How many games did I get right? It looks like one. Ding and So did indeed draw as expected. I shall not make any further predictions 😉
I am still surprised that Naka effortlessly beat the unbeatable Giri and that Anand played the Caro Kann and beat MVL. It’s actually not that surprising that Svidler lost again, because it seems that he overlooks tactics and mishandles techinical positions just as well. In his current form even the type of position doesn’t matter anymore.
One game was very interesting from a educational standpoint and that is Caruana-Topalov. In particular it was Fabi’s decision on move 19, because it is a nice example for the move-search-algorithm.
Let’s go through the process of finding candidate moves:
Are both kings safe? Yes, there is no shade of an attack.
Can we win material? Not by force. We can threaten to win the two bishops with h3, but it belongs into the next cathegory.
Can we improve our pawn-structure? From left to right, we can play b3, d5, dxe5 and h3 of course. The first choice b3 gives up the bishop pair and white can’t even capture back in the end. Closing the center with d5 looks playable. Taking on e5 looks playable also. Finally there is the move h3, which is already on the list.*
Can we improve our pieces? The queen is placed well on d1. The rooks are ok too. The bishop a2 looks weird and could be improved. There is also the option of taking on f6 and playing Nd5 similar to the outpost in the Sveshnikov.
I think this give us a realistic list of candidate moves to work with: h3, d5, dxe5, Bb1 and Bxf6. That’s actually a lot of playable moves for any middlegame position in chess and it shows why the Ruy Lopez is such a rich opening.
Let’s look at them one after the other:
h3 threatens to win the two bishops or at least threatens to get rid of the pin. Furthermore it creates luft for the king and a retreat square for the knight. It looks like a decent move.
Closing the center with d5 removes the tension from the center and in this position it is difficult to follow it up with the break b3. The other problem is that this move is very committal.
Taking on e5 also removes the tension from the center and petty much the same considerations apply.
Bb1 is a double purpose move: It uncovers the Ra1 and it overprotects e4 in order to follow up with h3, g4 and dxe5. It does allow tactics in the center though.
Taking on f6 and playing Nd5 can be answered with Bd8 and it is not clear if the powerful knight is enough to compensate for the two bishops. This move is very committal also.
If Fabi doesn’t want to committ yet, he is down to two choices: h3 and Bb1. I think h3 would have been the natural move in this position and it is also the top candidate of the engines, but he decided on the rather artificial Bb1 with all the consequences. For me it was a strange decision, but who am I?
About the predictions, I lied! Here are they for round 3:
* An argument can be made for not looking any further since in quiet positions improving the pawn structure is more important than improving the pieces.
In the past there was a clear tendency in games between So and Nakamura and that was a draw without a fight. It felt like they had a secret contract to not hurt each other. This time it was different, Nakamura simply got outprepared. The key to the game is the word “compensation”. Wesley sacrficied two pawns, where the engines think he doesn’t have enough compensation. Then Naka gave an exchange back, where the engines think he has enough compensation. Both evaluations turned out to be wrong. This game shows how modern chess works. It’s about finding lines that get misevaluated by engines and of course players who uncritically play such lines.
The other games pretty much turned out as expected. Svidler tried to play the Marshall in order to draw. Topalov played a sideline and made his opponent think on his own. Svidler took over an hour at one point, blundered and basically forced Topalov to collect the full point. Giri, who plays a lot of 1.e4 as of late, blew an advantage in the Najdorf and drew MLV. Ding drew Aronjan in a game that nobody cared about. Last but not least, Fabi surprised Anand with the Winawer, but Anand bailed out and managed to draw. That was an interesting decision based on the fact that nobody on the highest level plays the French, but nobody knows how to beat it either.
How did the first round change the outlook? If Wesley draws every other game, he will finish +1 and he knows it. I expect him to play for a win against Topalov, but that’s the only risk that he will take in the remainder of the tournament. Naka on the other hand will raise his risk level to get back in the race, but pushing the random button in this field will probably backfire. Aronjan relies on people giving him chances, but I don’t see this happening. Anand has a similar style, but he gets more chances, because people think he is on the decline and will take slightly more risks against him. Caruana and MLV are in the race to win it. Giri and Ding are on schedule to draw it. Topalov will just play for fun and look what happens and Svidler will have to fight hard to keep his face. I am still waiting for him to show anger, probably for the first time in his life. In Baseball there is a saying: “Nice guys finish last”. Baseball isn’t Cricket, but it’s close.
Time flies and only a few months after the event in Belgium the superstars are back at the board to compare their computer analysis. Personally I don’t understand why Topalov still gets invited to such events and I don’t understand why Svidler got invited to replace Kramnik either. He is simply not himself anymore ever since his dramatic loss to Karjakin. After the disasterous performance in his recent match against MVL it is tough to imagine him winning a single game in this field, even in the first round against Topalov. Adding Grischuk to the lineup would have certainly made the tournament more attractive. Speaking about not winning games, we also have Anish Giri and Ding Liren in the field and of course our absolute favorite Wesley So. To be fair, there is a decent chance that they will all beat Topalov though. If anyone was ever totally overrated in the world rankings, it’s him. Although one has to admit that he isn’t exactly a Drawmeister, so he doesn’t do any stat padding.
Today’s game features the bishop sacrifice in the Sveshnikov which is suprising, because the version with 13. b4 was considered to be dubious for over a decade. In the year 2000 german Drawmeister Thomas Luther used it to steal half a point from Luke McShane. Two years later Leko came up with a very strong improvement for black and busted Luther without a fight. Over the last 14 years engines have improved a lot and now Mamedov seems to be ready to discuss this line again. Well, Jobava reproduced McShane’s moves, so there was no discussion.
For today’s episode, I chose a game from the 8th round of the Turkish Super League between two women that is probably some sort of match preparation, since both players followed the computer line all the way to the end.
There is also a game from the 6th round that is worth mentioning: