Déjà Vu - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The country and language may well have changed, but it seems like déjà vu – as the French would say – as Wesley So continues to shine in the early opening legs to the new season of the Grand Chess Tour, with the US #2 following up his last-gasp victory last week in Leuven, Belgium, to now lead at the end of the Paris GCT rapid tournament; and going into the blitz tournament, he holds what could well be a vital 1-point lead over his nearest rivals, Hikaru Nakamura and Sergey Karjakin.

Just as in Brussels, So dominated in the rapid with yet another assured performance – but unlike Brussels, his lead over speed mavens Nakamura and Karjakin is a very slender one, and he’ll need a more reassured performance this time in the blitz tournament if he’s to win a second successive Tour victory. Another successful couple of days for So – or perhaps even an inspired blitz performance from Nakamura – would make for yet another impressive US tournament victory on the international elite arena, and a further psychological boost for Team USA ahead of defending their upcoming Chess Olympiad Open title in Batumi, Georgia.

While So and Nakamura surge, many have commented about the dramatic collapse in Brussels of the World Championship challenger, Fabiano Caruana. The US #1 is not doing a little better in Paris, but the fact of the matter is that Caruana’s worst performances always come in speed events, as he freely admits that he’s not good at either rapid or blitz – but Caruana did end the final day of the rapids on a high, scoring an almost perfect 2.5/3 to lift himself out of last place, that included wins over ex-champion Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian.

Paradoxically, his rollercoaster win over Kramnik was not only tough but also an intriguing affair, as it came with a big London/Berlin connection between the two: Caruana won the Berlin candidates to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship match in London this coming November – and Kramnik is the player who, single-handedly, is responsible for rehabilitating the Berlin Defence in elite circles, using it to surprise Garry Kasparov during their 2000 World Championship Match that was also held in London.

Standings:
1. W. So (USA) 12/18; 2-3. H. Nakamura (USA), S. Karjakin (Russia) 11; 4-6. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), V. Anand (India), L. Aronian (Armenia) 9; 7. F. Caruana (USA) 8; 8-10. V Kramnik (Russia), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), A. Grischuk (Russia) 7. (In the rapid, a win counts for 2 points and a draw 1 point; the scoring system reverts to normal in the blitz)

Photo: Finally, Fabi has something to smile about with two big wins in Paris! | © Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)

 

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Vladimir Kramnik
Paris GCT Rapid, (7)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 Wisely eschewing the notorious Berlin endgame after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 that so bamboozled Kasparov back in 2000, which ultimately led to him losing his title to Kramnik. 4…Bc5 5.Nbd2 Nd4 6.Nxd4 Bxd4 7.c3 Bb6 8.d4 c6 9.dxe5 cxb5 10.exf6 Qxf6 11.0-0 Caruana has the more solid position and the better pawn structure – but Kramnik does have the dynamics of the bishop-pair in his favour. 11…0-0 12.a4 bxa4 13.Nc4 Bc7 14.Ne3! Heading to the wonderful outpost on d5! And with the a4-pawn not going anywhere, there’s no need to rush to recapture it. 14…b5 15.Nd5 Qd8 16.Qg4 Be5 17.f4 Bb8 18.Be3 Caruana has clearly ‘won’ the opening tussle: his Nd5 trumps Kramnik’s bishop-pair, and the Black queenside pawns are also beginning to look like a long-term liability. And faced with this daunting scenario, Kramnik opts now to take risks by going on the offensive. 18…Bb7 19.Rad1 a5 Risky, but if White react wrongly, then Kramnik will have …Ra6 with major threats of …Rg6 and a complex struggle for both sides. 20.Nb6! h5 Kramnik is in dire straits, and he needs to go ‘all-in’ now and hope his bishops can create some chaos. 21.Qe2 Qe7 22.e5 d6 Kramnik simply can’t allow Caruana to play Rxd7 with an overwhelming position. 23.Nxa8 Bxa8 24.Qxb5 Not only has Kramnik lost material, but his position is on the verge of total collapse – there’s nothing more he can do other than try to create some vague threats with his bishop-pair. 24…dxe5 25.f5?! The clinical win was to be found with the obvious and forcing 25.Bc5! Ba7 26.Bxa7 Qxa7+ 27.Rf2 exf4 28.Rd4! where White has all the bases covered, and now set to pick off all of the loose Black pawns. 25…Qh4 26.Qe2? Caruana is swayed by the ‘fear factor’ over the bishop-pair, and he lets Kramnik off the hook.  The simple winning plan was 26.f6! Qe4 27.Rf3! g6 28.Qc5 and Black is all but doomed. 26…Bc6?! Bringing the dark-squared bishop into the fray with 26…e4! saved the game now, as it forced 27.g3 allowing 27…Bxg3! 28.hxg3 Qxg3+ 29.Kh1 Qh3+ 30.Kg1 Qg3+ and a perpetual. But you gotta love how a wild game can dramatically swing one way and then another in the heat of battle, and especially as the clock ticks down in a rapid game. 27.Qf2 Qc4 Black had realistic chances of saving the game with 27…Qxf2+ 28.Rxf2 Bc7 29.f6 g6 – but Kramnik gambles further by attempting to keep the queens on the board. 28.f6 g6 29.Qg3 Bc7 30.h3 Rb8 31.Rd2 Qe6 32.Qg5 Black simply can’t allow White to play Qh6 unchallenged. 32…Qe8 33.Re1 Qf8! Ultimately in the long-term a very clever move – but at the critical moment, Kramnik just doesn’t begin to realise how clever a move it really is! 34.Bf2 Kh7 35.Kh2?! I’m surprised at this move from Caruana, as voluntarily moving your king into the path of a discovered check breaks all the know conventions in chess. And even more surprising, given that 35.Be3 more or less keeps the Black queen tied to f8. 35…e4+ 36.Bg3 Rb5! [see diagram] The position has flipped somewhat, with Kramnik being ‘gifted’ an attack out of nowhere. 37.Qh4 Qb8?! This position is destined for the tactics and combination annals, asking the searching question: “Black to play and win – but how?” Admittedly, it isn’t all that obvious, but Kramnik missed the ingenious 37…Qh6!! winning material, as there’s no way for White to meet the twin threats of defending the loose rook on d2 and also the little matter of …g5! winning the queen! C’est la vie, as they would say in France! 38.Bxc7 Qxc7+ 39.Qg3 The danger has now passed with a couple of timely trades, and Caruana’s material advantage easily wins now. 39…Qb7 40.Qd6! Caruana’s queen infiltrating into Black’s back-rank seals Kramnik’s fate. 40…Rf5 41.Qf8 Qc7+ 42.Kh1 Rxf6 43.Rd8 Kramnik’s monarch is caught between a rock and a hard place: his king is either going to get mated or he’s set for a further heavy loss of material. 43…g5 44.Qh8+ Kg6 45.Rg8+ Kf5 46.Rf1+ 1-0

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