Peter Svidler and Rustam Kasimdzhanov were the heroes as Baden-Baden beat Solingen 4.5:3.5 in the playoff to claim a 12th Bundesliga title in the last 13 years. On paper it was a mismatch, with Baden-Baden fielding seven 2700 players to Solingen’s one, but when they’d done that earlier in the season David had beaten Goliath! This time round Elo triumphed, though Anish Giri, one of just two Top 10 players not playing in Altibox Norway Chess, scored a consolation goal by beating World Championship Challenger and world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana.
The 2017/2018 Chess Bundesliga season was decided in a playoff held in Baden-Baden on Thursday 24th May, after the two teams couldn’t be separated by the 15-round normal season.
Both Baden-Baden and Solingen won 13 matches, drew one and lost one to finish on 27 match points, 5 points clear of their nearest rivals. We’ve already mentioned the key match of the normal season, where Solingen defied the odds to beat Baden-Baden with a single win by Erwin l'Ami and make themselves favourites to match their title-winning 2015/2016 season:
Solingen then stumbled, though, going on to lose 5:3 to a strong Hockenheim team headed by Baadur Jobava, Ruslan Ponomariov and David Howell. That meant they went into the final three rounds in Berlin level on points with Baden-Baden. They scored three easy match wins, while Baden-Baden faced one last big test – playing Hockenheim themselves. They were taking no chances and had Peter Svidler play just that one day before heading off to the Russian Team Championship. The fears looked justified when Etienne Bacrot and Arkadij Naiditsch, the only Baden-Baden players to play all 15 games of the regular season, both lost (to Ivan Saric and Rainer Buhmann), but wins for Mickey Adams, Alexei Shirov and a certain Jan Gustafsson tipped the match in Baden-Baden’s favour:
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave put the icing on the cake by eventually squeezing out a 76-move win against David Howell’s Berlin Wall (no, we don't know what Peter's talking about either ):
With that match safely behind them Baden-Baden cruised to wins in the remaining encounters to end the season level on match points with Solingen. That meant a playoff, and since they had more game points they had the home advantage of playing in Baden-Baden.
We say home advantage, and of course the Baden-Baden players were very familiar with the setting, but it was noteworthy that not a single player in the final match was German!
Vishy Anand and Radek Wojtaszek completed the team mission of drawing with Black comfortably and relatively quickly, against Loek van Wely and Erwin l’Ami, though that draw for Radek meant 20-year-old Polish Champion Jan-Krzysztof Duda has now overtaken him as the Polish no. 1 on the live rating list (which should be confirmed on the official list in a week's time):
Baden-Baden’s nerves were calmed by Rustam Kasimdzhanov scoring the day’s first decisive result by beating Predrag Nikolic’s Winawer French.
Rustam noted he’d lost to the same opponent in the previous season, so he was extra motivated:
I actually wanted to win to get a bit of revenge for that time, so I’m happy I could put pressure on him and win.
Rustam said he got “a very nice position from the opening” and felt he knew what to do better than his opponent:
30.Rxh6 Rxh6 31.Qxh6 Rxc3 was only an exchange of pawns, but Kasimdzhanov pointed out, “what I think my opponent underestimated is just how weak this pawn is on f7”. After Nf3-g5 and Qf4 it turned out the f7-pawn couldn’t be defended, as Rustam explained in his post-game interview:
There were some shaky moments for Baden-Baden, such as when, with both players down to a minute on the clock, Mickey Adams played 37.c3?
Borki Predojevic soon retreated his rook with 37…Rd7, but he didn’t need to move it at all! 37…Qxf3! exploits the undefended queen on b3, and 38.Nc5 isn’t a problem since the black queen is now protecting b7. The game went on to end in a draw shortly after the time control.
The match was essentially decided by Peter Svidler, who scored a win after being surprised by Jan Smeets’ Petroff Defence. Peter commented, “what I did in the opening should not be repeated”, but he succeeded in his aim of getting his opponent out of book early on, since, “if there is one flaw in his game – he likes to think!” Time trouble worries meant that Jan began to play solidly when he might have played for an advantage and then got down to a minute when he needed to play precisely in the endgame. Peter pointed out this position after queens had been exchanged:
He recommended 29…Bf7 here, when Black covers the e8-square and can meet 30.Re7 with 30…Rd7, while after 29…b6?! 30.Re7 “it becomes quite awkward for him”. The computer claims that after 30…Nd7 31.Ba4 it was 31…c5?! that really left Black in trouble, while 31…b5 might have been tenable. In the game Smeets failed to put up much resistance and resigned on move 46.
Peter summed up:
It’s a very important victory in the context of the match, of course, and I’m happy for that. I had a very mediocre season this season. I played not very many games but I didn’t really play particularly well and I’m very happy that I actually managed to do something for the club when it mattered.
Watch Peter talking about that encounter (and more):
The most memorable game of the day, though, was the only all-2700 clash, between Anish Giri and World Championship Challenger Fabiano Caruana. Giri had been in Berlin as a second of Vladimir Kramnik, but got to meet his hero:
Baden-Baden player and Magnus Carlsen second Peter Heine Nielsen won the trash talk wars by responding to that tweet:
On paper if Solingen were going to win the playoff Giri probably needed to win, since they were more outmatched on all the other boards. That was an uphill struggle after Fabiano Caruana opened with his now infamous Petroff Defence, but Anish proved up to the task. It’s a very tough game to describe, but Jonathan Rowson makes a good attempt:
As the Scottish grandmaster implies, Caruana may already have been lost by the time he played 31…Kg8, with Giri showing no mercy:
32.g4! finally starts to break through Black’s defences, with the black queen tied down by the need to defend the d6-knight. There followed 32…hxg4 33.fxg4 Qd8 34.Kf3 Kh7 35.h5!, but the most memorable moments of the game were perhaps the mysterious king manoeuvres:
After thinking for just over 30 minutes Giri here played 42.Kg2, with one of the points no doubt being that the immediate 42.Qe3+ Kxh5 is nothing for White because the queen can’t swing to h3, so the king needs to vacate the f3-square first. Of course asking why g2 instead of f2 is the kind of question that might leave you thinking as long as Giri did!
The dance continued with 42…Nd6 43.Kf2 and the theme began to be zugzwang, since otherwise it’s hard to explain why with 43…b6 44.Kf3 Ne8 45.Qxc6 Nd6 46.Qxb6 Caruana had given away two pawns and still done little to relieve the pressure on his king. The final stages were instead a triumphant march for the white king, that suddenly took a very direct approach:
49.Kf4 Nh3+ 50.Kf5 Qd7+ 51.Kxf6 Black resigns
That result saw Anish Giri climb above Wesley So to world no. 8, and it’s been an impressive year so far for the Dutch no. 1, who has only been outperformed by a certain Magnus Carlsen:
That win couldn’t change the outcome of the match, though. Shortly afterwards MVL-Ragger (where Maxime had again come close to toppling a Berlin Wall) and Andersen-Bacrot (where for a long time Etienne seemed destined to win before at the end he was the one holding on) both ended in draws, and Baden-Baden had won 4.5:3.5. They’ve now won 12 of the last 13 Bundesliga titles.
For their team members Caruana, MVL and Anand it’s now time to head to Stavanger in Norway, where Altibox Norway Chess begins with a blitz opener on Sunday. Peter Svidler is heading to Hamburg after a quick detour to St. Petersburg in order to commentate live on all the action with Jan Gustafsson - "the dream team is back together," as he put it in the video above.
Theirs isn't the official show (though they'll have live video, with the organisers' permission), and will be Premium only, as it was last year. If you’re not yet Premium you might want to try it out for just $/€9.99 a month. Or if you go Premium for a year you can get 3 extra months i.e. 15 months for $/€99 = just $/€6.60 a month – use the voucher code NORWAY-2018-YAY when purchasing: