Ian Nepomniachtchi said he “couldn’t play at all” after hearing the sad news of the death of Mark Dvoretsky, but when Evgeny Tomashevsky was caught unawares by the sharpest of Scotch Openings their game turned into a crushing miniature. That was the only decisive game of the first round, although Giri-Anand was a great battle and Svidler-Kramnik developed into a thriller worthy of the name of Mikhail Tal.
Tal Memorial 2016, Round 1
There’s not much more you can ask for in chess life than starting a major supertournament by winning a 23-move miniature, but Ian opened his post-game discussion with Sergey Shipov by referring to the “very sad, tragic news” of Mark Dvoretsky’s death:
Personally I couldn’t play at all today – it was very tough for me. I thought about making a draw immediately with White.
Instead, though, Evgeny sank into deep thought early in the opening, and Ian commented, “I walked around and found the strength to continue the game”. It helped, of course, that Tomashevsky was knocked off balance by the move 10.f4 in the Scotch Opening:
That was first used by Garry Kasparov to beat his great
rival Anatoly Karpov in Tilburg in 1991, but Ian pointed out it’s now “already
quite a rare variation - not badly analysed”. After 10 minutes Evgeny made the most common move in the position, 10…Bg7?!, but the fact that knocked Nepomniachtchi out of his pre-game preparation told you all you needed to know about its current assessment - the modern main line, and the computer's first choice, is 10…d6. It soon became only a question of precisely when Black's position went from bad to lost.
11.Qf2 Nf6?! Played after 34 minutes of thought: “I think Evgeny made a mistake here... losing quite a lot of tempi. He can do practically nothing” (Nepo) 12.Ba3 d6?! “Now it’s hard to give Black any advice” (Nepo) 13.Nc3 0-0 14.0-0-0 Ne8 15.g3 Bb7 16.Bg2 f6 17.exd6 Nxd6:
This is the computer’s final point of no return. Ian went on to implement the elegant winning plan of pushing c5 and transferring the white bishop to c4: 18.c5 Nf5 19.Rhe1 Qf7 20.Bf1 Rfd8 21.Rxd8+ Rxd8 22.Bc4 Rd5 23.Qe2:
A final twist of the knife. As if losing the exchange wasn’t enough, White is threatening to exchange on e8 and then win the b7-bishop with Rb8. Tomashevsky had seen enough and resigned, meaning the form of both players in the Olympiad had continued into the Tal Memorial.
If that game showed the calamity that can ensue if you go astray with Black in a sharp opening, the two least interesting draws were variations on the less dramatic theme of mixing something up with White in a quiet opening.
Levon Aronian was less than impressed with how he played:
The game was quite dull because I forgot how I had to play and played very stupidly… I started to hate myself at some point, but such is life. You don’t manage to get a fight every day.
Gelfand’s clever 18…Kd6! (trying to win a pawn with 19.Bxe6 ends badly after 19…Rc1+) was the moment at which it switched from, in Levon’s words, “White pretending to play for a win” to “Black pretending to play for a win”, which summed up the game nicely.
In common with many of the players, Levon took to Twitter afterwards to recall Mark Dvoretsky:
“I played the opening a little strangely”, Mamedyarov commented, explaining he castled early and then realised that was a move he was supposed to make only in a different position. He was left trying to nurse a slight edge in a highly drawish position, and ultimately ended up slightly worse after being surprised by Li Chao’s 23…Bd3!, leaving the white rook cut out of the game.
Shak, who could have forced a draw at almost any moment earlier, had to do some work, but there was never any real danger. In fact, the word that kept returning in his post-game press conference was “strange”, as if the game had entered a twilight zone. The highlight of that interview was even stranger. At one point someone from the audience suggested a move in English, and after Shipov and Mamedyarov had analysed it for a while Sergey thanked the English-speaking journalist for the interesting suggestion… at which moment it was pointed out to him that the face he couldn’t quite see in the crowd was that of Li Chao himself!
That was Vishy Anand’s verdict on his long day at the office after “trying to be too accurate” and missing an awkward intermezzo:
18.Rd1! (not 18.a3 immediately) left Black on the back foot, since 18…Rxa2 19.f4 Ng6 20.Rcd2 is not what Black is hoping for. Vishy went for 18…Kf8 and later explained in the only English post-game interview of the day, “you know that you just have to hang in there, and even if it looks unpleasant it’s probably closer to a draw”:
Anish, meanwhile, explained in perfect Russian (after all, he was born in St. Petersburg), that he got “a very beautiful position” where he was better on both sides of the board, but although the game went on until move 52 there was never a clear missed win.
The last game to finish was by far the best of the day, with our man Peter Svidler coming very close to winning a second game with the white pieces against Vladimir Kramnik in two days.
In his recent Q&A session, Svidler talked about how Kramnik’s approach to chess has fundamentally changed in recent years:
For years and years his approach to chess was extremely scholastic, let's put it like this. He was a firm believer in trying to solve his problems so as to completely eliminate them. He would study openings to have a large advantage with White and a draw with Black - not equality, but a draw in most openings. I know, since for a period of time I worked for him, and with him, and I know his approach reasonably well.
And then in recent years, I think faced with a situation where he's done most things people can do in chess three times over, he just told himself… “I would like to actually enjoy playing chess a little bit more”, and he started playing offbeat openings, and playing positions where analysis doesn't play a great role, but chess understanding does - and he has no issues when it comes to chess understanding. He does understand the game on a tremendous level, and I think the results show that...
It's not just that he started playing 1.b3 and 1.e3 and Nf3 and g3 and all these kind of things he never played before. His general attitude towards working on chess and playing chess changed from, "this is a maths problem, let's solve it", to, "this is a very enjoyable board game at which I am exceedingly good, so let's just beat people because I play better than them". It seems to be working quite well for him!
In Round 1 of the Tal Memorial it was very much Kramnik 2.0 in action (or 3.0, given the swashbuckling young Kramnik), with Vladimir playing a Hedgehog formation but not waiting too long to unleash mayhem on the board with 17…g5!? and 18…d5!?:
There’s only so much provocation a man can take – and Peter is right at home in unbalanced tactical positions – so there followed 19.Bxg5+ hxg5 20.Qxg5+ Ng6 21.Nxe6! Rd6 22.Nf4 Ne4!. That final pseudo-sacrifice of a minor piece took Vladimir almost 44 minutes, with the clock set to play a huge role in the game. Svidler had three pawns for the piece, and in a few more moves that tally had risen to four, but before the pawns could do their slow work there were a thousand potential tricks to avoid. A nail-biting sequence of play culminated in 37…f6!?, an ultimately successful role of the dice by Kramnik:
The computer, with its legendary sangfroid, would play 38.Kh3!!?, laughing off any fears of getting mated, but Daniil Dubov, doing an excellent job as an English commentator, said it would be hard to resist playing 38.Qe4 with only a couple of minutes on your clock. Sure enough, that move followed, and when Kramnik made the time control without putting a foot wrong he'd weathered the immediate storm.
White still had excellent winning chances, but a couple of inaccuracies were all it took for Black to seize the initiative:
44…Rxf5+! 45.Qxf5 Rf8 turned the tables, and it was suddenly White who was playing a position that was close to lost in a practical game. Svidler held firm, though, and when Kramnik went for a try that was hard to resist it turned out to offer him no more than a draw. That wasn’t the end of the action, since the players reached the second time control at move 60 with Kramnik also balancing on the edge of the abyss in his desire to win.
In the end even Vlad had to acknowledge that it was a draw, but from the long and animated postmortem at the board you could see that not only are both Svidler and Kramnik exceedingly good, they really love the game of chess.
So after a day that was much more eventful than the results suggest, Nepomniachtchi leads while Tomashevsky is on zero points. Nepomniachtchi has the black pieces against Svidler in Tuesday’s Round 2, while Kramnik will no doubt be ready to go all-guns-blazing against Li Chao with White.
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