Vladimir Kramnik beat Vishy Anand with the black pieces in Round 2 of Altibox Norway Chess on a day when he reflected that six of the players in the tournament had not yet been born when he first played Vishy back in 1989. The other games were drawn, but although Caruana-Carlsen and So-MVL were relatively uneventful we saw long battles as Levon Aronian tried to break through against Hikaru Nakamura, and Anish Giri, in particular, came very close to overcoming the resistance of Minister of Defence Sergey Karjakin.
Round 2 at first looked likely to produce five unspectacular draws, but in the end it was a gripping spectacle (click on a result to open the game with computer analysis):
You can replay the six hours of commentary from Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson below (to watch them live and support such shows in future please consider going Premium):
Vladimir Kramnik, who turns 42 this month, said in the opening press conference that he expected he’ll keep playing for another “two years max”, but if he continues in his current form it might not be so easy to walk away! His victory over Vishy Anand edged him above Wesley So into 2nd place on the live rating list at 2812.3, five points below his peak career rating. He was feeling nostalgic at the start of the game:
By the end of it Vladimir had added a classical win over Vishy Anand to his victory in the Tal Memorial last year. Before that win he hadn’t won a classical game against his old rival since losing the World Championship to Vishy back in 2008. The victory in Norway Chess narrowed Anand’s career advantage in classical games to a single game – 10 wins to Kramnik’s 9, with 72 draws!
In the game itself Anand went for an interesting pawn sacrifice in the Ruy Lopez, but could find nothing more than equality and then saw his position disintegrate in the wake of a pawn grab in the run-up to the time control. Vladimir Kramnik admitted to Nigel Short afterwards that his subsequent play left something to be desired:
Of course my technique was far from perfect. I just wanted to win in the safest way and this is the way actually to spoil it. I saw a few ways to win, and for some reason I wanted to do it without any calculation. It’s like grandpa style – you know it very well!
The one and only Peter Svidler takes us through the game:
It was a tough loss for Vishy Anand, but he took some comfort from seeing an Indian competitor triumph in the IPCA (International Physically Disabled Chess Association) World Championship:
For Vladimir Kramnik, meanwhile, up next is one of those players who wasn’t around in 1989, Wesley So. The young Philippine star was born only in 1993 and, as in Shamkir Chess earlier this year, gets an immediate chance to regain the world no. 2 spot. Back then he did indeed beat Kramnik in a very convincing game, though this time it's Kramnik who will have the white pieces.
In Round 2 Wesley So drew with White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The opening looked promising, but when Wesley decided to exchange queens rather than harass the black monarch most of his edge was gone, and it was Black who was nominally better after picking up a pawn:
Wesley admitted to having underestimated Black’s doubled e-pawns, but Maxime wasn’t enthusiastitc:
If anyone was improving his position it was not me.
That game fizzled out into a 43-move draw, while the day’s most anticipated clash, Caruana-Carlsen, went the same way. Magnus surprised his opponent with 9…d5 in the Ruy Lopez, a rarely tried move with a poor reputation that Peter Svidler noted can now expect a boom in popularity:
A critical juncture came after 15.Ne4:
Here Magnus said he considered the double-edged 15…f5!?, but instead he went for what Caruana described as the “solid” 15…b4. Fabiano responded in kind with 16.d4 and, although he was low on the clock, the mass exchanges that followed meant there was no real drama until a draw by repetition was reached on move 42.
The remaining two games, however, ensured there would be no early end to proceedings.
Early tournament leader Hikaru Nakamura suffered a scare as his opening play against Levon Aronian was less than a success:
The immediate problem came with an Aronian novelty that led
to this position after 10…Qxf6:
Why can’t Nakamura take the c7-pawn? Well, Levon wasn’t saying, though he did note it’s “an interesting position worthy of your analysis”. He admitted that objectively he wasn’t claiming anything special, but, “I thought in the first game people wouldn’t dare!” to take the pawn.
Nakamura instead played the meek 11.Bd3 and admitted to drifting in the play that followed until overlooking 28…h5!
With the pawn ready to march further White needed to do something fast, and Hikaru succeeded in finding a plan of jettisoning a pawn with the b5-push to leave a hopefully defensible position on the kingside. It then looks like he took an excellent decision on move 38:
38.g3! As Nakamura put it, “if it doesn’t lose, it’s correct!” It didn’t lose, and although there were still some uncomfortable moments ahead Nakamura went on to draw in 60 moves.
That leaves only the final game, where Anish Giri came close to bouncing straight back from his disappointing opening game.
After the game Sergey Karjakin noted one positive was that he’d tried 4…Be7 in the Queen’s Gambit Declined for the first time in his career, but the opening was anything but a success and Giri was dominating after he got to plant his bishop in the heart of Black’s position:
22.Bc7! Rd7 23.Bb6! Giri’s subsequent play was conceptual and inventive as he went for b5 and g5-breaks to try and break down Black’s isolated pawn position. Karjakin was always balancing on the brink, but he didn’t gain the “Russian Minister of Defence” title for nothing:
Here he found the only move 47…d4! and after 48.exd4 followed up with the elegant 48…Bc5! That was far from the end of the story, but ultimately the drawing margin was sufficient for Sergey to escape. Giri summed up, “I was enjoying myself but I was not really optimistic!”
Karjakin, meanwhile, followed in Carlsen's footsteps by managing to trash talk both Giri and his own coach in a single tweet, with the cryptic:
What was he talking about? Well, just take a look at his coach Vladimir Potkin's performance so far at the European Championship in Minsk (Potkin actually won the event back in 2011):
So after two rounds we have one new leader and one new player at the bottom of the table!
Round 3 once again, inevitably, brings up some classic pairings. We’ve already mentioned that Kramnik-So is a battle for the world no. 2 spot, while Carlsen-Nakamura is one of the most enjoyable and one-sided encounters in world chess. In Bilbao last year Hikaru finally got the monkey off his back by winning a classical game against Magnus, but the score is still an extraordinary 12:1 in Magnus’s favour.
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