Black has a rating 200 points higher than his opponent and gave him a simple positional lesson. Obviously that's not the case, because as those who've followed my commentary know - for me Kramnik is a positional God.

1. c4 c5 2. ♘f3 ♘f6 3. g3 ♘c6 4. ♗g2 d5 5. 0-0 d4 6. a3 e5 7. d3 a5 8. e4? Kramnik had already played this type of position a couple of times in the style of the Benoni, with e3, and although he got nothing in the opening that still seems the best way to break open the black centre. 

The move in the game is an attempt to keep the centre closed in order to slowly break it open and squeeze his opponent on the kingside. Meier, however, still hasn't castled, and he applies a simple and well-known positional recipe that totally refutes White's plan.

8... ♗e7 9. ♘e1

9. ♘h4 might have been a way to prevent Black's plan. That forces Black to respond with 9... g6 but the problem is that White can't take on f4 with the pawn because the knight would be hanging. Therefore after 10. f4 exf4 11. ♗xf4 (11. gxf4? ♘xe4! ) 11... ♘g4 the e5-square is just too inviting for the black knights. Moreover, Ne3 is an option in order to gain d4 for the c6-knight.

9... h5! A move that's almost always good against an opponent's fianchettoed king position if there's no knight on f3 and you're yet to castle. In this case it soon becomes clear that the only person who can create problems for his opponent on the kingside is Meier...

10. f4 Consistent with his plan, but as we've mentioned, the plan is bad.

10. ♗g5 prevents h4, but after 10... ♘g8! 11. ♗xe7 ♘gxe7 the problem is the same.

10... h4 11. f5 hxg3 12. hxg3 g6! Almost unheard of. Kramnik has ended up completely lost in only 12 moves due to an error of positional understanding. Meier is ready to castle queenside and will then look to finish things off on the kingside. Kramnik, meanwhile, has absolutely nothing - it's impossible to break on the queenside and the centre is closed. In 90% of cases the result in this type of position will be 0-1.

13. ♘d2 gxf5 14. exf5 The e4-square isn't so important since only one of White's knights can get there and, sooner or later, it will be exchanged.

14... ♖g8 15. ♕f3 ♗d7 16. ♖f2 ♕b6 17. ♖e2 0-0-0 18. ♘e4 ♕b3 Meier prevents a b4-break and shores things up while he prepares to win on the kingside.

19. ♘f2 a4 20. ♗h6 ♗f8 21. ♗xf8 ♖dxf8 22. g4 ♖g7 23. ♘e4 ♘xe4 24. ♕xe4 ♖fg8 25. ♗f3 f6 Not giving Kramnik any chances to confuse matters.

26. ♖g2 ♘d8 Looking to exchange his only bad piece - the d7-bishop.

27. ♕e2 ♗c6 28. ♗xc6 bxc6 29. ♕e4 ♔c7 Defending c6 in order to bring the knight to h6 and win the g4-pawn. With no means of opposing that simple plan Kramnik collapses.

30. ♘f3 ♘f7 31. ♖f1 ♘d6 32. ♕e2 ♖xg4 33. ♖f2 ♘xf5 The kingside has fallen and the game is over. The rest is just a continuation of the state of shock in which Kramnik has been since the opening.

34. ♘d2 ♖xg2+ 35. ♖xg2 ♖xg2+ 36. ♔xg2 ♕xb2 37. ♔f3 ♘d6 38. ♕h2 ♕xa3 39. ♔e2 ♕b2 40. ♕h7+ ♔b6 41. ♕e7 ♘b7 Unquestionably Kramnik's worst game in the last 25 years... and I'm only not adding more years because I don't remember seeing his junior games! At least I hope that if you hadn't seen this idea of delaying castling in order to attack a weakened enemy king this game will have served some good. Kramnik could simply have resigned after h5-h4... 

This game fits perfectly with our article on Brazil's 7:1 loss to Germany at the World Cup. You have to watch our for these Germans!


After four losses Georg Meier finally beat his nemesis! | photo: official website

After the game Georg Meier told the official website that he’d got used to beating top players after playing in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai. His blitz victims there included Karjakin, Bacrot, Vitiugov, Fressinet, Nepomniachtchi and Tomashevsky.

Saturday was a black day in Dortmund, as the players who moved second were pressing on all boards. Both Arkadij Naiditsch – against last year’s winner Michael Adams – and Peter Leko – against Ruslan Ponomariov – managed to hold on a pawn down and draw. David Baramidze was close to doing the same, but in the end his super-tournament baptism of fire against favourite and world no. 4 Fabiano Caruana ended in defeat after 75 moves. 

25-year-old Baramidze (born in Tbilisi but now living in Southern Germany) was slowly ground down by 21-year-old Fabiano Caruana | photo: official website

The point at which the outcome became clear was perhaps after 39.Bd3:

Baramidze - Caruana: position after 39.Bd3

39…h3! 40.Kxh3 Bxf3 left Caruana with a protected passed f-pawn that was likely to prove decisive sooner or later. In the event it was much later – the players struggled to make the 10pm World Cup third place playoff – but Caruana hasn’t got where he is today by letting such opportunities slip.

Dortmund – and later Biel – sees chess24 return with live chess commentary after a quiet two weeks. Jan Gustafsson was joined by fellow German grandmaster Ilja Zaragatski for a live show that was followed by none other than Garry Kasparov, who used the hashtag #c24live to tweet Jan and Ilja:

Garry revealed it wasn’t even only the veterans he’d played before!

You can replay part of the broadcast below, although technical issues outside our control mean we don’t have the full recording:

The Round 2 pairings include Kramnik playing Black against defending champion Michael Adams. A quick factoid: in Dortmund 2000 Adams’ win with White against Kramnik ended an 82-game, 18-month unbeaten streak for the player who would go on to win the World Championship that year. How times have changed!

  • Caruana – Ponomariov
  • Meier – Leko
  • Adams – Kramnik
  • Baramidze – Naiditsch

You can watch all the games live here at chess24, with video commentary starting at 18:30. The games begin at 15:00 CET, although the tournament employs a 15-minute anti-cheating delay when broadcasting the moves.

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