Dinged - First Move Chess -First Move Chess


Everyone is raving over Magnus Carlsen’s return to vintage form, as his flying start to the 6th Altibox Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, with impressive wins in rounds one and three over Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian respectively, begins to pay big dividends for the World Champion as he confidently consolidated his lead at the top with a comfortable fourth-round draw with the Black pieces against Hikaru Nakamura, his long-time US rival.

Carlsen leads outright on 3/4, just ahead of his former title-challenger Sergey Karjakin, who moved to within half a point of the Norwegian hometown hero after the Russian uncorked a wonderful piece of opening preparation in the notoriously complex Grünfeld Defence, Exchange Variation to beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a very classy game. And to make it a black day for Black in the Grünfeld, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov similarly lost to Aronian also in the Exchange Variation.

Those were bad beats for the Grünfeld, but the biggest ‘ding’ of the tournament happened not at the board but during a bicycle ride! China’s world No 4, Ding Liren, unfortunately, broke his hip bone on the rest day when he fell off his bike attempting to take a corner at high speed. Ding had to endure surgery first thing on Friday morning and his fourth-round game with US title-challenger Fabiano Caruana was postponed – at least for now – until the next official rest day.

It’s not known if Ding will be able to play on, and a decision will be taken early Saturday afternoon as to whether he needs to withdraw with his remaining three games cancelled. Although the surgery was a success, I will be amazed if he was able to continue in the tournament, as apart from the fact he’ll still be in pain and medicated, it will also be very uncomfortable sitting for long periods at a time at the board.

But if Ding does continue, it doesn’t necessarily mean he cant go on to win the tournament. At Tilburg in 1985, Tony Miles famously shared first equal alongside Korchnoi and Hubner, in a most remarkable way. The top English grandmaster began badly, then an old back problem flared up. The organisers took pity and allowed him to play the rest of his games stretched out on his stomach on a hospital massage table to alleviate the pain. Miles then went on to score a series of wins, and his opponents were reduced to a petition for the table’s removal.

1. M. Carlsen (Norway) 3/4; 2. S. Karjakin (Russia) 2.5; 3-6. H. Nakamura (USA), W. So (USA), V. Anand (India), L. Aronian (Armenia) 2; 7. Ding Liren 1.5/3; 8-9. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 1.5; 10. F. Caruana (USA) 1/3.

Photo: From Russia with Love…Karjakin hits MVL with a big novelty | © Lennart Ootes (Altibox Norway Chess)

GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
6th Altibox Norway Chess, (4)
Grünfeld Defence, Exchange Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Bc4 c5 8.Ne2 Nc6 9.Be3 The old Grünfeld Exchange main-line is a wonderfully complex opening, though White has always seemed to score very highly against it at top GM level. But at elite-level, MVL is arguably today’s biggest Grünfeld maven. 9…0-0 10.0-0 b6 A normally reliable pawn sacrifice from Black – suggested by Paul Keres, I believe – with the idea being to rapidly activate his pieces around a cluster of strategic key squares (…Ba6/…Be6, …Ne5-c4 & …Rfd8 etc) and target the weak White pawns on a2, c3 & e4. 11.dxc5 Qc7 12.Nd4 Grabbing the pawn and trying to hang on to it is just plays into Black’s plan. After 12.cxb6 axb6 13.f3 Ne5 14.Bd5 Rb8 15.Qc2 e6 16.Bb3 Ba6! 17.Rfd1 Nc4 and Black’s grip on the c4-square and the white-squares – along with the pawn weaknesses on a2 and c3 – gives him excellent compensation. 12…Ne5 13.Nb5 Qb8 14.Be2 bxc5 15.Rb1 Up to here, we had been following another MVL game, namely Wesley So v MVL from Tata Steel 2015, which continued 15.f4 Ng4 16.Bxc5 a6 17.Na3 Qc7 18.Bd4 e5! 19.fxe5 Nxe5 where Black had excellent compensation for the pawn, and easily went on to draw in 43 moves. But it seems that Karjakin had been burning the midnight oil at home and worked out a different plan for White. 15…a6 16.Na3!?N The most obvious try was 16.Nd4 that was seen in Ganguly-Giri, Spanish Team Ch., 2012, where after 16…Qc7 17.Nb3 Rd8 18.Qc2 c4!? 19.Nc5 Nd3 20.Nxd3 cxd3 21.Bxd3 Qxc3 22.Qxc3 Bxc3 23.Bc4 Bd7 Black has nothing to fear; and in fact, Giri went on to outplay his lesser-rated opponent in the ensuing endgame. But Karjakin’s new idea cuts across ideas of …c4 and …Nd3, and with the intention of getting his own knight to the very useful c4 square – and his new plan might well revive the old main-line for White again. 16…Qc7 17.f4 Rd8 18.Qc2 Ng4 19.Bxg4 Bxg4 20.f5!? This is obviously straight out of the ex-world championship challenger’s legendary home preparation. The idea is to disconnect the …Bg4 and stop the strategic retreat with …Be6 after a Nc4 – and it also forces Black to compromise his own kingside defences. 20…gxf5 21.Nc4 e6 The obvious try is 21…Rab8 but after 22.Rbe1 MVL likely feared that all of White’s pieces look primed to launch a big kingside attack – and he probably rightly assessed that Karjakin had analysed the ensuing attack at home in Russia. 22.h3 Bh5 23.exf5 exf5 24.Bg5 f4!? What was worrying for MVL here, was that Karjakin was confidently flicking out his moves without much thought – and that’s always a big concern at elite-level when someone has uncorked a TN! And while sacrificing the exchange may have come as a surprise to many, it sort of made ‘Grünfeld sense’, and it at least momentarily also made Karjakin stop to reassess the position in front of him. But to his credit, Karjakin finds a very brave yet very accurate continuation. 25.Qf2! It gets to become more than just a little complex now, and it looks as if MVL has excellent counterplay prospects. The other option was to simply take the rook, but after 25.Bxd8 Rxd8 26.Rb2!? (Better than the obvious 26.Rbe1 that falls right into the cunning 26…f3!? and Black looks to have more than enough compensation here for his sacrificed material, as White may well have to bail-out here with a draw by perpetual with 27.gxf3 Bxc3! 28.Qxc3 Qg3+ 29.Kh1 Qxh3+ 30.Kg1 Qg3+ 31.Kh1 Qh3+ etc.) 26…f3! 27.gxf3 Bg6 28.Qh2! Qxh2+ 29.Kxh2 Bxc3 where with the active bishop-pair and extra pawn, Black looks to have more than enough compensation to hold the draw. 25…f3 26.Bxd8 Rxd8 27.Qh4! [see diagram] The real reason for Karjakin’s 25.Qf2, with the queen now successfully crossing over to the kingside for excellent attacking prospects. 27…fxg2 This position looks really dangerous for White to defend – but Karjakin has finely calculated all the dangers involved, with the Black pawn on g2 offering the necessary protection for his king! 28.Rfe1 Bf3 29.Re3 Bc6 30.Rbe1 The threat is Re7 with White’s attack being the more dangerous. 30…Rf8 If only there was some way for MVL to get his dark-squared bishop into the attack, then all is not lost – but there’s no way to get it into the fray. 31.Ne5! Now the big threat is Rg3 and Black’s king will surely be doomed. 31…Bd5 32.Rg3 f6 Forced, otherwise Qf6! wins on the spot. 33.Nd3 With the winning idea of Nd3-f4-h5. 33…Bxa2 34.c4 Now both of Black’s bishops are out of the game, and White’s pieces have a free rein to force home the winning attack. 34…Qd6 35.Nf4 Qd4+ 36.Kh2 Bxc4 37.Qh6 f5 38.Nh5 1-0 MVL resigns, as there’s no way to defend g7 with 38…Rf7 going down to 39.Re8+.


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