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Budapest Gambit with Bf4 [A52]
Perhaps the most surprising opening choice in London was Vassily Ivanchuk employing the Budapest Gambit against Levon Aronian. The early phase was quite theoretical, and one which enabled Black to obtain a fully acceptable game.
Just like 'Chuky', Black should head for the diagram position in this line and, despite Aronian introducing a novelty (on move 17), I don't think that White can count on anything significant here. The Armenian built up his pieces, and switched to attacking mode whilst Ivanchuk was munching on the queenside. In serious time pressure, Ivanchuk failed to solve Black's problems, but White's attack should only have been strong enough for a draw, see Game 1.
Leningrad Dutch 7...c6 [A88]
Teimour Radjabov was well prepared for playing against the Leningrad and improved on the high profile encounter Kramnik-Nakamura from three years ago. Indeed White's initiative in Game 2 created persistent problems for Ivanchuk who lost material even before he completed development.
My impression is that if White's 12.Ba3 is so annoying, then it's best avoided with 10...Qa5, rather than insisting on the thematic counter 10...e5 here:
Further games will perhaps confirm this point, but I wouldn't recommend suffering like Ivanchuk did.
Neo-Grünfeld with e3, 10.h3 [D76]
In Game 3, Vladimir Kramnik-Alexander Grischuk, the following position was reached:
At this point, Kramnik introduced a whole new way of handling the line. Instead of 12.e4 (supporting the centre, but blocking the long diagonal), Kramnik introduced the novelty 12.Qc2. After 12...c6 13.b4 Nac4 14.dxc6 he saddled Black with broken queenside pawns. He was then able to obtain some pressure in the middlegame, against which Alexander Grischuk sacrificed his c-pawn for the bishop pair and enough activity to save the day.
Exchange Variation 5.Bd2 [D85]
There were two games featuring this line in the Candidates tournament.
In Game 4 Svidler came up with a new set-up involving 7.f4:
As in a 'Stonewall' (with either colour) or a 'Maroczy' (on the light-squares) the idea is to restrain the opponent's pawn breaks. It worked well here, as in reply Gelfand didn't find a satisfactory plan. Later on, however, Svidler lost his way and his advantage.
From the diagram position, in reply to the new move 7.f4!?, I suggest 7...Be6 with ...0-0, ...Nbd7, and ...c5 to follow.
In Game 5, later in the tournament, Boris Gelfand (who had obviously been booking up this line) decided to give Bd2 a go himself and was able to try out a surprise of his own. Alexander Grischuk reacted aggressively, sacrificing a pawn for perpetual ideas. Gelfand decided that he had nothing better than allowing a draw.
Exchange with Be3 [D85]
One of my favourite games from the whole event was the all-Russian affair in Game 6. Kramnik employs an unusual idea, to which I don't think Svidler reacted very well.
In this tabiya 14.Ke1 has been de rigeur, but Kramnik instead opted for 14.Kc2. This is only the second time this has been played, compared to 200-odd occasions for 14.Ke1. After Kramnik's bombshell I then prefer 14...Na5, but Svidler instead played 14...Ne5. Not wishing to criticize the greatest cricket fan in the whole of Russia too strongly, I just feel this fell into Kramnik's hands. There was perhaps another chance (on move 18) to avoid being too passive, but this was missed. The former World champion had a space advantage throughout and was able to keep any Black counterplay in check. His central pawn majority ultimately turned out to be too tough to handle.
I would recommend 14...Na5 with a quick ...f5 to follow, when I'm not convinced that the king is very well placed on c2.
Exchange with 8.Rb1, 10...Qa5+ [D85]
Of all the variations employed in the tournament, Game 7 has the biggest theoretical history, as I've touched on in the notes. Peter Svidler found a way to avoid problems with Black with a novelty on move 17, which led to a dispirited Radjabov bailing out with a perpetual. On another day, one where he needed to win at all costs, he might have opted for 20.Ba6 which looks unclear. This could be the only way to test Svidler's 17...Bd7.
Alexander Grischuk employed the eyebrow-raising 5.h4 in Game 8:
One could label this the 'Beijing variation', as most of the previous key games were played there in Rapid or Blitz. This however was classical chess, the Candidates tournament, and his opponent was the World No.1. Enterprising stuff! Neither player was able to make any inroads and the early repetition occurred in an equal position.
5 Bf4, 6 e3 [D93]
In Game 9, Vassily Ivanchuk against Magnus Carlsen, the Ukrainian veteran was able to react to Carlsen's use of a sideline with a strong novelty:
No one seems to have previously played 11.Qa3! in this position. After that Magnus was on the defensive.
The Norwegian soon had to shed a pawn to ease the pressure and then played the rest of the game trying to nullify White's advantage, which he eventually did.
Played in a later round, Boris Gelfand was ready for Bf4 and had prepared a superior line (to Carlsen's), which is featured in Game 10. This time it was Ivanchuk who had to be careful, as Kramnik's 11...Qxa2! seems quite strong. The Ukrainian then tried 12.c6 and led the game into an early repetition, but I suspect that Black could have tried for more (again with ...Qa2!).
In the earlier game Fridman-Kramnik, 12.Qb3 at least enabled White to keep the balance.
Note that all eight candidates featured this month in 'Daring Defences' openings!
Till next month, Glenn Flear
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