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Hello everyone,
Last time I mostly focused on the first super tournament of the year in Wijk aan Zee, and this time my choice was even more obvious - the Candidates. I also included one of my own games from the closed tournament in St Louis. The variety of openings won't be big this time with most of the games being played in the Spanish and the only other game in the Petroff, but what a game! Moreover, the game Aronian-Kramnik is worth including in the textbooks with an original and brilliant kingside attack from the ex-champ.
We can see a certain change of trend at the top level from the Italian to the Spanish, although the latter has never really lost its popularity.

Download PGN of March ’18 1 e4 e5 games

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Spanish, Marshall 13.d3 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qh4 15.g3 Qh3 16.Be3 Bxd3 17.Nd2 Qf5 18.Bd4 [C89]

I will start with the game So, Wesley - Ding Liren, Berlin Candidates 2018(3), which saw a long theoretical line.

The players reached the well-known diagram position, which has been played by a few top players, but mostly by Aronian. The Chinese player played the relatively rare 18...Rfd8, instead of the more common 18...Rfe8, although the earlier move had been seen already twice this year. After 19.a4 the players exchanged two waiting moves 19...h6 and 20.h4 and after 20...Rac8, White went for simplifications in the hope of taking advantage of the open a-file. However, Black sacrificed a pawn with the correct 24...b4 and equalised without any visible problems. An easy game for the Chinese player, who probably knew most of it beforehand. White didn't show any serious novelty and so the ball is still in his court.

Spanish, Anti-Marshall 8.a4 b4 9.a5 d6 10.d3 Be6 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.Nbd2 Rb8 [C88]

In the game So,W - Aronian, L Berlin Candidates 2018(6), the American player decided to deviate from the main Marshall, which he'd faced three rounds earlier.

Here Wesley went for the line with 13.Nb3, which first appeared in tournament practice about 50 years ago in a game featuring the strong Sovier player Nezhmetdinov, who was on the black side. Aronian followed a recent game of Carlsen, who met it with 13...Qc8, when the main alternative is 13...Qe8, and here White introduced the interesting novelty, 14.h3!, instead of 14.Qe2. Aronian's reaction 14...Nd8 was reasonable, but he was the first to go astray starting with slightly inaccurate 18...exd4 and then after with the dubious 22...Kh8?! and following 23.Qc2 he found himself under pressure, which he eventually succumbed to. White's new setup with 14.h3 is interesting, but Black should be able to equalise with precise defence, 14...Na7,18...bxc3 and 21...Nd7 are all possible ways to improve over Black's play.

Spanish. 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 [C84]

Our next Spanish is another game with Wesley So, Grischuk,A - So, Wesley Berlin Candidates 2018(2), but this time on the black side.

After 9...Bb7, instead of the more popular 9...Na5, and 10.Nbd2 the players reached a position which has never been seen at the GM level, which is rare for the Spanish, especially at the top. However, after 10...Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Re1 they transposed to an old game Yudasin, L - Ivanchuk, V from the candidates matches of 1991. Wesley was the first to deviate from that game with the slightly premature 12...d5 instead of 12...Na5. Grischuk missed a chance to prove it with 16.Qd3!, as instead he played the somewhat inaccurate 16.cxd4, but soon So returned the favour with 17...Rfe8?! and 18...Nf6?! Thus he came under a strong attack from all the white pieces and had to give up a piece to stay in the game, just to reach the first time control in a completely lost position. A well-played game by Grischuk and a surprisingly quick collapse by the American player. Black should prefer 12...Na5 or 12...h6.

Spanish, Berlin Wall 9.h3 Ke8 10.Nc3 h5 11.Bf4 Be7 12.Rad1 Be6 13.Ng5 Rh6 14.Rfe1 Bb4 [C67]

Our next game, Kramnik, V - Karjakin, S Berlin Candidates 2018(2), saw a slight surprise, the ex-champ on the white side of the Berlin endgame.

In the diagram position Kramnik played the relatively rare 15.a3, instead of the 15.g4 which the Russian vice-champion has already faced before. However, the text isn't new at the top level, and the players followed a game from the Chinese league, Yu Yangyi - Malakhov,V [Mikhalevski,V] up to 17...Rh8, when Vlad deviated with 18.Bg5 instead of the 18.Nd4 from the aforementioned game. White managed to set some problems and should he have played 25.Nd5 or 29.Bd8 he would have retained the better chances, but instead allowed Black to equalise and everything ended in an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops. The Berlin endgame will stay here for a long time and I doubt it will ever be refuted. Nevertheless, White will keep trying to put pressure and win some games - Kramnik's novelty 18.Bg5 deserves attention and is one of the ways to set problems for Black.

Spanish, Anti-Berlin 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.0-0 Qe7 [C65]

If the previous game saw Kramnik on the wrong side of the Berlin, the game Aronian, L - Kramnik, V Berlin Candidates 2018(3), saw the Armenian player on the wrong side of the Anti-Berlin.

In the well-known diagram position Levon played 7.h3?!, which has been played before, but Kramnik met it with the brilliant new idea of 7...Rg8!, and after 8.Kh1?! Nh5! White came under a very strong attack and collapsed surprisingly quickly. The final position of the game is worth another diagram:

A brilliant victory of Kramnik's, who surprised his opponent with an extremely strong opening idea and virtually refuted 7.h3?! So, 7.Nbd2 has to be preferred.

Spanish with early 3...g6 4.c3 a6 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.d4 exd4 7.cxd4 Bg4 [C60]

The game Karjakin, S - Mamedyarov, S Berlin Candidates 2018(1) saw an aggressive opening choice from the Azeri GM:

Once again the players reached a rare position very early in the game and White's 8.Qb3!? was already a novelty. It didn't come as a surprise to Mamedyarov, though, who answered it with 8...Bxf3 9.gxf3 Bg7 10.Be3 Ne7! 11.Nc3 Bxd4 when Sergey was the first to err with 12.Bxd4?!, when 12...Qxd4 left him under pressure. However, his 14.Qxc7?! could have led to some problems had Black played 14...Nd5! Eventually White found himself in an unpleasant queen endgame, which he didn't manage to save. Karjakin's novelty 8.Qb3 doesn't seem to promise any opening advantage, and I still think that 4.d4 is the way to set problems.

Spanish, Aronian System 4...g6 5.c3 Bg7 6.0-0 Nge7 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 b5 9.Bc2 d6 10.h3 0-0 11.Nc3 Na5 [C60]

The game Liang, Awonder - Mikhalevski, V Spring Classic St Louis 2018, is the only non-candidates game in this update.

In this well-known diagram position Liang introduced an extremely rare idea, 12.b3!?, instead of the much more common 12.Bf4 (at the GM level). I reacted with the logical 12...c5!? And after 13.Bg5!? h6 14.Be3 went for the principled 14...f5. White could try to punish me for this risky play with 15.dxc5!, but instead he played the relatively slow 15.Rc1. His 17.Nd5? was a mistake and allowed me to seize the initiative, when instead 17.Ne2 or 17.dxc5 had to be preferred. After this the game went downhill for White and we soon liquidated into a winning bishop endgame for Black. A comfortable win over the American wonder boy. Even though the opening line is slightly provocative, it keeps bringing me points and so White should play very precisely to prove its incorrectness. Despite White's loss, 12.b3 is an interesting way to try.

Petroff Defence 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 Qe7 6.Nc3 [C42]

Finally, the game Kramnik, V - Caruana, F Berlin Candidates 2018(4) saw an innocent-looking line of the Petroff with 5.Qe2 and 6.Nc3. Both players finished development and after 14...Kf8 it seemed that the game would end in a draw:

However, Kramnik started to complicate the game and overdid it by playing 19.c4?!, when instead he had at least a couple of safer alternatives, such as 19.Re3 or 19.f4. Caruana proved the text to be wrong with the strong 19...g4!, and then after when White erred with 20.Ne4? he achieved a better position. Vlad's further attempt to complicate matters, 23.c5?!, only worsened an already dangerous position and it seemed that the game wouldn't last too long, but... it was here that the most exciting part of the game really started. Its yours to enjoy! What a game! Both players missed winning chances amid a very surprising craziness in such a quiet opening line. Objectively 6.Nc3 doesn't promise much, but those, who like to play endgames and look for small practical chances are welcome to follow Vladimir Kramnik's example.

See you next month, Victor.

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