Vladimir Kramnik has blown the race to win the 2018 Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund wide open after scoring a convincing win over rising star Jan-Krzysztof Duda in Round 4. Both players are now in a 4-way tie for 1st place alongside Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladislav Kovalev, who drew their games, while Anish Giri is just half a point off the lead after inflicting a third loss in a row on Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu.
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20-year-old Jan-Krzysztof Duda is on the verge of the world elite, but he’s yet to have many chances to face the world’s top players. He’s beaten Levon Aronian and Wesley So at fast time controls, but in classical chess the highest rated opponent he’s beaten so far seems still seems to be his compatriot Radek Wojtaszek, who he most recently beat in the previous round. He’s lost classical games to Magnus Carlsen in the 2015 Qatar Masters and to Hikaru Nakamura in this year’s Gibraltar Masters, while his previous game against Vladimir Kramnik, in the 2015 World Blitz Championship, had also ended in defeat.
Playing Black against Kramnik is arguably the toughest test in chess, with the first challenge simply being to survive the opening. Kramnik felt his opponent had failed, telling Georgios Souleidis that Duda had “probably mixed something up”. The Pole went for some very sharp replies to Kramnik’s English Opening, first with 8…e4!? and then 11…d5!?:
Play continued 12.Bg5 c6!? 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.Qb3, and it was clear Black wasn’t going to hold on to the d5-pawn for long, but although the game ended up as a Kramnik masterclass it seems things might have gone differently if Duda had come to a different conclusion after taking a 16-minute think on move 22:
22…g5! is the computer’s suggested lifeline, threatening to win the f4-pawn and break open the white king position, since 23.fxg5?? loses on the spot to 23…Qf2+ and mate next move. White has plenty of options, but it seems Black can harass White’s weak extra pawn on d3 and hold a draw.
Instead Duda retreated his active rook with 22…Rc8?, which would still have been a decent option if not for the quickly played 23.Qd7!, which led almost by force (23…Rcxe8 24.Rxe8 g5! is a worse version of the previous line, but still better than what happened in the game) to a rook ending that Kramnik knew exactly how to win:
The passed d-pawns are too strong, and when Duda took White’s h-pawn it accelerated the end, which came with the brutal 37.Re7+!.
The most elegant conclusion would be 37...Rxe7 38.dxe7 h3 39.Ke6 h2 40.f6 h1=Q 41.f7#, though other wins are also trivial. The young Polish player resigned.
Duda’s defeat was a chance for Ian Nepomniachtchi or Vladislav Kovalev to take the lead with a win, but they were both held to draws with the black pieces.
Wojtaszek-Nepomniachtchi was one of those games where the theory known to the players extended quite a bit further than “official theory” that had been seen in previous games. For instance, it looks here as though Black can do nothing about his bishop being exchanged for White’s knight…
Nepomniachtchi responded instantly, though, with 11…Be4 12.f3 Qg5! 13.g3 Bc6 and the bishop had relocated. It still looked dangerous as Wojtaszek continued 14.e4 and went on to build up a massive pawn centre, but in true “hypermodern” fashion Nepomniachtchi then went about undermining that centre until he eventually made a draw from a position of strength.
Vladislav Kovalev also continued to impress, surprising his opponent Georg Meier in the opening and then going on to find sharp ideas to hold the balance:
21…b6! was a multi-purpose move that not only over-protected a5 but prepared the manoeuvre that followed: 22.Rd1 Qe7! 23.Ne4 Qb7! and the queen’s presence on the long diagonal forced exchanges and a draw. That was an achievement for Kovalev, seeing as he’d lost his previous two classical games against Meier.
The other decisive game of the day was between two players who had lost in the previous round, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and Anish Giri. In fact Nisipeanu had lost the game before that as well, and although he had the white pieces it was soon clear that it was Anish who was out for blood. As so often in the Najdorf, when queens were exchanged it was Black who was pressing, with Giri happy with his 21st move:
21…a5! came just in time to stop White from trying to block the position by posting his knight on the same square. Soon Black had long term weaknesses to attack, while 30.Rd5? looks to have been the losing mistake (30.g3, bringing the h3-bishop back into the game, would have offered some chances).
There followed 30…Ra3! 31.Rb1 Nf6! 32.Rxd6 Nxe4 and the knight was ready to wreak havoc in White’s position. Nisipeanu gave up an exchange to eliminate it, but although White had a pawn for the exchange Giri had no trouble in converting his advantage.
That means that going into a long weekend – after Thursday’s rest day the players play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – things couldn’t be more closely balanced. We have four leaders and even 7th placed Wojtaszek is only a point behind:
The game of the day on Friday is the battle of the Russian players from the leading pack, Nepomniachtchi-Kramnik, though Duda-Meier, Giri-Wojtaszek and Kovalev-Nisipeanu can also be vital for the tournament standings. Follow all the action live here on chess24 from around 15:15 CEST on Friday!
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