The elite tournament has a new co-leader, but the game of the day was turned in by the tournament’s 10-time champion.

There was a change in leadership of the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, after Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba beat Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine. Dominguez is now a co-leader with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France.

Dominguez’s win was not the most interesting game of the round, nor was the win by Fabiano Caruana of the United States over Evgeny Najer of Russia. Instead, it was the draw between Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Rainer Buhmann of Germany.

Kramnik, a 10-time champion of Dortmund, opened with 1. e4, which he almost never does. He made an exception because Buhmann is known to play the French Defense and Kramnik came well prepared. 

I was surprised that Buhmann did not try to deviate from playing the Steinitz Variation after he chose it against Najer in Round 1. It’s well-known that Kramnik has a less versatile repertoire as White when playing 1. e4, so I would have suggested deviating into another variation that Kramnik might not have prepared against or know very well. Still, Buhmann’s lack of flexibility led to a very interesting game — one that Kramnik really should have won.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Buhmann, Rainer
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 3 | 12 Jul 2016 | ECO: C11 | 1/2-1/2
1. e4! I like it! Kramnik rarely tries this, but if the present game is any indication, he should do it more often
1... e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Be3 b6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. h4 Nc6 10. Bb5 Qc7
10... Nxd4 This looks safer to me  )
11. O-O-O! Kramnik has no fear
11... a6 12. Bd3! f5 A sad necessity
12... c4 This would be consistent, aiming for a queenside crush. But, it fails:
13. Bxh7+! Kxh7 14. Ng5+ Kg8 15. Qe2! g6 16. Qg4! And h5 is next; Black is smashed  )
12... g6 13. h5  )
12... h6 13. g4  )
13. g4! Kramnik opens up the kingside
13... c4
13... fxg4? 14. Ng5  )
14. gxf5?! This is okay, but White had other good options.
14. Bf1! The engine prefers this simple move. Black's kingside will not remain intact for long.  )
14. Bxf5!? Also looks stronger than the game continuation.  )
14... cxd3 15. fxe6 Ndb8
15... Ndxe5! This might have been better damage control.  )
16. Nxd5 Qd8 17. Nxe7+ Nxe7 18. Ng5! h6 19. Qxd3! Kramnik is willing to sacrifice a second piece.
19... hxg5 20. hxg5 Bxe6
20... Nf5 Black is unable to stop Qh7:
21. Qb3! Qe7 22. d5! And despite having two extra pieces, Black is absolutely helpless to stop the pawns crashing through the center.  )
21. Qh7+ Kf7 22. d5! Bf5
22... Nxd5 23. f5  )
23. e6+? After playing a beautiful game, Kramnik slips.
23. Qh5+ Should win
23... Bg6 24. Qe2! Nxd5 25. Qf3! This is not easy to see  )
23... Ke8 24. Qxg7 Qc7! The dual threat of Qxc2 and Nxd5 keeps Black in the game
25. Rh2
25. Rd2 Nxd5 26. Qd4  )
25... Nxd5 26. Qxf8+ Kxf8 27. Rxd5 Bh7? With his time rapidly disappearing, Buhmann misses the win
27... Bg6! 28. b3 Qc3 And White does not have Rxh7  )
28. b3 Ke8
28... Qc3 29. Rxh7 Qxe3+ 30. Kb2 White should not lose  )
29. g6 And the game peters out to a draw.
29... Bxg6 30. Rh8+ Ke7 31. f5 Bxf5 32. Rxf5 Qc3 33. Bg5+ Kxe6 34. Rf6+ Qxf6 35. Bxf6 Kxf6 36. Rh6+ Ke5 37. Rxb6 Kd5 38. Kb2 Nc6 39. a3 Kc5 40. Rb7 Rg8 41. Rh7 Rg2 42. Rh5+ Kd6 43. Kc3 Rg3+ 44. Kb2 Rg2 45. Kc3 Rg3+ 46. Kb2 Rg2

Caruana’s victory over Najer was significant as he managed to rebound after a really lousy start to the tournament (0.5 point out of 2).

Caruana had Black and chose the Caro-Kann Defense against 1. e4. Najer played the most principled line response — the advance 3. e5 — but without having a great sense of the nuances of how to conduct the middlegame. He kept moving his pieces back and forth, and ultimately his fate was sealed after a couple of mistakes in a time scramble.

Najer, Evgeny vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 3 | 12 Jul 2016 | 0-1
Nb4 White's play this game had been very uninspired, but he could still resist
34. Qb1
34. Qd1! aiming toward the kingside was better, then White could keep fighting  )
34... Rcd8 35. Kg2 Qd5 36. Rcc4 Qd3 37. Qa1? another move in the wrong direction
37. Qc1 This targets some weaknesses and leaves White with adequate counterplay.  )
37... Rd5 38. Rg4 Kh8 39. Qc1 Na2 40. Qe1?
40. Qa1 Nb4 41. Qc1 Repeats the position  )
40... Rb8 The last move before time control seals the deal. White loses his stuff on the queenside and is unable to produce meaningful counterplay. The rest was not hard.
41. Bxg5 hxg5 42. Nxg5 Rd7 43. Rxa4 Nb4 44. Qc1 Nc2 45. Kh2 Nce3 46. Ne4 Qe2

The other two games were not as interesting, despite Dominguez’s decisive result against Ponomariov, who had been tied for the lead after Round 2. A more stubborn defense would surely have saved Ponomariov, but after a series of blunders in a relatively rudimentary endgame, by both players, Ponomariov was dead lost.

Dominguez Perez, Leinier vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund | Round 3 | 12 Jul 2016 | 1-0
61. c5 a4? This is dubious. Black should bring his king back to the defense
61... Kf6! And Black should hold without a ton of trouble.
62. Ra3 Ke5 63. Rxa5 Kd5  )
62. Ra3! Kg4 63. c6 f5 64. Rd3?
64. Kb6 Wins in short order.  )
64... f4?
64... Kg5! White actually does not have a threat.
65. Ra3! White can only win by repeating the position.
...  Kg4 66. Kb6  )
65. gxf4 Kxf4 66. Kb6 Ke4 67. Rd2 Rb1+ 68. Kc5 Ke3 69. Ra2 Rc1+ 70. Kd6 Rd1+ 71. Ke5 Rc1 72. Ra3+ Ke2 73. Kd5 Rd1+ 74. Kc5 Rc1+ 75. Kb5

The game between Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu of Germany and Vachier-Lagrave featured some 25 moves of well-known theory in the Grunfeld Defense. Vachier-Lagrave sacrificed an exchange, but gained a pawn in the process and the game was never really out of balance after that. In ended in a draw after 56 moves. 


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.