Round 9: Anand catches Caruana

The script of the GRENKE Chess Classic had seemed set in stone – a single decisive game a day, the World Champion struggling to win and Caruana surviving scares on his way to an inevitable first place – but in the penultimate round that script was tossed out of the window. Caruana fell to defeat against Adams, Anand joined him in the lead by beating Fridman, and Naiditsch was tamed by Meier.

 

 

The tiger from Madras has at times exhibited the frustration of a caged animal here in Baden-Baden, but he remains unbeaten and today chose the perfect moment to pounce. Although Anand was giving little away in the press conference, his victory over Daniel Fridman was obviously cooked up in his home laboratory.

Fridman had out-prepared Fabiano Caruana in the fashionable 5.Nc3 line of the Petroff in Round 5, but this time it was Anand who sprang a surprise in the classical main line. 20.Ra2 was a deviation on a 2009 game between Vladimir Akopian and one of Anand’s current seconds, Rustam Kasimdzhanov (who for that game was seconded by Fridman himself!). After 20…b6 21.Rae2 Fridman took the bait, noting that capturing the pawn was the point of his 20…b6, so it was a little late to turn back now:

 

 

21…Bxa3!? Vishy’s venomous response was 22.Bg4!! which Fridman said he’d “blundered”, although GM Jan Gustafsson on the live commentary said such a quiet move was far from an obvious follow-up to the pawn sacrifice. The natural 22…Bxg4? loses instantly to 23.Nf6+!. Houdini recommends the madness of 22…Be6! 23.Bxh6! Bxg4 24.Nf6+!… and at least initially claims a draw. Fridman’s 22…Rf8 was a decent human response, but after 23.Bxf5 Qxf5 24.Bxc7 Anand had re-established material equality while retaining an attack on Black’s uncoordinated forces. It was only after 24…Rd7 25.Be5! f6 26.Ng3 Qe6 27.Qa4, however, that the outcome of the game was determined:

 

 

27…fxe5! would have left Black only a pawn down, but Fridman’s 27…Nc4? ran into 28.Bd6! (he was only expecting 28.Bxf6). If 28…Qxd6 29.Qxc4+ Kh7 Black’s problem is that 30.Ra2 (and countless other moves) win the homeless a3-bishop – yet another reason to regret taking the poisoned pawn! In the game after 28…b5 Black was simply an exchange down, and things could have ended very quickly.

 

 

Fridman turned interviewer in the post-game press conference: “My main question about the game is why didn’t you just play 33.Rxb6! axb6 34.Ne2! and resigns?” Anand had a good rejoinder – “I never know what’s going to make my opponents resign,” but then admitted he’d simply missed that trick to trap the bishop. It made precious little difference. Anand played 33.Ra6, saying his plan was just “to sit there and hold it tight,” and he did, with Fridman eventually resigning on move 47.

 

 Replay the post-game press conference with Viswanathan Anand and Daniel Fridman

 

 

Georg Meier probably wants this tournament to go on and on as his play, and especially his preparation, is improving by the round. He said Naiditsch had wanted to surprise him, but he was ready with the novelty 11.b3, improving on a game Le Quang Liem had won after playing 11.Qf4 against Mickey Adams at the 2012 Olympiad. He'd prepared the position up to 12.Ne5. Visually it looked nothing much for White, but Meier afterwards kept emphasising his long-term pressure, adding, “Black doesn’t have a clear plan and I have a ton of moves to improve my position”. The crisis came after 25…Na8?!

 

 

White was finally able to play 26.e4! and Naiditsch lashed out with 26…g5!? (a move he manages to make in most of his games with Black!), although here it was born of desperation. Meier explained there was little else Black could do about White advancing his f-pawn. Naiditsch’s brief flurry of activity on the kingside only resulted in his having to sacrifice an exchange to avoid positional strangulation. Meier summed it up: “I got everything I could dream of and just had to calculate a straightforward win”.

The finishing touch to Meier’s strategic triumph came just after the time control:

 

 

42.Rd1! White threatens mate after either white rook goes to d8, and Naiditsch could only avoid the mate by entering a trivially lost rook vs. knight ending. Meier was of course happy to claim his second win, but he had some slight regrets: “I’m a little bit sad – I’d prefer to take points off Fabiano than off my friends”.

 

Replay the post-game press conference with Georg Meier and Arkadij Naiditsch

 

 

The last game to finish was a fiendishly complex Catalan battle between Fabiano Caruana and Michael Adams. In terms of the tournament standings the young tournament leader really only needed a draw. When he avoided a possible repetition guest commentator Jan Gustafsson joked that, “there’s something in the code of a 2750 GM forbidding early repetitions with the white pieces”. As the game went on it became clear Fabiano wanted to win, and his 25.g4!? was already double-edged.

Mickey Adams said afterwards that 31.f3-f4?! had been a strategic error:

 

 

He felt Caruana was hoping to win the d5-pawn but had underestimated 31…Qe6! when the focus switches to the e3-pawn and it’s White on the defensive. Adams later played Bf6-h4-f2 to up the pressure, and although Caruana managed to hold things together until the time control his draw offer after 41.Nxe4 was a little optimistic. Adams saw that he was running no risks by continuing 41…dxe4 42.Qd1 Qf7! (a multi-purpose move that stops Qh5, hits b3 and prevents d5) 43.Rg1 Kh7. Adams played this last move because, in his words, “it’s very hard for White to make a move that doesn’t lose material”. Sure enough, Caruana went wrong immediately with 44.Qe1?

 

 

It was a tense moment for the audience watching both in the hall and on-line, but Adams had actually been contemplating the winning 44…Ne5! for a few moves now. White’s position collapsed like a house of cards: 45.Qb1 Ng4 46.h3 Nf2+ 47.Kh2 Qh5 48. Kg3

 

 

Black had all kinds of ways to take home the full point, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with Adams’ choice of 48…Nxh3! 49.Bxh3 Rg6+. As he said after the game, “after so many rounds without a win I was very happy when I saw a safe continuation.”

 

Replay the post-game press conference with Mickey Adams

 

Round 9 wreaked havoc on the tournament standings. Not only are Anand and Caruana now locked together on 5.5 points, but the only other players with a chance of catching them on the final day are Adams and Meier – something you would have given long odds against just a round or two ago.

1-2. Anand, Caruana: 5.5/9
3-4. Adams, Meier: 4.5
5. Naiditsch: 4
6. Fridman: 3

As you can see, Naiditsch and Fridman have no winning chances, but they still have an absolutely crucial role to play. Fridman, known for his solidity, has the white pieces against Caruana, while Naiditsch, whose fighting chess has made him the man of the tournament, has White against the World Champion. In case of a tie for first place a play-off will be played.

Fridman - Caruana
Adams - Meier
Naiditsch - Anand

Don’t miss our live coverage of the final games on Sunday 17 February. Play starts two hours earlier than usual at 13:00 CET!

Report: Colin McGourty | Photos: Georgios Souleidis | Videos: Macauley Peterson