Reports Jun 27, 2015 | 8:37 PMby Colin McGourty

Dortmund 2015, 1: Kramnik and So crash to defeat

Top 10 stars Vladimir Kramnik and Wesley So crashed to heavy defeats against Arkadij Naiditsch and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu in the first round of the 2015 Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund. Georg Meier fell just short of completing a whitewash for German underdogs when he was held by Hou Yifan, while Fabiano Caruana also squandered a promising position against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

It was a first round few could have predicted:

Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu was the one left smiling after a sparkling miniature | photo: official Twitter

Wesley So, who had 11 days to rest after beating David Navara 3-1 in Prague, is one of the big favourites in Dortmund, but he seemed to underestimate one of the most creative players in world chess, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. The former Romanian no. 1 is playing in Dortmund for the first time and is quoted on the official website as saying:

When I’m in good form everything is possible.

He wasn’t planning to go all-out for victory:

I just wanted to play a normal game against a very strong opponent. I didn’t know all the nuances of the opening, but I tried to develop properly. Such games, where you don’t just follow well-trodden theory, are important. I need to gain experience before the World Cup of how to play against such players.

Things couldn’t have gone any better. He already felt 11…Ne5 was a mistake by So, allowing a fine piece sacrifice with 12.Nb5!


In hindsight this was the moment to castle, even if it wouldn’t have led to an enjoyable defence:

After 20 minutes’ thought Wesley instead went for 12…Qxb5?!, when after 13.Nxe6 Kd7 14.Nxg7 Black seemed to be ready to pick up the errant knight. Alas, there was a very high price to pay, with Nisipeanu building a beautiful attack with 21.d4! The black pieces made an abject impression:


Wesley struggled on until move 28 before throwing in the towel. A minor masterpiece!

World travellers Caruana and Nepomniachtchi drew their game | photo: official Twitter

Fabiano Caruana was the other young Top 10 star looking to shine. It was tough for him to head to Dortmund straight after Norway Chess, but he had the right opponent, since Ian Nepomniachtchi had just returned from Cuba, where he finished in a disappointing 5th place out of six.

Caruana has a new manager, IM Lawrence Trent, who may have jumped the gun a little during the game:

Admittedly, it did look very good:


But then after 26.Qg5 Ra2 27.Rd2 Fabiano went for 27…Bf6:


Caruana took on d2 with the rook a move later, but the moment had gone, and the game hurtled towards a draw by repetition.

Given what happened elsewhere, though, that may still have been an excellent start for Fabiano, since Vladimir “Mr Dortmund” Kramnik had a day to forget. Before the round he talked about his ten Dortmund titles:

That got me an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Maybe I can expand on the record yet. Of course the chess world has changed a lot in the meantime, and some of my opponents in this year’s tournament weren’t yet born when I was playing in Dortmund in the 1990s.

German no. 1 Arkadij Naiditsch was around, although since he was born in 1985 he may not have been following all the action back then!

The game in 2015 saw a tense strategic battle, with Naiditsch taking 24 minutes to decide on 15…e5 and Kramnik spending 28 to reply 16.d5:


The computer was delighted by that space grab, but when Black undermined the pawn chain by pushing f7-f5 some real precision was required to keep things under control. Naiditsch pointed out Kramnik had overlooked 20…Rf4! (cutting off support for the g5-knight), and then things looked bleak when he played 24.f3?, running into the powerful 24…Nd3!:


The point is that 25.Qxd3 loses on the spot to 25…Rxf3!, with the black queen not only hitting the c1-rook but threatening a lethal check from e3, while after 25.Rd1 Nb4, as played in the game, White isn’t winning back a piece. Kramnik still had some chances based on his passed d-pawn, but in serious time trouble all he managed to do was avoid mate. The rampant black knight charted a path from a2-b4-c6-d4 and then offered itself up yet again with 34…Nxf3!


Of course it couldn’t be taken, and Arkadij Naiditsch went on to prove how good an endgame player he is, just as he had by beating Magnus Carlsen in Baden-Baden earlier this year. After 57 moves, with the black knight still a thorn in White’s side, Vladimir Kramnik threw in the towel. So it was a terrible start for the former World Champion, if not an unprecedented one – check out our article from a year ago:

Naiditsch was understandably pleased:

Of course it’s very nice to start the tournament with a full point, especially against the favourite, Vladimir.

One of the appeals of this year’s Dortmund is another chance for women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan to test herself in a supertournament. 

Veselin Topalov suggested Hou Yifan could have played in Norway Chess - "how is she worse than Hammer?" | photo: official Twitter

She went into the first game as ratings favourite against Georg Meier, but for a long time it seemed we might witness another German success story. Meier gained a passed e-pawn after a dubious pawn swap from Hou Yifan, and then gradually turned the screw. The moment when it seemed time to cash in was after 49…Ne2+


50.Kc5 would most likely have seen the e-pawn take White to victory, but after 50.Ke3 Black was able to exchange knights with 50.Nc1 and, as we all know, all rook endings are drawn  In this case that took until move 59.

Our commentary team of Ilja Zaragatski and Jan Gustafsson (back from Norway and the trauma of playing basketball against Magnus Carlsen) was getting its priorities right:

That leaves us with stars So and Kramnik in last place in a 7-round sprint, with Naiditsch and Nisipeanu out in front. Sunday’s Round 2 promises some great entertainment, with a new all-US clash, Caruana-So, while the encounter of former World Champions, Hou Yifan – Kramnik, should be another must-watch game.

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