The reduction in players and rounds from last year's Sparkassen Chess Festival in Dortmund, Germany makes getting off to a quick start all the more important. So far, top seed GM Fabiano Caruana is quickest off the blocks.
The world number four is now nearly the world number three after starting 2.5/3. (If you round up, Caruana is actually now tied with GM Alexander Grischuk.) Caruana won the opening two rounds before drawing Tuesday.
In round two, he played the topical 5. Nc3 variation against the Petroff Defense. Eventually, he restored his pawn structure and took over the board's only open file. By move 26, he'd captured GM Ruslan Ponomariov's only piece off the back row, leaving the former world champion with all of his remaining army huddled on the 8th rank.
GM Fabiano Caruana versus GM Ruslan Ponomariov (all photos courtesy official site and Dagobert Kohlmeyer)
From there he took over the game slowly, much like he had done in round one. The finish, however, was quite special -- see if you can solve it for yourself.
Here's the entire game for review:
Also in round two, top German GM Arkadij Naiditsch dropped fellow countryman GM David Baramidze to 0-2. The loss was particularly deflating for Baramidze, who managed no points from his two Whites to begin the event.
Naiditsch took over the initiative with the far-from-obvious 8...e5! (What is it with the pawn sac ...e5 from Black in the first moves of the game? GM Harikrishna also played it in Biel.)
GM David Baramidze versus GM Arkadij Naiditsch
Naiditsch got the pawn back via a common tactic, then traded his initiative for the two bishops. That positional advantage was then given up to destroy White's pawn structure, but the game really was decided based on some precise calculation. 27. Rc7 signaled the answering of an attack with an attack, but after a very long and mostly forced sequence, Naiditsch won a piece despite getting forked in similar fashion to earlier in the game!
First-round surprise GM Georg Meier couldn't take down another 2700 in round two, but he did draw comfortably with GM Peter Leko. Meier seems to be benefitting from his strong teammates at Webster University. As his coach, GM Susan Polgar, tweeted, "He's the second highest-rated German but 5th on the Webster University Spice Team!"
GM Vladimir Kramnik, Meier's victim from round one, suffered another big disappointment. Against last year's champion, GM Michael Adams, he failed to convert with two extra and connected passed pawns in the endgame.
It should be noted another similarity to Harikrishna in Biel -- another Trompowsky (another the Indian "received" the Tromp, courtesy of GM Vachier-Lagrave).
GM Michael Adams versus GM Vladimir Kramnik; the two have met about 50 times over the board.
Tuesday's round three quelled the winning, as all four games were drawn. Kramnik again squandered an advantage, this time in the middlegame. Baramidze denied his opponent his first win while getting himself on the board.
The slow start and two fewer rounds from last year means Kramnik will be quite challenged to win his 11th title in Dortmund.
Caruana thus still leads with 2.5/3, followed by native sons Naiditsch and Meier, both on 2/3. Adams and Leko, with five titles between them, both have three draws to sit at 1.5/3. Following them are past world champions Ponomariov and Kramnik on 1/3, and finally Baramidze on 0.5/3.
Play resumes Wednesday at 3 p.m. local (CEST), which is GMT +2 or 9 a.m. New York. The biggest match from a standings perspective will be Caruana-Meier.