Report by By WGM Alina l'Ami
For our limited human powers, chess is practically inexhaustible. If all the players in the World played continuously for all their lives, this would not necessarily mean that they would produce even two identical games. This does not apply to tournament situations though.
From the point of view of the results, the second round in Paris was an identical copy of the first one: five draws and just one decisive game on the last (sixth) board! And once again, this did not at all mean that the day was boring for the spectators. On the contrary, we had some hard fought games and a lot of creative tension.
The pairing system ensures a reasonably fair distribution of colours throughout the tournament. However, things can be a bit chaotic when it comes to games played between the same opponents along the years. The second round offers two suggestive examples of this kind.
Wang Hao - Fabiano Caruana
In all their previous encounters, Caruana had played with Black against Wang Hao. The score was simply devastating: 4.5 - 0.5 to the Chinese player's favour. If Fabiano had hoped that in Paris he would get White against his Nemesis, the drawing of lots must have disappointed him rather bitterly: he was to have Black once again. And yet, he managed to cross this difficult psychological barrier and change the rather unfortunate trend by making a draw, true, not without some share of suffering.
Wang Hao chose the rare 6.Na4!? against the Grunfeld. Although in the press conference he assured everyone that Black has many ways to equalize, Caruana mentioned he "found the only way not to, and was suffering throughout the game". It was a difficult task for Caruana to solve the opening problems created by his opponent; probably Vladimir Chuchelov (Caruana's second) was wondering when was the last time they did check this unusual line...
The critical moment was after move 17...Bd5, when White has just sacrificed a pawn:
Perhaps 18.Rfd1 e6 19.Nc3!? was an interesting way to fight for an advantage. After 19...Bxc3 20.bxc3 White has tremendous compensation on the black squares, and if 19....Rd8, 20.Bb5 followed by Bg5 seems to give very serious pressure.
There were plenty of possibilities for Black to go wrong but the Italian played rather accurately and managed to neutralize the strong initiative of the inventive Chinese player.
Leinier Dominguez - Hikaru Nakamura
Things were similar in the over-the-years duel in classical games, between Dominguez and Nakamura: Leinier had had 7 Whites out of the 8 previous games with Nakamura. The score was equal though, with four points each. The second round was played on Dominguez' birthday, so one could hardly expect the pairing to offer him anything else than another White! This did not alter the score balance in any way, though.
An interesting variation of the Open Spanish appeared on the board, where Hikaru managed to equalize slowly but surely. Despite all the efforts of our commentator, Sergey Tiviakov, to break Black's defence, the American never seemed in any trouble whatsoever, which Nakamura confidently demonstrated during the press conference.
According to Hikaru, everything until move 25 has been played before and, although optically the commentators thought that White could have played for attack with h4-h5, nothing seemed to have disturbed the harmonious play of Nakamura.
In the game Leinier chose a safe way of exchanging the knight on g4 and soon a draw was agreed.
As if these coincidences were not enough, I would again mention Nakamura's efforts to fight on in a basically equal position. His 39...f6 in the queen endgame looks like an attempt to maintain his fame of uncompromising fighter...
Etienne Bacrot - Vassily Ivanchuk
It seemed to be a good day with the black pieces for Ivanchuk, who equalized comfortably after the opening. The variation which appeared on the board was similar with the previous round, Dominguez - Ivanchuk, only this time the Ukrainian GM had reversed colours!
It was a rather short draw, under 20 moves, but, nevertheless, a correct one, as the players agreed during the press conference. Just one objection Etienne had for himself: "I don't know why I played so fast 5.Be2...", since later on the bishop would have been better placed on d3.
At the end of the game it was Etienne who was slightly worried that the game would continue after:
17...c5, with unclear play; Vassily was not so sure about it, decided to repeat moves with 17...Bb4 and a draw was soon agreed.
Evgeny Tomashevsky - Boris Gelfand
In the press conference Tomashevsky explained it is nowadays very difficult to gain an advantage, especially against elite players like Boris Gelfand, whom he actually helped as a second several times.
Therefore, he tried to catch Boris in a rare line of the Grunfeld, one that Gelfand previously faced against Mamedyarov, but the Israeli GM deviated with 7...Qa5. The queen sacrifice which Tomashevsky embarked looked more exciting than it was in reality:
11.Qxd8 was played 11...Qxd8 12.Bxc3 followed by the strong 12...Nd7 response; in fact, "it is well-known theory" as Ivanchuk told us. After a series of accurate moves by Black, White was forced to repeat moves and call it a day.
Vassily enjoying not only his own games but also the others, analyzing side by side with GM Sergey Tiviakov the ongoing round!
Ruslan Ponomariov - Anish Giri
The Petroff defence remains a very solid weapon, especially in the hands of Anish Giri. The young Dutchman seemed to know exactly what he was doing today as he slowly sucked all the life out from the position and equalized. Especially the maneouvre:
29...Qb6-c5! is instructive. Without queens on the board it was probably difficult for White to claim an advantage.
In fact, our commentator GM Sergey Tiviakov, wondered if after the queens' exchange, it was not Black the one to have tried to continue playing for a win. But when the game is played in a correct manner, why would the players take unnecessary risks? Although...Anish would always try to fight for more, if only he would be given the chance!
Laurent Fressinet - Alexander Grischuk
In the only decisive game of the second round, after the opening and middlegame, few would have predicted the game would end in a win for White. Alexander Grischuk had a very pleasant position out of the opening, leading further on to a small endgame advantage. We enter the game...
...on move 25 when Black played 25...fxe4. Perhaps it was better to include 25...gxf3 26.gxf3 fxe4 27.fxe4 when Black can also use the 2nd rank to infiltrate with his rooks. In the game Fressinet defended well with the maneouvre Nd2-b1-c3 and in Grischuk's time-trouble even managed to get a serious advantage on the queenside. After the dust of the time-trouble has cleared, it was already too late for Black to save the game...especially if you "underestimate the b4-b5 idea", incarcerating the black bishop on b7, as Alexander told us.
After the first two rounds I believe it is safe to rely on the fact that day by day we will be spoiled with entertaining chess. I would recommend to keep an eye on the game played on the sixth board, the one which has monopolized the decisive games so far...
Round two games in pgn
More photos of today's round
Round two press conferences