The London Classic is over and full reports in this column will follow in the new year. Meanwhile, we now know the line-up for the World Championship candidates tournament, which is to be staged in Berlin next March and will determine the challenger to Magnus Carlsen for the supreme title. Leading results in the Fidé (World Chess Federation) event in Palma de Mallorca were as follows: 1= Dmitry Jakovenko and Lev Aronian 5½.
The upshot is that the following players now have secure places in the Candidates tournament: Sergei Karjakin, Lev Aronian, Ding Liren, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Alexander Grischuk, Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So and Vladimir Kramnik. The two games from Palma that caught my eye were, paradoxically, both wins against the normally super-solid Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri.
Li Chao-Giri; Palma de Mallorca 2017; Slav Defence
1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 cxd5 It may seem harmless playing for a symmetrical position in this line of the Slav Defence, however the Exchange Variation has been employed with success at a very high level. Alekhine once used it to defeat Euwe, Botvinnik employed it to win against Tal while Portisch crushed Petrosian in the same line. If three world champions can succumb with Black, then the Exchange line clearly contains more than a drop of poison. 3 … cxd5 4 Nf3 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bf4 Bf5 7 e3 e6 8 Qb3 Alternatives are 8 Bb5, as used by Botvinnik against Tal, and the immediate 8 Ne5. 8 … Bb4 9 Ne5 Qb6 10 Nxc6 bxc6 The trade on c6 has left Black with a slightly inferior pawn structure. However, Giri was playing in secure knowledge that he was following established theory. 11 Be2 Ne4 12 f3 Nxc3 13 bxc3 Be7 14 c4 Qxb3 15 axb3 Bb4+ 16 Kf2 a5 17 Rhc1 Natural but new. 17 Ra2 has been seen before. 17 … Kd7 18 g4 Bg6 19 cxd5 exd5 20 e4 In a seemingly arid situation this sacrifice enlivens the game. 20 … dxe4 21 d5 (see diagram 1) Black’s next move seems forced but is in fact the decisive error. Instead he should tread an ostensibly perilous path with 21 cxd5 22 Bb5+ Ke6 23 Rc6+ Ke7 24 Rc7+ Kf8. Here, Black can cling on since he will regroup with … h5 followed by … Kg8 and … Kh7 with balanced chances. 21 … c5 22 Bb5+ Kd8 23 Bd6 Rc8 24 Bc6 h5 25 g5 exf3 26 Bxc5 Bxc5+ 27 Rxc5 Re8 28 Rcxa5 Re2+ 29 Kxf3 Rxh2 30 b4 Kc7 (see diagram 2) Black has struggled manfully but he is ultimately helpless against the advance of White’s passed pawns. 31 b5 Rh3+ 32 Kf2 Rb3 33 Ra7+ Kd6 34 Rd7+ Kc5 35 Rc1+ Kd4 36 d6 Rb2+ 37 Kg1 Bf5 38 Rxf7 g6 39 d7 Rd8 40 Re7 Black resigns There is no defence to Re8.
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