When Baden-Baden hosted arguably the world’s first super tournament back in 1870 it began in mid-July. 143 years later February snow was falling on the German spa town as tournament director Sven Noppes welcomed the players onto the stage.
Things soon warmed up, however – Adams and Anand threw caution to the wind, Naiditsch and Fridman engaged in a fierce struggle, but it was Caruana who claimed the day’s only win. The Italian trapped Georg Meier’s king in the centre before ruthlessly applying the finishing touches.
Chess players have a reputation for iron logic, but in their press conference after a dazzling game both World Champion Viswanathan Anand and England’s no. 1 Michael Adams revealed that logic only takes you so far. When commentator IM Lawrence Trent started by asking the players how they were Adams replied, “Good… confused by the game”. The confusion started on move 16.
Adams explained his first thought was, “16.Nd2 is a draw, but such is life – move on”. He’d dismissed 16.f4, but then thought, “Black has so many options that one of them must be good, but which one? Let’s see what happens!” Suddenly Vishy was also faced with a dilemma – all kinds of exchange sacs on e4 are possible and the rook can also simply retreat to e8, but the World Champion claimed his decision was also impulsive: “For some reason I started to like the idea of 16…Rh5, so I decided it was worth a punt”.
The rest of the game was perhaps best summed up by Adams: “I was very suspicious of Rh5 – I was completely unable to refute it in any way, but it looked a very funny move.” After 17.e5 Nd7 18.Qe2 Rh4 19.e6 things looked dicey for Anand, but 19…Nc5! Showed he had the situation under control, even if he still felt Black needed to be very accurate in the play that followed.
Both players were in good spirits afterwards. In the position following 27…Qd7 Adams regretted playing a3. They discussed alternatives, but Vishy brought the discussion to a close by joking, “it would have been a reasonable bluff just to play Rad1 and see if I have the guts to take on a2!”
The hero of the round was the Italian/American prodigy Fabiano Caruana. He started 2013 with a disastrous tournament in Wijk aan Zee, no doubt a shock to the system after a phenomenally successful 2012. In Baden-Baden he bounced straight back, winning a fine game against Georg Meier. Fabiano blitzed out his first 19 moves, featuring two pawn sacs to keep Meier’s king in the centre, while his German opponent was soon struggling over the board.
Although Caruana stopped for a long think before playing 20.Qd3 he revealed afterwards that he simply couldn’t remember all the details of his preparation and suddenly worried that Black’s position would be hard to break down after about 20…Kc8. Meier instead played 20…Nd7 and after 21.b4 Bb6 22.a4 a6 (Meier: “after this I’m just lost”) 23.a5 Ba7 (this is definitely the last nail in the coffin) Caruana’s next move left Black almost in zugzwang: 24.Bf4!
Suddenly the king is caught in a lethal trap. Meier had seen this move in advance, but pinned his hopes on 24…g5 25.Bg3 g4 only to now realise his opponent had 26.Qe2! and mate can only be avoided with heavy loss of material.
Meier instead played 24…Nb8, which Caruana described as “losing on the spot”. In what followed both on the board and on Meier’s lips in the press conference the dominant word was “desperate” as the young German tried to set up traps. Caruana felt he could have been more clinical, but he had no trouble with the mopping up operation.
The last game to finish was the all-German (or even all-Latvian-German) battle between Arkadij Naiditsch and Daniel Fridman. It bore a strong resemblance to Wang Hao –Anand from the final round of Wijk aan Zee, where the Chinese grandmaster somewhat spoilt Anand’s fine tournament with an impressive win. In that game Wang Hao traded off the dark-squared bishops, but Naiditsch instead “maintained the tension” by keeping the bishops on the board with 16.Be3 (a move he criticised after the game). The critical moment perhaps came after 19…Qe5.
IM Lawrence Trent explained for the internet audience that White has no discovered attacks on the black queen as the d4-knight would fall, and that when Black plays Bb4-d6 next move the white king will be in real danger. As it happened 20.Rd1 was followed by 20…Ne4, and the game fizzled out to a draw – though perhaps the process would better be described as a long, slow burn.
So Fabiano Caruana leads after the first round of the GRENKE Chess Classic, but he faces a real test in Thursday’s round two. He has Black against the tournament’s co-favourite, Viswanathan Anand. Don’t miss our live coverage starting at 15:00 CET.
Fridman – Meier
Anand – Caruana
Naiditsch – Adams
Official website: http://www.grenkechessclassic.com/index.php/en/