Matthias Bluebaum is still the joint leader in Dortmund after four rounds, but he’ll need the full rest day to recover from failing to convert being a rook for a pawn up against Dmitry Andreikin. That extraordinary game ended drawn in 121 moves and 7.5 hours of play. Radek Wojtaszek could also have become sole leader, but drew in 102 moves after missing a great chance to beat Vladimir Fedoseev, while the woes continued for Vladimir Kramnik and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who have failed to win a game in a combined eight attempts.
To judge solely by results you might think Round 4 in Dortmund was a snoozefest, with four draws for a second day in a row. The reality was very different, though! Click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see his results and pairings:
You can watch the full 7.5-hour show below, with the video set to start when Peter Svidler makes a 1-hour appearance from his dacha. Don’t miss some of the closing stages, though, when Jan Gustafsson and Lawrence Trent were going ever so slightly mad!
Vladimir Kramnik and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave continue to leak rating points in Dortmund, as neither of the Top 10 stars has managed to win a game in their four attempts. Maxime’s opponent on Wednesday was Wang Yue, whose reputation was built on the defence of seemingly ugly positions. Peter Svidler told a tale of how he’d once been so put off by Wang Yue’s black repertoire of Petroffs and Berlins against 1.e4 that he spent a day and a half preparing to play 1.d4 and take on the Slav Defence… only for his hand to make the automatic 1.e4!
Maxime is one of the few top players still regularly taking on the Berlin, but against Wang Yue he faced that Chinese weapon of choice – the Petroff (see, for instance, Yu Yangyi playing it against Alexander Grischuk in their match just now in China). Wang Yue was very well-prepared, revealing afterwards that his response to Maxime’s 13.Nd2 was part of his homework:
13…Nc3! After queens were exchanged Black got a very comfortable position, with Peter Svidler commenting, “Wang Yue will be rubbing his hands at this”. Jan Gustafsson said of a later doubled g-pawn: “he’s defended plenty of Berlins and here the pawn is doing something useful – it’s the best day of his life!”
Maxime wasn’t so impressed and said he wasn’t sure who was playing for what in the ending, though it was clear that it was equal. So it proved, with the 46-move draw by far the quietest of the day.
Vladimir Kramnik, meanwhile, lived up to his newfound reputation for an irrepressible will to win, whatever the position. The line he chose, all the way up to the “critical” 13.cxd5, is covered by Jan Gustafsson in his Nimzo-Indian Part 3 of his Complete Repertoire against 1.d4. He explains there:
Instead there’s a highly tactical, highly computerised solution in this position, and what can I say? It works! You have to remember this, because it’s not exactly obvious and it’s also hard to explain… [12…g5] is the kind of move that we can only play because we have very strong computers at our disposal.
Here Jan gives 13…Bxc3 as an all but forced draw, while, after 16 minutes of thought, Kramnik went for the old 13…gxf4!?, a move previously played by Dominguez, Naiditsch, Almasi and even Erwin l’Ami against his wife Alina (he won – chivalry is dead!).
Svidler commented on Kramnik’s choice:
There’s zero chance he doesn’t know how to make a forced draw, and the fact that he’s gone for this “speculative” line (is because) he feels like he’s losing pace in the rating race for the Candidates.
A few moves later White had a significant edge and Nisipeanu felt that he was heading for a win, though he later lamented that he’d underestimated his opponent’s counterplay. All it took were one or two inaccuracies for the advantage to swing in Black’s favour. 23.f4 looks good for White, seemingly forcing 23…Nc6, but after 14 minutes more reflection Kramnik came up with another option:
23…Ng4! It turned out Black’s pieces are menacing enough that he can simply give up an exchange, while after 24.Bxe6 Qxe6 it was important for White to find 25.Qg2! Rg8 26.Rb2 and Black had no more than to force an equal queen vs. two rooks ending:
26…Nf2+ 27.Rxf2 (27.Qxf2 changes nothing after 27...Qc6+, except White loses the c3-pawn by force) 27...Rxg2 28. Rxg2 The game ended in a repetition on move 36.
Vladimir Fedoseev continues to play boldly in Dortmund, and in Round 2 he offered Radek Wojtaszek a pawn in the opening. Svidler explained it was similar to the proposal he’d made Kramnik in Round 1, which the former World Champion rejected in favour of much wilder options. Wojtaszek, meanwhile, took up the challenge and succeeded in keeping Black’s initiative at bay while maintaining a small edge. It should perhaps have dwindled to nothing, but Fedoseev kept turning down chances to simplify before getting into real trouble.
The biggest moment came when Wojtaszek played 43.e6!? - objectively not the best option, but it came close to winning him the game:
Suddenly, as the computer spots in an instant, Fedoseev had the chance to draw immediately with 43…Re5!! – in all lines material gets traded off and a draw is inevitable e.g. 44.Bxe5 Nxe5! (hitting both White’s pieces) 45.e7 Nxc6 48.e8=Q Bxe8 49.Nxe8.
That was the kind of thing you’d spot if you were told there was a “solution” to the position, while instead Fedoseev showed he also had some dreams of winning the game with 43…Kf4?! That was in fact the losing move, but Wojtaszek had to see 44.e7! Rb1+ 45.Ke2 Re1+ 46.Kd2 Rxe7 loses to the fork 47.Nd5+!
Since that isn’t so tricky for a player of Wojtaszek’s level, GM Jorden van Foreest suggested in the chess24 chat that it was more likely he’d missed something in the lines after 45…Nc1+, when the computer says the curious 46.Ke1 is the only move if you want to win.
Wojtaszek said afterwards:
I’m a little annoyed as I missed a good winning chance. Maybe I only had that chance for a moment, but in principle that’s enough.
The game was by no means over, but though he fought on in what became a Rook + Knight vs. Rook ending, Wojtaszek never got another clear opportunity to take home the full point.
This game was remarkable long before it reached its astonishing denouement. Our commentary team felt Dmitry Andreikin had been playing a positional masterpiece all the way up until 34.Rd6:
Here 34…Nf5! 35.Rxb6 Ne3! keeps a dominant position for Black, with the c4-pawn about to fall. Andreikin targeted that pawn differently with 34…Bc8?! 35.Rxb6 Be6 36.Rc6 Bxc4 but had perhaps failed to spot in advance that White solves all his issues in one fell swoop:
37.e4! Black can't take en passant without losing the bishop, so there was nothing better than 37…Bxf1 38.Rxf1 and suddenly the white b-pawn is the crowning glory of the position. Andreikin admitted afterwards he didn’t want to play for a draw, but the irony was his play in the next few moves left him on the verge of defeat and condemned him to a 70-move struggle to nevertheless claim that draw.
Finding themselves in a very complex position after what had already been a long and hard battle, chances were missed by both sides, with one puzzling moment coming when Andreikin simply decided to let the b-pawn queen by playing 49…h5?! rather than putting his rook on b8 (White would still be a favourite to win in that case, but it was clear Black could put up resistance):
After 50.b8=Q it’s possible Andreikin overlooked that 50...Rdd2 doesn't draw but loses on the spot to 51.Rxh5+!, or perhaps he simply saw from afar that the position with two connected passed pawns for a rook was far from trivial:
Matthias Bluebaum said later, “in the beginning I thought I had a simple win”, with our commentary team also feeling that the outcome, however long it took, was inevitable and would add useful material for Jan Gustafsson’s planned book on how to win endgames with an extra rook…
The situation would soon become no joke for Bluebaum, though
at first things were going fine. When a pawn dropped on move 77 there were six
pieces left on the board, meaning we’d now reached tablebase country,
a land where the outcome of every position is known for a fact, assuming
perfect play by both sides:
Bluebaum was winning.
It was very far from obvious how to make progress, though, and on move 87 the tablebases tell us Matthias slipped with 87.Re6, when after the only correct reply 87…g2! the position was a draw. 11 rook moves and all four legal king moves would instead have left White in a winning position.
What was the plan? Well, we again defer to the tablebases and their fastest route to mate, which we’ve cut off at the moment the black pawn falls and White is simply up a rook:
Of course human beings don’t have built-in tablebases, though, so as the clock ticked past 7 hours of play it was still extremely tense. Andreikin wasn’t going to let things slip again, though, and had the presence of mind to spot the final trick that forced stalemate:
121.Kxf2 and a draw was somewhat disappointingly agreed without showing 121…g1=Q+
122.Rxg1 stalemate on the board. After what they’d been through, however, we
can forgive the players!
That meant, of course, that the standings were again unchanged and Bluebaum and Wojtaszek remain in the lead, though neither managed to increase their advantage:
On this occasion you can’t deny the players a final rest day on Thursday, before the tournament reaches the final straight with three rounds in a row this weekend. On Friday we have what many expected would be the title-decider, Kramnik-MVL, while the leaders Bluebaum and Wojtaszek have Black against Wang Yue and Andreikin. Since the gap between top and bottom is only a point, there’s everything to play for.
Tune in for Round 5 from around 15:15 on Friday here on chess24! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps: