There were two decisive results in the first round of the annual elite tournament.

The Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, featuring some of the very best players in the world as well as top German players, has been a first-class event for many years. This year is no different as it includes Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, Fabiano Caruana of the United States, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France — the players ranked Nos. 2, 3, and 4 in the world, respectively.

The rest of the field is also strong — Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba (No. 36), Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine (No. 40), Evgeny Najer of Russia (No. 50), and the two representatives of Germany, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (No. 64) and Rainer Buhmann (107).

The first round started with a bang as Vachier-Lagrave won a fine game over Caruana to propel his rating over 2800 on the Live Ratings List for the first time.

Caruana’s troubles arose in the following position. White has a nice advantage against the Najdorf, something Caruana has frequently achieved, but has often struggled to maintain. (Indeed, I can remember several painful losses for Caruana from better positions in this line.)

Caruana, Fabiano vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 1 | 09 Jul 2016 | 0-1
Re8 21. Qf3?! This is a strange square for the queen.
21. Qf2 Looks more natural, keeping an eye on b6  )
21... Qc7 22. Nd4 Nb6 23. Rhe1?! Another dubious move. White's plan should be a kingside pawn storm; trading rooks does not help him.
23. Kb1! Bf8 24. h5!  )
23... Bf8
23... g6 This also looks very reasonable to me, aiming to reroute the bishop to g7 without allowing Nf5  )
24. Rxe8 Rxe8 25. Nf5 Qc4 26. b3 Qb4 27. c3 Rc8 28. Rd3 Just when it started to look like White has everything under control, Black starts his counterattack.
28... Nxd5! 29. Bd2
29. Qxd5 Qxf4+  )
29. Rxd5 Rxc3+  )
29... Nb6 30. Kb1 Qc5 31. Be3 Qc7 32. Qf4
32. Nh6+! The computer likes this move, but it's very hard for a human to find in time pressure.  )
32... Re8! 33. h5 Re6! Black is pretty solid and it's not easy for White to find compensation for being down a pawn.
34. Kc2 Qc6 35. Bxb6 Qxb6 36. Rf3 Qb7! A final accurate move. Black stops any threats to f7 and prepares to invade on e4.
37. Ne3 Re4!
37... Qe4+ this looks simpler to me, but the computer prefers Vachier-Lagrave's choice.  )
38. Qg3 Re5! 39. Qf4 Rxg5! And that is more or less that.
40. h6
40. Qxg5 Qxf3  )
40... gxh6 41. Rf2 Qd7 42. Nf5 Qe6

The second decisive game came from Najer, who qualified for the tournament by winning the Aeroflot Open earlier this year. Najer tends to like complicated positions and frequently creates a big mess on the board that neither player navigates well, and Round 1 was no exception. Ultimately, it was his opponent, Buhmann, who made the last mistake.

Najer, Evgeny vs. Buhmann, Rainer
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 1 | 09 Jul 2016 | 1-0
25... Rac8 And Black is fine.  )
26. Rh2?
26. Kd1 Rxg2 27. Rh1! Black cannot stop Rc1 and Rc7.  )
26... b6? Missing the threat
26... Ra5! This would hold.  )
27. Nxe6! And Black is crushed
27... Bxe6 28. Rh8+ Kxg7 29. Rxa8 d4 30. Rd1 Rxa2 31. Rxd4 Bxb3 32. Ra7+ Kg6 33. Rd6+ Kh5 34. Rg7

The other two games were both draws, though only one was exciting. Ponomariov played a fine game against Nisipeanu, but then a strange decision killed his winning chances:

Nisipeanu, Liviu-Dieter vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 1 | 09 Jul 2016 | 1/2-1/2
b5? Why open the queenside?
34... b6  )
35. a4! bxa4 36. b5! axb5 37. Nxb5 a3 38. Ra4 White now has a lot of play and Black no longer has an edge. The game was eventually drawn.

Not a bad start.


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.