The former World Champion leads the field in Berlin.
Vladimir Kramnik played a brilliant game Monday to take sole 1st place after three rounds in Berlin. Mamedyarov and Caruana, who had been tied with Kramnik going into the round, drew a tense encounter to stay half a point behind.
It shouldn’t be too controversial to call this the game of the day. There was drama right from the start as Aronian began with 1. e4, not a move he has often played. Commentator GM Peter Svidler found it so shocking he briefly considered whether or not it was a transmission error. A match versus a former World Champion in a Candidates Tournament is a very brave moment to experiment in the opening and there was much speculation as to exactly what Aronian’s reasons were. Kramnik predictably played a Berlin defense, which could reasonably be renamed the “Kramnik Defense” at this point. Most commentators point to 7. h3 as Aronian’s first mistake, giving a “hook” for the pawn storm that would quickly overwhelm him. In the press conference after the game, Kramnik would downplay the attack that followed, saying that every move played was “natural.” However, many less sophisticated players (including this article’s author) were impressed with attacking moves like 7...Rg8, 18...f5, and 19...Rxg5. It is very unusual to see a super GM be able to put up so little resistance.
Levon Aronian, not in a good mood.
Caruana and Mamedyarov had a hard act to follow but came reasonably close; on a different day this game would have been the gem of the round. Mamedyarov played the Najdorf defense, an opening which has a reputation for producing interesting games - and this game was no exception. A beginner who has just been taught about positions with opposite-side castling will be deeply confused by this game as the two players ignored the conventional wisdom. Instead of attacking on the side where the opponent's king was located, they attacked on the side of their own king. Fabi pressed on the queenside and Mamedyarov on the kingside. Mamedyarov “broke through” first, winning a pawn on the kingside, but Caruana then won an exchange. The resulting position was more stable than one might expect, and the two players eventually agreed to a draw.
It seems odd that a game where Black sacrificed a pawn for activity and a kingside attack would be such an afterthought, but the Marshall gambit will have that effect. When a player talks about an opening being “analyzed to death,” it is openings like the Marshall they have in mind. Wesley So was 0/2 going into the round and must have been happy to secure a draw without having to find many moves over the board.
During the press conference after the game, Alexander Grischuk suggested that this game should be ignored in favor of the far more exciting games above. Excellent advice Sasha!
Tomorrow is a rest day and the players will resume play on Wednesday. The pairings will be: Karjakin - Aronian, Kramnik - Caruana, Grishuck - Ding, and Mamedyarov - So.