The Dortmund tournament was yet again the scene of baffling results. The briefness of the tournament lends itself both to solid, conservative play and to underdogs on a hot streak. We saw both this year. Jan Gustafsson, the lowest-rated player in the tournament and the one with the least elite experience, was the clear leader headed into Saturday's penultimate round. He had white against Leko, who had been displaying his usual umbrella-on-a-sunny-day caution up to that point and was trailing the leader by a half-point. Leko steadily outplayed the German underdog out of his favorite Queen's Indian to reach a favorable endgame. Larry Christiansen thought that White would be able to hang on for a long time with decent drawing chances, but it ended surprisingly quickly. 39.Nd5 put the knight on an obvious square but it also fatally limited the movement of his queenside pawns. The anticipated pawn race never materialized and Gustafsson resigned on move 45.
That flipped the standings at the top and Leko entered today's final round needing only a draw with white against Naiditsch for his third Dortmund title (1999, 2002). That came as effortlessly as you might have expected in a Marshall line Leko used several times a few weeks ago at the Yerevan rapid event, where he showed good form. Leko had better formula tiebreaks than Nepomniachtchi and Gustafsson, so even if their last-round game ended decisively the winner wouldn't take the title. That became a moot point when they agreed a draw soon after Leko and Naiditsch, leaving the Hungarian in clear first on +2. Congratulations to Peter on his clutch victory on Saturday and his tournament win. (Which, by the way, was anticipated by his manager Carsten Hensel, who said that Kramnik's energies were more focused on the Anand match.) Kudos to Gustafsson for a very impressive run and to both him and Nepomniachtchi for reminding us once again that rating isn't everything and that more top tournaments should include hungry "outsiders" like them. Mamedyarov and Ivanchuk joined the +1 festival with their last-round wins. Naiditsch finished even with two wins and two losses.
Attention then turned to van Wely-Mamedyarov, which we watched the way NASCAR fans look forward to the inevitable 10-car crash. van Wely showed early on with 12.g4!? that his fighting spirit remained undiminished despite his laying more eggs than a Barnevelder lately. Mamedyarov got through the complications and played the transition into the endgame brilliantly. The unexpected black counterplay with the Rac8-c6-a6 maneuver gave him full compensation for two sacrificed pawns. By move 33 time trouble added to van Wely's problems. On ICC Chess.FM, Kaidanov estimated objective chances to be about even in a wild race, but with the Dutchman out of form and out of time, disaster was in the hall and pounding on the door. Analysis shows several drawing lines came and went, though it's barely worth mentioning the insane computer concept of allowing Black to queen with 37.Ke4!!? c2 38.Kxd5 c1Q 39.Re7+ Kg8 40.Rg7+ Kh8 41.Rc7! with a repetition draw by force. Really. (There's an even more amusing way for White to win with 41..Qxc7?? 42.Bxc7 Kg8 43.Ke6 Rxd4 44.f7+ Kf8 45.f3! controlling the e4 square and creating an amazing winning line of tripled pawns.) But even without that silliness, White had better survival chances with Kc2 on moves 36 and 37. But with no time it ended quickly, giving Mamedyarov his first win of the event after six draws and van Wely his fifth loss and third in a row. Ow. This may actually drop van Wely out of the top 100 on the October list if he doesn't make up ground. I'd say he needs a vacation. He's been playing constantly and several people told me that it hasn't been a good year for him on the home front.
Well after we had signed off Ivanchuk finished a masterful grind of Vladimir Kramnik, a man who is not often ground. I was impressed simply by their playing on beyond move 22 after early trades in a standard Petroff line made it look like a typical final-round non-game was on the way. Instead, Ivanchuk got a nagging plus with a bishop versus a knight and simply outplayed Kramnik inch by inch in Karpovian style. Nice of Chucky to wake up for the second half. Two losses for Kramnik's Petroff (another angel got its wings!) and a negative score in Dortmund for the former world champion, who ended up relegated to 7th place. I certainly owe Nick de Firmian a few beers on our bet. (I took Kramnik against the field for at least a share of first.) Are Kramnik's Petroff woes a boon or bust for Anand? Kramnik may now dump, or at least seriously retool, his main weapon against 1.e4, which Anand plays almost exclusively. The Bonn organizers certainly hoped to bill Anand-Kramnik as #1 vs #2, but that's looking very far off now, as Kramnik will shed around 15 points and possibly drop out of the top five. Heck, Carlsen and Ivanchuk are making moves on Vishy's #1 spot...
An intriguing event if not really an exciting one. Draws dropped to 60% from last year's 70% thanks mostly to van Wely's self-immolation. There were several excellent games with both of Kramnik's losses standing out. Nepomniachtchi played interesting chess and still got through the tough field without a loss. "Morozevich Junior" doesn't turn 18 for a few weeks and is showing he can play solidly, not just speculatively.